Free NBA Picks: Wednesday, April 18, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
Unless he makes a miracle comeback, this is the last time you will see me write something about Kawhi Leonard and his incredibly unusual situation. It's apparently now official that Leonard will not make it back for the playoffs as he continues to be away from the team rehabbing that quad injury. Yep, Spurs doctors have cleared him but his own team hasn't. If he wasn't such a good player, the Spurs surely would have cut him by now or at least not paid him. Reports are that many teams will contact San Antonio this offseason, led by the Clippers, regarding a trade. Leonard is from L.A., so I'd imagine he'd be fine with any deal there. Leonard is eligible for the super-max extension this offseason, but can you really offer him that if you are the Spurs? I don't think so. It frankly wouldn't have mattered if Leonard did return. San Antonio isn't beating Golden State and probably gets swept. Here's a look at Wednesday's Game 2s.
Pacers at Cavaliers ( -8, 209)
I wasn't convinced that LeBron James would get to an eighth straight NBA Finals with his shaky cast of characters in Cleveland, but I did think the Cavs would handle the Pacers in Round 1. Maybe LeBron and Co. still will, but they were schooled in the opener at home, 98-80, in easily the biggest surprise so far. Amazingly, LeBron had won 21 straight first-round postseason games dating to his Heat days. James did his part in Sunday's loss with a triple-double of 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds but was just 7-for-17 from the field and 0-for-7 on shots outside the restricted area. That's the area within the arched line on the court located below the rim and where defenders can't take a charge. The other four Cleveland starters had just 25 points. Jeff Green was terrible, going 0-for-7 and scoreless. George Hill had seven points and was minus-14 in just 19 minutes. Kyle Korver is still bothered by a foot injury and didn't score in only four minutes. This is the seventh time since LeBron's Finals streak began that he has trailed in a series against an Eastern Conference team and first since the 2015 conference semifinals. Obviously, he came back to win them all.
The best player on the court Sunday was Victor Oladipo - it's truly stunning how much better he is compared to last year in Oklahoma City. Oladipo had 32 points on 11-for-19 shooting along with six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Oladipo said he was well aware of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's remark last summer that Indiana "could've done better than it did" in the Paul George trade as of course the Cavs also wanted George. Lance Stephenson added 12 points off the bench while irritating his old buddy LeBron and dropping a monster dunk.
Key trends: The Pacers are 7-1 against the spread in their past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The "over/under" has gone under in six of Cleveland's past seven at home. Indiana is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings.
Early lean: Pacers and under.
Jazz at Thunder (-4, 206.5)
I was rather sad to see these two clubs meet in the first round as both are potentially good enough to give Golden State or Houston major trouble - the Warriors lucked out in that they are on the opposite side of the bracket from this winner. Oklahoma City held serve at home in Game 1, 116-108 on Sunday. Paul George was fabulous with 36 points, including 8-for-11 from deep. Those made 3-pointers tied a franchise record in a playoff game. The only other player to hit that mark was Gary Payton in 1997, when the Thunder were still the Seattle SuperSonics. Russell Westbrook also did his thing with 29 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. The Jazz are a great defensive team, but they simply can't stop both of them. If you watched that game, OKC center Steven Adams appeared injure his right hand/arm on a massive dunk but says he's fine. Adams finished Sunday's game with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Rookie Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 27 points along with 10 rebounds in the loss. He became the first player since LeBron James in 2006 with 25 points and 10 rebounds in their career playoff debut. Mitchell was the first rookie to lead a playoff team in scoring during the season since Carmelo Anthony in 2003-04 with Denver. No other Jazz player had more than 14 points in the opener. Mitchell did apparently suffer a foot injury that required an MRI on Monday but that showed just a bruise. If he somehow sits (doubtful), this line is going to get much bigger.
Key trends: The Jazz are 2-6 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 8-3 in OKC's past 11 overall. The over is 10-2 in Utah's previous 12 vs. the West.
Early lean: Thunder and under.
Timberwolves at Rockets (-10.5, 212.5)
Minnesota had its shot. Everything was lined up against the Timberwolves in Game 1 in Houston on Sunday. They had come off a very intense winner-take-all overtime game vs. Denver on Wednesday, while the Rockets were very well-rested. Jimmy Butler still wasn't 100 percent off his knee surgery. Yet, the Timberwolves easily could have stolen Game 1, losing 104-101. It's not too often that the Rockets are going to shoot an ugly 27 percent from deep (10-for-37) but they did. James Harden was fantastic with 44 points, one shy of his playoff career high and five shy of tying the Rockets' playoff franchise record. He was 7-for-12 from deep, but the rest of the team 3-for-25. Clint Capela (24 points, 12 rebounds) completely outplayed Karl-Anthony Towns, but no other Rockets did much. Chris Paul (5-for-14, six turnovers) was pretty bad actually.
Towns attempted only nine shots, making three for eight points. That's obscene. Coach Tom Thibodeau said after he would get Towns more integrated in the offense -- there were several possessions when Towns did not receive the ball despite posting up Rockets guards such as Eric Gordon and Paul on switches -- but that his star also needs to be a bit more aggressive, especially in transition. Minnesota had only 10 fast-break points. Butler finished with 13 points as he was having to chase Harden around all game on defense. Derrick Rose actually contributed with 16 points and four assists in 24 minutes.
Key trends: The Wolves are 5-0 ATS in their past five vs. the West. The Rockets are 1-4 ATS in their past five at home. The under is 4-1 in Minnesota's past five. It's 13-3 in Houston's past 16 following a win.
Early lean: Wolves and under.
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