Free NBA Picks: Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
The New Orleans Pelicans visit the LA Lakers on Friday night, and it's not a coincidence that ESPN this week has been all over the Anthony Davis-to-Lakers trade talk. Did I mention the game is televised by ESPN? It's a joke how that network "creates" news. Then again, I also think LeBron James sometimes says things with an agenda and is smart enough to use ESPN to get his message out. On Tuesday, James told ESPN the following about potentially landing Davis via trade: "That would be amazing. That would be amazing, like, duh. That would be incredible." James saying that isn't tampering. If a front-office type said that, we are talking major sanctions from the league. The Pels aren't trading Davis this season but might in the offseason if he turns down the chance to sign a supermax contract. Better to get something for him than have Davis walk away following the 2019-20 campaign (presuming he opts out of his deal). The Lakers and Celtics appear poised to offer the best possible packages of young players and draft picks to New Orleans.
Pistons at Hornets ( -4.5, 217)
Detroit was a 129-123 OT upset winner at Minnesota on Wednesday. Andre Drummond's tip-in with 0.6 seconds left in regulation sent it to overtime after the Pistons trailed by 14 entering the fourth. Blake Griffin had 34 points and Reggie Bullock a career-high 33. The Hornets were 110-99 home winners over Cleveland on Wednesday behind 30 points from Kemba Walker, who had been struggling. Charlotte is 2-0 vs. Detroit this season and has taken five of the past six at home in the series.
Key trends: The Pistons are 2-5 against the spread in their past seven in Charlotte. The "over/under" has gone under in five of the past eight meetings there.
Early lean: Hornets and under.
Cavaliers at Raptors (TBA)
Cleveland was an upset winner in Indiana on Tuesday but lost the next night by 11 in Charlotte. Jordan Clarkson returned to action after missing Tuesday's game and led with 20 points. Matthew Dellavedova missed Wednesday's game with left knee soreness. Toronto snapped a two-game slide with a 99-96 win over Indiana on Wednesday. Fred VanVleet hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. Kyle Lowry (thigh) missed his third in a row, and Serge Ibaka sat with a sore knee. Toronto is 2-0 vs. Cleveland this year.
Key trends: The Cavs are 7-1 ATS in the past eight meetings (thanks to LeBron). The under is 4-0 in Toronto's previous four at home.
Early lean: Wait on Raptors duo, although Lowry apparently isn't playing.
Pacers at Nets (+2, 210)
The Pacers were stunned at home by the Cavs on Tuesday and then had a chance to end a long losing streak in Toronto on Wednesday but lost 99-96, blowing a 17-point lead. Star Victor Oladipo turned the ball over twice in the final minute. He basically blew Tuesday's game too. The Pacers had been 5-0 in the second of a B2B. Break up the Nets! In what easily could have been a letdown game a night after beating LeBron James, Brooklyn won its league-high seventh in a row Wednesday, 96-93 in Chicago. Spencer Dinwiddie scored 27 points off the bench. Indiana had its highest-scoring game this season in the first matchup against the Nets (132-112 on Oct. 20) and has won eight in a row in the series.
Key trends: The Pacers are 7-1 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under has hit four straight in the series in Brooklyn.
Early lean: Nets and under.
Hawks at Knicks (-6, 230)
Atlanta stopped a three-game slide with a 118-110 home upset over Washington on Tuesday. There was a Linsanity sighting in that one as Jeremy Lin scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth. New York lost its third in a row (all by double digits) Wednesday, 131-109 at Philadelphia. Tim Hardaway Jr. returned from a one-game injury absence and scored 27 points. New York isn't better than many teams this year but is 2-0 against Atlanta. The Hawks scored exactly 107 in each.
Key trends: The Hawks are 3-8 ATS in the past 11 meetings. The over is 5-1 in the Knicks' past six.
Early lean: Knicks and over.
Bucks at Celtics (-3, 222)
First ESPN game. The Bucks won their third in a row Wednesday, 123-115 over New Orleans. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, and D.J. Wilson had nine points and 10 rebounds. The 2017 first-round pick out of Michigan has suddenly become a factor off the bench. Malcolm Brogdon returned after missing two games with left hamstring soreness. The Celtics dropped a second straight as they were shocked as 12-point home favorites by Phoenix, 111-103. Center Aron Baynes broke a bone in his left hand early in the game and will obviously be out a while. Fellow center Al Horford already is out. Boston won the first meeting this season 117-113 at home on Nov. 1 thanks to hitting a franchise-record 24 three-pointers.
Key trends: The Celtics have covered six straight at home in series. The over is 9-1 in Boston's previous 10 on Friday.
Early lean: Bucks and over.
Magic at Bulls (TBA)
Chicago's tanking efforts just improved as the Bulls have ruled out leading scorer Zach LaVine for potentially a month with an ankle injury. Seriously, that's good news in the long run as every loss helps. Orlando was swept by Chicago a season ago but just beat the Bulls last week in Mexico City, 97-91. The Magic returned from Mexico on Wednesday and promptly were slaughtered at home by the Spurs, 129-90. Don't drink the water down there! Nikola Vucevic missed his first game of the season due to the birth of his son. The Bulls were 96-93 home losers to Brooklyn on Wednesday. They just can't stay healthy as Bobby Portis, who recently returned from a long absence, left in the final minute with an apparent left ankle sprain.
Key trends: The Bulls are 3-7 ATS in their past 10 at home. The under is 5-0 in the previous five meetings in Chicago.
Early lean: This TBA presumably for Vucevic, but reports are he will play Friday. Take Orlando, which should be a short favorite.
Timberwolves at Spurs (-3.5, 219)
Minnesota was upset at home in OT by Detroit on Wednesday, blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and allowing the tying tip-in with less than a second left in regulation. Derrick Rose led Minnesota with 33 points as starting point guard Jeff Teague was out again. The Spurs trashed the visiting 76ers on Monday and then beat the Magic even worse in Orlando on Wednesday. San Antonio shot 64.9 percent from the field, best-ever against the Magic. These teams have split two meetings. The Wolves' 128-89 home victory on Nov. 28 was their largest-ever in the series. However, they have dropped 10 straight in San Antonio.
Key trends: The home team has covered the past five in the series. The over is 4-1 in those.
Early lean: Spurs and over.
Jazz at Trail Blazers (-3, 215)
Utah upset the visiting Warriors on Wednesday, 108-103. Joe Ingles scored 20 points, and Rudy Gobert had 17 points, 15 rebounds. That's the type of defense we saw from the Jazz last year. Utah also had 30 assists and has won its past 27 at home with at least that many. The Blazers won their third in a row Wednesday, 99-92 over Memphis. Damian Lillard had 24 points in his 500th career NBA game. First meeting of season between these teams. They split four last year, Portland taking the final two.
Key trends: The home team is 9-2 ATS in the past 11 meetings. The under is 5-2 in the previous seven.
Early lean: Blazers and under.
Grizzlies at Kings (+1, 214)
Memphis is painful to watch offensively and lost a fourth straight Wednesday, 99-92 - the Grizz haven't topped 97 points in the skid. Mike Conley was in question after missing the previous game but started and had 23 points. Joakim Noah, who actually has been pretty good off the bench, was out. The Kings dropped their second straight in blowout fashion, 132-113 at home to the Thunder. Buddy Hield had a career-best 37 points for the Kings, who have allowed at least 130 in four of the past five. Marvin Bagley III and Bogdan Bogdanovic were both out. These teams have split two meetings, each winning at home.
Key trends: The home team has covered four straight in series. The under is 7-3 in the Kings' pat 10.
Early lean: Kings and under.
Pelicans at Lakers (TBA)
Second ESPN game and New Orleans' first matchup against L.A. of the season. Last year, the Pels swept three as Davis averaged 34.0 points (64.2 percent from field), 11.7 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.3 blocks. Stud. New Orleans enters off a 123-115 loss at Milwaukee to start a four-game trip. Naturally, Davis might be hurt (or sick) again. He went to the locker room twice during the game, reportedly once for tweaking an ankle and once for a stomach bug. Still finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds. Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle were both out. The Lakers come off a 1-3 road trip, concluding it with a 115-110 loss in Brooklyn on Tuesday. LeBron had 36 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. It's looking like the Lakers could get back Brandon Ingram on Friday. Ditto Rajon Rondo.
Key trends: The favorite has covered six in a row in series. The under is 9-4 in the Lakers' past 13 vs. the West.
Early lean: Wait on Davis (and Randle, Mirotic).
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