Free NBA Picks: Thursday, May 3, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
Quite a public beatdown this week by Heat president Pat Riley on the team's center, Hassan Whiteside: "By the time we got to the playoffs, I don't think he was ready. He wasn't in great shape. He wasn't fully conditioned for a playoff battle mentally. He and we got our heads handed to us." Indeed, Whiteside was schooled by Joel Embiid and played just 76 total minutes in the series. Did I mention that Whiteside has two years left on his four-year, $98.4 million contract? Few team presidents have the cache to speak like that publicly about a top player, but Riley is certainly one of them with his winning background. Still, those comments aren't exactly going to help him find a trade for Whiteside if that's the long-term goal. Whiteside also apparently doesn't get along great with Coach Erik Spoelstra. In many situations, the high-priced player wins this tug of war. That's not happening in Miami. The Heat would have to take back some sort of back contract - or give some team with cap space a first-round pick -- to dump Whiteside at this point. Here's a look at Thursday's two playoff games.
Game 2: Cavaliers at Raptors ( -6.5, 212.5)
Unusual start time of 6 p.m. ET on ESPN. I don't want to make huge declarations following one game of a series, but the Raptors probably aren't winning this now. Toronto had every advantage in Game 1 on Tuesday night against Cleveland. The Raptors tied for the best home record in the NBA during the regular season and were 3-0 at Air Canada Centre in the playoffs. They also had been off since last Friday. Cleveland, meanwhile, played a draining seven-game series against Indiana that only ended Sunday late afternoon. LeBron James played mega-minutes in that series and admitted he was totally exhausted afterward, saying he couldn't even think about Toronto.
Yet the Cavs somehow stole Game 1 in Toronto, 113-112 in overtime, despite not leading once in regulation and with LeBron not scoring in OT - he did finish with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds for his 21st career playoff triple-double. James got plenty of help from somewhat unlikely sources: J.R. Smith was 5-for-6 from deep for 20 points. Kyle Korver had 19 points. Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson combined for 30 off the bench. I'm sorry, Raptors, but if James shoots 12-for-30 and Kevin Love has just seven points, YOU HAVE TO WIN THAT GAME. The Cavaliers were just the second team in the last 20 postseasons to win a game despite never leading in regulation (also Mavericks at Thunder on May 23, 2011). Toronto missed its final 11 shots in the fourth quarter and had just four points off Cleveland turnovers compared to the Cavs scoring 21 off Raptors giveaways. Cleveland got its guaranteed split and I think gets routed here, but this series already has been altered.
Key trends: The Cavs are 1-4 against the spread in their past five after a win. The Raptors are 5-2 ATS in their past seven after allowing at least 100 points in their previous game. The "over/under" is 4-1 in the past five meetings.
Early lean: Raptors and over.
Game 2: 76ers at Celtics (+4, 205.5)
Philadelphia is going to be a powerhouse soon, but perhaps we should all slow our roll about the 76ers winning the East this season. This is still a young team with a lot to learn - it took Michael Jordan, for example, a while before he could get past the likes of the Celtics and the Pistons in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers didn't look ready to play Game 1 in Boston on Monday, losing 117-101. That was never much in doubt after intermission. Joel Embiid did his thing with 31 points and 13 rebounds, J.J. Redick had 20 points and Ben Simmons 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists (seven turnovers). But Robert Covington (0-for-6, three points) and Ersan Ilyasova (2-for-9, six points) were horrible. Defensively, Redick and Marco Belinelli were largely scorched when guarding anyone as Boston finished 17-for-35 from deep. Philadelphia shot just 19.2 percent from beyond the arc (5-for-26) and 42.2 percent overall.
Meanwhile, Boston had three players score at least 25 points in a non-overtime playoff game for the first time since the franchise's original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish did so in 1987. Terry Rozier had 29 points (with eight rebounds and six assists), Jayson Tatum a playoff career-high 28 points and Al Horford 26 points (on 10-for-12 shooting). Tatum and Bird are the only Celtics rookies over the last 50 postseasons with 25+ points in a playoff game. Tatum is also the second rookie in the last 20 seasons with three straight 20-point games in the playoffs. Utah's Donovan Mitchell is currently on a seven-game run. With Jaylen Brown out injured (he says he's playing Game 2), Boston was a 4.5-point underdog but improved to 15-13 SU as an underdog this season. That's the best winning percentage by any team since the 2010-11 Mavericks, who were 19-15 as underdogs and would win the NBA title.
Key trends: The Sixers are 6-1-1 ATS in their past eight following a loss. The Celtics are 10-1 ATS in their previous 11 at home. The over is 10-2 in Boston's past 12.
Early lean: Celtics and over.
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