Free NBA Picks: Friday, April 5, 2019, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
How important is it really to have one extra home game in a seven-game NBA series? In last year's first round of the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder had it against the Utah Jazz and so did the Portland Trail Blazers vs. the New Orleans Pelicans. The Jazz and Pelicans won those series, with New Orleans sweeping Portland. In the second round, Toronto had home-court advantage against Cleveland, but the Raptors were swept. In both the Western and Eastern Conference Finals, the worst-seeded team won. Point being: It's nice to have, but not the be-all, end-all. We bring this up because the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers are going to finish 4-5 in the East. The winner of Friday's biggest game on the schedule likely will have the home-court advantage. That seems very important with both teams having spectacular marks in their own gym and below .500 on the road. It's a hugely busy Friday with a light Saturday schedule.
Raptors at Hornets (TBA)
The Hornets could be eliminated from the playoffs with a loss here depending on what happens elsewhere. Toronto really has nothing to play for all but locked into the East's No. 2 seed (that would be official with a loss or Bucks win Thursday in Philly) so I fully expect the Raptors to rest Kawhi Leonard and/or Kyle Lowry. These teams have split two meetings this season, both in Toronto. Charlotte's win on March 24 was on a half-court buzzer-beater by Jeremy Lamb. The Raptors have won their past two in Charlotte.
Key trends: The road team is 4-1 against the spread in the past five meetings. The "over/under" is 6-1 in the previous seven.
Early lean: TBA as neither might care.
Hawks at Magic (-6, 226)
Means everything for the home team as it tries to land one of the East's final spots. The Hawks are really showing some promise of late in winning five of seven. They won the season series vs. the 76ers on Wednesday with a 130-122 home victory. Red-hot Trae Young had 33 points and 12 assists as he makes a late push to steal Rookie of the Year from Luka Doncic. The Magic had to win Wednesday vs. the Knicks and did by 14. Nik Vucevic had 29 points and 13 rebounds. Orlando looks for the four-game series sweep of Atlanta. All three were decided by at least 10 points.
Key trends: The Hawks are 1-4 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 7-3 in the Magic's previous 10 vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Magic and over.
Spurs at Wizards (+3.5, 229)
The Spurs will finish either seventh or eighth in the West, while Washington is playing out the string. San Antonio was crushed in Denver on Wednesday, 113-85. Gregg Popovich took just 63 seconds to be ejected. No NBA coach had been ejected within the first two minutes of a game since January 2012. San Antonio won its 18th straight at home in the series on Jan. 27, 132-119. The Spurs did lose in DC last year.
Key trends: The Wizards are 9-2 ATS in their past 11 vs. the West. The under is 14-4 in the Spurs' previous 18.
Early lean: Wizards and under.
Celtics at Pacers (+1, 213)
First ESPN game. Boston leads the season series 2-1, winning both at home. Should Indiana win this game and because they aren't in same divisions, the potential first tiebreaker should they finish with the same record would be records inside the conference. Those are nearly identical as of now. The next tiebreaker is better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in own conference. We are getting too complicated now. Assuming chalk in the first round of the playoffs, this series winner would then face No. 1 Milwaukee.
Key trends: The Celtics are 1-5 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 14-6 in the Pacers' previous 20 vs. the East.
Early lean: Celtics and under.
Knicks at Rockets (-16.5, 215.5)
Houston still can get as high as No. 2 in the West - as long as it doesn't slip past third that's ideal as it means avoiding the Warriors until the conference finals. New York played well in a 114-110 home loss to the Rockets on Jan. 23. James Harden had a career-high 61 points, tying Kobe Bryant's record for a visiting opponent at the current Madison Square Garden. Harden made the clinching layup with 3.8 seconds remaining. The Rockets, then without Chris Paul, beat the Knicks for the ninth straight time at MSG.
Key trends: The Knicks have failed to cover their past seven on Friday. The under has hit in six straight Rockets home games.
Early lean: Knicks and under.
Heat at Timberwolves (TBA)
Miami has to have this one. The Heat haven't helped themselves this week in losing both ends of a home-and-home vs. Boston. On Wednesday, the Heat faded late in a 112-102 defeat in South Florida. Josh Richardson returned from a three-game absence with a sore heel, and then left early in the third quarter with a leg injury. Sounds like he will miss the rest of the way. The visiting team has won 15 of the last 20 meetings in this series That trend continued on Dec. 30 as the Wolves won 113-104 in Miami behind 34 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and a career-high six blocks from Karl-Anthony Towns. The Heat, though, have won nine of their past 10 in the Twin Cities.
Key trends: Miami has covered six in a row in Minnesota. The over is 4-1 in the previous five meetings.
Early lean: TBA for Richardson I guess, but he's not playing. Like Heat regardless.
Pistons at Thunder (TBA)
Detroit could finish anywhere from sixth in the East to out. OKC likely will finish seventh or eighth - I promise you the Thunder prefer seventh to likely face Denver in Round 1 instead of Golden State. Oklahoma City comes off a 119-103 win over the Lakers on Tuesday in which Russell Westbrook had 20 points, 21 assists and 20 rebounds, the second 20/20/20 triple-double in NBA history. Naturally, Wilt Chamberlain had the other. Coach Billy Donovan tried to take Westbrook out at 19 rebounds late, but Russ waved him off. Some have a problem with that, but this writer doesn't. Westbrook wanted to get the mark in honor of friend and rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was recently killed in L.A. These teams have split the season series the past four years. OKC won back on Dec. 3 in Detroit, 110-83.
Key trends: The Thunder are 3-9 ATS in their past 12 at home. The under is 8-1 in the previous nine meetings.
Early lean: TBA for Blake Griffin, who has missed past three (you know he wants to play in hometown).
Grizzlies at Mavericks (TBA)
Clubs playing out the string and looking to improve lottery position, although Dallas owes its first-round pick to Atlanta unless it lands in the Top 5 from the Luka Doncic/Trae Young 2018 draft-day deal that worked out great for both teams. Memphis leads the season series 2-0, winning both by double digits. Doncic is averaging 18.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists but may not play. The teams play again Sunday in Memphis.
Key trends: The Mavs are 5-2 ATS in past seven meetings. The under is 5-0-1 in the previous six.
Early lean: TBA for Doncic/Mike Conley.
Kings at Jazz (TBA)
Sacramento hosted Cleveland on Thursday. Utah still hoping to get to the fourth seed in the West. The Jazz won their sixth in a row Wednesday, 118-97 in Phoenix. Donovan Mitchell had 29 points and Joe Ingles a career-high-tying 27. Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, Derrick Favors and Kyle Korver all sat due to injury. The Jazz lead this season series 2-1 but lost the home meeting on Nov. 21, 119-110.
Key trends: The Kings are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over has hit in four straight.
Early lean: TBA presumably for those Jazz guys.
Pelicans at Suns (TBA)
Nothing to see here! Suns star Devin Booker is likely the latest Phoenix player done for the year after injuring his ankle Wednesday. Phoenix snapped an eight-game losing streak against New Orleans in their last meeting, the Suns winning 138-136 in OT in the Big Easy on March 16. Julius Randle has averaged 21.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in the three meetings this season, while Anthony Davis has averaged 19.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Neither guy may play. Booker averaged 26.0 points and 9.0 assists.
Key trends: The Pels have covered five in a row in the desert. The over is 4-1 in the previous five meetings.
Early lean: TBA for Davis & Booker (doubt either plays).
Trail Blazers at Nuggets (-5.5, 2314)
Second ESPN game. Portland is could get as high as second in the West, which is where Denver currently sits and probably stays. Hard to see the Nuggets slipping past No. 3 Houston at worst. These teams play again Sunday in Portland. Denver leads 2-0, winning them by a combined four points, and has taken the past five overall.
Key trends: The favorite is 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings and the over is 5-2 in the previous seven in Denver.
Early lean: Nuggets and over.
Cavaliers at Warriors (-16.5, 227.5)
Feels like a game the Warriors will rest guys as they play a third in four nights and were at the Lakers on Thursday. Cleveland was in Sacramento on Thursday. Bit of a different feel with the Cavs in Oakland this year sans LeBron James. It's their last-ever trip there after losing both games at Oracle in the 2018 NBA Finals. Golden State romped in Cleveland on Dec. 5, 129-105, and has taken the past four at home in the regular-season series.
Key trends: The Warriors are 8-19-1 ATS in their past 28 at home. The under is 19-7 in the Cavs' previous 26 in the second of a B2B.
Early lean: Cavs and under.
Lakers at Clippers (TBA)
Wonder what odds bettors could have gotten back in October on the Clippers making the playoffs and the Lakers not. Or the Clips finishing with at least 10 more victories. The Lakers hosted the Warriors on Thursday with Kyle Kuzma likely out again. The Clippers laid an egg at home vs. Houston on Wednesday in getting pounded 135-103. The Clippers lead the season series 2-1 vs. the Lakers and have won 23 of the past 27. Will be interesting which potential big-name players are on both L.A. teams the next time they play.
Key trends: The Lakers are 2-5 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 5-1 in the Clippers' past six overall.
Early lean: TBA for Kuzma? Won't matter. Clippers roll.
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