Free NBA Picks: Thursday, March 7, 2019, Opening Line Report and Handicapping
I'm frankly getting tired of talking about LeBron James and the Lakers, but ESPN and Stephen A. Smith are shoving the topic down my throat. And while the Lakers don't play on a very light night around the NBA Thursday, there's a Mybookie.ag prop out that I suppose we should address: Will the Lakers make the playoffs? Yes is +900 and no -2500 - with the prop only running through Sunday. ESPN's Basketball Power Index gives the Lakers a 0.1 percent chance of doing so, which is fewer than teams like the Timberwolves and trying to tank Pelicans.
Including Wednesday's home game with Denver, the Lakers have the seventh-toughest strength of schedule left in the league the rest of the way. They probably would need to reach at least 44 wins to get in the tough West, and that looks impossible. They still have tough matchups vs. Boston, at Toronto, at Milwaukee, at Utah, at Oklahoma City, vs Golden State, at the Clippers, vs. the Jazz and vs. Portland. Thus, it's almost certainly the Lakers' playoff drought will reach a sixth year (longest in team history), while James will fail to make the postseason for the first time since 2005. There's been some talk about LeBron sitting out or having his minutes hugely cut once the postseason is officially out of reach, but he shot that idea down. Still, his legacy as the alleged GOAT rival to Michael Jordan is going to take a hit.
Pacers at Bucks (-10, 222.5)
First of a TNT doubleheader - the only games on the schedule. If you don't believe in trap games, I give you the Milwaukee Bucks, who are leading the NBA in winning percentage and on pace to have one of the greatest regular seasons in franchise history. Yet, they were swept by the sad-sack Suns this season - both times as 13.5-point favorites (or close). The first was Nov. 23 in Milwaukee, 116-114, on a last-second Jamal Crawford shot. Maybe the Bucks were looking ahead to a tougher challenge the next night vs. San Antonio because everyone of note did play. Totally understand what happened on Monday, though, as it was the end of a grueling five-game trip for the Bucks that included four games out west. They were knocked off 114-105 in their third game in four nights, blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. Milwaukee shot 36.8 percent overall. The Bucks went 63 games this season before suffering back-to-back losses (lost Saturday in Utah). Only three teams in NBA history went longer into a season. The record is all 82 by the 2015-16 Warriors. The Bucks also had been the only team this season to not lose twice to one opponent.
Indiana was a 105-96 home winner over Chicago on Tuesday. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 27 points, his career-high fifth straight game with at least 20, and Darren Collison added 22. Domantas Sabonis missed his fourth consecutive game with a sprained left ankle. Since returning from the break, the NBA's second-best defense had allowed 110 or more points in six consecutive games. Wraps up the season series between these division rivals, with Milwaukee leading 2-1. The Bucks ended a four-game road losing streak at Indiana with a 106-97 victory in the last matchup on Feb. 13.
Key trends: The Pacers are 3-10 against the spread in their past 13 on the road. The Bucks are 14-3 ATS in their past 17 following a loss. The home team is 7-2 ATS in the past nine meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in five of the past six meetings.
Early lean: Pacers and under.
Thunder at Trail Blazers (-4, 233)
Second TNT game. Pretty clear to me that the Warriors and Nuggets will finish 1-2 in the West, so these two are trying to grab the final two home-court advantage spots in the first round. Tend to think Houston will finish ahead of one or both, however. Oklahoma City was a 131-120 loser in Minnesota on Tuesday even though Paul George returned from a three-game injury absence. He had 25 points but was just 4-for-14 from deep. Russell Westbrook had 38 points and 13 rebounds. Portland closed a seven-game trip at 5-2 (tying best seven-game road trip in franchise history) with a 120-111 loss in Memphis on Tuesday. The Blazers perhaps ran out of steam as they blew a 16-point lead. CJ McCollum led Portland with 27 points, while Damian Lillard added 24.
Concludes the season series between these teams, with OKC trying for the four-game sweep. George has destroyed Portland this year, averaging 40.0 points (59.3 percent from deep), 9.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists. Lillard is averaging 29.3 points (just 23.1 percent from deep), 7.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals vs. OKC.
Key trends: The Thunder are 0-8 ATS in their past eight games. The Blazers are 8-1 ATS in their previous nine following an ATS loss. The home team is 11-5 ATS in the past 16 meetings. The under is 4-1 in the previous five.
Early lean: Blazers and under.
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