Free NBA Picks: Tuesday, April 24, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
When's the last time an NBA Coach of the Year candidate got fired that same season? That could be the fate of Portland's Terry Stotts, who probably doesn't win that award but surely will get some votes after his team won 49 games and earned the West's No. 3 seed. However, the Blazers were stunningly swept out of the playoffs on Saturday, losing in New Orleans. The Pelicans became the first No. 6 seed (or lower) to sweep its first-round series since the NBA switched from its best-of-five format in 2003. I'm not saying Stotts will be fired, although there are rumors the team could simply let him leave as the Orlando Magic reportedly would like to hire him, but it sure feels like this club has plateaued as currently constructed and has now lost 10 straight playoff games. The backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is excellent offensively (usually) but not great on defense. Lillard surely is untouchable, but you will read about potential McCollum trades this offseason. In addition, center Jusuf Nurkic, who didn't do much in the series but is a good player, is a restricted free agent and the Blazers already are in salary-cap hell. Here's a look at Tuesday's Game 5s in the playoffs.
Bucks at Celtics (-2.5, 204.5)
The home team has won all four in this series following Milwaukee's 104-102 victory on Sunday. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 27 points, including tipping in the go-ahead basket with 5 seconds left. Boston's Marcus Morris missed a 14-footer at the buzzer. Not really sure why he was taking that shot (Morris was just 4-for-14 on the day) over Jaylen Brown, who had a career-high 34 points (along with eight rebounds and four steals), or Jayson Tatum, who had 21. Tatum had given Boston, which trailed by as many as 20, the lead with 52 seconds to go. If Kyrie Irving were healthy, there's no doubt he's taking the final shot in that scenario. His replacement, Terry Rozier, had been fantastic the first two games but was just 3-for-12 on Sunday for 10 points. It's not likely that guard Marcus Smart returns from thumb surgery for Game 5, but Game 6 is a legitimate possibility.
Smart is a plus defender and certainly would help on Khris Middleton, who had 23 points in Game 4 and is averaging 25.5 points per game while not hitting less than 57.1 percent in any game of this series. Jabari Parker, who could be playing his final games in a Bucks uniform as a restricted free-agent-to-be, was invisible the first two games in very limited minutes, but his complaints appear to have been heard by interim coach Joe Prunty as Parker is averaging 16.5 points on 27.5 minutes in the past two. The Bucks' second unit, led by Parker, dominated Boston's. Remains to be seen if Milwaukee center John Henson will play in Game 5. He has missed the past two with back soreness. That has led to more minutes for Thon Marker. He had eight points off the bench in Game 4 in 31 minutes. Maker played all of one minute the first two games. The Bucks have never won a best-of-7 series after trailing 2-0 (0-13). I expect the Game 5 winner to take this.
Key trends: The Bucks are 0-5 against the spread in their past five on Tuesday. The Celtics are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 after a loss. The "over/under" is 14-2 in the Bucks' past 16 vs. the East. It's 10-1 in Boston's previous 11.
Early lean: Celtics and over.
Heat at 76ers (-9.5, 211)
Philadelphia leads the series 3-1 following a 106-102 victory in Miami on Saturday. Ben Simmons had 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists to become the first rookie since Magic Johnson in 1980 with a playoff triple-double - that's a bit of a surprising statistic. Joel Embiid had 14 points and 12 rebounds but did turn it over eight times. Six players scored in double figures. The 76ers have a +40.0 net rating in the fourth quarter in this series thanks to a crazy 130.6 offensive rating. I have to say I'm a bit surprised that rookie Markelle Fultz isn't being used more. He didn't play a minute in Game 4 and only 23 total this series. Although, I suppose Coach Brett Brown doesn't want to take out Simmons or J.J. Redick.
After a quiet Game 3, Dwyane Wade led Miami with 25 points off the bench. Could this be the final game of the future Hall of Famer's career? He has been asked about potential retirement and says he hasn't decided yet but would only return to the Heat. Probably depends on how much the team is willing to pay Wade. The Heat aren't extending this series if they don't get more from Tyler Johnson (scoreless in 13 Game 4 minutes) or Kelly Olynyk (scoreless in nine minutes). Starting forward Josh Richardson suffered a shoulder injury in Game 4 but played through it and will be in there Tuesday. He set a franchise playoff record with seven steals in the loss.
Key trends: The Heat are 19-9-2 ATS in their past 30 on the road. The Sixers are 11-2 ATS in their past 13 after an ATS win. The under is 12-2 in the Heat's previous 14 on Tuesday.
Early lean: Heat and under.
Spurs at Warriors (-11, 204.5)
I honestly didn't think the series would get to a fifth game, but the Warriors lacked the killer instinct on Sunday in San Antonio and the Spurs won 103-90. Manu Ginobili, in perhaps the final home game of his Hall of Fame career (he hasn't decided whether to play next year or not) had 16 points off the bench and was plus-18 in 25 minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge added 22 points and 10 rebounds. It was the second straight game the Spurs were without Coach Gregg Popovich as he mourns the recent loss of his wife Erin. Not year known if Pop will return for this one of if assistant Etore Messina will keep running the show. Ginobili played for Messina while both were with Virtus Bologna in 2000-02.
Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 34 points, although it took him 28 shots, and 13 rebounds. Draymond Green chipped in 18 rebounds and nine assists but was only 4-for-14 for nine points. Klay Thompson was 4-for-16 for 12. Golden State shot 37.8 percent overall; you won't beat the Suns shooting that poorly. The Dubs also give it away 16 times and forced only eight turnovers. I'm quite certain they will play much more focused here in order to get as much rest as possible ahead of facing the Pelicans in the conference semifinals.
Key trends: The Spurs are 0-9 ATS in their past nine on the road. The over is 6-1-1 in the past eight meetings in Oakland.
Early lean: Warriors and over.
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