Free NBA Picks: Wednesday, April 25, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
ESPN's Kevin Pelton was asked this question by a reader, and it got me thinking: Is this the greatest postseason we have ever seen by a rookie class? Now, no one is asking if this is the best rookie class in NBA history, needless to say. Just look at the 2003 class, which had future Hall of Famers LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. Or the 1984 class led by Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. But simply from a postseason perspective, this year's group led by Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum is right up there. I don't think any of those guys will reach the NBA Finals, but the league is certainly in a good place with so much young talent and a stacked Class of 2018. Here's a look at the Game 5s around the NBA on Wednesday. Might be the last night of four NBA games this season.
Wizards at Raptors ( -7, 214.5)
A 7 p.m. ET tip on NBA TV. The Raptors really irritate me. Every time I start believing in them, they revert back to hero ball - i.e. their All-Star backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry become ball hogs in the playoffs and struggle. In their two home wins to open this series, the Raptors were playing unselfishly and totaled a whopping 244 points. In the past two losses, just the opposite and the Dinos have 201 points. In Sunday's 106-98 defeat in D.C., DeRozan jacked up 29 shots (making only 10) and Lowry 15 (making seven). They were 17-for-44 (38.6 percent), while the rest of the team was 17-for-35 (48.6). It was the first time this season that DeRozan and Lowry attempted more shots than the rest of the team. Toronto led by as many as 14 and still by eight with under eight minutes left. This team does miss injured key reserve Fred VanVleet, who isn't expected back from his shoulder injury for Game 5.
Washington did tighten up the defense in the two home games, and Bradley Beal snapped out of his slump by totaling 69 points (10-for-19 shooting in each game) after just 28 in the first two. John Wall also upped his game at home. The Wizards have won eight straight playoff home games. If they pull the upset here, I believe this ends in Game 6. Otherwise, it's going 7.
Key trends: The Raptors are 2-8 against the spread in their past 10 following an ATS loss. The Wizards are 1-7 ATS in their past eight following an ATS win. The "over/under" is 4-1 in the previous five meetings.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Pacers at Cavaliers (-6.5, 205)
Also a 7 p.m. ET tip on TNT. Another 2-2 East series, but each team has won a road game in this one following Cleveland's 104-100 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday. LeBron James finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists; it was his 100th career playoff game with at least 30 points, second all-time to Michael Jordan (109). LBJ got a rare technical foul when getting tangled up a bit with super-pest Lance Stephenson. It was just the 16th technical foul called on James in 221 career playoff games. Kyle Korver really stepped up with 18 points. He was invisible in the Game 1 & 3 losses. Korver's three-pointer with 3:48 left in the fourth quarter gave the Cavaliers the lead for good. Over the last five seasons, Korver is tied with Stephen Curry for the most go-ahead threes in the fourth quarter (regular season and playoffs). George Hill missed Game 4 because of back spasms; Jose Calderon filled in solidly with five points, two rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes.
The Pacers were largely done in by Victor Oladipo shooting just 5-for-20 for 17 points. In fact, the only starter to hit half his shots was Myles Turner (7-for-9 for 17 points). Domantas Sabonis was good off the bench by hitting 9-for-12 for 19 points.
Key trends: The Cavs are 20-45 ATS as favorites this year. Over the past three seasons, 10 of 19 have gone under the total.
Early lean: Pacers and under.
Timberwolves at Rockets (-12, 219)
Gets underway at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT. Houston can finish things off at home and almost certainly will. The Rockets had not played like the team with the best record in the NBA in the first three games or the first half of Monday's Game 4 in Minneapolis. Then we saw what this explosive club is capable of by outscoring the Wolves 50-20(!!) in the third quarter to blow it open. Houston shot 61 percent overall in the quarter and 69 percent from deep; it was the second-most points in any NBA playoff quarter ever, trailing only the Lakers' 51 in 1962 against the Pistons. The Timberwolves became the first team to be outscored by 30 points in any quarter of a postseason game since the 1986 Hawks were outscored by the Celtics 36-6 in the third quarter of Game 5 in the Eastern semifinals.
James Harden scored 22 of Houston's 50 in the quarter and Chris Paul chipped in 15. Harden finished with 36 points and Paul 25, and neither had to play heavy minutes with such a big lead entering the fourth. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds for Minnesota. Jeff Teague was horrendous with two points and a minus-28 rating in 28 minutes. Andrew Wiggins was 5-for-14 with a minus-30 rating.
Key trends: The Rockets are 2-8 ATS in their past 10 vs. the West. The Wolves are 4-1 ATS in their past five after allowing 100 points or more in their previous game. The over is 11-2 in Minnesota's past 13 playing on one day of rest.
Early lean: Wolves and over.
Jazz at Thunder (-3, 208)
A 9:30 start on NBA TV. This series has surprised me. Perhaps I was blinded by the star power of the Thunder, but they face elimination back at home - meaning this could be the final game in an OKC uniform for Paul George. I'd say there's little chance he re-signs as a free agent if the Thunder are bounced in the first round. Oklahoma City lost 113-96 at Utah on Monday night. Remember how Russell Westbrook vowed to shut down Ricky Rubio after Rubio's triple-double in Game 3? Uh, not so much. Westbrook battled foul trouble and was minus-14 with 23 points, 14 rebounds and a season-low three assists. George had 32 points but six turnovers. Carmelo Anthony was a non-factor. The OKC bench simply sucks.
Rubio had 13 points, eight assists and six rebounds and was plus-22. Rookie Donovan Mitchell was fantastic again with 33 points. Mitchell's 110 points through his first four playoff games are the most by a rookie since Michael Jordan (117 in 1985). Joe Ingles added 20. The Jazz are a team. The Thunder are three stars and a few other guys. Yet, I still like OKC to force Game 6.
Key trends: The Thunder are 3-8 ATS in their past 11 vs. the West. The Jazz are 6-2 ATS in their past eight. The under is 8-3 in OKC's past 11 after allowing their opponent 100 or more points in the previous game.
Early lean: Thunder and under.
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