Free NBA Picks: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
More often than not, the best ATS teams in the NBA each season aren't the clubs with the best straight-up records but those that have outperformed what was expected of them. The top ATS team coming out of the break is the Milwaukee Bucks 34-21-2, and the Bucks have the best SU record in the league at 43-14. So, yes, that goes against my argument in a way. But the Bucks also have been much better than people expected. So have the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, who are tied for the second-best ATS mark at 34-22-1. The worst two ATS teams in the league have been the most-hyped ones: The Warriors (24-32-1) and Lakers (24-31-2). Golden State continues to win but is just favored by too much - usually double digits - on a nightly basis. The LeBron James effect is why the Lakers are so poor ATS as causal bettors wager heavily on L.A. each night. The best "over" teams have been the Washington Wizards (36-22) and San Antonio Spurs (36-22-1). The best "under" bets are the Lakers (22-34-1) and Memphis Grizzlies (23-36).
Suns at Cavaliers (-1.5, 222.5)
A game both would be better off losing - although, remember, the teams with the three worst records now have an equal chance of winning the draft lottery. The Cavs have the worst point differential in the NBA at minus-10.5, while the Suns have the worst winning percentage at .186 and enter on a 15-game skid. It's the first meeting of the season between the franchises. Cleveland has won the past seven thanks mostly to LeBron.
Key trends: The Suns are 8-1 against the spread in their past nine road games vs. teams with a losing home record. The over is 12-5-1 in the Cavs' past 18 at home.
Early lean: Suns and over.
Heat at 76ers (-9, TBA)
Miami comes out of the break tied with Detroit for the East's final playoff spot but losing the tiebreaker. The Heat are an odd club as they are 15-14 on the road but 11-16 at home. It's the second of three meetings between the teams with Philly winning the first, 124-114 in south Florida on Nov. 12. Joel Embiid had 35 points and 18 rebounds. That game was the same night the Sixers landed Jimmy Butler, but he wasn't available to play yet. Dwyane Wade missed it for Miami. This one opened at -9 but was taken down at some books and no total as of yet because of news Wednesday that Embiid will miss a week with a sore knee. Uh-oh, Sixers fans.
Key trends: The Heat are 2-5 ATS in their past seven in Philly. The under is 6-2 in the 76ers' past eight overall.
Early lean: Take Heat and points.
Trail Blazers at Nets (pick'em, TBA)
Portland sits fourth in the West, while surprising Brooklyn is sixth in the East. It's the first meeting of the season between the two after splitting in 2017-18. Damian Lillard averaged 26.5 points, 7.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds and Jusuf Nurkic 25.0 points and 10.0 rebounds. D'Angelo Russell had 21 points and nine assists in his lone game vs. the Blazers for Brooklyn. The Nets' Joe Harris won the 3-Point Contest during All-Star Saturday night in Charlotte. He became the first Nets player to win the contest.
Key trends: The Nets have covered six straight vs. the West. The over is 10-1-1 ATS in the Blazers' past 12 vs. the East.
Early lean: This spread could change and no opening total because Lillard is listed as questionable with a sprained ankle. I'd expect him to play.
Celtics at Bucks (-5, 228)
First of the TNT doubleheader and could easily be a playoff preview. Right now, the clubs would meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals were the first round to go chalk by seed. Presumably, Kyrie Irving will play through his knee strain since he did Sunday night in the All-Star Game despite sitting the final two before the break. Boston's Jayson Tatum won the Skills Challenge in Charlotte. This closes the regular-season series, with them having split two games in Boston. The Bucks haven't won the season series since the 2014-15 season.
Key trends: The favorite is 5-0 ATS in the previous five meetings. The under is 6-0 in Boston's past six on the road.
Early lean: Bucks and under.
Kings at Warriors (-14, 238.5)
Could be a first-round playoff preview as Golden State is No. 1 in the West, while the Kings are a game out of the final playoff spot in the conference. This wraps up the season series with the Warriors leading 3-0 but winning those - all high-scoring - by just a combined 10 points. The last meeting was the only time in NBA history both teams made at least 20 three-pointers. Golden State's Kevin Durant was the All-Star Game MVP on Sunday, his second time winning that award. In the last six regular-season games, Durant is shooting 63.9 percent from the field and 74.6 percent on just 2-pointers.
Key trends: The Kings are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 9-4 in the Warriors' past 13 vs. the West.
Early lean: Kings and over.
Rockets at Lakers (+3.5, 233.5)
Second TNT game. Houston sits fifth in the West and the Lakers are three games out of the final playoff spot. I don't happen to think they make it. James Harden carries a 31-game streak of scoring at least 30 points into this one, tied for second-longest in league history. Houston is expected to get back center Clint Capela here. He has been out since a right thumb injury suffered at Orlando on Jan. 13. Houston leads the season series 3-0 and looks for only its second-ever sweep of the Lakers. Harden is averaging 44.7 points vs. L.A. LeBron is putting up 26.5 ppg but missed one.
Key trends: The Rockets are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 at the Lakers. The over is 5-1 in L.A.'s past six on Thursday.
Early lean: Rockets and over.
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