Free NBA Picks: Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
This season, the NBA is making sure that its signature games don't feature teams on the front or back end of a back-to-back to help guarantee that coaches have no reason to sit star players. Last year, when ABC started airing those Saturday night marquee games (haven't started yet this season), we were seeing a ton of guys sit out and it was embarrassing. No day on the regular-season schedule is more important than Christmas, and thus no team playing on the holiday was in action Wednesday. That has led to a very interesting five-game schedule on Thursday because 11 of the 12 teams in action on Dec. 25 are playing again. Almost like a round-robin tournament. The only one that isn't is Oklahoma City, which has been replaced on Thursday's slate by Sacramento.
Celtics at Rockets ( +1, 214.5)
First of the TNT doubleheader. These clubs weren't that far from meeting in last year's NBA Finals. Boston and Houston each had a Game 7 of last season's conference finals at home and had early leads against Cleveland and Golden State, respectively, but couldn't hang on. The Rockets and Celtics have split the past three season series. Both were decided by three or fewer points in 2017-18, with one very high scoring and one very low. Both won close home games on Christmas. Kyrie Irving had 40 points, including the tying jumper in regulation, as the Celtics beat the 76ers 121-114 in OT. He became the fourth active player with a 40-point game on the holiday. One of those is James Harden, who added another with 41 in a 113-109 victory over Oklahoma City. It was Harden's seventh straight 30-point game, an NBA high this season but still a while to go to catch Moses Malone's franchise record of 13.
Key trends: The Celtics are 4-0 against the spread in the past four meetings. The "over/under" is 7-1 in Houston's previous eight vs. the East.
Early lean: Celtics and over.
Knicks at Bucks (-14, 225)
Second of a home-and home as Milwaukee routed the host Knicks 109-95 on Christmas. It was the Bucks' first game on the holiday since 1977. The Bucks aren't nationally televised all that often, and Giannis Antetokounmpo made an early MVP case with 30 points, 14 rebounds and four steals. Rookie Kevin Knox scored 21 points for the Knicks, who have lost six straight Christmas Day games. Allonzo Trier had eight points in 18 minutes after missing seven games with a strained left hamstring. This wraps up the season series with Milwaukee leading 2-1. It won at home on Oct. 22, 124-113. The Bucks have taken the past four at home vs. New York.
Key trends: The road team has covered five of the past seven in the series. The over is 4-1 in the previous five.
Early lean: Knicks and over.
Lakers at Kings (TBA)
Seems like a letdown possibility for the Lakers off the Christmas trip to Golden State. They shockingly won 127-101 even though LeBron James left in the third with a groin injury. We'll have more on that in Friday's Opening Line Report when there's more clarity, but he's surely not playing here. However, it's also the second of a back-to-back for the Kings as they visited the Clippers on Wednesday. Odd scheduling because then the Kings go back to L.A. to face the Lakers on Sunday. Why not have this game in L.A. instead? Maybe Staples Center has something else scheduled. The Lakers won the first meeting this season Sacramento, 101-86. The Kings shot just 24 percent from deep and made a season-low six three-pointers.
Key trends: The favorite id 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 9-1-1 in the previous 11.
Early lean: TBA for that LeBron guy, but with L.A. playing again Friday at home he probably doesn't even make the trip.
76ers at Jazz (-5, 222)
Second TNT game. Philly was an OT loser in Boston on Tuesday Jimmy Butler played great defense on Kyrie Irving in the closing seconds of regulation, but Irving hit a tough jumper to tie it. Joel Embiid had 34 points and 16 rebounds. The Jazz stomped the visiting Blazers on Christmas, 117-96. Rudy Gobert had 18 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks. This closes the season series as Utah lost in Philadelphia on Nov. 16, 113-107. That was Butler's home debut in a Philly uniform and he had 28 points. Ben Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points. Utah lost at home to the Sixers a season ago but holds a 33-15 advantage there.
Key trends: The Sixers are 5-14 ATS in their past 19 road games. The under has hit in seven straight Jazz games.
Early lean: Jazz and under.
Trail Blazers at Warriors (-9.5, 225)
Portland was routed by Utah on Tuesday for the second time in five days, 117-96. No one but Damian Lillard did much as Portland shot 39.3 percent. Golden State's 26-point loss to the Lakers might have been the most stunning result of the season and was the team's third-worst ever at home under Steve Kerr. Thought the Warriors would be amped to beat James again, but the Big 4 combined for only 45 points in one of their worst combined efforts since Kevin Durant made it a Big 4. I'd expect a monster game from Lillard here. The Blazers All-Star is an Oakland native and is always fired up to play there - this will be his last chance (barring the postseason) with the Dubs moving across the bay next season. Golden State has won the past eight at home in the series and did so easily on Nov. 23, 125-97, despite being without Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Durant and Klay Thompson combined for 63 points.
Key trends: The favorite is 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 7-3 in the Warriors' past 10 following an ATS loss.
Early lean: Warriors and over.
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