Free NBA Picks: Thursday, March 28, 2019, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
A couple of weeks ago on TNT's excellent "Inside the NBA," both Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith said they thought Portland would win the West this season. Wasn't impossible, but I also think they were just saying that for headlines and shock value. In the wake of center Jusuf Nurkic suffering compound fractures to the tibia and fibula of his lower left leg on Monday, forget Portland winning the West. It was disgusting and sad to watch, just like when Paul George was hurt in Las Vegas in 2014 and Gordon Hayward was in the 2017-18 season opener. Nurkic was having the best season of his five-year NBA career and had missed just one game due to injury. He was averaging 15.4 points, 3.2 assists and team bests in rebounds (10.3) and blocks (1.4). The good news is that the Blazers signed Enes Kanter when he was bought out by the Knicks, and Kanter can score and rebound. However, he's a defensive sieve, maybe the worst on that end in the NBA. Just for a point of comparison, Nurkic ranked Top 10 in the NBA in defensive real plus-minus. Kanter is 447th. Meyers Leonard also likely will start playing more, but he's equally horrendous on defense. Second-year Zach Collins also should see an uptick in minutes. The Blazers could slip out of the Top 4 in the West now depending on when CJ McCollum returns. It's thought he will return before the end of the regular season with a knee strain but isn't even on the team's four-game trip that runs through April 1. There's only so much Damian Lillard can do by himself. No TNT doubleheader this Thursday due to the NCAA Tournament.
Magic at Pistons (-4.5, 209)
Orlando won a huge game in Miami on Tuesday, 104-99, the Magic's sixth straight victory to take the Southeast Division lead. It's the team's longest win streak in eight years. Nikola Vucevic scored 24 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. He's going to get PAID this offseason. It was the last back-to-back of the year for the Magic. The Pistons are going the opposite direction on a three-game skid, albeit all on the road. It was 95-92 in Denver on Tuesday. Detroit did nearly rally from down 27 at the half. Blake Griffin had 29 points and 15 rebounds but missed a three-pointer at the buzzer. Last meeting between these teams with Detroit leading 2-1.
Key trends: The home team is 4-1 against the spread in the past five. The "over/under" is 5-2 in the previous seven.
Early lean: Pistons and over.
Nets at 76ers (TBA)
Potential first-round playoff preview. Brooklyn's two-game winning streak ended in a wild 148-144 double-OT loss in Portland on Monday in game No. 6 of a seven-game trip - hard to imagine the Nets having much left in the tank here. D'Angelo Russell had 39 in Monday's loss. The Sixers lost their second in a row Monday, 119-98 in Orlando. Philly missed 15 straight shots at one point in the second half. Ben Simmons sat with an illness. The Nets lead the season series 2-1, all played back in 2018.
Key trends: The Nets are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The under is 10-1 in Philly's previous 11 after a loss.
Early lean: Wait on Simmons, but I expect a blowout here for the Sixers.
Mavericks at Heat (-9, 209)
Our last ever look at Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade squaring off with both Hall of Famers retiring - technically, Dirk hasn't 100 percent confirmed that yet. The Heat try to sweep the Mavericks for the second straight year as Miami won by 11 in Dallas on Feb. 13. The Mavs are off a four-point home loss to the Kings on Tuesday. Dallas rookie Luka Doncic tied Magic Johnson with his seventh triple-double in his first season, tallying 28 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. It's the third-most triple-doubles by a rookie and tied for the most by a player before his 21st birthday. Dirk had nine points in 11 minutes. The Heat lost an important home game Tuesday to Orlando, 104-99, on the night the team retired Chris Bosh's jersey.
Key trends: The Mavs are 1-6 ATS in the past seven meetings. The under has hit in four straight Heat home games.
Early lean: Heat and under.
Raptors at Knicks (+11.5, 215)
Feels like a game where Kawhi Leonard could sit. Toronto snapped a two-game slide with a 112-103 victory over Chicago on Tuesday. Leonard and Kyle Lowry each scored 14 points before sitting out the final quarter. OG Anunoby left in the fourth with a head injury and could sit a while. It was the first of three straight games against opponents who have at least 50 defeats for Toronto. New York dropped its fourth straight by double digits Sunday, 124-113 vs. the Clippers. Emmanuel Mudiay had 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Knicks, who have lost 60 games for only the second time. Rookie Kevin Knox sat out the second half with a sprained right ankle. The Raptors have won the past five in this series.
Key trends: The home team is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 9-1-1 in the Raptors' past 11 following a loss.
Early lean: Knicks and over.
Nuggets at Rockets (-6, 218.5)
NBA TV game. Could be a preview of the Western Conference semifinals if Denver finishes second in the regular-season standings and Houston third - I do think that happens now with Portland's troubles. Houston is 2-1 vs. Denver this year and has taken the past five at home. Denver returned home from a four-game trip Tuesday with a 95-92 win over Detroit but nearly lost a 27-point halftime lead. Jamal Murray scored 33 points, including six in the final minute. Nikola Jokic finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds for his 51st double-double this season. Houston lost in Milwaukee on Tuesday, 108-94, as James Harden was held to 23 points. Kenneth Faried and Gerald Green were both out injured - Green will miss at least a week.
Key trends: The favorite is 5-1 ATS in the past six meeting and the over is 5-1 in those.
Early lean: Rockets and over.
Clippers at Bucks (-8.5, 232)
The Clippers won a sixth in a row Tuesday, 122-111 in Minnesota to clinch a playoff spot that sure looked unlikely back in early October. This was supposed to be one of the West's worst teams, but L.A. is 11-1 in March. Doc Rivers deserves Coach of the Year consideration. Landry Shamet did not play Tuesday due to an ankle injury. The Bucks were determined to not let James Harden beat them on Tuesday, and he was contained in Milwaukee's 108-94 win over Houston. Eric Bledsoe had 23 points and largely kept Harden in check. L.A. won its third straight in this series on Nov. 10, 128-126 in OT.
Key trends: The Clips are 2-8 ATS in their past 10 on Thursday. The over is 7-3 in the Bucks' past 10 vs. the West.
Early lean: Clippers and over.
Kings at Pelicans (TBA)
Sacramento was a 125-121 winner in Dallas on Tuesday to sweep the season series for the first time in more than 20 years. De'Aaron Fox had 23 points, eight assists and five rebounds. The Kings' future is really bright thanks in large part to him. New Orleans dropped its third in a row Tuesday, 130-120 vs. Atlanta. Julius Randle led the Pelicans with 24 points and nine rebounds. Anthony Davis was out and so was Jrue Holiday, who has officially been shut down. These teams have split two meetings, each winning at home in a high-scoring matchup.
Key trends: The Pels are 1-9 ATS in their past 10. The over is 5-1 in the previous six meetings.
Early lean: TBA presumably for Davis. Not that it matters - Pels have quit.
Cavaliers at Spurs (-12, 220)
Cleveland dropped a third in a row Tuesday, 116-106 vs. Boston, and this starts a five-game trip. Collin Sexton led the Cavs with 24 points and Jordan Clarkson scored 18. Kevin Love was 3-for-13 for 10 points with 11 rebounds. The team has shut down Matthew Dellavedova. The Spurs just aren't the same on the road, and that was evident in a 125-116 OT loss in Charlotte on Tuesday. DeMar DeRozan had 30 points to lead the Spurs, but missed a jumper at the end of regulation that would have won it. First meeting between these clubs with San Antonio having taken the past four.
Key trends: The Cavs are 0-4 ATS in the past four meetings. The over is 7-1 in San Antonio's previous eight vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Spurs and over.
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