Free NBA Picks: Friday, April 19, 2019, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
While 16 teams are competing for an NBA title right now, the other 14 are looking toward next season (not that the GMs of the playoff teams already aren't.) Some salary-cap situations are being affected by player options already being exercised or not. The Charlotte Hornets this week got bad but fully expected news when backup center Bismack Biyombo exercised his $17 million player option for 2019-20. No-brainer for Biyombo as he played in just 54 games this past regular season and averaged 14.5 minutes. The Magic are the team that signed him to that outrageous contract a few years ago, and Biyombo was acquired by Charlotte last offseason in a three-team deal with Orlando and Chicago.
This is a problem (again, expected) because the Hornets are capped out - Nic Batum is due $25 million and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist $13 million (assuming he exercises his player option), for example, and have to re-sign All-Star guard Kemba Walker. If he makes an All-NBA team, Walker would be eligible for a super-max. It is possible the Hornets could use the stretch provision on Biyombo's contract, which would allow them to stretch his $17 million contract over the next three seasons ($5.67 million per year). Long story short: The Hornets will be stuck in mediocrity for a while - and that's only if Walker re-signs. Here's a look at Friday's three Game 3s in the playoffs.
No. 2 Raptors at No. 7 Magic (+4, 210)
A 7 p.m. ET tip on ESPN. Toronto was 26-15 on the road during the regular season and the Magic 25-16 at home. That's the best home record Orlando has had since the 2010-11 season when it won 29 times at home. The Magic also won their past nine there - they split two meetings with Toronto during the year in O-Town. Raptors fans are funny. They act surprised when their team loses its playoff series opener, even though the franchise is 2-14 in them. However, Toronto usually wins Game 2, especially at home, and that was the case big time on Tuesday in a 111-82 rout - the largest margin of victory in Raptors postseason history.
Kawhi Leonard had one of the best games in franchise playoff history with 37 points on 15-for-22 shooting, while Kyle Lowry bounced back from a scoreless Game 1 with 22 points, seven assists and a plus-30 rating. Serge Ibaka was good off the bench (13 points, eight rebounds), and he and Marc Gasol played great defense again on All-Star big man Nikola Vucevic. He was just 3-for-7 for six points with four turnovers. The Raptors are focusing their defense on Vucevic and he's averaging just 8.5 points and shooting 28.6 percent compared to 20.7 points and 51.8 percent in the regular season. The only Magic starter who showed up in Game 2 was Aaron Gordon with 20 points, but he was a team-worst minus-27.
Key trends: The Raptors are 5-1 against the spread in their past six on the road. They are 1-4 ATS in their previous five in Orlando. The "over/under" has gone under in the past six there.
Early lean: Raptors and under.
No. 4 Celtics at No. 5 Pacers (-3, 203.5)
Tips at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Boston was 21-20 on the road during the regular season and Indiana 29-12 at home. They split two meetings in Indianapolis. I would argue the Pacers are the most overrated team in the playoffs without Victor Oladipo - if anyone was even "rating" them. Indiana beat up on teams with losing records this season but had a horrible record against playoff clubs. That's showing in this series, losing Game 1 by 10 and then Game 2, 99-91 on Wednesday in another very low-scoring affair.
Without Oladipo, the Pacers just don't have a go-to scorer like Boston does with Kyrie Irving. He had 37 points in Game 2. Boston seemed rather content for three quarters of Game 2 with simply getting a home split but then outscored the Pacers 31-12 in the fourth. Remember, Indiana had an eight-point third quarter in blowing a lead and losing the opener. Jayson Tatum added 26 points Wednesday. No other Celtic had more than 13. Bojan Bogdanovic had 23 to lead the Pacers but was the only guy on his team with more than 15. Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis have really flopped in this series thus far.
Key trends: The Celtics are 4-1 ATS in their past five on the road. The under is 5-2 in the Pacers' past seven at home vs. teams with a winning road record.
Early lean: Celtics and under.
No. 3 Trail Blazers at No. 6 Thunder (-7.5, 221.5)
Scheduled for a 9:30 p.m. ET tip on ESPN. Portland was 21-20 on the road in the regular season and Oklahoma City 27-14 at home. The Thunder won both in OKC during the year. I'm starting to think the Thunder are never going to win a title with Russell Westbrook. Obviously an incredible player who goes 110 percent every night and unthinkably has averaged a triple-double in each of the past three seasons. Just not sure his ball-hog style and shooting work in the postseason. Russ had 14 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds in Oklahoma City's 114-94 loss in Game 2 but also was 5-for-20, turned it over six times and was minus-27. Paul George showed up with 27 points and eight rebounds but that was about it. After going a franchise-worst 5-for-33 in Game 1 from deep, the Thunder were 5-for-28 in Game 2. They badly need someone like a Kyle Korver or Joe Ingles who can simply hit three-pointers.
Portland is proving the regular season is largely meaningless after losing all four to the Thunder. The Blazers' backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is dominating in this series. McCollum had 33 points and eight rebounds in Game 2 and Lillard 29 points and six assists. Enes Kanter came crashing back to earth, though, with six points in 20 minutes partly due to foul trouble. Portland has opened a playoff series with two wins for the first time since the 2014 playoffs, when it beat Houston in six games. I no longer think the Thunder win this series, but they probably at least win this game (just not by the spread).
Key trends: The Blazers are 11-5 ATS in their past 16 on the road. OKC is 4-14 ATS in its previous 18 vs. the West. The under is 5-2 in the previous seven meetings.
Early lean: Blazers and under.
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