Free NBA Picks: Saturday, April 6, 2019, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
There are just two games on Saturday's NBA schedule, no doubt because of the Final Four. The betting favorite to win NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player entering the weekend was Michigan State junior point guard Cassius Winston, but he's not considered much of an NBA prospect. Does everything well in college but nothing great and isn't a stellar athlete. That might benefit Sparty because Winston could and should return to school or risk going undrafted. It's an interesting Final Four group of players because there's no sure-fire NBA star among them. The only two likely 2019 lottery picks from Michigan State, Texas Tech, Auburn and Virginia this year, presuming both declare, are the Red Raiders' Jarrett Culver and Cavaliers' De'Andre Hunter. Most draft rankings have them around 5-6 in the current class. This is what happens when there's no Kentucky or Duke in the Final Four: Lack of star power and future NBA talent. Incidentally, the top three teams in the draft lottery with an equal 14 percent chance of winning it have been set: the Knicks, Suns and Cavaliers. The Bulls will have the fourth-best chance at 12.5 and Hawks fifth-best at 10.5. The rest is still to shake out with only a few days left in the regular season.
Nets at Bucks (TBA)
First NBA TV game and could be a first-round playoff preview. Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson served on Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer's staff in Atlanta for three seasons as an assistant (2013-16). Milwaukee has little reason to play any of its key guys as it has clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference. That happened on Thursday as Milwaukee won 128-122 in Philadelphia. Giannis Antetokounmpo probably was going to win the MVP Award regardless but he locked it up with 45 points and 13 rebounds - his 42 nd game this season with at least 25 and 10. Khris Middleton returned after missing two games and had 22 points.
Brooklyn looked like a playoff sure thing not long ago but now is in some jeopardy of missing out as the Nets have dropped two straight and seven of 10 to fall back below .500. They were beaten 115-105 at home against the Raptors on Wednesday. D'Angelo Russell had 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but Caris LeVert was just 1-for-9 for three points. The Nets' final two games are at Indiana on Sunday and home to Miami on Wednesday, and both the Pacers and Heat have reasons to care. I promise you the NBA is hoping the New York market has one playoff representative.
Milwaukee has won all three this season by double digits vs. the Nets, including 131-121 in Brooklyn on Monday. The Bucks shot 50 percent to the Nets' 41.5 and Milwaukee outscored Brooklyn 33-15 in fast-break points.
Key trends: The Nets are 12-4 against the spread in their past 16 on two days of rest. The road team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The "over/under" is 4-0 in the previous four.
Early lean: Nets regardless of number. Matters to them.
76ers at Bulls (TBA)
Also on NBA TV and the 76ers have no huge reason to play anyone of note, although maybe Jimmy Butler wants to play against his former club. Philly will finish third in the Eastern Conference standings and open the playoffs against the Pistons, Nets, Magic or Heat - this writer predicts Detroit. The Sixers technically haven't clinched the third seed yet. They could have Thursday but lost a third straight, 128-122 vs. Milwaukee. Butler sat for the second time in the past three, but Joel Embiid played after missing the past three and had 34 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists. Maybe he plays here so Philly can officially clinch and then sits until the playoffs.
The Bulls are in operation shutdown with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter and rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison all done - each does have a legitimate injury. Kris Dunn (back) probably is finished too. There's some talent here, but Chicago really needs an upgrade on Dunn at the point. Ja Morant would be a spectacular fit in the draft if the Bulls finish second in the lottery (they aren't passing on Zion Williamson at No. 1 even though his position isn't one of need). Chicago snapped a five-game skid and ended any chance of catching Cleveland for the NBA's third-worst record with a 115-114 win in Washington on Wednesday. Someone named Walt Lemon Jr. had a career-high 24 points, including two free throws with 1.8 seconds left. I do this for a living and barely know who that guy is. The Bulls' other starters vs. the Wiz: Robin Lopez (only legit NBA player among group), Shaquille Harrison, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Wayne Selden. Seriously, that club wouldn't win a G-League title.
These teams have split two meetings, each winning at home, and close the regular season on Wednesday in Philly.
Key trends: The Sixers are 2-6 ATS in their past eight. The over is 7-1 in their previous eight vs. the East. The home team has covered five straight in the series.
Early lean: Take the Sixers regardless as they will play hard one last time to finalize the third seed.
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