Free NBA Picks: Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
The only thing worse than being stuck in purgatory in the NBA is being stuck in purgatory with no salary-cap space. That's the dilemma the Miami Heat find themselves in right now. Pat Riley made a big move in 2015 to acquire point guard Goran Dragic from Phoenix, but it cost Riley two future first-round picks, one that conveyed this year and an unprotected one in 2021 to the Suns that could prove incredibly valuable for Phoenix. The Heat are an average team at best right now and really seem to have no pathway to being a contender anytime soon. Oh, and now Dragic - a potential trade piece - has been ruled out 6-8 weeks following knee surgery. He's hoping to return after the All-Star break. At least Miami was used to playing without him as Dragic had been in only 14 games this season due to knee troubles and was averaging 15.3 points and 4.9 assists. Ah well, Miami fans. At least you have the Dolphins? Marlins? Panthers? Hurricanes? Sorry.
Nuggets at Clippers ( -2, 215.5)
A 5 p.m. ET start time, so you know neither played Friday night. Denver has been off since a 126-118 home win over Dallas on Tuesday, the Nuggets' fourth straight victory. Nikola Jokic, who absolutely needs to be in the MVP conversation, had 32 points and 16 rebounds. At 21-9, Denver has matched the 1976-77 squad for the best start through 30 games in franchise's NBA history (i.e. not including ABA days). The Clippers ended a four-game slide with a 125-121 home win over Dallas on Thursday. Lou Williams was supposed to be out until Christmas due to a hamstring issue but returned and had 26 points. Nuggets won first meeting of season in L.A. in the season opener for both, 107-98. Denver trailed by eight with just over five minutes left.
Key trends: The favorite is 5-1 against the spread in the past six meetings. The "over/under" is 13-3 in the Clippers' past 16 after scoring at least 100 in their previous game.
Early lean: Clippers and over.
Suns at Wizards (-5, 231.5)
Of course, these clubs made a trade last weekend, with Phoenix sending Trevor Ariza to Washington for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers (Rivers since released). Teams split last season, each winning on the road. The Suns are on their first four-game winning streak since March 2015 following a 111-103 upset in Boston on Wednesday. Devin Booker had 25 points, Deandre Ayton 23 and 18 rebounds, and Oubre 13 points in his Suns debut. Washington inexcusably lost in Atlanta on Tuesday and then excusably was routed in Houston on Wednesday. The Wiz played little defense, obviously, vs. the Rockets as they hit an NBA-record 26 three-pointers - and it seemed like they were wide open for many of them.
Key trends: The Suns are 3-9 ATS in their past 12 vs. teams with a losing record. The over is 6-1 in Washington's past seven at home.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Raptors at 76ers (TBA)
NBA TV game. Second of a back-to-back for Toronto. That means Kawhi Leonard probably sits one of them because he has yet to play both ends of a B2B this season. Supposedly, that's not going to be permanent, though. Kyle Lowry is not expected to play in either due to a thigh injury. Both Danny Green and Serge Ibaka were questionable Friday (although Green said he expected to play). Yeah, this seems like one the Raptors might just punt. Philly ended a two-game home losing streak with a 131-109 rout of New York on Wednesday. Joel Embiid had 24 points and 10 boards and Ben Simmons another triple-double of 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Toronto is 2-0 vs. Philly this year, but both were north of the border.
Key trends: The home team has covered past four in series. The under is 5-2 in Philly's past seven at home.
Early lean: Wait on which Raptors play, but this feels like a blowout for Philly.
Bucks at Heat (+4.5, 216.5)
Letdown possibility for Milwaukee after visiting Boston on Friday. Miami won its third in a row Thursday, knocking off Houston, 101-99, despite blowing an 11-point fourth-quarter lead. Josh Richardson scored 22 points and Tyler Johnson added 19 for the Heat. Justise Winslow (sore right ankle) didn't play. First meeting of season between these teams, with Miami on a five-game winning streak in series.
Key trends: The Heat have covered five straight in series. The under is 5-1 in their previous six.
Early lean: Heat and under.
Spurs at Rockets (-7, 215)
San Antonio hosted Minnesota on Friday, so I'm sure Gregg Popovich rests at least one key player here. Houston might rethink playing brittle Chris Paul in the second of a back-to-back the rest of the way. That's because, almost predictably, Paul tweaked his hamstring in Thursday's 101-99 loss in Miami. An MRI on Friday will determine how long, but count on at least a few weeks. Obviously, crushing for a very thin team. Going back to last season the Rockets have lost nine in a row when Paul doesn't play. Houston is looking for first three-game home winning streak in this series since 2013-14.
Key trends: The favorite is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 4-1 in the previous five.
Early lean: Spurs and under.
Mavericks at Warriors (-12, 223.5)
Front end of a back-to-back for the Dubs, who were upset 108-103 in Utah on Wednesday. Stephen Curry scored 32 points and Kevin Durant added 30. Durant passed Gary Payton (21,813 points) for 32nd place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Golden State got nothing from its bench and lost for the first time ever when both Curry and Durant had at least 30. The Mavericks lost their fourth in a row Thursday, 125-121 at the Clippers, but Luka Doncic had his national TV coming-out party for those who didn't know him. He hit a few spectacular shots and finished with 32 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals. He's going to be an MVP at some point. Dallas has won just two of past 19 in this series but did on Nov. 17 at home, 112-109 as the Dubs were without Curry and Draymond Green. Golden State has taken 11 in a row at home vs. Mavs.
Key trends: The home team is 4-0 ATS in the past four. The over is 4-1 in the previous five.
Early lean: Warriors and over.
Thunder at Jazz (-2, 218.5)
Utah was in Portland on Friday, and it's the front end of a B2B for OKC. The Thunder won a third straight Wednesday, 132-113 in Sacramento. Each of the team's Big 3 had a big night: 43 points for Paul George, a 19-point, 17-assist, 11-rebound triple-double for Russell Westbrook, and a career-high 23 rebounds for Steven Adams. Oklahoma City guards Raymond Felton and Dennis Schroder were serving one-game suspensions. OKC beat visiting Utah on Dec. 10, 122-113. George had 31 points and Schroder 23. Westbrook shot terribly but did have a triple-double. Oklahoma City has won 15 straight regular-season games at home in the series.
Key trends: The favorite is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 9-2 in the previous 11 in Utah.
Early lean: Thunder and under.
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