Free NBA Picks: Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
One of the games of the week in the NBA is Wednesday night when Boston hosts Cleveland in the first of an ESPN doubleheader. It could have been even bigger but not for an odd decision by Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. Of course, the Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to Boston this offseason, and one of the pieces they got back was former Celtics fan favorite and All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas. He hadn't played this season due to a hip injury that cut his time in last season's Eastern Conference Finals short. Thomas was set for his Cleveland debut on Tuesday vs. Portland but then wasn't going to play Wednesday in Boston. You can understand why he would be on a minutes restriction at first and not playing in the second of a back-to-back, but why not play him in Boston? Maybe Lue thinks Thomas would be too jacked up in Beantown and could risk injury? I'm sure the ESPN executives would prefer he plays. The Cavs can use Thomas' energy as they have been in a funk since their 13-game winning streak, which tied a franchise record, ended.
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Rockets at Magic ( +5, 219.5)
Houston won't have NBA scoring leader James Harden (32.1 ppg) for at least two weeks after he left Sunday's wild 148-142 double-overtime win over the Lakers with a strained hamstring. Harden has missed just two regular-season games over the previous three seasons combined. The Rockets are 15-2 this year when Harden and Chris Paul play together; Paul has missed large chunk of the season with his own injuries. Orlando has a single win in its past 12 following a 98-95 loss in Brooklyn on Monday. Bismack Biyombo had 13 points and a season-high 17 boards for the Magic. He's a guy to pick up if you play fantasy NBA considering center Nikola Vucevic is out until February. Houston swept Orlando last season and has won eight of the past 10 in the series overall.
Key trends: The Rockets are 0-6 against the spread in their past six games. The "over/under" has gone under in five or Orlando's past six at home.
Early lean: Magic and under.
Spurs at 76ers (TBA)
San Antonio was in New York on Tuesday, so I'm sure Gregg Popovich rests a starter or two here. Will we see Philly's Joel Embiid? He injured his right hand in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win in Phoenix, but X-rays were negative. The 76ers are always going to play it cautious with him, however. The Spurs swept the 76ers last year. Current Philly coach Brett Brown was a long-time assistant under Popovich before coming to Philadelphia in 2013.
Key trends: The Spurs are 1-4 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 5-2 in Philly's past seven vs. the West.
Early lean: Wait on Embiid and whomever Pop rests.
Knicks at Wizards (-9, 212)
New York hosted San Antonio on Tuesday. Washington won a second straight Sunday, 114-110 over Chicago. Bradley Beal scored 17 (including 15 in a row) of his 39 points in the fourth quarter; he became the second player this year to have at least 39 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in a game. Russell Westbrook was the other. The Wizards are still just 10-10 against teams with losing records. First meeting of the season between these teams. The Wiz have won the past six in the series.
Key trends: The Knicks are 1-5 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 5-2 in the previous seven.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Timberwolves at Nets (+3.5, 214.5)
Minnesota won its second in a row Monday, 114-96 over the Lakers. Jimmy Butler had 28 points and Karl-Anthony Towns his 30th double-double of the season with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Brooklyn beat the visiting Magic on Monday, 98-95. Rookie Jarrett Allen had a career-high 16 points and Allen Crabbe a key late block. The Nets improved to 9-0 this season when holding their opponent under 100 points. These teams split last year; the visiting team has won six of the past 11 in the series.
Key trends: The Nets are 4-1 ATS in their past five vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 4-1 in the past five meetings.
Early lean: Wolves and over.
Pistons at Heat (pick'em, 195.5)
The Pistons upset the visiting Spurs on Saturday, 93-79, never trailing. Reggie Bullock (22 points) and rookie Luke Kennard (20) both set career highs in points. Stanley Johnson sat out with a hip injury. Miami played horribly in a home loss to Brooklyn on Friday but then won by six in Orlando on Saturday, rallying from an 18-point deficit. Tyler Johnson had 22 third-quarter points and Goran Dragic 14 in the fourth. Detroit won the first meeting with Miami, 112-103 in Motown on Nov. 12. Tobias Harris had 25 points. The Pistons have dropped three of their past five in south Florida.
Key trends: The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 4-1 in those.
Early lean: Heat and over.
Cavaliers at Celtics (TBA)
As mentioned above, the Cavaliers hosted Portland on Tuesday with Kevin Love questionable due to illness. Would the Cavs dare rest LeBron James here? Boston brings in a three-game winning streak following a 108-105 home victory on New Year's Eve vs. Brooklyn. Irving had 28 points, including two clutch free throws with 7.7 seconds left. At 30-10, the Celtics reached the 30-win mark before January for the third time in franchise history. Boston opened the season in Cleveland and lost 102-99. That was the night Gordon Hayward gruesomely broke his ankle.
Key trends: The Cavs are 4-0 ATS in their past four at Boston. The over is 5-2 in the Celtics' previous seven at home.
Early lean: Wait on Love/LeBron.
Raptors at Bulls (+4.5, 215.5)
The Raptors beat the Bucks on Monday, 131-127 in overtime behind a franchise-record 52 points from DeMar DeRozan. The previous mark of 51 was set by Vince Carter (makes sense) and Terrence Ross (doesn't). Toronto also tied a team mark with its 12th straight home win. The Bulls dropped a second straight four-point game Monday, 124-120 in OT to Portland. Chicago is now 10-4 since Nikola Mirotic made his season debut. Toronto is 2-0 vs. Chicago this season but has dropped its past six in the Windy City.
Key trends: The Raptors are 0-6 ATS in their past six in Chicago. The over is 11-1 in the previous 12 meetings.
Early lean: Bulls and over.
Pacers at Bucks (-7.5, 209.5)
Indiana dropped its fourth in a row Sunday, 107-90 to Minnesota, falling behind 17-0 and never recovering. Leading scorer Victor Oladipo missed his third consecutive game with a knee injury. He already has been ruled out here. Lance Stephenson has been starting in his place. Milwaukee's two-game winning streak ended in a shootout overtime loss in Toronto on Monday. Eric Bledsoe scored 29 points, including 11 in overtime, and Giannis Antetokounmpo had 26 for the Bucks. First meeting of the season between division rivals. The Bucks won three of four last season, including both at home.
Key trends: The Pacers are 0-5 ATS in their past five overall. The over is 7-1-1 in the Bucks' previous nine at home.
Early lean: Bucks and over.
Warriors at Mavericks (+10.5, 214)
The Dubs bounced back from a shocking home loss to Charlotte on Friday by beating Memphis the next night, 141-128. In his return after missing 11 games with a sprained ankle, Steph Curry was spectacular in hitting 10-for-13 from long range and finishing with 38 points. The 141 points were the most ever scored against the Grizzlies. The Mavs won a fourth in a row Sunday, 116-113 in Oklahoma City. Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. scored 11 of his 19 points in the final 1:39. He has star potential. Golden State has blown out Dallas twice this year and taken eight straight in the series.
Key trends: The Warriors are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 5-2 in the Mavericks' previous seven.
Early lean: Mavericks and over.
Suns at Nuggets (-11.5, 220.5)
Phoenix hosted Atlanta on Tuesday. Denver dropped its second straight Saturday, 107-102 vs. Philadelphia. The Nuggets blew a 14-point third-quarter lead. Jamal Murray had 31 points and eight rebounds. Denver was 6-7 in December and failed to have consecutive winning months for the first time since 2012-13. Denver has won the past six in this series, three of those at home.
Key trends: The Suns are 0-6 ATS in the past six meetings. The over has hit in four straight.
Early lean: Suns and over.
Pelicans at Jazz (-2.5, 210.5)
New Orleans lost a second straight Saturday at home, 105-103 to the Knicks. Anthony Davis (31 points, nine rebounds) missed a 3-pointer right before the buzzer. DeMarcus Cousins had 29 points and 19 rebounds. Utah stopped a three-game losing streak with a 104-101 home upset of Cleveland on Saturday. Rookie Donovan Mitchell had 29 points. Ricky Rubio had 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. The Jazz updated the status of injured center Rudy Gobert, saying he'll miss at least two more weeks. Utah beat New Orleans in the first meeting, 114-108 in Salt Lake City on Dec. 1. The Jazz are on a five-game winning streak overall in the series.
Key trends: The Pels are 0-4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 5-1 in the previous six.
Early lean: Pelicans and over.
Thunder at Lakers (TBA)
Second ESPN game. OKC has lost back-to-back close games. It was 116-113 at home to Dallas on Sunday. Russell Westbrook had his 12th triple-double of the season with 38 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists but missed a few late 3-pointers. Guard Andre Roberson sat out with patellar tendonitis. L.A. lost its seventh in a row Monday, 114-96 in Minnesota. Brook Lopez (ankle), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (legal) and Lonzo Ball (shoulder) were all out again. Kyle Kuzma was held to just six points and is dealing with a right quad injury. KCP should play here because he can in the state of California. First meeting between these two this season and apparently we won't get to see Westbrook torch Ball as Ball isn't likely to return yet.
Key trends: The Thunder are 7-2 ATS in the past nine meetings. The under is 5-2 in the previous seven.
Early lean: TBA surely for Ball/Kuzma.
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