Free NBA Picks: Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
Is this writer a big LeBron James fan? Not really as I'm a Michael Jordan guy and I'm not sure you can back both because of the whole GOAT debate. That said, James has been a terrific role model off the court and certainly in the discussion as best player ever on it. The NBA is by far more interesting with James around. So, unless you were someone who bet "under" on the Lakers' 2018-19 win total, let's all breathe a sigh of relief in that James' groin injury suffered on Christmas in Oakland isn't serious. An MRI came back clean, and LeBron is being listed as day-to-day. He didn't travel to Sacramento on Thursday, and I rather doubt we see him until next week as there's NO reason to push it. Just seeing LeBron go down in pain was jarring because the guy has been indestructible. Guys are rolling ankles left and right in the NBA but not LeBron. Still hard to believe, though, that LeBron has only played all 82 regular-season games just once: Last year. Jordan played all 82 nine times (81 once). Just saying.
Nets at Hornets ( -4, 219.5)
Second of a home-and home as on Wednesday the Nets beat the Hornets 134-132 in double overtime in one of the wildest games of the year. I know because I watched the entire fourth quarter and both OTs as I bet the Nets -1.5. Thought that was a loss as Nets frankly had no right even getting that to overtime as the Hornets blew a late eight-point lead. Then again, if DeMarre Carroll doesn't miss the second of two free throws with about a second left, Brooklyn wins in regulation by a point (and I lose my bet - crazy stress). Spencer Dinwiddie had 37 points for the Nets and Kemba Walker 35 for the Hornets. Charlotte was 1-1 at home vs. Brooklyn last year.
Key trends: The Nets are 8-2 against the spread in the past 10 meetings. The "over/under" is 7-3 in the Hornets' past 10.
Early lean: Hornets and over.
Pistons at Pacers (-6, 206.5)
Detroit ended a two-game slide with a 106-95 home win over Washington on Wednesday. A 23-2 run to start the second half blew it open - although in typical Pistons fashion they nearly blew that big lead. Andre Drummond got his 10th straight double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Indiana won its third in a row Wednesday, 129-121 in Atlanta. Coach Nate McMillan used nine players, eight of whom scored at least 10 points as Indiana matched a season high with 35 assists. First meeting of season between division rivals. Pistons won three of four a season ago. They had lost seven straight in Indianapolis before a win there last December.
Key trends: The Pistons are 1-6 ATS in their past seven at Indiana. The under is 8-1 in the Pacers' past nine on one day of rest.
Early lean: Pacers and under.
Raptors at Magic (TBA)
Toronto rallied from down 17 to win in Miami on Wednesday, 106-104. Danny Green's wide-open corner three-pointer with 22.7 seconds left was the winner. Kawhi Leonard had 30 points in the Raptors' third win this year when trailing by at least 17. Kyle Lowry sat with back tightness. Orlando lost its fourth straight Wednesday, 122-120 in OT at home vs. Phoenix. The Magic scored all of two points in OT. DJ Augustin led the Magic with a season-high 27 points and six assists. He sent it to OT by making three free throws with less than a second left. Toronto has won the past five in the series, including 93-91 in Florida on Nov. 20. Green made a fade-away jumper with less than a second remaining.
Key trends: The Raptors are 2-6 ATS in their past eight in Orlando. The under has hit in five straight there.
Early lean: Wait on Lowry.
Bulls at Wizards (-7, 217.5)
Chicago was blown out Wednesday at home by Minnesota to end a season-high two-game winning streak. Zach LaVine returned earlier than expected from injury and 28 points, albeit off the bench. Should be back with the starters here. Washington dropped its second straight by double digits Wednesday, 106-95 in Detroit. How you lose when forcing 24 turnovers is beyond me. First meeting of season between clubs, with Chicago on a five-game losing streak in D.C.
Key trends: The Bulls are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 7-1 in the Wizards' past eight at home.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Cavaliers at Heat (-10.5, 197.5)
Cleveland dropped its fourth straight Wednesday, 95-87 in Memphis. The Cavs had nine first-quarter points and that was basically that. Jordan Clarkson led the Cavaliers with 24 points off the bench. Rodney Hood sat out his second game with left Achilles' tendon soreness. Miami blew a 17-point home lead Wednesday and lost to the Raptors, 106-104. Dwayne Wade took a horrible off-balance three-pointer with a chance to win and then just missed a tip-in of a teammate's miss at the buzzer. Miami debuted its "Sunset Vice" uniforms, which were freaking awesome. I suggest you go look. First meeting between teams with the Cavs winning two of three (both at home) a season ago. The Heat have won 14 straight at home in series.
Key trends: The Heat are 13-3 ATS in their past 16. The under is 5-1 in the Cavs' past six at home.
Early lean: Cavs (letdown game for Heat) and under.
Hawks at Timberwolves (-9, 228.5)
Atlanta's season-high three-game winning streak ended in a 129-121 loss vs. Indiana on Wednesday. Kent Bazemore tied a career high with 32 points, and John Collins (missed previous game due to injury) added 21 points and 11 rebounds. Alex Len sat with a sore back. Derrick Rose enjoyed a return to Chicago on Wednesday as he led the Wolves to a 119-94 rout of the Bulls. The former MVP had 24 points and eight assists, while Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points and 20 rebounds. These clubs split last year, and Minnesota has won the past three at home.
Key trends: The Hawks are 3-15 ATS in their past 18 on Friday. The over is 5-0 in the Wolves' past five.
Early lean: Wolves and over.
Mavericks at Pelicans (TBA)
First of an NBA TV doubleheader and second of a home-and-home. New Orleans dropped its fifth in a row Wednesday, 122-119 in Dallas to wrap a four-game trip. Luka Doncic scored 21 points, including the tiebreaking free throws with 30 seconds left, and the Mavericks ended a six-game losing streak. Doncic was a rebound shy of becoming the youngest player in league history with a triple-double. Anthony Davis had 32 points and 18 rebounds. Nikola Mirotic sat again. The Mavs lost in New Orleans on Dec. 5, 132-106.
Key trends: The favorite has covered the past four in the series and the over is 4-0 in those.
Early lean: This opening TBA has me stumped - neither Mirotic nor Dallas point guard Dennis Smith Jr. was expected to play Wednesday, either, yet there was an opening line. Maybe it's because the front end of a back-to-back and oddsmakers want assurance that Davis plays.
Spurs at Nuggets (-3, 213.5)
Second of a home-and-home. Spurs were -4 at home Wednesday and won 111-103. They trailed 80-79 before going on a 23-4 run to break it open. DeMar DeRozan had 30 points, and LaMarcus Aldridge scored 27. San Antonio continually double-teamed Nikola Mirotic, and it was very successful as the MVP candidate was an ugly 1-for-5 for four points with five turnovers. Juan Hernangomez was one beneficiary of those double teams with a career-high-tying 27 points. San Antonio lost both in Denver a season ago.
Key trends: The home team is 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 4-0 in the previous four in Denver.
Early lean: Nuggets and over.
Thunder at Suns (+6.5, 225.5)
Oklahoma City lost its second in a row Tuesday, 113-109 in Houston. Paul George had 28 points and 14 rebounds for the Thunder, and Russell Westbrook added 21 points with nine rebounds and nine assists. The Suns stopped a two-game slide with a 122-120 OT win in Orlando on Wednesday. Devin Booker had 35 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. He scored nine straight points to close regulation. Last meeting of the season with OKC up 3-0. The closest was a seven-point win.
Key trends: The Thunder are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 8-2 in the Suns' past 10 vs. the West.
Early lean: Suns and under.
Clippers at Lakers (TBA)
Second NBA TV game and obviously no line because of LeBron. He had played in 116 consecutive regular-season games, one shy of his personal best, and 156 straight regular-season and postseason games before sitting out Thursday in Sacramento. The Clippers beat the visiting Kings on Wednesday, 127-118, but nearly blew a 27-point lead. Lou Williams scored 24 points, and Montrezl Harrell added 22, both off the bench. First meeting, somehow, between Staples Center co-tenants. The Clippers took three of four last year.
Key trends: The Clippers are 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 5-0 in the Clips' past five overall.
Early lean: Wait on LeBron.
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