Free NBA Picks: Friday, March 15, 2019, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
With about a month left in the regular season, we've hit "shutdown mode" for non-contending teams looking to improve their draft lottery chances. For example, don't be surprised if we have seen the last of Chicago Bulls leading scorer Zach LaVine as he's dealing with a patellar tendon strain. The good news is that it's not in the knee where LaVine had ACL surgery. Last July, the Bulls were ridiculed for matching the Kings' $80 million offer sheet for LaVine. Turned out to be a good decision as LaVine is averaging career highs in points (23.8), shooting (46.8 percent), assists (4.4) and rebounds (4.6). He can't play defense, but then few top scorers can. The Bulls haven't said they are shutting LaVine down and are just being cautious, but it was this time last year they didn't the same thing with him off his return from the ACL injury and some lingering soreness. Chicago currently sits with the fourth-worst record in the NBA, and it's important to get to the third-worst if at all possible to get an equal chance with the two worst teams of winning the draft lottery. Benching LaVine the rest of the way can only help in that regard. And now the Bulls have a legitimate reason for doing it.
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Lakers at Pistons (TBA)
Los Angeles was in Toronto on Thursday, and there has been some talk the team might sit LeBron James in one half of back-to-backs the rest of the way. Pretty sure LeBron will play if he wants to - and he probably doesn't want to deprive the fans of Detroit their only chance to see him. The Pistons were playing as well as any team in the East since the break but then were crushed Monday in Brooklyn and followed it up with a 108-74 loss in Miami on Wednesday. Detroit was outscored 33-8 in the third quarter. Andre Drummond had five points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes before fouling out, ending his franchise-record-tying streak of 19 consecutive double-doubles. Reggie Jackson left injured. Detroit has won three straight at home in this series but lost in L.A. on Jan. 9, 113-100, when James was injured.
Key trends: The Lakers are 6-4 against the spread in the past 10 meetings. The "over/under" is 4-6 in those.
Early lean: Wait on LeBron.
Kings at 76ers (-9, 233)
Sacramento was in Boston on Thursday. The 76ers won their second in a row Tuesday, 106-99 over Cleveland but didn't play particularly well. Ben Simmons had 26 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and Joel Embiid 17 points and 19 rebounds. Jimmy Butler got the night off. A win here for Sacramento would mark just the fifth time in franchise where the Kings beat Philadelphia in four straight games. The Kings were 115-108 home winners on Feb. 2. Buddy Hield had 34 points, while Embiid had 29 points and 17 boards in a losing effort.
Key trends: The Sixers are 6-4 ATS in the past 10 meetings, and the O/U is 5-5.
Early lean: Sixers and under.
Hornets at Wizards (-4, 232.5)
The Hornets were 118-106 losers in Houston on Monday as they continue to fade. Kemba Walker had 40 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missed his second straight game with a strained left knee. Washington won its second in a row Wednesday, 100-90 over Orlando. Bradley Beal scored 23 points and Jabari Parker added 19 - Parker and Bobby Portis have been great trade additions. Last meeting between these division rivals, with Charlotte leading 2-1 - taking both at home.
Key trends: The teams have split the past 10 ATS, and the over is 6-4 in those.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Bucks at Heat (+7, 220.5)
First of an NBA TV doubleheader and could be a first-round playoff preview. Milwaukee was a 130-113 winner in New Orleans on Tuesday. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 24 points and Khris Middleton 23. It marked the Bucks' first season sweep of the Pelicans since they moved to New Orleans. The Heat trashed the Pistons on Wednesday, 108-74, as a 21-0 run out of the break blew the game open. Justise Winslow scored 16 points for Miami, which had seven players in double figures in its biggest margin of victory this year. These teams have split two meetings, with the Heat winning a very low-scoring game at home.
Key trends: Miami has covered seven of the past 10 in the series, and the under has hit in five of the previous six.
Early lean: Heat and under.
Suns at Rockets (-13.5, 225)
Phoenix lost 114-97 at home to Utah on Wednesday, outscored by 14 in the fourth. Devin Booker's 27 points led the Suns, who came back from 14 down in the third quarter to tie the score. Deandre Ayton was just 1-for-9 for two points. The Rockets tried for the four-game season sweep of Golden State on Wednesday but lost 106-104 to end a nine-game winning streak. James Harden had 29 points but was just 2-for-12 from deep. The Rockets were 11-for-41 overall from behind the arc. That won't cut it. Houston won the lone meeting this season, 118-110 vs. the Suns on Feb. 4 and has taken nine straight in the series. The Rockets have scored 110+ points in 11 of the past 12 games vs. Phoenix.
Key trends: Houston has covered just four of the past 10 in the series. The over is 7-2-1 in them.
Early lean: Suns and over.
Trail Blazers at Pelicans (+6.5, 234.5)
The Blazers were 125-104 winners at the Clippers on Tuesday behind 35 points from CJ McCollum and 20 apiece from Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. Guard Rodney Hood did not play due to right hip soreness. New Orleans lost its fourth straight Tuesday, 130-113 vs. Milwaukee. Elfrid Payton had his second consecutive triple-double for the Pelicans, finishing with 14 points, a career-high 15 rebounds and 11 assists. He is the first New Orleans player to have a triple-double in consecutive games since Chris Paul in 2008. Portland looks for the three-game series sweep, winning both by double digits. Lillard has averaged 25.0 points, 7.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds in them. Anthony Davis played in one.
Key trends: The teams have split the past 10 ATS, and the O/U is 6-4.
Early lean: Pelicans and over.
Knicks at Spurs (-12.5, 216)
New York dropped its seventh in a row Tuesday, 103-98 at Indiana. Emmanuel Mudiay led the Knicks with 21 points. DeAndre Jordan had 12 points and 16 rebounds, his 12th double-double since joining the team. The Spurs won a season-high sixth straight Tuesday, 112-105 in Dallas. DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points, and LaMarcus Aldridge added 28. Rudy Gay sat again with the flue but is expected to play here. The Knicks upset the Spurs 130-118 at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 24, but the Spurs have taken the past four at home.
Key trends: The Spurs are 4-6 ATS in the past 10 meetings, and the over has hit in seven.
Early lean: Knicks and over.
Bulls at Clippers (TBA)
Second NBA TV game. Starts a three-game trip out west for the Bulls, who lost their third in a row Tuesday, 123-107 to the Lakers - blowing an early 20-point lead. LaVine missed his second in a row and Lauri Markkanen struggled in shooting just 4-for-17 for 11 points. The Clippers also have been off since Tuesday, getting routed 125-104 at home by Portland a night after L.A. destroyed Boston. The Clips looked tired Tuesday, outscored 40-20 in the fourth. Montrezl Harrell had 22 points and Lou Williams - who on Monday became the NBA's all-time leading scorer off the bench, 18 for the Clippers. Chicago has lost the past six in this series; it was 106-101 on Jan. 25 with Williams putting up the first triple-double of his career.
Key trends: The Clippers are 6-4 ATS in the past 10, and the under has hit in five straight.
Early lean: TBA presumably for LaVine (no way he's playing).
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