Free NBA Picks: Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
With the holiday and an emphasis on the NFL playoffs, this is our first NBA Opening Line Report in a week, so it's overdue that we address the heel surgery that ended the season for Wizards All-Star guard John Wall. Is Wall a good player? No question and I'm sure any team would love to have him. Is he soon to be the most overpaid player in basketball history? No question. When Wall's contract kicks in for the 2019-20 season, he will make $37.8 million to start. In the final season of that deal, 2022-23, he'll make nearly $47 million. Maybe five players in the NBA are worth that much. Thus, Wall is 100 percent untradeable.
This writer also thinks the Wizards are better without him. The team's assist total goes way up when Wall sits - he missed a chunk of last season injured, too, and Washington led the NBA in assists in that span - which would seem odd considering Wall is the point guard and is always among the NBA assist leaders. But, he's also a major ballhog. When Tomas Satoransky is the starting point guard (in theory), there's just better ball movement. Will the Wizards make the playoffs without Wall? Maybe, simply because the Eastern Conference is terrible. However, if I'm the Wizards front office this is my chance to trade whomever I can this season and tank for a top draft pick - especially with Markieff Morris now sidelined at least six weeks due to his own injury. Fans would understand without the face of the franchise available.
Hornets at Nuggets ( -9.5, 219.5)
A 5 p.m. ET start as the Hornets begin a six-game road trip - they have just four road wins on the season and figure to be well below-.500 overall by the time they return to Charlotte. And yet still may hold a playoff spot in the sorry East. The Hornets are maddening because they have some quality wins over the likes of the Bucks, Celtics and Pacers but will lay an egg some nights, too, like in Wednesday's 122-84 loss to Dallas - which entered with all of two road wins on the season. Cody Zeller (hand) and Jeremy Lamb (hamstring) were both out, and Zeller won't be playing for a while due to a fracture. Denver won its fourth in a row Thursday, 117-113 in Sacramento. Jamal Murray had 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter as the Nugs completed a rally from down 15 in the third. The Hornets beat the Nuggets 113-107 on Dec. 7 to snap Denver's seven-game winning steak when it was in the midst of a long trip. Kemba Walker had 21 points and eight assists.
Key trends: The Hornets are 1-5 against the spread in their past six vs. the West. The "over/under" is 13-3 in Denver's past 16 at home vs. teams with a losing road record.
Early lean: Nuggets and over.
Jazz at Pistons (+1, 208)
Utah was in Cleveland on Friday. Detroit stopped a three-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory in Memphis on Wednesday in the second of a back-to-back. Blake Griffin had 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Stanley Johnson was questionable with a left thigh contusion and played only six minutes. The Pistons have dropped the past four in this series. Each of the last four years, one team has swept the other.
Key trends: The Jazz are 2-9 ATS in their past 11 in the second of a back-to-back. The under has hit in seven straight meetings.
Early lean: Pistons and under.
Mavericks at 76ers (TBA)
Dallas was probably losing in Boston on Friday night. The 76ers completed a five-game road trip at 3-2 with Wednesday's 132-127 win in Phoenix. Joel Embiid played through a sore knee and tied a season high with 42 points while adding 18 rebounds. There seems to be a bit of a flu bug or something going around the NBA and Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler both missed due to an upper respiratory infection and didn't practice Friday. First meeting between these teams. Philly swept last year.
Key trends: The home team is 7-2 ATS in the past nine meetings. The over is 5-2 in Philly's past seven.
Early lean: Wait on Butler (and Embiid).
Pelicans at Cavaliers (+7, 222.5)
Cleveland was home to Utah on Friday. Sounds as if Anthony Davis is starting to get frustrated regarding his situation with the Pelicans as they lost again Wednesday, 126-121 in Brooklyn. New Orleans allowed 73 first-half points. Davis was typically awesome with 34 points and a career-high 26 rebounds. The Pels had at least 16 points from every starter but a total of five from the bench. Nikola Mirotic is sorely missed. He might return Saturday. These teams split last year, and New Orleans has won its past eight at home in the series. Davis averaged 23.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Key trends: The Pels are 1-6 ATS in their past seven. The over is 4-1 in their previous five on the road.
Early lean: Pelicans and over.
Raptors at Bucks (TBA)
NBA TV game and clearly the biggest of the night as these clubs battle for the East's best record. Bucks, though, playing second of a back-to-back - but at least Friday was home vs. Atlanta. Toronto was clubbed 125-107 in San Antonio on Tuesday. Kyle Lowry missed a fourth straight game due to lower back pain and is doubtful here. Kawhi Leonard, showered with boos all night, had 21 points but was minus-22. The Bucks won a fourth in a row Tuesday, 121-98 over Detroit. Brook Lopez was the team's rare leading scorer with 25 points. Milwaukee leads the season series 2-0. Leonard missed the first one but played the most recent game, a 104-99 loss in Brew Town. Malcolm Brogdon hit tying and go-ahead 3-pointers in the final 67 seconds. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 19 points and matched a season high with 19 rebounds. Lowry was scoreless for the first time since March 2013.
Key trends: The Raptors are 1-4 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 4-1 in those.
Early lean: Wait on Lowry.
Grizzlies at Spurs (TBA)
Memphis hosted Brooklyn on Friday with Mike Conley in question but likely to play (still why the TBA and could sit second of a B2B). Could be a bit of a letdown game for San Antonio after Leonard returned with the Raptors on Thursday and the Spurs rolled 125-107. DeMar DeRozan had his first career triple-double with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. He became the first Spur with one at home since Tim Duncan in 2003. It's the second of four meetings between these teams with Memphis winning 104-103 in San Antonio on Nov. 21. Marc Gasol hit two free throws with 0.7 seconds left. The Grizzlies hadn't won in the Alamo City since Dec. 17, 2014. The Spurs trailed much of the game but took the lead with 1.2 seconds left on a DeRozan fadeaway. Marc Gasol's brother Pau missed the game injured.
Key trends: The Spurs are 13-3-1 ATS in their past 17. The over is 7-2 in the previous nine meetings.
Early lean: Go under no matter the number.
Rockets at Trail Blazers (+1.5, 216.5)
Portland hosted Oklahoma City on Friday. Houston won perhaps the game of the year Thursday in Oakland, 135-134 in overtime, as James Harden continued to be unconscious by hitting the ridiculous winning 3-pointer in the final seconds of OT. He finished with 44 points (his fifth straight 40-point game), 15 assists and 10 rebounds. Not seen a level of dominance like this since MJ. Clint Capela contributed 29 points and 21 rebounds. Eric Gordon sat out a second straight game with a bruised right knee. These teams have split two meetings this year, both in Houston. Harden missed the 104-85 loss but had 29 points in the 111-103 victory. The Blazers are looking to take the season series for the first time since going 2-1 in 2014-15, but Houston is looking to win its third in a row in Portland for the first time in more than six seasons.
Key trends: The home team is 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 5-1 in the previous six in Portland.
Early lean: Blazers and over.
Warriors at Kings (+7.5, 238.5)
The thought of the Warriors blowing a 20-point lead in any of the past four seasons would be laughable, but that's what happened Thursday in a wild 135-134 overtime loss to Houston. The defeat was the Warriors' sixth of the season at Oracle Arena, one more than they had during the entire 2016-17 regular season. Steph Curry (35), Kevin Durant (26) and Klay Thompson (26) combined for 87 points, and the Dubs just never lose when they all reach 20 points - much less 25. Has the Kings' fade begun? They lost a third in a row Thursday, 117-113 vs. Denver and blew an early 15-point third-quarter lead. Buddy Hield led with 29 points. These clubs have played two high-scoring, very competitive games in which the Warriors won both. The Kings have lost their past three at home vs. Golden State, blowing a 10-point lead with just over four minutes left on Dec. 14.
Key trends: The Warriors are 2-5 ATS in the past seven meetings. The under is 7-3 in the previous 10.
Early lean: Kings and over.
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