|Date||Match Up||Rating||Score||Result||Profit||Lead Time||Analysis|
|05-09-18||76ers -1 v. Celtics||Top||112-114||Loss||-102||28 h 20 m||Show|
The set-up: The Boston Celtics have never lost a playoff series after taking a 2-0 lead (36-0 all-time) and in this series against the 76ers, won Game 3, as well. Yes, Philly won Game 4 at home to stave off elimination but both the 76ers and Celtics are well aware that all 130 teams which have fallen behind 0-3 in a best-of-seven series (including Toronto just losing to Cleveland in the 2018 postseason) have failed in their attempt to make a 'miracle' comeback. The Celtics were outplayed by the 76ers in Monday's 103-92 loss but the post-game mood wasn't overly somber. "It's 3-1, we get a chance to go back to Boston," forward Marcus Morris told reporters. "Nobody's head is down. We're all motivated. We're happy. It would've been better to end it (Monday), but so be it. We go back to Boston and play." As for the 76ers, they are still maintaining hope that they can become the first team to rally from a 0-3 deficit and win a playoff series. "This thing can be done," Philadelphia forward Robert Covington told reporters. "We've done it before as far as finishing the season strong so why can't we do this? We're playing against history, but we've played against history before so why can't we do something great?" Philadelphia: T.J. McConnell will draw his second straight start after posting 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes in Game 4. McConnell started just one game during the regular season but he provided a tone for Monday's win by making 9-of-12 from the floor and not committing any turnovers, as part of Philly's three-guard lineup (joining Simmons and Redick). "He changed everything," 76ers center Joel Embiid told reporters. "He was pressing full court the whole time doing his job, running the offense, getting guys involved, making shots, layups." SF Covington came of the bench, while PF Saric had his best game of the postseason in Game 4, scoring 25 points and adding eight rebounds (he had averaged 12.3 points over the first three games of the series). Simmons bounced back from his one-point effort in Game 3 with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Embiid added 15 & 13 (he's averaging 20.6 & 12.7 in seven playoff games). Boston: The injury-ravaged Celtics suffered another one in Game 4, as Shane Larkin injuring his left shoulder running into the wall known as Embiid. Head coach Stevens said Tuesday he won't know until Wednesday's shoot-around whether he'll have his backup guard. The Celtics were sloppy as their four-game playoff winning streak came to an end. "I mean, obviously, what did we end up with? Fifteen turnovers," Stevens said after the game. "The offensive rebounds were enormous for them, just the extra possessions. Neither team shot it great, but they were really good tonight." Guard Terry Rozier has emerged as a postseason hero with Kyrie Irving out for the year, but he will need to bounce back from his first sub-par game of the series. He had just two assists and scored only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting in Game 4. Rozier averaged 22.3 points over the first three games of the series and has scored 20 or more points on five occasions during the postseason (18.3-5.5-6.1 in 11 playoff games). SF Jayson Tatum is averaging 23.3 points in the series and has extended his rookie franchise postseason record of consecutive 20-point games to six.
The pick: Boston having never lost a series in which it has gone up 2-0 in plus the fact that teams falling behind 0-3 in a series are 0-130 all-time, make Philly's chances at coming all the way back to win this series seem futile. Throw in that Boston is also 6-0 SU at home this postseason and it's more than fair to say Philly's postseason hopes are 'on life-support.' However, the 76ers can win here and still lose the series, so let's stick to this Game 5 analysis. Philly did not play well in Game 1 but had chances to win in each of the next three games, finally breaking through in Game 4. Note that Game 4 was not exactly Philly at its best. We haven't seen that yet. My bet is we will see that tonight, as Philly starts to make Boston 'sweat' with a win that sens this series back to Philly for a Game 6. Make Philly a 10* play.
|05-08-18||Jazz +12.5 v. Rockets||Top||102-112||Win||100||13 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: Houston Rockets drilled the Jazz in Game 1 of this series but then lost Game 2. However, the league's best regular season team (65-17) rebounded with back-to-back double-digit victories at Salt Lake City to take a commanding 3-1 series lead." Houston is that good. Give them credit. They know how to control a game," Jazz head coach Snyder told reporters after a 100-87 loss on Sunday in Game 4. Chris Paul ate up Utah's defense with a string of short jumpers en route to a 27-point, 12-rebound, six-assist effort for Houston, his best game of the 2018 postseason. James Harden added 24 points, while center Clint Capela had 12 & 15, his fifth double-double in his last six games. The Jazz shot 38.6% as a team, including an awful 7 of 29 (24.1%) on threes. The Rockets are aiming for their eighth trip to a conference finals and their first since 2015, when they lost to Golden State,
Utah: Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell is doing his best to be the leader on the offensive end (24.4 PPG in the playoffs) but PG Ricky Rubio has still not played in the series due to a hamstring issue. That's allowed the Rockets to key in on the 21-year-old, who was 8-of-24 from the floor Sunday as the Jazz shot a playoff-low 38.6 percent. Joe Ingles had 27 points in the Game 2 win at Houston but averaged just 10.5 on 34.8 percent shooting in the two contests at home. Mitchell and Ingles shot 30 percent and 34.8 percent at Vivint Smart Home Arena, respectively, with both missing 10 of 14 three-pointers. PF Derrick Favors was limited to 16 minutes in Game 4 due to a sprained ankle, as injuries have taken their toll on Utah.
Houston: Harden and Paul get the bulk of the headlines but center Clint Capela's ability to raise his game has made Houston particularly dangerous this spring. He had 12 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots in Game 4 and is averaging 15.4 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in the playoffs, all increases from the regular season. The Rockets are undoubtedly the better team and for the most part, have been the more aggressive team. Heading into Game 5, Houston has made 75 FTs to Utah's 55. Harden has made 36 free throws in the series, while Mitchell leads Utah with just 12.
The pick: The Rockets would love to put Utah away here and move on to an all but guaranteed showdown with teh Warriors. However, a win doesn't figure to come easily. Utah's Snyder said after Game 4, "We missed 22 shots at the rim. We had our chances and didn't convert. Some of them were contested. Some of them were open. You're not going to get any better shot." I expect Mitchell and Ingles to shoot much better than they did in the last two games plus how can Jae Crowder shoot any worse? He was 2-of-17 from the floor over the last two games. after going 13-of-23 over the first two. As for the Rockets, despite a 13-point win in Game 4, Harden and Paul combined to make just 2 of 13 three-point attempts. For the series, Harden is converting on a modest 36.0% of his threes, while Paul is making only 29.4% of his three-point attempts. What's also to be noted is that Houston is just 20-25-1 ATS this year at home (including playoffs), as well as 10-18-1 ATS when laying 10-plus points. Make Utah a 10* play.
|05-07-18||Raptors +6 v. Cavs||Top||93-128||Loss||-110||33 h 1 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cavaliers have knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs in each the last two postseasons, as the Cavaliers won the conference final in six games over the Raptors in 2016 and swept a semifinals meeting last season en route to their third consecutive conference crown. However, the Raptors were finally the favored team here in 2018, after winning a franchise-best 59 game during the regular season. In looking ahead to another matchup with Cleveland, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan said, "Sometimes you have to keep it together, because there's nobody better than the guys you've failed with. You might not have accomplished the goal, you do understand how to regroup." Well, it's been the same old, same old so far, as once again LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have the Toronto Raptors on the ropes after taking Games 1, 2 and 3. The Cavs now look to deliver yet another damaging blow in this one-sided rivalry by completing a four-game sweep Monday night at home.
Toronto: LeBron James knocked down a running buzzer-beater to give his team a 105-103 victory in Game 3 on Saturday. "Our goal in the timeout was to trap him and make someone else beat us," Toronto head ach Dwane Casey told reporters of a play that will haunt him. "He split the trap and went 100 miles an hour down the floor and lost them. We just didn't execute. It was probably my fault that I didn't make it clear that we wanted to trap him and get the ball out of his hands. We had it started in the backcourt, and for whatever reason, we let him out of the trap." The Raptors couldn't contain LBJ (see more below) plus their task of winning Game 3 was made all the more difficult when leading scorer DeMar DeRozan struggled the way he did, producing just eight points (more than 15 below his average this postseason) on 3-of-12 shooting. That led to a benching of DeRozan during a critical portion of the fourth quarter. "It's extremely hard, extremely hard," DeRozan told reporters of sitting on the sidelines while his teammates made a late push. "I just want to be out there helping my team, way more than anything. It definitely sucks to be watching ... we've got to give credit to those guys. We fought hard and gave ourselves a chance to win." The Raptors made Game 3 close behind the efforts of Kyle Lowry, who scored 15 of his 27 during the comeback. Lowry is averaging 22 points on 62.9 percent shooting in the series.
Cleveland: LeBron James is putting on a display this postseason that will be talked about for ages. The game-winner on Saturday capped a 38-point effort for the superstar, who is averaging 34.8 points on 54.7 percent shooting to go along with 9.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists during the playoffs. "I've been doing that since I was like six, seven, eight years old," James told reporters of his latest clutch moment. "Maybe even before that. There's a picture floating around of me beside a Little Tikes hoop with a saggy Pamper on and I was doing it back then and all the way up until now, at 33." However, maybe even more important for Cleveland's long-term outlook this spring, was the second straight solid game for big man Kevin Love, who had 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting and 16 rebounds (he had 31 & 11 in Game 2).
The pick: Teams that fall behind 0-3 in the playoffs are 0-129 in NBA history, giving Toronto virtually insurmountable odds to come out on top against a team it cannot seem to solve. However, we are talking ONLY about Game 4 here and the Raptors can lose and still "get the cash! I noted before Game 3 in taking the Raptors that Cleveland did win both regular-season meetings at home with the Raptors but those wins came by a total of just nine points. Also, the Cavs were 0-4 ATS at home this postseason and a 'money-burning' 13-31-1 ATS at home on the year. After Toronto's Game 4 cover, the updated numbers for Cleveland are 0-5 ATS at home this postseason and a 'money-burning' 13-32-1 ATS at home on the year. Take the points and make Toronto a 10* play.
|05-07-18||Celtics v. 76ers -6.5||Top||92-103||Win||100||31 h 31 m||Show|
The set-up: The Boston Celtics needed seven games to dispatch the Bucks in the opening round, as the home team won all seven games. Meanwhile, "The Process" was coming to fruition with the 76ers taking care of the Heat in five games. Making things look even worse for Boston was the fact that not only were the Celtics without Kyrie Irving (not to mention Hayward) but they had to open this best-of-seven series with Jaylen Brown injured. He had been Boston's top scorer against the Bucks, until getting sidelined during the team's Game 7 win over Milwaukee. Brown sat out Game 1 of this series but Boston was able to win that game with ease, 117-101. Then, with Brown coming off the bench in Games 2 and 3, the Celtics were able to rally from a 22-point deficit to beat the 76ers 108-103 in Game 2 plus earn an OT at Phiily in Game 3. The Celtics will now take a commanding 3-0 lead into Game 4, as the 76ers look to avoid a four-game sweep.
Boston: The Celtics received 24 points from rookie Jayson Tatum while Al Horford scored the final five points of the game as they earned a stunning 101-98 overtime victory Saturday. Philly's Marco Belinelli’s jumper with less than a second left in the fourth quarter caused confetti to fill the air at the Wells Fargo Center, but his foot was inside the 3-point line and it only tied the game, then Boston rallied in overtime to win. The veteran Horford scored seven of his 13 points in overtime and had a key steal in the final seconds that snuffed out a chance for Philadelphia to win the contest. Tatum is averaging 24.3 points in the series and guard Terry Rozier continues to shine while leading the team in scoring during the playoffs at 19.0 PPG.
Philadelphia: Joel Embiid scored 22 points and grabbed 19 rebounds (he's now registered five straight double-doubles in the playoffs) but the 76ers shot just 39.2 percent from the floor on Saturday, while turning the ball over in key situations. Rookie PG Ben Simmons did rebound from his 'ugly' Game 2 performance (one point, five turnovers) to score 16 while recording eight rebounds and eight assists in Saturday’s setback. “I have a lot of growing to do,” Simmons told ESPN.com. Shooting guard J.J. Redick is averaging 20.3 points in the series but PF Dario Saric is 5-of-23 from three-point range in the last five games, after draining 11-of-23 in the first three playoff contests. SF Robert Covington had just one point in Saturday’s loss, going 0-fo-8 from the floor.
The pick: Philly is well aware that a series win is highly unlikely. It's been well documented that all 129 teams have failed to win a series after falling behind 0-3. However, this Philadelphia team has had a terrific season and I see them "winning one for the Gipper" here in Game 4. Yes, the 76ers are just 2-2 SU & ATS this postseason at home but they finished the regular season on a 21-1 SU run at home, going 17-5 ATS. Lay the points and make Philly an 8* play.
|05-06-18||Rockets v. Jazz +6||Top||100-87||Loss||-105||34 h 8 m||Show|
The set-up: The Houston Rockets put their Game 2 loss at home to the Jazz behind themselves with an impressive display of basketball in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series at Salt Lake City . The Jazz upset the Rockets 116-108 in Game 2 as an 11-point underdog to temporarily wrest home-court advantage from the top-seeded Rockets. However, Houston answered in convincing fashion when the series shifted to Utah, opening a 30-point halftime lead and cruising from there to a 113-92 victory. James Harden scored 25 points and handed out 12 assists, while Eric Gordon added 25 points off the bench (he had totaled only 22 points in Games 1 and 2, combined). Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell has taken a leadership roll for Utah this postseason but scored just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Houston now looks to take a 3-1 series lead when the teams meet Sunday at the Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Houston: Shooting guard Eric Gordon was a big factor in Houston's turnaround, as he made 8-of-13 from the floor in Game 3, after shooting under 50 percent in each of his first seven games this postseason. Also, the All Star duo of Harden and Chris Paul combined for 18 assists against one turnover in Friday's game (Paul added 15 points). Harden is now averaging 30.4 points in the postseason, identical to his league-leading average during the regular season. Houston is also benefiting from having made 59 free throws in the first three games of the series, compared to only 39 for the Jazz.
Utah: "I didn't really do much as a whole, like I wasn't there," Mitchell told the media after Game 3. "That can't happen. That will probably be what I take away the most. It's like I would have been better off just not showing up, because that's what I did. I didn't show up at all for my teammates, and I'll fix it." PG Ricky Rubio (hamstring) has been doing some agility drills and light work on the court as he approaches a potential return but Utah also has another injury concern in the form of Derrick Favors, who left Game 3 with a sprained ankle. Favors, who averaged 12.3 points on 61.7 percent shooting in the first round against Oklahoma City, told reporters he hopes to play in Game 4. The Jazz also need to get a bounce-back effort from Joe Ingles, after he followed up a 27-point effort in Game 2 with a six-point showing in Friday's loss.
The pick: Houston has now won all three meetings in Utah this season by double digits. That hardly bodes well for the Jazz but don't forget how well Utah played down the stretch, going 29-6 over their last 35 regular season games. This is pretty much a "must-win" for Utah, as a comeback from 3-1 against Houston would be h highly unlikely. Take the home dog Jazz and make Utah a 10* play.
|05-05-18||Raptors +5 v. Cavs||Top||103-105||Win||100||13 h 22 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cavaliers have knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs in each the last two postseasons, as the Cavaliers won the conference final in six games over the Raptors in 2016 and swept a semifinals meeting last season en route to their third consecutive conference crown. However, the Raptors were finally the favored team here in 2018, after winning a franchise-best 59 game during the regular season. In looking ahead to another matchup with Cleveland, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan said, "Sometimes you have to keep it together, because there's nobody better than the guys you've failed with. You might not have accomplished the goal, you do understand how to regroup." Well, it's been the same old, same old so far, as once again LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have the Toronto Raptors on the ropes after taking Games 1 and 2 in Toronto. The Cavs now look to deliver another damaging blow in the one-sided rivalry when the teams meet for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Saturday.
Toronto: As noted, the Raptors won a franchise-record 59 games during the regular season to earn the top seed in the East for the first time but the Raptors are down 0-2 and Toronto is searching for answers as it heads to Cleveland. DeRozan had 24 points and Kyle Lowry 21, as the Raptors shot 54.3 percent as a team but they offered little resistance at the other end (the Cavs shot 59.5%) while forcing just three turnovers, giving the Cavaliers a 24-8 advantage in that category this series. Toronto has been outscored 34-8 in points off turnovers (Cleveland set a franchise record with just three turnovers in a 128-110 win in Game 2), and by 12 points in the fourth quarter. DeRozan is 0-for-13 from three-point range over his last three games, plus after putting up a double-double in Toronto's first playoff game of 2018 (23 & 12), PF Ibaka has averaged 5.9 & 5.4 over his last seven games.
Cleveland: James had 43 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists in Game 2 and hasn't needed much help during the playoffs. However, he was given a boost in Game 2 with a breakout effort from big man Kevin Love. After averaging 10.9 points on 31.9 percent shooting through the first eight playoff games, the veteran had 31 points on 11-of-21 shooting in Thursday's win, plus added 11 rebounds. James has scored at least 44 points in each of his last three playoff home games, so it will be up to the Raptors to change the narrative in Game 3.
The pick: Is that possible? Sure. Note that Cleveland did win both regular-season meetings at home with the Raptors but those wins came by a total of just nine points. The Cavs are 0-4 ATS at home this postseason and are now a 'money-burning' 13-31-1 ATS at home on the year. Make Toronto a 10* play.
|05-03-18||Cavs +6.5 v. Raptors||Top||128-110||Win||100||11 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cavaliers have knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs in each the last two postseasons, as the Cavaliers won the conference final in six games over the Raptors in 2016 and swept a semifinals meeting last season en route to their third consecutive conference crown. However, the Raptors were finally the favored team in 2018, as the teams met for Game 1 of this year's Eastern Conference semifinal series. If Game 1 is an indication, nothing much has changed. LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers once again got the better of the Toronto Raptors, winning 113-112. The Cavaliers will now attempt to maintain their postseason dominance over the Raptors with a chance tonight to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, before heading back home for Games 3 and 4.
Cleveland: LBJ recorded his 21st career playoff triple-double (26-11-13) as Cleveland erased a 13-point deficit in the second half and survived multiple chances for the Raptors to win late in regulation and again in the closing seconds of overtime. JR Smith (20) and Kyle Korver (19) came up big for the Cavs, who never once led in regulation. The Cavs take the court tonight having won nine of 11 playoff meetings with the Raptors over the last three postseasons. One reason being, that Cleveland has hit at least 13 three-pointers in all five playoff games against Toronto over the last two seasons.
Toronto: "A lot of things, we did to ourselves," head coach Dwane Casey told the media after the game. "I think we're a better team. We just didn't make the shots down the stretch. I know it sounds simplistic, but we had our open looks, had our opportunities, that we didn't cash in on, and some other things we could clean up defensively." Toronto has certainly heard all the talk of being owned by Cleveland and it seemed to lose its mental edge when the Cavaliers made things tight down the stretch on Tuesday. That said, center Jonas Valanciunas had 21 points and 21 rebounds to become the first player in franchise history with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a postseason game. However, the Raptors also committed 14 turnovers that led to 21 points for Cleveland, while forcing just six TOs.
The pick: The Raptors changed their approach in Game 1, trying for a more balanced attack and creating an athletic and effective bench. Why not, after being eliminated two years in a row by the Cleveland Cavaliers? However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. For as much as the Raptors controlled Game 1 at the Air Canada Centre, they could not close it out (note: the Raptors missed their final 11 field goal attempts in regulation!) and the Cavaliers eked out a 113-112 overtime victory. The Raptors shot 32.1 percent from beyond the arc (9-for-28) and while they shot 42.9 percent (39-for-91) from the floor overall, they shot only 20.8 percent (9-for-24) in the fourth quarter. I had Cleveland in Game 1 and will take the points again here, in Game 2. Make Cleveland a 10* play.
|05-02-18||Jazz +11.5 v. Rockets||Top||116-108||Win||100||13 h 41 m||Show|
The set-up: As great as LBJ is, most believe that James Harden will win this year's MVP award. No one will get any arguments from the Utah Jazz. Harden scored 41 points in Houston's series-opening 110-96 victory to continue his season-long assault of the Jazz. He averaged 34.3 points in four meetings with the Utah in the regular season, including a 56-point outing, and the defensive-minded Jazz once again had no answers on slowing down the MVP candidate. Defensively, the Jazz were overrun by the Rockets' exceptional three-point shooting (17 for 32) and victimized early by some leaky transition defense. The Jazz lacked energy in the first half following a short turnaround from the completion of their first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder less than 48 hours prior to tip-off. However, Utah isn't fretting over the Game 1 loss as it also lost the opener of its first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder before recovering to win in six games.
Utah: The Jazz were inundated with a number of causes behind their Game 1 loss but it all starts with the team missing starting PG Ricky Rubio (hamstring). Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell and veteran swingman Joe Ingles produced five assists each plus Utah received steady play from guards Dante Exum an Alec Burks off the bench. However, the Jazz missed Rubio's ball-handling skill and passing acumen. Mitchell picked up a large portion of the ball-handling and he committed four turnovers to go with 9-of-22 shooting while scoring 21 points in the opener. Mitchell's point total was his lowest in seven games this postseason (27.4 PPG this postseason) and he was also hampered by a sore ankle, although he insists won't be a problem in Game 2. The Jazz also missed the defensive presence of center Rudy Gobert, despite the fact that Gobert logged 35 minutes in the Game 1 loss. A Defensive Player of the Year candidate and league leader by a healthy margin in defensive real plus-minus, Gobert was a non-factor on that end, failing to record a block for the first time this postseason and just the eighth time overall. Gobert averaged 2.3 blocks and ranked second in the NBA in block percentage (6.0), yet the Rockets had success attacking the rim with Gobert stationed there to defend it, shooting 8 of 9 with Gobert within three feet of the rim. Gobert finished with 11 points and nine rebounds
Houston: Harden received complementary help in Game 1 from PG Chris Paul (17 points), center Clint Capela (16 points, 12 rebounds) and forward PJ Tucker (15 points) in the opener. However, reserve SG Eric Gordon, who averaged 18.0 PPG during the regular season, missed all six of his shots in Game 1 and is shooting just 31.4 percent from the floor in the postseason while averaging a modest 12.5 PPG.
The pick: The Rockets have been the NBA's best team so far this regular and postseason but head into this game just 20-24-1ATS on their homecourt. It remains unclear whether Rubio will return later in the series but I will back Utah (with some big points) in this Game 2, as the Jazz are 33-9 SU over their last 42 games. Take the points and make Utah a 10* play.
|05-01-18||Cavs +6.5 v. Raptors||Top||113-112||Win||100||12 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: LBJ led the Cavs to a first-round victory over the Indiana Pacers but if took seven games. James had 45 points in the Game 7 clincher (105-101) and he's now a perfect 13-0 in opening round playoff series in his career. However, the Cavs hardly looked dominating, as the Pacers covered SIX of the seven games. LeBron averaged 34.4 PPG in the series, with only Kevin Love (11.4) joining in in double digits in scoring for the seven-game set. The Toronto Raptors are the East's top seed (won a franchise record 59 games this regular season) but also didn't have an easy time of it in the first round. Toronto took a 2-0 lead over the Wizards but WWashingtonm won Games 3 and 4 at home, before the Raptors closed them out in six games. The Cavaliers have knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs in each the last two postseaons, as the Cavaliers won the conference final in six games over the Raptors in 2016 and swept a semifinals meeting last season en route to their third consecutive conference crown. However, the Raptors are finally the favored team and hope to play like it when the teams begin their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup Tuesday night with Game 1 in Toronto. DeMar DeRozan, who averaged 26.7 PPG vs. Washington, feels that his team is finally ready to topple Cleveland, even if the roster is roughly the same. "Sometimes you have to keep it together, because there's nobody better than the guys you've failed with," DeRozan told reporters. "You might not have accomplished the goal, you do understand how to regroup."
Cleveland: LBJ played 41.2 minutes per game in the series with Indiana, after playing all 82 games during the regular season. James, who admitted after Sunday's win that he was "burnt right now," produced 29.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 8.0 eight assists in three matchups with the Raptors during the regular season plus averaged 36 points in last year's sweep of the Raptors.
Toronto: DeRozan (26.7 & 4.8 APG) and Lowry (17.2 & 8.3 APG) need to play great plus Toronto would love to see reserves Wright (10.7) and Miles (9.3) continue their solid play off the bench. Center Valanciunas (13.5 & 9.3) posted good numbers but played little during the fourth quarter for most of the series. PG Ibaka was the Game 1 star (23 & 12) but averaged a "missing in action" 6.0 PPG over the series' last five games. Toronto can't afford that.
The pick: Toronto figures to have a big advantage when the teams go to their benches and the Raptors' reserves were given a big boost with the return of guard Fred VanVleet for Game 6 against Washington (he missed four games in the series due to a shoulder injury. Cleveland knows all about VanVleet's ability to provide a spark, as the second-year pro averaged 15.7 points and five assists in 25.3 minutes off the bench against the Cavaliers this season. However, this series is still about "King James," and remarkably he is showing no ill effects of his heavy workload. He's like the "Energizer Bunny." James became the NBA's career playoff leader in steals and minutes played during the first round, after he became the points leader in 2017. James ranks first in points (6,404), first in minutes played (9,415), first in steals (399), third in assists (with 1,543), sixth in games played (224), seventh in rebounds (1,993) and 19th in blocks (216) in the all-time playoff ranks. Make LBJ (I mean Cleveland) a 10* play.
|04-30-18||76ers v. Celtics +3.5||Top||101-117||Win||100||13 h 18 m||Show|
The set-up: The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics open their seven-game series tonight at TD Garden and missing will be Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Kevin McHale, Hal Greer, John Havlicek and Billy Cunningham. The point being, it's a new day and new time in this rivalry. The Process" is no longer a punch line, as the 76ers won their final 16 regular season games and then eliminated the Heat handily in teh first round of teh 2018 playoffs, 4-1. As for the Celtics, the era of Pierce, Garnett and Allen had come to an end when Brad Stevens took over in 2013-14, with the Celtics going 25-57.However, that season was no more than a speed bump, as "Butler Brad" has Boston back among the Eastern Conference elite, despite battling key injuries. The Celtics needed everything they had to survive a seven-game, first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks and their reward is an Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with one of the hottest teams in the league in the rested Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia: The Sixers eliminated the Heat back on April 24 and the extra rest cannot be a bad thing for star center Joel Embiid, who returned from an orbital fracture to play the final three games of the series with the Heat. He averaged 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in those three games and shot 8-of-14 from the floor in Game 5. JJ Redick was Philadelphia's top scorer versus the Heat with 20.0 PPG but rookie PG Ben Simmons was nothing short of "special" in his first-ever postseason series, averaging 18.2-10.6-9.0 and 2.4 steals. The Sixers have waited through years of tanking to get back to respectability and now get their latest shot at their long-time rivals.
Boston: The Celtics rose to the challenge of a Game 7 (nothing new there) against the Bucks this past Saturday, shooting 53.6% in a 112-96 win. However, the big question heading into Game 1 of this series will be the status of shooting guard Jaylen Brown, who left the clincher against Milwaukee due to a hamstring injury. Brown had been Boston's top scorer through six games and hopes to not miss any time. "I was told that if we got in a pinch that he could play," head coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the win. "We decided that that was not going to happen. With hamstrings, let's see how he feels tomorrow." Brown averaged 17.9 points against the Bucks (also 4.7 RPG), just a shade behind Horford's 18.1 PPG (and team-high 8.7 RPG). Three others also average in double digits in Rozier (17.6-4.3-6.7), Tatum (15.4 & 5.3) and Morris (13.3 & 4.9).
The pick: This is the NBA's top rivalry in terms of series played. The teams meet for the 20th time in what has always been the Celtics but also been the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia Warriors/Sixers. The rivals last met in the playoffs in 2012, when Boston won a conference semifinals matchup in seven games.However, as noted above, that was then and this is now! The Celtics won three of four meetings during the regular season, including a matchup in London on Jan. 11. No many could have imagined at the start of the 2018 playoffs that Boston would have been a home dog against the 76ers in a Game 1 matchup at Boston. Make Boston a 10* play.
|04-29-18||Pacers v. Cavs -5.5||Top||101-105||Loss||-105||16 h 46 m||Show|
The set-up: LeBron James returned to Cleveland after a four-year 'mission' in Miami and has led the Cavs to three consecutive NBA Finals (won one and lost two). However, his three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers will host the Indiana Pacers on Sunday afternoon, trying to avoid a first-round exit. Cleveland went into Indiana on Friday with a chance to close out the series but got rocked 121-87. James was the only starter to score in double figures with 22 points, as the remaining four starters combined for a total of 22 points. The Cavs shot only 31.6% from three-point range (12 of 38) and adding insult to injury, made just 9 of 16 FTs (56.2%). Meanwhile, the Pacers played their most complete game of the series in Game 6, shooting 56.3 percent from the floor and forcing 15 turnovers. Oladipo led seven Pacers players in double figures, as Indiana shot 15-of-30 from three-point range.
Indiana: Oladipo had lost his shooting touch in Games 3, 4 and 5, going a combined 12-of-50 (24.0%) from the floor but recorded a triple-double with 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 6. He became the third Pacer to post a playoff triple double. Domantas Sabonis, the other key acquisition in the Paul George trade, had 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting and is averaging 20 points on 26-of-35 shooting (74.3%) over the last three games.
Cleveland: Jeff Green (13) and Rodney Hood (12) came off the bench in Game 6 to join LBJ in double figures but overall, it was brutal game by the Cavs. Kevin Love managed just seven points on 3-of-10 shooting and is now averaging 11 points on 32.4 percent shooting in the series, after posting 17.6 points on 45.8 percent during the regular season. "He's a huge part of our success or our non-success," James told reporters of Love. "Obviously, we try to go to him, we want to go to him. Obviously, we can't make the shots for him. He has to step up and knock those down. Those things you can't control." Making matters worse is that no other Cavs player is averaging double figures for the series.
The pick: The Cavs have been 'living on the edge' all season and now face this do-or-die game. James is 4-2 all time in Game 7s and more importantly, has never lost an opening round series (12-0). Meanwhile, the Pacers are 3-5 in Game 7s, including 2-5 on the road. Indiana is also trying to avoid being eliminated by a James team (Cavs, Heat) for the fifth time in the last seven seasons. "The pressure is on both teams," Indiana head coach Nate McMillan said. "The loser goes home. So, for us, we take it one game at a time and we prepare ourselves for that next game. The next game is on the road. We understand the conditions we're playing in, but to say they feel more pressure than us? No. The losers go home. So there's pressure on both teams." I think he's 'whistling past the graveyard.' We saw Milwaukee fail miserably on Saturday in Game 7 at Boston (just not ready for primetime) and I believe the same fate awaits the Pacers. Make Cleveland a 10* play.
|04-27-18||Raptors v. Wizards -1.5||Top||102-92||Loss||-108||11 h 9 m||Show|
The set-up: The Bucks won Game 6 at home last night to send the Boston/Milwaukee series to a Game 7, as the home team has each of the first six games (5-1 ATS) in that matchup. The Wizards will look to "repeat that script" tonight when the host the Toronto Raptors at the Verizon Center. Toronto's 108-98 win over the Wizards in Game 5 gave the home team a perfect 5-0 SU & ATS mark in this series . DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points and handed out five assists to lead the top-seeded Raptors in that critical Game 5 win, while Delon Wright chipped in 18 points in 26 minutes off the bench. The Wizards had a chance in Game 5 but were outscored 29-20 in the 4th quarter, as they shot 8 of 24 in the final 12 minutes. John Wall was 2 of 6 in the fourth, while backcourt mate Bradley Beal missed five of six shots in the final stanza.
Toronto: Head coach Dwane Casey discovered something down the stretch in Game 5 with an odd grouping of DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, C.J. Miles, center Jonas Valanciunas (who had yet to play in the fourth quarter this series) and Wright. DeRozan scored 30 points before the fourth quarter while Wright scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth, Valanciunas totaled six points and seven rebounds, helping the Raptors control the glass by a 15-12 margin in a game where they were outrebounded 50-35. Besides the relatively new lineup, the Raptors also reverted to its style of emphasizing three-point shooting. Toronto made 11 of 25 three-pointers, after attempting just 18 (made seven) in Game 4.
Washington: The Wizards won Games 3 and 4 at home to even this series, before the Raptors seized a 3-2 series advantage with Wednesday's win in Toronto. However, are confident they can force a do-or-die Game 7 with the Raptors. "We love our chances," PG John Wall told reporters of the eighth-seeded Wizards' quest to stave off elimination at home. "We're very confident." Wall is averaging 26.6-5.8-12.2 in teh series and his fellow All Star backcourt partner, Bradley Beal, is averaging 21.4 PPG. Five others are contributing between 9.4 and 1.4 PPG in the series but Washington could sure one of that group to "step up" here in Game 6. Kelly Oubre, who is 3-of-16 from three-point range in the series, might gain a larger role if fellow forward Otto Porter Jr. is unable to go. Porter has been wrestling with a bone bruise in his left leg and will be reassessed Friday. Head coach Scott Brooks knows he needs more from Porter, who averaged 14.7 points this season but has been held to single digits three times in the series. "We need Otto to be more than a 9-10 point scorer for us to win this series," Brooks told reporters.
The pick: Here's the bottom line. As noted, the home team is 5-0 SU & ATS in the series so far, but that's only part of the storyline. The Wizards come into this game having won their last eight playoff games in the nation's capital and have yet to lose to Toronto at home in a postseason game! Enough said. Make Washington a 10* play.
|04-26-18||Celtics v. Bucks -4.5||Top||86-97||Win||100||12 h 17 m||Show|
The set-up: The Celtics will be in Milwaukee for Game 6 of this first round series against the Bucks, a series in which the home team has won each of the first five games (4-1 ATS). The second-seeded Celtics took a 3-2 series lead with a 92-87 win at home Tuesday night, meaning the host Bucks face a do-or-die Game 6 tonight. Al Horford switched from power forward to center and led Boston with 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Celtics survived an old-fashioned defensive contest. "We needed to make an adjustment and do something," Horford told reporters of the lineup changes, which included the return from injury of guard Marcus Smart and a rare start for rookie forward Semi Ojeleye. "Coach (Brad Stevens) saw that and he went with his gut and that, and a combination of Marcus Smart, I think paid off for us tonight." The Bucks shot well over 50 percent from the floor in the previous three games before being held to 36.8 percent in Game 5, with Giannis Antetokounmpo being limited to just 10 shot attempts.
Boston: Smart had been out since March 11 with a thumb injury but added an instant dose of defense and toughness that Boston lacked while allowing an average of 110 points in losing games 3 and 4. Smart only scored nine points in 25 minutes of work but was a force on the defensive end. Ojeleye had just five points in his 31 minutes was one of the main reason the "Greek Freak" was quieted. Boston was outplayed in Games 3 and 4 in Milwaukee but during the regular season was an impressive 27-13 SU on the road.
Milwaukee: "It's on me. I had open shots, but they wasn't my shots," Antetokounmpo told the media. "I think my teammates did a great job finding me, but coming the next game, Game 6, I've got to be more aggressive and make more plays." Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 23 points but was just 9-of-21 from the floor after shooting 40-for-65 through the first four games of the series. Antetokounmpo is averaging in the series and Middleton. Interim Bucks coach Joe Prunty said his team needs a better all-around effort if it wants to keep its season alive for another day. "It's not just one guy, it's everyone we call on," Prunty said. "We need them to come in and play solid defense, we need guys to come in and knock down shots."
The pick: A loss tonight by Milwaukee would not only end the Bucks' season but also mark the final game played at the Bradley Center, their home since 1988. The team is moving into a new facility located right next door next season. The Bucks are looking for their first series victory since 2001 and it's also heard to ignore that they never won a series after trailing 0-2, going 0-17 in such situations. Meanwhile, the Celtics have never lost a series they led 2-0, winning all 35 times going into their current situation. League history tells us that teams are 19-276 all-time when trailing a series 0-2, including this postseason. Will the Bucks make that 19-277? Maybe in Game 7, but not tonight! Lay the points and make Milwaukee a 10* play.
|04-24-18||Bucks +3.5 v. Celtics||Top||87-92||Loss||-116||19 h 53 m||Show|
The set-up: The Celtics 'held serve' at Boston in Games 1 and 2, with the Bucks' returning the favor in Games 3 and 4 at Milwaukee. The two teams will both battle history Tuesday night at TD Garden in Game 5. The Bucks are looking for their first series victory since 2001 but have never won a series after trailing 0-2, going 0-17 in such situations. Meanwhile, the Celtics have never lost a series they led 2-0, winning all 35 times going into their current situation. League history tells us that teams are 19-274 all-time when trailing a series 0-2, including the Portland Trail Blazers going out in four straight against the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018 playoffs (the Spurs, T-wolves and Bucks can add to that sorry history by failing to win their respective series this postseason).
Milwaukee: Giannis Antetokounmpo is enjoying his time in the spotlight and his reputation for being a clutch player, which was evidenced when he tipped in the winning basket with 5.1 seconds left in Game 4 to give the Bucks a series-tying 104-102 victory. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists through four games and small forward Khris Middleton has been the second half of Milwaukee's "dynamic duo," averaging 25.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Jabari Parker, the 2014 draft's overall No. 2 pick, came up big in the back-to-back victories by averaging 16.5 points, six rebounds, two blocked shots and 1.5 steals, after averaging one point and three rebounds with no blocks or steals in the first two games. The Bucks set a franchise record with 14 blocks in Game 4, with 21-year-old backup C Thon Maker swatting away five shots for the second straight game.
Boston: Shooting guard Jaylen Brown continues to excel while picking up the scoring slack in Kyrie Irving's absence. He had 34 points, eight rebounds and three steals in Game 4, his second 30-point effort of the series (he's averaging a team-high 23.8 points in the series). Point guard Terry Rozier scored 23 points in each of Boston's two home wins came back to earth by averaging 9.5 points on 5-of-19 shooting in the two losses in Milwaukee. Marcus Smart (thumb) is eyeing a return for Game 6 if he gets cleared for contact. Boston returns home after shooting 41.4% and 40.0% in the two losses in Milwaukee.
The pick: Is it really as simple as coming home for Boston to regain its mojo? Can the Bucks reverse their awful postseason history while in the process, end Boston's perfect record of going 35-0 in series in which the Celtics have gone up 2-0? The winner of this game can't take the series tonight but the winner will put itself in prime to position to win. Antetokounmpo is the series' best player plus I believe Milwaukee is the better team with Irving sidelined for Boston. Make the Bucks an 8* play.
|04-23-18||Rockets v. Wolves +6||Top||119-100||Loss||-110||33 h 24 m||Show|
The set-up: The Houston Rockets owned the NBA's best record at 65-17 during teh regular season and guard James Harden is likely to take home his first MVP trophy this season. He is the best player on the team with the best record in the league but he is not the whole team. The Rockets proved that in Game 2 of their series with Minnesota, as despite Harden going 2-of-18 from the floor in Game 2, Houston still managed to post a 102-82 win. Meanwhile, Minnesota clinched its first playoff berth in 14 years with a win against Denver in the regular-season finale but the T-wolves failed to get their offense going in tteh first two games of this series. In particular, All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns needed to get more involved, as he had totaled just 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting in the first two games, after averaging 21.3 PPG during the regular season. Minnesota's first home playoff game since 2004 gave the Timberwolves all the juice they needed to win Game 3 and get back into their first-round Western Conference series against the top-seeded Rockets. Minnesota shot 50 percent from the floor, 55.6 percent from three-point range (15 of 27) and handed out 29 assists against seven turnovers in Game 3 while rolling to a 121-105 win. Karl-Anthony Towns enjoyed his best game of the series with 18 points and 16 rebounds plus the team's best player, Jimmy Butler, scored 28 points after averaging 12.0 in the first two games. Harden scored 29 points in Game 3 to bounce back from that 2-of-18 shooting effort in Game 2 but the Rockets head to Game 4 shooting just 31.5% from three-point range.
Houston: Yes, Harden bounced back in Game 3 but Eric Gordon continued to struggle. Gordon averaged 18.0 PPG during the regular season, is averaging just 10.3 PPG in the postseason on 28.2 percent shooting and is 6-of-26 from 3-point range (26.1%). The Rockets have noted that they now need to make an adjustment. Houston wants to get back to its defensive approach and limit Minnesota as it did in the first two games of the series. The Timberwolves averaged 91.5 points per game in the first two games and shot just 38.8 percent from the floor in Game 2. "We knew that was going to be a lot more comfortable coming home," Paul said. "They make a lot more 3s tonight, 15 for 27, and we got to be better defensively. We were just opening up the lane and letting Teague drive and all the other guys, so we know we got to be better."
Minnesota: Butler and Towns finally came through but again, the team shot 50 percent, including 15 of 27 on threes. Starting PG Teague also had his best effort of the series in Game 3, scoring 23 points and handing out eight assists. Teague is averaging 15.3 PPG in the series and his backup, Derrick Rose, is averaging 14.0 PPG on 48.7% shooting after averaging a modest 5.8 PPG in nine games with Minnesota in nine games at the end of the regular season.
The pick: Only the Warriors scored more points during the regular season than the Rockets' 112.4 PPG. However, Houston has scored 104, 102 and 105 points in the first three games of this series (that's just 103.7 PPG, almost 10 point less than the team's regular season average). Towns not only got more involved on the offensive end (his lack of shots had been a topic all series), as he engaged defenders down low. At the other end of the court, the Timberwolves' defensive effort became contagious team-wide with power forward Taj Gibson defending James Harden one-on-one, resulting in a poor shot attempt. Minnesota has been able to harass Houston into poor shooting from behind the arc and if that continues, this series will be tied at two apiece. That's my bet. Make Minnesota a 10* play.
|04-22-18||Warriors v. Spurs +7||Top||90-103||Win||100||17 h 3 m||Show|
The set-up: The Golden State Warriors struggled down the stretch of the regular season due to injuries, losing 10 of their final 17 games. However, Golden State got a break in drawing the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs in the first round. The Warriors have won and covered each of the first three games of this best-of-seven series and on Sunday, can sweep the San Antonio Spurs out of the postseason for the second straight year. The Warriors knocked the Spurs out in the Western Conference finals last spring and are trying to do the same two rounds earlier this time around Sunday afternoon at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. The teams could not have had a more contrasting series over the first three games, as for everything the Spurs have done wrong, Golden State has done right. It's been a totally dominating performance so far for the defending NBA champions.
Golden State: The Warriors are without Stephen Curry (he is out rehabbing a knee injury) plus they did see Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston exit late in Game 3 after rolling ankles, although neither injury is considered serious. "We want to not come back, limit our road travel and expand our time to rest so we can get our best guys healthy, like Steph (Curry), KD and Shaun," shooting guard Klay Thompson told reporters. "That’s our motivation." The Warriors have limited San Antonio to an average of 96.7 points in the series and the defensive effort of All-Star forward Draymond Green is the key. "He's been fantastic, defensively," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters of Green. "He’s been all over the place. This is a team that you have to disrupt. They're excellent with their execution ... and Draymond is as good as anybody I’ve ever seen in terms of recognizing a play and blowing it up." Meanwhile, KD (27.3 PPG) and Thompson (25.7 PPG on 63.3% shooting, including 65% from beyond the arc), are handling the offensive end of the court.
San Antonio: LaMarcus Aldridge is being asked to carry the team in the continued absence of Kawhi Leonard, who is away from the team while rehabbing a quad injury (does anyone really know what's up?). Aldridge turned in his second straight double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in Game 3. Veteran PG Tony Parker came off the bench and enjoyed his best game of the series with 16 points in 17 minutes on Thursday, while fellow PG Patty Mills is stepping up as well, averaging 17.5 points in the last two games after scoring just five points in Game 1.
The pick: "Our guys focused in and we came in and we played," said Aldridge after Game 3. "It's been the same thing. We just aren't making shots that are there" He's right about that, as the Spurs are shooting a woeful 24.1% on threes through the first three games. However, this is a prideful bunch and I expect a great effort from the Spurs in this one. Upset alert? Just maybe but let's take the points and make San Antonio an 8* play.
|04-21-18||Rockets v. Wolves +6||Top||105-121||Win||100||12 h 3 m||Show|
The set-up: The Houston Rockets owned the NBA's best record at 65-17 and guard James Harden is likely to take home his first MVP trophy this season. He is the best player on the team with the best record in the league but he is not the whole team. The Rockets proved that in Game 2 of their series with Minnesota, as despite Harden going 2-of-18 from the floor in Game 2, Houston still managed to post a 102-82 win. Minnesota clinched its first playoff berth in 14 years with a win against Denver in the regular-season finale but the T-wolves have failed to get their offense going in this series. In particular, All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns needs to get more involved, as he's totaled 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting in the first two games, after averaging 21.3 PPG during the regular season.
Houston: The Rockets' supporting cast stepped up to help Harden on Wednesday, with Gerald Green coming off the bench for 21 points and Trevor Ariza adding 15. Fellow All Star Chris Paul added 27 points and eight assists in Game 2, after a so-so Game 1 in which he shot just 5 of 14 with 14 points. All-in-all, the Rockets only shot 36.5 percent from the floor in Game 2 and James Harden was limited to 12 points, yet Houston won by 20 after squeaking by with a three-point win in Game 1. "We haven't played very well so far," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni told the Houston Chronicle. "It'll be crazy up there. They haven't been in the playoffs for a long time. It will be a very loud crowd. We have to do our part, play defense and take the crowd out of it. We have to be ready for all they got. Whatever they have left, we're going to get it full throttle right when we get on the floor to start the game."
Minnesota: The T-wolves know all about "not playing well!" Not only has Towns been a "no-show" but the team's best all-around player, Jimmy Butler, has averaged 12.0 PPG on 41.2% shooting (averaged 22.2 PPG on 47.4% shooting in the regular season). Minnesota was actually the aggressor early in Game 2, leading after the first quarter. However, the T-wolves shot 38.8 percent from the floor for teh game. Swingman Andrew Wiggins scored 13 poinst and was one of just three players on the team to score in double figures (Butler had 11 and Nemanja Bjelica scored a team-high 16 points, after going scoreless in Game 1).
The pick: Minnesota remains confident despite being in an 0-2 hole and is excited to play the franchise's first home playoff game since Game 5 of the Western Conference finals in 2004. "It feels good," Timberwolves swingman Andrew Wiggins told reporters after Friday's practice. "Houston took care of business up there and now we’ve got to do the same up here. I know the fans will be excited, the atmosphere will be crazy and the whole team, we're confident. We're ready." Minnesota was one of the league's best teams at home with a 30-11 record this year and a loss here, all but ends the series. Minnesota can draw confidence from the fact that the Rockets are shooting only 29.2 percent from three-point range in the series. The home dog 'barks' in this one. Make Minnesota a 10* play.
|04-20-18||Raptors +2 v. Wizards||Top||103-122||Loss||-108||12 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The Raptors beat the Wizards in Game 1 by eight points, as the dynamic backcourt duo of DeRozan and Lowry totaled a modest 28 points. PF Ibaka (23 & 12) was the star, while Wight (18) and Miles (12) played big roles off the bench. However, in Game 2's 130-119 win, DeRzoan (team's leading scorer at 23.0 PPG) exploded for 37 points on 14-of-23 shooting.Center Valanciunas accounted for a double-double (19 & 14), while Miles (18) and Wright (11) again played well off the bench. The Raptors will try to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round Eastern Conference series when they visit the Washington Wizards on Friday. The Wizards fell behind early in Game 1 and were down 44-27 at the end of the first quarter in Game 2. "We need a better start," Washington head coach Scott Brooks told reporters. "All five guys need to lock in defensively. They've gotten free for a lot of jump shots, and give them credit, they made them. ... But we've got to be a little better. We've got to have a better start. It's not the only thing, but we've got to start there and then go from there."
Toronto: DeRozan was the star in Game 2 plus Valanciunas outplayed his counterparts on Washington up front but PG Lowry also added a double-double with 13 points and 12 assists. Toronto was the East's highest scoring team during the regular season (111.7 PPG) and appears comfortable being the hunted after winning the East with a franchise-high 59 wins (only the Rockets won more games this season).
Washington: PG John Wall averaged 26.0 & 12.0 APG in the first two games but fellow guard Bradley Beal (also an All Star) is off to a slow start offensively in the series. He was held to nine points on 3-of-11 shooting in Game 2 and returns home averaging 14.0 PPG while shooting 11 of 28 (39.3%) in two games. A bright spot for the Wizards was reserve Mike Scott, who had 20 points off the bench and was on the floor when Washington rallied in Game 2. Head coach Scott Brooks may opt to go with the 6-foot-8 Scott in place of 6-11 Marcin Gortat, who has struggled at both ends thus far. With the Wizards down 0-2, he has little to lose.
The pick: Clearly, the Wizards face a "must win" in this contest but one wonders if Washington can match Toronto's overall firepower or the team's depth (see the contributions of Miles and Wright, above). However, as noted above, the Raptors seem comfortable playing the role of the "Big Dog!" Back in 2015, the No. 5 Wizards -- led by veteran Paul Pierce -- pulled off a what was a mild upset of the No. 4 Raptors, closing out the series with a 31-point rout. Not yet ready to predict a Toronto sweep but I will make the Raptors a 10* play here in Game 3.
|04-20-18||Cavs +1 v. Pacers||Top||90-92||Loss||-109||11 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers scored just 80 points in a Game 1 loss to the Pacers and needed LeBron James to come out aggressive in Game 2. LBJ did just that, scoring the team's first 16 points on his way to a 46-point effort. However, the Cavs barely hung on in a 100-97 Game 2 win. The series is now tied at one apiece (although the Pacers are 2-0 ATS), as the venue switches to Indiana. The Pacers dominated the first quarter en route to a Game 1 victory and remain confident heading home despite the tight loss in Game 2. "We really wanted to go home 2-0 but we got one on the road," Indiana center Myles Turner told reporters. "We did our jobs. I can't wait to be back in front of the Indy fans. I hope these guys are ready, I know they are."
Cleveland: The Cavs were embarrassed in Game 1 and head coach Tyronn Lue decided to make a lineup change for Game 2. He inserted veterans Kyle Korver and JR Smith into the starting lineup in place of Jeff Green and Rodney Hood. Korver went 4-of-8 from three-point range to help space the floor. Smith did little offensively (just five points) but after shooting 38.5% as team (including 8 of 34 on threes), the Cavs connected on 50.7% of their shots, making 11 of 28 three pointers. Lue said he plans to stick with his Game 2 lineup in Game 3 and praising the job Smith did on Victor Oladipo, the Pacers leading scorer, and the fact Korver took two charges from Oladipo.
Indiana: Victor Oladipo scored a game-high 32 points in Game 1 but was limited to 22 in Game 2, although he did make 9-of-18 shots.Oladipo is averaging 27.0-4.5-5.0 in the first two games with Turner adding 17.0 & 6.5. The Pacers have shown excellent depth with eight players getting 17-minutes plus, although all five starters are averaging 32-plus minutes. The Pacers shot 52.6 percent from the floor in Game 2 but struggled to a 6-of-22 (27.3%) effort from three-point range, while committing 17 turnovers.
The pick; I realize the Cavs have been an awful defensive team for most of the season but that hasn't been the team's problem in this series. After all, the Pacers have scored 98 and 97 points in the first two games. The Cavs finished fifth during the regular season in both scoring (110.9 PPG) and FG percentage (47.6%) and in this pivotal Game 3, I expect the Cavs to bring their "A game." After all, LBJ has never played on a team that has lost a first round series. Why start now, when he's coming off arguably, his best regular season ever? Make the Cavs an 8* play.
|04-19-18||Blazers +3.5 v. Pelicans||Top||102-119||Loss||-105||13 h 26 m||Show|
The set-up: The New Orleans Pelicans are in the playoffs for just the second time in Anthony Davis' six-year career. His first visit came back in 2015 when the Warriors swept them in an opening round series, despite Davis averaging 31.5 & 11.0. Davis' second time around in the postseason has so far, gone much better. The Pelicans have won the first two games of the first round series with the Trail Blazers in Portland. Davis has averaged 28.5 & 13.5 in the first two games while combo guard Jrue Holiday and veteran PG Rajan Rondo have risen to the challenge, as well. Portland entered the series having won 21 of their last 24 home games but now find themselves in an 0-2 'hole.' Star PG Damian Lillard (26.9 PPG in the regular season) has been unable to get untracked in the first two games, averaging 17.5 PPG while shooting just 31.7 percent. Head coach Terry Stotts said his Portland squad has to return serve by accumulating road wins. "We've got to win two games in New Orleans, and hopefully it's the next two," Stotts told reporters. "It's easy math - we've got to go and win two in New Orleans, and I feel we're very capable of winning both games."
Portland: "Coming into the playoffs, you know teams are going to lock in, and they're going to try and make the game hard for you," Lillard told reporters afterr the Game 2 loss. "And I give a lot of credit to them for executing their game plan but the opportunities I do get, I've just got to be better. It's as simple as that." McCollum (20.5) has been the team's leading scorer but starting center Jusuf Nurkic (in the regular season) was limited to 15 minutes on Tuesday due to suffering a leg bruise in the third quarter. Nurkic needs to be healthy, as he's the only consistent scorer outside of Lillard and McCollum.
New Orleans: Jrue Holiday scored a career playoff-best 33 points in Tuesday's 111-102 victory and is averaging 27.0-5.0-5.5 in the team's two wins. As for PG Rondo, he is reminding all why he's earned the tag "Playoff Rondo." He has once again elevated his play, averaging 11.0-9.0-13.0. Head coach Alvin Gentry appreciates the calmness he provides to younger less-experienced players. Also, let's not forget the contributions of 6-10 forward Mirotic, who has averaged 16.5 & 9.5 to give A.D. some 'cover' up front.
The pick: The Blazers are known for being a strong home team but Portland did go 21-20 SU on the road during the regular season. If there is ever a "must win" for a team in a series other than when one is facing elimination with a loss, it's Game 3 of a series in which a team is down 0-2. I'm a big fan of Lillard and I believe he keeps his team 'alive' in this series by leading them to a Game 3 win. Make Portland a 10* play.
|04-18-18||Wolves +10.5 v. Rockets||Top||82-102||Loss||-108||14 h 8 m||Show|
The set-up: More than a few teams made significant off-season moves last summer in the hope of competing with the Warriors but clearly, Houston turned out to be the one team which accomplished it. "We've enjoyed the year. It's been a great year," Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters. "Now it's time for the second phase of it. I think everybody's anxious to get started." The Rockets finished an NBA-best 65-17 in the regular season but while they won Game 1 of the opening round series with the Minnesota T-wolves 104-101, it was no "walk in the park." James Harden, the odds-on favorite to win his first MVP award (30.4-5.4-8.8 assists) "came to the rescue," scoring 44 points on 15-of-26 shooting, including seven straight points during a decisive run in the fourth quarter (he also added eight assists).
Minnesota: The good news was that Minnesota was able to harass Houston into 10-for-37 shooting from behind the arc but they were not able to contain Harden. Jimmy Butler drew the primary assignment on Harden and said, "I've got to do my job more effectively. What do you want: a free throw, a three-pointer, a layup? He got whatever he wanted in that game and I've got to be better at taking it away." Minnesota must also better utilize the talents of Karl-Anthony Towns on offense. Towns was second on the team in scoring during the regular season, averaging 21.3 points while attempting 14.3 shots per game. In the series opener, he scored only eight points on nine shots and was unable to take advantage of the situation when he occasionally worked against smaller defenders in the Rockets' switch-oriented defense.
Houston: Harden did some offensive help in Game 1 from center Clint Capela, who collected 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 12 rebounds. However, Paul made just 5 of 14 shots (1 of 6 on threes) and added a modest four assists. Once again, the Rockets were able to shake off their poor shooting and were able to thrive in the paint. Houston outpaced the bigger Timberwolves 54-44 on paint points with Harden feasting both on driving layups and pinpoint passes to center Clint Capela.
The pick: Houston took all four meetings in the regular season against Minnesota with the Rockets also going 4-0 ATS. However, I took the T-wolves in Game 1 and easily covered. That ATS win came despite poor games by both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler, the team's top-two players.I'm going right back to the well again here in Game 2. Make Minnesota a 10* pick.
|04-15-18||Wolves +11.5 v. Rockets||Top||101-104||Win||100||14 h 10 m||Show|
The set: The Minnesota Timberwolves needed to win an OT contest at home vs. the Nuggets in the team's 82nd game of the regular season to end the NBA's longest playoff drought. Minnesota outlasted the Nuggets 112-106 on Wednesday, with that victory allowing the T-wolves to enter the postseason for the first time since 2004.However, there is no rest for the weary, as Minnesota draws the Houston Rockets, who completed the regular season with NBA-best record of 65-17, seven games better than the defending champion Warriors. Houston took all four meetings in the regular season against Minnesota with the Rockets also going 4-0 ATS.
Minnesota: The T-wolves have been in "playoff mode" for some time and needed to win their last three regular-season games to stay alive and finally clinch a spot in the postseason. All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler returned for the three wins and lead the way on Wednesday, scoring 31 points. Minnesota hovered around the third or fourth spot in the West for much of the season before falling off when Butler went down with a knee injury. Butler's return sparked the team down the stretch. Butler is the team's best defender, while leading the team ins scoring at 22:2 PPG (he adds 5.3 RPG & 4.9 APG). Minnesota's starting-five is impressive, with Butler being joined by center Towns (21.3 & 12.3), SF Wiggins (17.7 & 4.4), PG Teague (14.2 & 7.0 APG) and PF Gibson (12.2 & 7.1).
Houston: more than a few teams made significant off-season mobves in teh hopes of competing with teh Warriors but clearly, Houston turned out to be the one team which accomplished it. "We've enjoyed the year. It's been a great year," Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters. "Now it's time for the second phase of it. I think everybody's anxious to get started." Houston is led by James Harden, who is the odds-on favorite to win his first MVP award this season after leading the league in scoring at an average of 30.4 points, while grabbing 5.4 rebounds and adding 8.8 assists. The difference for the team this time around in the playoffs is that Harden has another future Hall of Famer in the backcourt with the addition of PG Chris Paul (18.6-5.4-7.9)., who is in awe of his teammate. Center Clint Capela also produced a "career season, " averaging 13.9 & 10.8., while leading the league in field goal percentage (65.2%). The Rockets finished the regular season second in the NBA by averaging 112.4 PPG (guess which team was 1st?).
The pick: The Rockets blitzed the T-wolves four times during the regular season, claiming the first three meetings by 18 points each and led by 25 in a 129-120 road victory March 18. Houston, the most prolific three-point shooting team in the league by volume, hit 69 of 159 threes in those four games for a robust 43.4 percent. Considering that the Timberwolves finished 23rd in defensive efficiency during the regular season, any expectation that they might lock down the Rockets this series is foolhardy. Relying on Towns (he led the NBA with 68 double-doubles), who paced the team in points (1,743), rebounds (1,012), blocks (115) and three-pointers (120), plus Butler in the post, Minnesota might unlock a pace that could prevent Houston from its usually lethal combo of layups and open threes. Matching the Rockets offensively might be as sound a strategy as anything for the Timberwolves . If it's posible, Game 1 would be the perfect opportunity. I'm in! Make Minnesota a 10* play.
|04-15-18||Pacers v. Cavs -6.5||Top||98-80||Loss||-106||9 h 41 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers finished the regular season a disappointing 50-32. They enter the playoffs as the East's No. 4 seed but will be in search of earning their fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals (LBJ is looking for an 8th consecutive visit!). The Cavaliers will have homecourt advantage in the first round but after that, the Cavs would need some upsets to have homecourt advantage in any future series. In contrast to Cleveland, Indiana was a surprising contender for homecourt in the East behind All-Star guard Victor Oladipo, who led the team in averaging 21.3 PPG. "We've just got to go out there and play at a high level," Oladipo told reporters. "It's not going to be easy, but it ain't been easy all year for us. We've got to go out there with that mentality and try to win it. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to go make it close and have fun, we're trying to win." Indiana did win three of the four meetings this season but all four came before Cleveland remade its roster at the trade deadline.
Indiana: Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis were the key players the Pacers received from the Thunder in the Paul George deal. Oladipo has been terrific and in about 24 1/2 minutes per game, Sabonis has averaged 11.6 & 7.7. Indiana was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Cavaliers last spring (with George!) but the Pacers are a different (better?) team this time around thanks to the presence of Oladipo and Sabonis, plus four other Pacers who average in double digits with Stephenson (9.2 & 5.2) and Joseph (7.9) also being regular contributors. Oladipo is now Indiana's best player plus Sabonis has teamed with fellow center Turner (12.7 & 6.4) to give the Pacers an excellent center combo. Collison is Indiana's new PG and he averaged 12.4 points and 5.4 assists, while leading the NBA with a 46.8 three-point field-goal percentage.
Cleveland: The Cavs traded Kyrie Irving last summer for Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, Jae Crowder, and two draft picks. The Cavs also signed Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade. Then, on Feb. 8, Thomas, Crowder, Rose, and Wade (and Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert) were all traded away for George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. With a revamped roster, the Cavs battled through some inconsistency with the new rotations and injured players until putting everything together and finishing the regular season with wins in 11 of the last 14 games. Can the team's new dynamic work in the playoffs? Cleveland's advantage over every other team in the East is the presence of LBJ, who played in all 82 regular-season games for the first time in his career. James averaged career highs in rebounds (8.6) and assists (9.1) while adding 27.5 points on 54.2 percent shooting.
The pick: I agree the Cavs look vulnerable and I also agree that the Pacers are better this season, than last. However, look at what LBJ-led teams have done in the first round of the NBA playoffs. They have won 21 games in a row in the opening round (an NBA record) and have never lost a first-round series (12-0), nor even a Game 1 of any first round. The last time his team lost any game in the first round was back May 6, 2012, when the Miami Heat lost by two to the New York Knicks in Game 4. Make the Cavs an 8* play.
|04-14-18||Pelicans v. Blazers -5.5||Top||97-95||Loss||-102||15 h 48 m||Show|
|04-10-18||Warriors +7.5 v. Jazz||Top||79-119||Loss||-110||13 h 50 m||Show|
The set-up: It's been a trying season for the Golden State Warriors but at 58-23, the Warriors have long ago clinched the West's No. 2 seed. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz punched their ticket to the postseason with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday but are still waiting for the seedings to shake themselves out. The Jazz will try to lock up homecourt advantage in the first round when they host the Warriors on Tuesday. Utah finishes up at No. 3 seed Portland on Wednesday and is coming into the postseason as hot as any team in the NBA after going 28-5 over its last 33 games to surge from nine games under .500 to the top half of the West playoff bracket. As noted, the Warriors are locked into the No. 2 spot and priority No. 1 has to be getting themselves healthy and back in rhythm before heading to the postseason. Golden State snapped a two-game slide with a 117-100 win at Phoenix on Sunday but come on, it was the Suns!
Utah: The Jazz have began their surge shortly after center Rudy Gobert returned from a knee injury. He is averaging 14.5 points and 11.5 rebounds over the last 33 games. Gobert is getting plenty of help from rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who led the way in the clinching win with 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. The Louisville product is averaging 20.5-3.7-3.7 on the season.
The pick: The Warriors have suffered two straight lopsided losses to Utah and they fell 129-99 to the Jazz in their other visit to Salt Lake City back on Jan. 27. However, don't be too sure the Warriors will 'mail it in,' here. If Golden State wins, it would finish the season at 59-23 and if the Raptors were to lose Wednesday night in Miami, those teams would finish with the exact same record. However, because the Warriors won both regular season meetings, Golden State would earn the homecourt edge in a possible Finals' showdown. Anyone think that Golden State doesn't believe it is more than capable of getting past the Rockets in the West? Maybe I'm 'all wet' here but I'm taking the points and making Golden St a 10* play.
|04-10-18||76ers v. Hawks +10||Top||121-113||Win||100||11 h 20 m||Show|
The set-up: The NBA's regular season ends Wednesday and its hottest team, the 50-30 Philadelphia 76ers ,will play tonight in Atlanta and then wrap up their season with a home game against the Bucks. The 76ers will go for their franchise-record 15th consecutive win when they visit the 24-57 Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday in their final road game of the regular season. Philadelphia, which won just 10 games only two seasons ago, clinched homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a 109-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. The Sixers can also clinch the No. 3 spot with wins in their last two games. In stark contrast, The Hawks are fighting to finish above the Orlando Magic (also 24-57) and out of the East basement. The Magic's final game is a home contest Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards.
Philadelphia: It's been more than just a little surprising that the 76ers have continued to thrive despite being without All-Star center Joel Embiid (22.9 & 11.0). He was sidelined with an orbital fracture back on March 28 but Philly has won all six games that he's sat out and he is not expected to play in the final two games of the regular season. Embiid's absence is allowing rookie PG Ben Simmons to step into the starring rol, and he is averaging 14.7 points on 61.1 percent shooting, 10.9 assists and 10.1 rebounds during the winning streak. Simmons is trying to hold off Utah's Donovan Mitchell for the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award. Simmons is third on the team in scoring at 16.0 PPG, while adding 8.1 RPG and APG. SG Redick checks in with 17.0 PPG, PF Saric at 14.7 & 6.8 and SF Covington at 12.8 & 5.4. Additions like Belinelli (13.3 PPG in 26 games) and Ilysova (10.5 & 6.8 in 21 games) have been huge plus last year's overall No. 1 pick (Fultz) has averaged 7.4 & 4.1 APG in his eight games back on the court.
Atlanta: The Hawks have been checking out current players with an eye towards the future. Small forward Taurean Prince has made strides all season long and is off a 33-point effort while adding eight rebounds and five assists in Sunday's 112-106 win at Boston. Prince has scored 20 or more points in each of the last three games and 10 of the last 15 games (he's averaging 14.8 & 4.8 on the season). Atlanta bested Boston, despite being without injured starters Dennis Schroder (19.4 & 6.2 APG) and Kent Bazemore (12.9).
The pick: The bottom line is, the Hawks have continued to play hard for head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks have won two straight for only the second time this season and three of their last five. The 76ers have won two previous meetings with the Hawks (each one by exactly 10 points) but note Phily is 21-19 SU on the road, averaging 107.7 PPG and allowing 107.0. Meanwhile, the Hawks have been outscored by a modest four points per game at home this season. Take the home dog and make Atlanta an 8* play.
|04-09-18||Blazers v. Nuggets -4||Top||82-88||Win||100||13 h 44 m||Show|
The-set-up: The 45-35 Denver Nuggets are tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference but currently, would lose a tiebreaker and miss out on the postseason with the way things stand now. However, the Nuggets can make it easy on themselves by winning their final two regular season games, starting with the visiting Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.
Portland: The Blazers are 0-3 on their current four-game road trip, losing losing in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. "One gives us home court for sure, and if you win these last two -- 50 wins and the three seed. It is getting tight because we have things we can still get done, but for us it’s more about how we’re playing," said star guard Damian Lillard. He has his match right and scored 33 points in the latest setback in San Antonio, after sitting out at Houston on Thursday to rest an ankle injury. Lillard (26.8-4.5-6.6) and McCollum (21.5) have carried the Blazers all season, although center Jusuf Nurkic (14.3 & 8.8) continues to be a key component, recording a double-double in each of the last three games.
Denver: SG Gary Harris (17.7) has missed the last 11 games with a knee injury but is coming close to a return. However, Tthe Nuggets are playing well without him, behind center Jokic (18.3 & 10.6), PF Millsap (15.0 & 6.4), guard Murray (16.7) and swingman Barton (15.5-5.0-4.1). Barton led the way with 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting in Saturday's win and is stepping up down the stretch. He is averaging 20 points on 51.4 percent shooting, seven rebounds and 4.6 assists during the five-game winning streak.
The pick: The game has big meaning for both teams, as the Blazers are trying to hold off the Utah Jazz to stay in the third spot, but their postseason seed will likely be determined when they host the Jazz on Wednesday night. The Nuggets are on a roll and with two more wins, will be in the postseason. I won't step in front of Denver's current streak with a Portland team wrapping up its fourth road game in seven nights. Make Denver a 10* play.
|04-08-18||Mavs +13.5 v. 76ers||Top||97-109||Win||100||3 h 3 m||Show|
The set-up: The Philadelphia 76ers held off the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday 132-130, moving one step closer to clinching the East's No. 3 seed (76ers are 49-30, a half-game up on the Cavs). Philadelphia nearly squandered a 30-point lead but held on Friday night to run their winning streak to 13 straight, the longest for the franchise since the 1984-85 team also won 13 in a row. The 76ers need one more win to clinch their first 50-win season since the 2000-01 squad led by Allen Iverson won 56 games and reached the NBA Finals. As for Dallas, after reaching the playoffs 15 times in a 16-year run (from 2001-16), the Mavs went just 33-49 last season and now get set to play their final road game of the current season with an even worse record, sitting at 24-56. Dallas has dropped he first two of the team's three-game trip at Orlando and Detroit, falling to 9-31 on the road this season.
Dallas: The Mavs have been competitive on this trip, with a five-point loss to the Magic and an overtime setback at the Pistons. The team's young players are seeing extra "PT" and are making the most of their expanded minutes. Rookie PF Johnathan Motley is getting an opportunity to start with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki (ankle) done for the season and followed up 14 points in 41 minutes on Wednesday with his first career double-double with season highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds on Friday. J.J. Barea (11.6 & 6.3 APG) has also been shut down for the season and even small forward Dorian Finney-Smith has seen some action as of late. He was undrafted last year but signed with the Mavs and played in 81 games last season (4.3 & 3.4). He has been hurt for most of this year but he had 14 & 6 against the Magic and 15 & 10 against the Pistons. Harrison Barnes leads the team in scoring (18.8) and rebounding (6.1) plus rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. (15.1 & 5.1 APG) has been one of the NBA's top 'freshman' all season.
Philaderlphia: Many felt the the 76ers would fall off after Embiid (22.9 & 11.0) ) was sidelined with an orbital fracture but they have continued to win, going 5-0 in the games he's missed so far. Embiid won't return until sometime during the postseason. No player came up bigger than rookie PG Ben Simmons against the Cavs, as he scored 27 points on 12-of-17 shooting, added 15 rebounds, 13 assists and four steals in Friday's win. He's third on the etam in scoring at 16.0 PPG, while adding 8.2 RPG and APG. SG Redick checks in with 16.9 PPG, PF Saric at 14.8 & 6.8 and SF Covington at 12.8 & 5.4. Additions like Belinelli (13.3 PPG in 25 games) and Ilysova (10.4 & 6.5 in 20 games) have been huge plus last year's overall No. 1 pick (Fultz) has averaged 7.3 & 4.3 APG in his seven games back on the court.
The pick: Philly had not yet gotten its act together when these two met back on Nov. 28, a game in which the Sixers held on for a 112-110 win after blowing most of their double-digit 4th-quarter lead. The team Dallas faces now is a well-oiled 'machine,' even without Embiid. However, this is a YUGE number and while the Mavs are averaging just 102.4 PPG (28th) on the season, they have averaged 107.0 PPG over their last three, despite missing Dirk and Barea. Dallas may be just 9-31 on the road but the Mavs are 20-19-1 ATS away from home. Also, Philly may just have a bit of a letdown after the team's dramatic 132-130 win over the Cavs. Take the points and make Dallas a 10* play.
|04-06-18||Cavs +3.5 v. 76ers||Top||130-132||Win||100||11 h 41 m||Show|
The set-up: The Philadelphia 76ers have matched their longest winning streak in 28 years (12 in a row). The 48-30 Sixers now sit just a half-game back of the 49-30 Cleveland Cavaliers for teh East's No. 3, team which comes to Philly tonight. Philadelphia ended an 11-game losing streak against the Cavaliers when they last met on March 1 and the squad feels it is now in a sustained groove entering the rematch.
Cleveland: LBJ (27.5-8.7-9.12 had 33 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists against Washington, just his latest stellar performance. Love (17.4 & 9.3) is back in the lineup but it was recently announced that Jeff Green will start from here out, meaning Love will be asked to play center, a position he's not comfortable with. The Cavaliers will likely be short at point guard on Friday with George Hill (ankle) expected to miss his fourth straight game and Jose Calderon (hamstring) likely to sit out his second.
Philadelphia: 76ers have continued to win despite losing All-Star center Joel Embiid (22.9 & 11.0) to an orbital fracture, as they've won all four games in which he's missed so far. Embiid won't return until sometime during the postseason but starting power forward Dario Saric (14.9 & 6.9)) is expected to play on Friday after a three-game absence due to an elbow issue. Veteran Ersan Ilyasova (10.1 & 6.3 in 19 games with Philly) started in Saric's place and recorded back-to-back double-doubles, as the team's season-long trend of players responding to opportunities continued. "They play for each other," Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown told reporters. "They really co-exist well. It's stuff with our culture you've been building over the years, and the people we have included into this program have played for each other. I really think they get along well." Rookie PG Simmons may never be the eqaua of James (will anyone?) but he's a remarkably versatile player, averaging 15.8-8.1-8.1.
The pick: The Sixers are red-hot but the Cavs aren't far behind. In this showdown game (very important to each team), I have to favor the Cavs and LBJ, with Embiid sidelined. Make the Cavs an 8* play.
|04-05-18||Clippers +7 v. Jazz||Top||95-117||Loss||-110||13 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The Western Conference playoff chase has been a logjam behind the Rockets and Warriors all season, as eight teams have been fighting for the final six spots. With the NBA season entering its final seven days (April 11), Portland has clinched a playoff (will likely earn the No. 3 seed) but the next five teams are all withing one game of each other. The 45-33 Utah Jazz have won 26 of their past 31 games but haven't yet clinched a playoff spot (currently own the No. 4 seed), as they get set to welcome the Los Angeles Clippers to Salt Lake City. As for the 42-36 Clippers, they have no margin for error with four games remaining in the regular season when it comes to landing a Western Conference playoff spot. Los Angeles resides in 10th place in the West, one game back of No. 9 Denver and two games back of the T-wolves and Pelicans, who are both 44-34 and own the final two Western Conference playoff spots.
LA Clippers: The Clippers recovered from a 19-point deficit to defeat the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, keeping their postseason hopes alive. Head coach Doc Rivers was thrilled about his team's comeback against the Spurs, as a defeat would have been close to a death knell per the postseason chances. Veteran Lou Williams was struggling through a poor outing before he tallied 15 fourth-quarter points to finish with 22 while recording his third straight 20-point outing. Williams is averaging career highs in points (22.2) and assists (5.3) this season. Tobias Harris, acquired from Detroit in the Griffin trade, scored 31 points against the Spurs and is averaging 19.9 & 6.1 in his 28 games with LA (is Blake really missed?).
Utah: The Jazz have won three straight and are a half-game up on San Antonio for fourth place in the Western Conference after the Spurs dropped an overtime decision last night to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Jazz had just beaten the Lakers 117-110 the night before, at home. PG Ricky Rubio (13.2-4.6-5.4) was superb against the Lakers, scoring 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting and also recording eight assists and six rebounds.Center Rudy Gobert (13.7 & 10.9) collected 16 rebounds against the Lakers and is averaging 13 per over the last five contests. Rookie guard Mitchell (20.4-3.6-3.6) is the favorite for ROY honors. He has scored at least 20 points in a season-high 10 straight games and has 44 games with 20 points this season. That’s the most by any rookie since Blake Griffin had 55 such games during the 2010-11 season.
The pick: The Jazz are 2-1 versus the Clippers this season but that's after losing 18 of the previous 20 regular-season meetings between the two clubs. Sure, the Jazz are fighting for playoff positioning but the Clippers are fighting for their playoff lives. LA is a money-making 24-15-1 ATS on the road this season and I'm taking the points. Make the Clippers an 8* play.
|04-03-18||Hornets -4.5 v. Bulls||Top||114-120||Loss||-105||13 h 7 m||Show|
The set-up-up: The Charlotte Hornets were mathematically eliminated from the postseason race over the weekend on the heels of three straight losses. The 33-44 Hornets dropped a 119-102 decision at home to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday and are embracing the player-development portion of the schedule through the end of the season, as they get set to visit the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday. The 26-51 Bulls know all about being out of the postseason race but they come into this contest having won two straight games for the first time since mid-January.. However, Chicago threw a wrench into the East standings by knocking off the playoff-bound Washington Wizards 113-94 on Sunday, as 12 different players logged at least 15 minutes for the Bulls, who shot 52.4 percent from the floor.
Charlotte: All-Star guard Kemba Walker (22.6 & 5.6 APG) was limited to 26 minutes on Sunday, as Charlotte expanded the minutes down the roster, allowing Julyan Stone and Malik Monk to get more "PT." While Stone made his presence felt on the defensive end, Monk contributed on the offensive end of the floor by scoring 16 points in 24 minutes. Center Willy Hernangomez picked up some extra minutes at the expense of veteran Dwight Howard (16.7 & 12.3) and responded with 15 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes. However, Howard did record his 49th double-double of the season (10 & 10), tying him with Larry Johnson for the franchise record. A lot of good Howard's presence has done, as Charlotte's win percentage is .436, compared to .439 last season, without him
Chicago: Zach LaVine (left knee) and Kris Dunn (toe) have each missed the last nine games and Chicago has announced both will be shut down for the rest of the season. Veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday combined to go 8-of-11 from the floor and each played 17 minutes but it was the younger players doing the bulk of the damage in Sunday's triumph. Rookie forward Lauri Markkanen (15.0 & 7.5) scored a team-high 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting, while hauling in six rebounds in 25 minutes. Bobby Portis (13.2 & 6.8), 23, played just 16 minutes in the win but made his presence felt with 18 points to mark the 11th time in the last 12 games that he reached double figures.
The pick: Chicago has taken two of the first three meetings this season between these "going nowhere" teams and as noted, both are somewhat in "player-development mode." However, no LaVine (16.7) and Dunn (13.4-4.2-6.0) doesn't bode well for Chicago here, as Walker and Howard, along with a number of other veterans, are still playing for contracts next season. I'm making Charlotte a 10* play.
|04-03-18||Warriors v. Thunder -4.5||Top||111-107||Loss||-107||13 h 7 m||Show|
The set-up: The NBA's regular season ends April 11th and the 45-33 OKC Thunder are just a half-game back of the Spurs for the West's No. 4 seed (the last one which comes with a homecourt advantage) but they are also just one game up on the T-wolves (the current No. 7 seed) and 1 1/2 games clear of the 8th-seeded Pelicans. The Thunder had dropped three straight games by a total of just eight points before figuring things out down the stretch on Sunday by snapping their slide with a 109-104 win at New Orleans. OKC and Golden State have no love between them and while the Warriors are
Golden State: Durant (26.3-6.8-5.4) was ejected in his first game back vs/ the bucks but has led the way in back-to-back wins while averaging 28 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists against Sacramento and Phoenix. Thompson (19.9) is playing with his thumb wrapped but it doesn't seem to be hampering his shooting stroke, as he is 20-of-38 from the floor over the last two games. Heading into this game, Curry (26.4-5.1-6.1 will miss his sixth consecutive game with a sprain of his left medial collateral ligament, guard Patrick McCaw is also out after a scary Saturday night injury that left him with a lumbar spine contusion, as is forward Omri Casspi with a right ankle sprain. Super-sub Andre Iguodala (knee soreness) and Kevon Looney (flu) are listed as doubtful, while Durant (rib soreness) and Thompson (fractured right thumb) are both listed as probable. That's more than a few "ifs."
Oklahoma City: "This is a huge win," Paul George told reporters after the Thunder beat the Pelicans on Sunday. "This is a great win, playing against an opponent who is in the same position for us. A must win for both teams. It was a step in the right direction for us to pick up a game like this on an opponent’s floor." However, George (21.6 & 5.7) is shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor over the last five games and was just 9-of-24 on Sunday. Westbrook (25.4-9.8-10.2) recorded a triple-double with 26 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists on Sunday, breaking out of his own shooting slump by going 9-of-17 from the floor. Carmelo Anthony (16.3 & 5.8) completes OKC's "trio of stars," a group which has so far, underachieved (the playoffs will have the last say).
The pick: The Thunder won the first two meetings thi season but the Warriors took the most recent meeting, 112-80 at home back on Feb. 24. OKC has looked shaky as of late (again!) but while the Warriors are off their first back-to-back SU wins in almost a month, their 'victims' were the 25-53 Kings and the NBA-worst Suns (19-59). Impossible to ignore Golden State's 4-12 ATS run since. ate Feb. Make OKC an 8* play.
|04-01-18||Bucks +4 v. Nuggets||Top||125-128||Win||100||12 h 10 m||Show|
The set-up: The 41-35 Milwaukee Bucks are well clear of ninth-place Detroit after a 124-122 overtime victory against the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday. However, the Bucks are jockeying for position with Washington and Miami for the final three playoff spots in the East. Milwaukee currently owns the No. 7 seed, one game back of Washington and only a half-game ahead of the Heat. The Nuggets may have a similar 41-35 record to that of the Bucks, but as they begin a three-game homestand Sunday against Milwaukee, Denver sits two games behind Utah and New Orleans, who are tied for seventh and own the final two postseason spots in the Western Conference. The the Nuggets have a favorable schedule down the stretch but so do the Jazz and Pelicans.
Milwaukee: Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.3-10.0-4.8) recorded 27 points and 16 rebounds Friday, giving him five 25-point, 15-rebound games this season, second-most in the Eastern Conference to Philadelphia's Joel Embiid (six). Eric Bledsoe (17.7-3.9-4.9) added 39 points and is averaging 24 over his last four games. Swingman Middleton (20.3 & 5.2) had 28 points, as Milwaukee's version of a "Big 3" combined for 94 points against LA. Jabari is averaging a modest 11.0 & 4.1 in his 25 games back but is showing progress. Meanwhile, John Henson (8.8 & 6.9) remains day-to-day after missing his second straight game Friday with a finger injury plus Malcolm Brogdon (13.3 points) has missed the last 26 games with a quad injury but is working his way toward a return before the regular season ends.
Denver: The Nuggets continue to play without their second-leading scoer Gary Harris (17.7), who has missed the last seven games with a knee injury. "Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to see him for a while,'' Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told the Denver Post. "Just being completely honest. Obviously, I am not a doctor, but in talking to our training staff, Gary has been working hard to get back, but I think he is still a ways away.'' Denver features six double digit scorers even without Harris, led by center Jokic (17.8 & 10.6). He's followed by guard Murray (16.5), swingman Barton (15.2-4.9-4.1) and now healthy PF Millsap (14.8 & 6.3)).
The pick: Jokic is an under-the-radar star, who has 14 triple-doubles since the start of the 2016-17 season, fourth-most in the NBA behind Russell Westbrook (65), LeBron James (29) and James Harden (25).
|04-01-18||Thunder -1 v. Pelicans||Top||109-104||Win||100||10 h 10 m||Show|
The set-up: The final day of the NBA's regular season is April 11th and seven teams are vying for five playoff spots in the Western Conference, separated by just three games from the 4th through 10th spots. The 44-33 OKC Thunder and the 43-33 New Orleans Pelicans square off Sunday, with both teams suffering through ill-timed three-game losing streaks.OKC currently owns the No. 6 seed but is just a half-game up on the Pelicans, who own the eighth and final playtoff spot. New Orleans holds a two-game edge on the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets, who are both currently on the outside looking in.
Oklahoma City: The Thunder saw their stars struggle in a 126-125 overtime loss to Denver at home on Friday, as Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George combined to shoot 25-of-65. OKC wasted their franchise-record 20 three-pointers, as the Thunder blew a six-point lead with 2:22 left in regulation and hurt themselves with missed foul shots and layups. "We just have to finish them," Westbrook told reporters after Friday's loss. "We did a good job of locking in when we needed to get stops. We just need to put the ball in the hole." OKC's three straight losses have come by a combined eight points and all were against West playoff hopefuls, making for a frustrating slide.
New Orleans: Anthony Davis struggled in scoring only16 points on 6-of-19 shooting in the 107-102 loss at Cleveland on Friday. However, Jrue Holiday continued his stellar play and kept New Orleans close while Davis struggled. He scored 25 points on 12-of-18 shooting after recording a triple-double against Portland on Tuesday. Rajon Rondo (wrist) returned from a two-game absence to hand out eight assists and Nikola Mirotic added 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting after producing a total of seven points on 2-of-13 over his previous two games.
The pick: After losing six of eight to Oklahoma City, the Pelicans have won both matchups against the Thunder this season. New Orleans defeated OKC 114-107 at home on Nov. 20 and 114-100 on the road on Feb. 2. However, the Pelicans ranked as high as the fourth seed in the Western Conference standings just 10 days ago but are now holding on precariously to the eighth and final playoff spot entering Sunday's contest against the Thunder. Oklahoma City is in a little better shape but the Thunder badly need a victory to solidify their playoff positioning. After this game with the Pelicans, OKC hosts Golden State and then visits Houston. OKC really needs this one and the optimism of the 4-2 record New Orleans put together during a marathon eight-day stretch is starting to 'melt away.' Make OKC a 10* play.
|03-28-18||Knicks +12.5 v. 76ers||Top||101-118||Loss||-105||11 h 20 m||Show|
The set-up: "The Process" is working, as the 43-30 Philadelphia 76ers have won seven straight games and are now just a half-game back of the Cavs for the East's No. 3 seed. After dominating the Denver Nuggets in a 123-104 home victory on Monday, the 76ers upped their home record to 25-10 (24-11 ATS). More good news comes their way in that they will play seven of their last nine games against teams with losing records, beginning with the 27-48 Knicks. New York is 21 games under .500 but is playing well on its road trip, stunning the Washington Wizards in a 101-97 win on Sunday and then falling 137-128 in overtime at Charlotte on Monday. The Knicks are
NY Knicks: New York is spending the rest of the season giving players a chance to earn a spot on next year's team. PG Trey Burke is making the most of his opportunity, scoring a team-high 19 points in the win at Washington, then exploding on Monday for a career-high 42 points on 19-of-31 shooting, while adding 12 assists. Burke is 25-years-old and the former Wolverine was a lottery pick for the Jazz but was plucked out of the G League by the Knicks in January. He is averaging 23 points on 57.4 percent shooting over the past four games. Center Enes Kanter has recorded a double-double in each of the last five games and has had a solid season, despite New York's woes, averaging 14.0 & 10.9
Philadedlphia; The 76ers have been led all season by Joel Embiid (23.2 & 11.1) plus rookie PG Ben Simmons (15.8-8.-8.0). That duo has been joined by SG Redick (16.5), PF Saric (14.9 & 6.8) and SF Covington (12.7 & 5.4), giving Philly a quality starting-five. Also, picking up Marco Belinelli has been huge, as he is averaging 15.8 points on 60.4 percent shooting over the last four games and 11.9 PPG in his 19 games with Philly. What's more, the 76ers got another promising youngster back in the lineup on Monday, when No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz (shoulder) returned from a five-month absence. Fultz collected 10 points and eight assists in 14 minutes off the bench and is trying to get up to speed in time to be a factor off the bench in the postseason. "The way he was embraced by his teammates just reinforces what I think of our group and how close they really are," 76ers head coach Brett Brown told reporters of his team's reaction to Fultz's return. "And then he came out and he played. He showed signs of why he was the first player chosen."
The pick: Philadelphia has taken each of the first three meetings this season. At first blush, this looks like a "lay the points kind of game." However, this is a huge pointspread for the young Sixers to lay (could close as the team's largest pointspread lay of the season!) and the Knicks are 6-1 ATS their last seven. Take the big points and make the Knicks an 8* play.
|03-28-18||Cavs v. Hornets +1||Top||118-105||Loss||-105||9 h 56 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers went down to Miami last night on a five-game winning streak (4-1 ATS), having averaged 122.2 PPG. However, that streak came to a crashing halt in Miami, as the Heat held them to just 36.5 percent shooting in a 98-79 loss. It marked Cleveland's lowest-scoring effort in exactly one year. The Cavs have no time to pick up the pieces, as they visit the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday. The 44-30 Cavs will play five of their final seven games at home after finishing up in Charlotte, and currently sit just a half-game ahead of both the Sixers and Pacers in the race for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the 34-41 Hornets are on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention, although they have refused to go quietly. Charlotte has averaged 122.5 points during a four-game winning streak, just a single victory shy of matching its longest winning streak of the season.
Cleveland: Not much went right for the Cavs last night in Miami. Kevin Love managed one point in seven minutes before he was knocked from Tuesday's loss due to an elbow by Miami's Jordan Mickey. Love also exhibited some concussion-like symptoms and will be re-evaluated in the morning before it is determined whether he will continue the trip to Charlotte. LeBron James was limited to 18 points (on 7-for-18 shooting) his lowest total since Feb. 23. As a team, Cleveland finished with a season-low four makes from beyond the arc in 26 attempts.
Charlotte: Kemba Walker (23.1 & 5.7 APG) scored 11 of his 31 points in overtime, as Charlotte got past the New York Knicks 137-128 on Monday. Charlotte is 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot with seven to play and the writing is on the wall, which frustrates someone like Walker, who is in his seventh season with the Hornets and has appeared in just 11 playoff games. However, the two-time All-Star is doing all he can to keep Charlotte's slim hopes alive and is averaging 31.3 points during the winning streak. I guess the same can be said about Dwight Howard, who on Mar. 21 (the first of Charlotte's four straight wins) scored 32 points while grabbing 30 rebounds. Howard was the first NBA player with a 30-point, 30-rebound game since Kevin Love did it for Minnesota on Nov. 12, 2010. He's averaging 16.7 & 12.4 on the season but once again, his addition to yet another team has not improved that team's lot in life! It's becoming a 'broken record.'
The pick: However, Charlotte has no pressure and I see them playing well here.Sure, Cleveland has won each of the last eight meetings, including three straight at Charlotte, but the Cavs could be without Love tonight plus LBJ played 38 minutes in the front end of a back-to-back last night in Miami. The Cavs are a money-burning 26-47-1 ATS on the season and that includes a horrific 16-42-1 mark when favored. Take the small home dog and make the Hornets a 10* play.
|03-27-18||Bulls +15 v. Rockets||Top||86-118||Loss||-105||10 h 19 m||Show|
The set-up: With Golden State's starting-five looking like a M*A*S*H unit, the Houston Rockets are close to clinching the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, as well as the No. 1 overall seed . The 60-14 Rockets have already set a franchise record for wins but that doesn't mean they plan on taking their foot off the gas. James Harden's triple-double (18-10-15) in Sunday's 118-99 rout of the Atlanta Hawks cliched the team's first 60-win campaign, upped Houston's lead over Golden State to 5 1/2 games and was the Rockets' 26th win in their last 27 games (the lone loss in that span came by three points at East-best Toronto on March 9). The Rockets will play five of their last eight games at home and after easily taking care of the Eastern Conference-worst Hawks (19-53), the Rockets welcome the almost as bad 24-49 Chicago Bulls to the Toyota Center. The Bulls are losers of five in a row and aren't even getting a chance to look at their three best young players, as Lauri Markkanen (back), Kris Dunn (toe) and Zach LaVine (knee) all sat out in Saturday's 117-95 loss at Detroit.
Chicago: Markkanen (14.8 & 7.6) and Dunn (13.4-4.3-6.0) are both questionable for Tuesday while LaVine (16.7 PPG in just 24 games) is expected to be out until early April. Other young players are trying to step up. Small forward Denzel Valentine (10.4 & 5.3) averaged 19 points while going 14-of-27 from the floor in the last two games, including 8-of-14 from beyond the arc. Cameron Payne (9.0 & 4.1 APG) is starting at point guard in place of Dunn and scored in double figures in each of the last three games, his longest run of the season.
Houston:The Rockets have relied on the isolation brilliance of James Harden and Chris Paul, plus their volume t-point shooting, to overwhelm opposing defenses. That the Rockets continue to score with breathtaking efficiency without mashing the throttle is a testament to their talent and execution, although they can hurry when the need arises. Harden (30.7-5.4-8.7) and Paul (18.8-5.6-7.9) are the stars, although Gordon (18.1) scoring makes for a terrific guard trio, while center Clint Capela (14.1 & 11.0) has turned into a double-double 'machine.' Houston ranks second in scoring (113.5) and leads the NBA in offensive rating at 113.1 points per 100 possessions
The pick: The Rockets are riding a nine-game winning streak and have gone 16-1 since the break. Meanwhile, the Bulls are 4-12 since the break. Chicago doesn't have much incentive to win games down the stretch given its position in the Eastern Conference standings and the possibility of landing an impact prospect high in the lottery of the upcoming draft. However, the Rockets are a more modest 5-4 ATS during the nine-game streak and the closing pointspread on this contest may well be the most amount of points that Houston had given up all season. Don't ignore the fact that the Rockets are 7-14 ATS at home when laying 10 points or more. Take those points and make Chicago a 10* play.
|03-26-18||Lakers +4.5 v. Pistons||Top||106-112||Loss||-105||18 h 29 m||Show|
The set-up: The Lakers have shown signs that the team is on the rise, despite suffering a plethora of injuries. LA wraps up a four-game road trip tonight in Detroit, with a chance for a 2-2 split. The Lakers dropped the first two stops at Indiana and New Orleans before snapping a four-game slide with a 100-93 win at Memphis on Saturday. The 33-40 Detroit Pistons have played their way out of a realistic shot at an Eastern Conference playoff spot (trail the eighth seed by 5 1/2 games with nine games remaining) but are winners of three of their last four.
LA Lakers: The Lakers are trying to give their prized rookies as much playing time as possible, as the season winds down. PG Lonzo Ball (second overall pick) and forward Kyle Kuzma (27th overall pick) have played heavy minutes in March, with Kuzma continuing to make the stronger impression. During the month, Ball is averaging 9.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 2.3 steals in 37.4 minutes per game but is shooting just 31.9 percent from the floor. Meanwhile, Kuzma is averaging 17.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 37.5 minutes while shooting 46.4 percent. However, LA is expected to be without two of its top players on Monday, as Isaiah Thomas (15.6 & 5.0 APG in 17 games) has already been ruled out because of a sore right hip. Also, leading scorer, SF Brandon Ingram (16.2-5.4-3.9) has missed the last 11 games because of a groin injury and is doubtful. 6-9 PF Julius Randle, having a breakout season in averaging 16.1 & 7.8, suffered an injured ankle during his last outing, leaving his status unclear for Monday's game against the Pistons.
Detroit: The Pistons Detroit took advantage of the depleted Chicago Bulls on Saturday and set a franchise record with 13 three-pointers in the first half in a 117-95 rout. Anthony Tolliver scored a season-high 25 points and went 6-of-12 from 3-point range to lead the way, and the Pistons handed out 33 assists. It was Detroit's third win in four gam,es but after going 3-13 from Feb. 9 through Mar. 17, it's all but assuredly too little too late. Blake Griffin continues to be heralded as a "difference-maker" but the Pistons' record since he joined them paints a very different picture.Griffin is averaging 20.0-6.7-6.3 in 24 games with Detroit, with the Pistons going 10-14 SU & 9-15 ATS.
The pick: Blake Griffin is getting a lot of heat for Detroit’s shortcomings but in fairness, without PG Reggie Jackson for so long (he has returned the last three games and doesn't look 100 percent), Griffin is being asked to do WAY too much.The Lakers are fighting some key injuries but are 13-9 ATS since the start of Feb. Take the points and make LA a 10* play.
|03-25-18||Cavs v. Nets +7.5||Top||121-114||Win||100||6 h 45 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cavs have welcomed Kevin Lowe back and the team's second-best player has been missed. Love (18.0 & 9.3) has not missed a beat, averaging 20.3 & 8.3 in his three games back in the lineup and the Cvs will take a four-game winning steak into their road game at Barclays Center Sunday afternoon against the Brooklyn Nets. The 43-29 Cavs are 10 1/2 games back of the Eastern-leading Raptors plus are also six games back of the Celtics and with only 10 games left, are likely going have to settle for the East's No. 3 seed. However, the Cavaliers are starting to put the pieces together as they get set for another playoff run. Not so much for the 23-50 Nets, who sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Then again, the Nets have not 'mailed it in,' evidenced by them taking the East-leading Toronto Raptors down to the wire before falling 116-112 on Friday.
Cleveland: The Cavs open a three-game road trip on Sunday and will play five of their remaining 10 games against teams with losing records. Along with the recent return of Love, Cleveland welcomed back Rodney Hood (back), Tristan Thompson (ankle) and Larry Nance Jr. (hamstring) in Friday's win. They are now just waiting on Kyle Korver (personal) and Cedi Osman (hip) to get back. "Ten games is enough time when you have your whole team back for the first time all season, it gives you an opportunity to, No. 1, establish some type of rotation that you're going to be using," assistant coach Larry Drew, who is acting as the head coach while Tyronn Lue sits out due to illness, told reporters. Of course, a guy named James (27.4-8.6-9.1) is still "the straw that stirs the drink." LBJ raging 34 points on 59.1 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds and 10.8 assists in the last five games to carry Cleveland.
Brooklyn: "We're not into moral victories, but I did like our compete," Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters after Friday loss to the Raptors. However, the Nets were up nine at the start of the fourth quarter against the Raptors,before falling off. It mirrored Wednesday's game when Brooklyn squandered a 23-point lead in a 111-105 loss to Charlotte. In the end, Friday was just another close loss for the Nets, who are 16-30 in games where there is a five-point margin with less than five minutes to play. Brooklyn was outscored 36-18 in the fourth on Wednesday, then 32-21 on Friday, dropping to 5-21 in its last 26 games.
The pick:Sure, the Cavs are starting to gear up for another playoff run but the Nets have covered five straight in the series. Cleveland hasn't played much defense at all this season, ranking 28th in defensive efficiency, while allowing 110.2 PPG (27th). The Cavs are a terrible favorite (covering right around 30% of the time this season), while the Nets are 13-4 ATS in 2018 when getting seven-plus points. Make Brooklyn an 8* play.
|03-24-18||Pelicans +8 v. Rockets||Top||91-114||Loss||-102||13 h 43 m||Show|
The set-up: The New Orleans Pelicans just survived a stretch of three games in three nights (all at home), handing the Mavs a 10-point loss but then needed to eke out a four-point win over the Pacers and a three-point win over the Lakers. The Pelicans aren't making it look easy but with a four-game winning streak, have moved to 43-30, a half-game back of the 4th-seeded Thunder and one game back of the third-seeded Blazers. However, in the tightly contested West (behind the Rockets and Warriors), the Pelicans also find themselves just three games clear of the playoff 'cut line!' Speaking of the Rockets, if the Pelicans want to extend their current winning streak to five games, they'll have to beat the Rockets in Houston. The Rockets are coming off an unimpressive 100-96 home win over the Pistons on Thursday (in OT!) but are winners of seven straight, 24 of 25 and own the best record in the NBA at 58-14. Houston will play seven of its final 10 games at home, where it owns a 28-6 record.
New Orleans: The Pelicans have been toughing it out in a stretch that had the team playing five games in six days (Mar. 17-22). However, New Orleans had enough energy left on Thursday to outscore the Lakers 31-17 in the fourth quarter. Anthony Davis continues to make his case for league MVP and comes in averaging 28.2 PPG and 11.1 RPG on the season. Combo guard Holiday (19.1-4.4-5.8) has been terrific all season and with Cousins out, E'Twaun Moore (12.4) is the only other regular averaging in double digits. However, the 6-10 Nikola Mirotic has been a 'life-saver,' averaging 12.9 & 7.8 in hsi 22 games since being acquired from the Bulls.
Houston: VP frontrunner James Harden (31.0-5.3-8.7) struggled in making only 2-of-16 from the floor in regulation on Thursday before finding his stroke in overtime, scoring 10 of his 21 points. However, Harden went 0-of-8 from three-point range in the win, marking the first time this season that he failed to make at least one 3-point attempt. Joining Harden on teh perimeter are Chris Paul (18.8-5.6-7.9) and Eric Gordon (18.1), giving Houston an outstanding trio. Center Clint Capela (14.0 & 10.9) has developed into a double-double 'machine' and Houston's reserves have contributed on a regular basis all season. Houston ranks second to only Golden State in scoring (113.5 PG) plus has grealy improved at the defensive end this season, allowing 104.7 PPG (10th-best).
The pick: The Rockets are closing in on clinching the best record in the league and they’ve been tough to beat at home going 28-6, including winning 14 straight. However, Mike D’Antoni’s team is just 13-20-1 ATS at the Toyota Center this season, including coming in on a 5-11 ATS run its last 16 as a home favorite. Meanwhile, the Pelicans have covered three straight and 11 of the last 17 in the series, plus they come in on a 7-1 SU & ATS run on the road. Take the points and make New Orleans a 10* play.
|03-23-18||Nuggets +1.5 v. Wizards||Top||108-100||Win||100||10 h 24 m||Show|
The set-up: The Denver Nuggets are 1-2 on their current seven-game road trip as they get set to visit the Washington Wizards. The 39-33 Nuggets sit two games back of the final playoff spot in the West (T-wolves and Jazz are both 41-31) entering play on Thursday. Nuggets did take care of the lowly Chicago Bulls 135-102 on Wednesday but if they are going to make the postseason, they'll have to beat a winning team or two on the road down the stretch. The team's road trip gets considerably tougher from here on, with each of the next four games and six of the final 10 on the road against teams with winning records, starting with the Wizards. The 40-31 Washington Wizards fell into sixth place in the East with a loss at San Antonio on Wednesday but they are just one game behind the fourth-place Philadelphia 76ers and two back of the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers in the battle for homecourt advantage in the first round.
Denver: The Nuggets face an arduous trek that could very well determine whether they make the playoffs or not. Denver will be without leading scorer Gary Harris (17.7) on Friday night against the Washington Wizards, who will miss his fourth straight game with a right knee sprain/strain (he initially got hurt in the fourth quarter last Thursday in a win over Detroit, when he landed awkwardly as he was fouled on a dunk. Without Harris, the Nuggets are 1-2 on the trip. They dropped a seven-point decision at Memphis on Saturday followed by a 149-141 double-overtime loss at Miami on Monday, before beating the sad-sack Bulls. Jokic, a 6-10 center, is right behind Harris in averaging 17.5 PPG plus add a team-high 10.5 RPG. Five other Denver players are in double digits, including the versatile Barton (15.0-4.-4.9) and the now-healthy PF Millsap (14.2 & 6.3).
Washington: The Wizards lost 98-90 at San Antonio on Wednesday and are 4-6 since Feb. 27. Washington is a virtual lock to make the playoffs (is 8 1/2 games inside the playoff cut line) but which seed the team gets could determine how long Washington's playoff 'stay' will be. It's important to note that all six of Washington's recent setbacks (see above) have come against playoff-bound opponents. "It's frustrating because we were right there," All-Star guard Bradley Beal told reporters. "Every time we have a chance to move up (in the standings), we kind of take two steps back. All we can do is put it behind us and move on." Beal (23.2-4.4-4.6) is doing his part to move the Wizards up in the standings, averaging 24.7 points on 55.8 percent shooting over the last three games. Wizards SG Jodie Meeks (6.4) and PF Mike Scott (8.6 & 3.1) both missed Wednesday's game due to illness and are day-to-day, plus PG Wall (19.4 & 9.3) hasn't played since Jan. 25..
The pick: Both teams are fighting for playoff positioning (Denver for its playoff life!) but both are also mired mired in pointspread slumps.Washington is 2-6-1 ATS in March, while Denver is just 4-10 ATS since Feb. 23. However, I'm giving the edge to the road team here, as even without Harris, the Nuggets can score and Washington is really struggling on the defensive end of the court. The Wizards have allowed opponents to shoot 48.9 percent from the floor over their last 10 games, giving up 108.8 PPG. Make Denver a 10* play.
|03-22-18||Lakers +3 v. Pelicans||Top||125-128||Push||0||9 h 21 m||Show|
The set-up: The Pelicans had a make-up contest last night with the Pacers, in a game postponed back on Feb 7 because of a leaky roof in the Smoothie King Center. It marked the middle contest of three games in as many nights for New Orleans, as part of a stretch during which the Pelicans will play five times in six nights. New Orleans' 96-92 victory over Indiana gives them a chance to sweep its three games in three nights ordeal and post the team's fourth consecutive overall win when the 42-30 Pelicans host the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. The 31-39 Lakers come in having dropped three straight games after enjoying a stretch in which they had won eight of 10 games. They suffered a 110-100 loss to the Pacers on Monday in the opener of a four-game road trip that includes stops in Memphis and Detroit.
LA Lakers: Rookie Kyle Kuzma had 27 points and eight rebounds in the loss to the Pacers andhe is putting together a season unlike any rookie in NBA history. Kuzma needs 78 rebounds and 15 three-pointers over the final 12 games to become the first rookie in league history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 150 3-pointers. The first-round pick out of Utah (2th overall) has exceeded all expectations by averaging 15.6 & 6.2, establishing himself as a key figure in the team's rebuilding project. That can also be said about second-year swingman Brandon Ingram (16.2-5.4-3.9) but he will miss his 10th straight game Thursday with a groin injury. PF Julius Randle (15.9 & 7.9) is also having his best-ever season plus no one can forget Lonzo Ball (10.1-6.8-7.1)
New Orleans: Anthony Davis (28.2 & 11.2) isn't looking fatigued, scoring 28 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking five blocked shots against the Pacers for his sixth double-double in the last seven games. The latest victory leaves the Pelicans three games clear of the ninth-place Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference playoff competition (also just a half-game back of the 4th-seeded Thunder) with just 10 games remaining. Combo guard Jrue Holiday (19.0-4.4-5.8) was back in the lineup versus the Pacers after battling the flu caused him to miss his first game this season. He had 10 points and five assists. Guard E'Twaun Moore (12.3) scored 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and forward Nikola Mirotic, who missed his first seven 3-point attempts against the Pacers, hit from long range on back-to-back possessions in the final four minutes. Don't knock Mirotic, as he's averaging 13.3 & 7.9 in his 21 games with the Pelicans (team is 14-7).
The pick: The Pelicans have won four of the last five against the Lakers, including both games this year. However, this marks a third game in three nights for the Pelicans and the Lakers had been on a 20-8 ATS run before dropping their last three SU & ATS. Take the points and make LA an 8* play.
|03-21-18||Pacers -1.5 v. Pelicans||Top||92-96||Loss||-110||11 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: The 41-30 Pacers and the 41-30 Pelicans New Orleans will play tonight in New Orleans, making up a contest that was postponed back on Feb 7 because of a leaky roof in the Smoothie King Center. The make-up game interrupts what was slated to be a three-game homestand for the Pacers and leaves them with seven road contests in a 10-game span. However, don't expect the Pelicans to feel sorry for Indiana, as New Orleans has it even worse. This marks the middle contest of a string of three games in as many days and part of a stretch during which the Pelicans will play five times in six nights. Both teams find themselves in tightly contested battles for playoff positioning. The Pacers are 4th in the East, just a half-game back of the Cavs but still only 3 1/2 games ahead of the eight-seeded Bucks. Things are even tighter for the fifth-seeded Pelican in the West, as they are just one game ahead of the conference's 8th-seed.
Indiana: "We're tired, of course," Indiana PG Darren Collison told reporters. "But everybody in the NBA is tired right now. So there's really no excuse. We've got to go out there and perform." Second-year center Myles Turner (13.7 & 6.9) returned from a one-game absence due to an ankle issue to post 21 points and seven rebounds in Monday's 110-100 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. Turner is one of six Indiana players averaging in double digits. That group is led by Oladipo (23.3-5.2-4.2) and also includes back-up center Sabonis (11.7 & 7.9), who along with Oladipo, was acquired from OKC in the George trade. However, Sabonis has been out the last few games with an ankle issue and is not expected to play in this one. Stephenson (9.5 & 5.1) and Joseph (8.10 have been valuable contributers as well, mostly coming off the bench.
New Orleans: "It's not some impossible thing," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters regarding the Pelicans' busy upcoming stretch of games. "I don't want to make a big deal out of it, and we'll be able to manage it and play and do the best we can with it." Anthony Davis (28.2 & 11.1) scored 37 points on 15-of-21 shooting in Tuesday's 115-105 win over Dallas to help the Pelicans move three games clear of ninth-place Denver in the Western Conference playoff chase. Jrue Holiday missed his first game of the season on Tuesday (illness) and the hope is that the club's second-leading scorer (19.1 points) will be able to play against Indiana. Davis has been nothing short of spectacular since the loss of Boogie Cousins (25.2 & 12.9) but he can't do it alone. Mirotic has been a huge help (acquired from the Bulls), averaging 13.2 & 6.5 in 20 games for New Orleans.
The pick: New Orleans could use a bit of a cushion as it has a tough closing slate that includes games against Houston, Portland, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Golden State and the Spurs. A date with Indiana is clearly no 'walk in the park." Yes, the Pelicans posted a 117-112 victory on Nov. 7 behind 37 points from Davis but the Pacers have won 12 of the last 15 meetings between the two clubs. Make Indiana a 10* play.
|03-21-18||Clippers v. Bucks -5||Top||127-120||Loss||-107||9 h 6 m||Show|
The set-up: Behind the Rockets and Warriors, the Western Conference No. 3 and No. 10 teams are separated by just 6 1 /2 games, as eight teams are vying for six remaining playoff spots (No. 3 through No. 8). The Los Angeles Clippers are sliding in the wrong direction, as they've lost four in a row after falling 123-109 to Minnesota on Tuesday. That contest began a stretch during which LA plays six of seven on the road. The 37-33 Clippers are now 10th in the West, 2 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The 37-33 Milwaukee Bucks play in the East and like the Clippers, as heading in the wrong direction. The Bucks have lost eight of their last 12 games, although they remain a comfortable 5 1/2 games inside the East's playoff 'cut line,' while holding down the 8th-seed. In fact, Milwaukee is closer to the third-seeded Cavs (four games back), than it is to the No. 9 team, Detroit (5 1/2 games clear).
LA Clippers: Los Angeles was on the rise with 12 victories in 16 games before suddenly losing four in a row, while allowing more than 120 points in each of its last three games. Head coach Doc Rivers was dismayed after Tuesday's loss as he didn't like the effort or desire displayed by his club, particularly factoring in the importance of the contest. DeAndre Jordan (12.1 & 15.4) produced 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 12 rebounds against the Timberwolves. He has now reached double digits in rebounds in 11 straight contests. However, Williams (22.9 & 5.3 APG) and Harris (19.6 & 6.7 in 20 games for the LAC) combined to shoot 9 of 27 (including 0 of 7 on threes), totaling just 25 points between them. Defensively, the Clippers were flat, allowing the T-wolves to make 52.3% of their shots.
Milwaukee: The Bucks suffered a 124-117 loss in Cleveland on Monday despite receiving big efforts from Giannis Antetokounmpo (37 points & 11 rebounds) and Khris Middleton (30 points). Backup point guard Brandon Jennings is being signed to a second 10-day contract after averaging six points, 5.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds in four games since joining the club. The 28-year-old played in China and for Milwaukee's G League franchise earlier this season and opened eyes with a stellar performance against Memphis on March 12, when he recorded 16 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. Jennings spent four seasons with the Bucks from 2009-13, a stint that included his career-best 19.1 scoring average in 2011-12, and once was the team's top player.
The pick: Both teams are struggling but Milwaukee has gone 5-1 against Pacific Division teams this season. The Bucks have yet to face the Clippers (tonight's matchup is the first of two in a seven-day span) but won both meetings against the Clippers last season, when Griffin and Paul were in LA. Make Milwaukee an 8* play.
|03-20-18||Hawks +13 v. Jazz||Top||99-94||Win||100||13 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: The Utah Jazz have won nine in a row and at 40-30, are now dead-locked with the Pelicans for the 6th and 7th seed in the West. Utah is just a half-game back of the 5th-seed Spurs and two games back of the fourth-seeded Thunder. Utah closes a four-game homestand tonight against the woeful Atlanta Hawks, who at 20-50, own the East's worst record (Memphis and Phoenix both own just 19 wins in the West). Incredibly, the Jazz were once struggling at nine games below .500 but have now won 21 of their last 23 games. Meanwhile, Atlanta is experiencing a dreadful campaign and comes in on a six-game losing streak after falling 122-117 to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday in the opener of the team's six-game road trip.
Atlanta: The Hawks have long ago fallen out of a playoff position, a the team's 10-year postseason run will end here in 2018 (it was the second-longest streak in the NBA, behind only the Spurs). Some positive news is that second-year small forward Taurean Prince is on a roll by scoring a career-best 38 points twice in the past four games while averaging 30.8 points during the stretch. Prince (13.5 & 4.9) has topped 20 points in each of the last four games and five times overall, while averaging 21.5 points in March. Schroder has taken over the PG duties from Teague and delivered, averaging team-bests in points (19.1) and assists (6.2). 6-10 Wake Forest rookie has also been a "breath of fresh air," averaging 10.5 & 7.1 in about 23 minutes.
Utah: The team's rise began shortly after standout center Rudy Gobert returned to full health after two different leg injuries. Head coach Quin Snyder said "It's an empirical fact" that Gobert is the most dominant defensive player in the NBA." Gobert is averaging 21 points and 13.5 rebounds while posting four straight double-doubles, as well as averaging 19.3 points on 68.5 percent shooting, 13.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks during the nine-game winning streak, to raise his season averages to14.0 & 10.7. Small forward Joe Ingles leads the NBA by making 45.0 percent of his three-point shots and inherited a larger role when Gordon Hayward left as a free agent in the off-season. He is averaging 16.8 points over the past five games, although he's averaging a more modest 11.3 PPG on the season. Be sure not to overlook rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who leads all 'freshman' in averaging 19.9 PPG.
The pick: The Jazz are fighting for a playoff spot, while the Hawks are playing out the string. That said, the Jazz just got past the Kings the last time out, 103-97 in Utah. Don't forget that Atlanta laid a surprise 104-90 whipping on Utah the last time they faced each other back on Jan. 22 in Atlanta. I'm taking the YUGE points in this one and making the Hawks an 8* play.
|03-20-18||Clippers v. Wolves -3.5||Top||109-123||Win||100||12 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: The battle in the Western Conference for playoff seeds 3 through 8 has been fierce and tight for quite some time now. The 37-22 LA Clippers will visit the Target Center tonight for a game with the 40-31 Minnesota Timberwolves. The Clippers are currently on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, as they are two games back of the No. 8 T-wolves. For its part, Minnesota is just a half-game behind the two teams holding down the 6th and 7th seeds (Jazz and Pelicans, respectively), plus sits just one game back of the 5th-seeded Spurs.
LA Clippers: The Clippers are in "worry mode" after dropping three in a row to teams ahead of them in the standings and falling two games behind the Timberwolves. LA played three games in four nights against Houston, Oklahoma City and Portland, dropping all three. After trading Blake Griffin, the Clippers didn't seem like a playoff team. However, Lou Williams has continued his big scoring (is averaging what would be career highs in both points and assists right now at 23.0 & 5.3) plus Tobias Harris, who came over for Griffin, has averaged 20.1 & 6.7 with the Clippers. Yes, Patrick Beverly, Avery Bradley and Danilo Gallinari are still out with injuries but guards Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic have gotten healthy and we can never forget center Jordan (12.0 & 15.4 on the season, while is averaging 18.8 rebounds in nine games this month!).
Minnesota: The Timberwolves didn't do themselves any favors by losing to a pair of teams in front of them over the weekend while allowing an average of 123 points in losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. The T-wolves allowed a season-high 77 points in the first half on Sunday against Houston and didn't have quite enough left to finish off a comeback in a 129-120 loss. Center Karl-Anthony Towns is doing his part to lead the team to the postseason for the first time since 2004 and delivered 20 points and 18 rebounds on Sunday, the fourth time in the last eight games that he recorded at least 20 points and 16 boards (he's at 20.7 & 12.2 on the season). Jeff Teague (13.8 & 7.0 APG had 23 points and 11 assists vs. Houston, Andrew Wiggins (18.0 & 4.1) scored 21 plus newcomer Derrick Rose supplied a spark during the rally and finished with 14 points. However, the loss was Minnesota's fifth in seven games.
The pick: The schedule isn't letting up for the Clippers, who play six of the their next seven on the road with a pair of back-to-backs, including a date at Milwaukee tomorrow night. The T-wolves have mostly struggled in Butler’s absence and just before, going 4-11 ATS over their last 15 games. However, they have won all three previous games with the Clippers this season (including a pair at Staples Center), extending their winning streak over LA to five in a row. Make that six, so lay the points and make Minnesota a 10* play.
|03-19-18||Pistons -2.5 v. Kings||Top||106-90||Win||100||21 h 45 m||Show|
The set-up: Acquiring Blake Griffin in a blockbuster deal six weeks ago was supposed to be a difference-maker for the Pistons but instead, the Pistons have played their way out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. Detroit has lost 14 of 21 contests with Griffin since getting him from the Los Angeles Clippers in a trade deadline deal, despite Griffin averaging 19.9 points and grabbing 6.4 rebounds per game since the deal. Detroit comes into tonight's game having lost 13 of its last 16 games (3-13 ATS), punctuated by the team's inability to win on the road. The Pistons will try to snap a 12-game road slide (1-11 ATS) when they continue a six-game trip (0-3 so far) by visiting the Sacramento Kings on Monday. The 23-48 Kings are not in a playoff race either but they are not laying down with wins in two of their last three games and four straight solid performances against playoff-bound opponents. Sacramento knocked off Miami and Golden State, before falling at Utah 103-97 on Saturday
Detroit: The Pistons are playing so poorly that the future of their head coach is anything but rosy. Stan Van Gundy was quick to assign blame to the referees for Saturday's loss. "I've been here four years," Van Gundy told reporters. "I've been many more years before that (elsewhere). I've never come in after a game -- never. Might have talked about one call. Never come in after a game and talked like this. That was embarrassing. We got absolutely screwed tonight." That sound like a man who knows his job is in jeopardy. the 100-87 defeat at Portland on Saturday marked the team's 17th loss in its in last 18 on the road (going back to Dec. 15). The only exception in that stretch was a Jan. 10 victory at Brooklyn.
Sacramento: However, while the Kings own a similar recordto the Nets, Sacramento is currently playing hard. The Kings ran out of gas in the fourth quarter on Saturday while playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road but got another solid performance off the bench from guard Buddy Hield. The second-year Oklahoma product is averaging 23 points on 56.8 percent shooting over the last three games and totaled 16 assists in that span. Hield and swingman Garrett Temple (11 points) both scored in double figures at Utah as the reserves outscored the starters 56-41. Rookie guards De'Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic also continue to build, despite the inevitable inconsistency. The two were 9-for-30 and combined for 23 points in the loss to Utah but Fox is averaging 12.4 points and 4.3 assists in 28 minutes a game since the break and Bogdanovic is averaging 12.9 points and 3.8 assists in 28 minutes over the same stretch.
The pick: The Pistons are all but officially out of the playoff hunt in the East but with no pressure, I wouldn't be surprised if Detroit plays much better the rest of the way. I'm no Griffin fan but now that his team is all but 'dead, I expect this fraud of an All Star to "be the man." Throw in the fact that the Kings are 3-12 ATS as a home dog of six points or less on the season, says make Detroit an 8* play.
|03-18-18||Blazers v. Clippers -2.5||Top||122-109||Loss||-101||14 h 56 m||Show|
The set-up: The red-hot Portland Trail Blazers will take their 12-game winning streak into Staples Center on Sunday night, where they'll take on the LA Clippers. Portland's surge has helped solidify its playoff positioning amid a tight Western Conference race but has by no means allowed the Blazers to "run away from the field." The 43-26 Blazers do own the No. 3 seed but they are still just four games up on the No. 8 seed (NO Pelicans). The LA Clippers are 37-31, which currently leaves them on the outside looking in on the West's playoff field. However, LA is just 1 1/2 games back of the Pelicans, as well as being just two games back of the Jazz, T-wolves and Spurs (all at 40-30).
Portland: The Blazers'100-87 win over Detroit on Saturday left them two games ahead of Oklahoma City in the race for third place in the East and the team's 12 straight wins is tied for the third-longest in franchise history (four shy of a franchise record). Damian Lillard had 24 points against the Pistons, the 10th time in the past 11 games he has reached that mark. Lillard (26.8-4.5-6.6) and McCollum (21.7) give Portland a dynamic backcourt duo but only center Jusuf Nurkic (14.1 & 8.5) is a consistent scorer outside of those two. Note that Nurkic did have 14 points and 20 rebounds in a 104-96 victory at Los Angeles back on Jan. 30.
LA Clippers: The Clippers were thought to be "giving up" when they traded Blake Griffin to Detroit. However, while Griffin has done absolutely nothing to improve the Pistons, the Clippers have gone 12-7 without Griffin, despite coming into this came off back-to-back losses. Tobias Harris is averaging 20.6 points on 48.6 percent shooting (plus 6.9 RPG) in 18 games with the Clippers, after posting 18.1 on 45.1 percent in 48 games with the Pistons prior to being traded to Los Angeles last month. Veteran Lou Williams own personal-bests of 22.9 PPG and 5.4 APG, while center DeAndre Jordan averages 12.1 & 15.4. He grabbed 21 rebounds Friday night and has collected at least 18 in six consecutive contests.
The pick: Los Angeles begins a four-game road trip at Minnesota on Tuesday and then plays six of seven away from home overall, after it is finished with Portland. Speaking of Portland, the Blazers have done most of its recent 'damage' at home but eight of the next 12 contests will take place on the road, where the team is a more modest 18-15. The Clippers lost 104-96 in Portland on Jan. 20, in what was their first game without Griffin (after the trade). This time around, the Clippers catch the Blazers off a home game last night with the Pistons, while they will be playing at home, one of just two home contests in an 11-game stretch that began on Mar. 13th and runs through the end of the month. Make LA a 10* play.
|03-17-18||Pistons +8.5 v. Blazers||Top||87-100||Loss||-102||14 h 32 m||Show|
The set-up: The Portland Trail Blazers own an 11-game winning streak but the Blazers' 11-game surge leaves them only a modest 1 1/2 games up on the fourth-place Oklahoma City Thunder and still a mere 4 1/2 games in front of the Denver Nuggets, who are currently in ninth-place, on the outside looking in on the West's playoff picture. Portland will welcome the 30-38 Pistons to the Moda Center tonight. Acquiring Blake Griffin in a blockbuster deal six weeks ago was supposed to be a difference-maker for the Pistons but Detroit comes into tonight's game having lost 12 of its last 15 games (3-12 ATS). The Pistons are currently six games back of the East's final playoff spot.
Detroit: So much for Griffin (20.2-6.5-5.7 in 19 games) combining with Drummond (15.0 & 15.7) to make the Pistons real contenders in the East. Detroit was embarrassed 110-79 at Utah on Thursday and fell into a 26-point hole at Denver on Friday before coming back and making it close in a 120-113 setback. The Pistons are 0-2 to open their current six-game road trip and will play a back-to-back at Sacramento and Phoenix on Monday and Tuesday, before closing the trip at NBA-best Houston on Thursday. Last night's loss was Detroit's 11th straight on the road (1-10 ATS).
Portland: "Each game is a challenge," Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told reporters after a 113-105 home win over Cleveland on Thursday. "To string together the wins we have been, we've been doing good things at both ends of the floor. And tonight was an example of that as well." Eight of Portland's last 11 games have been played at the Moda Center Portland. "We're doing a good job protecting home court, taking advantage of a little stretch at home," guard CJ McCollum told reporters after the win over Cleveland. McCollum (21.8-3.9-3.2) joins Lillard (26.8-4.5-6.6) to form one of the NBA's best backcourt duos but only center Nurkic (14.1 & 8.6) is a game-in and game-out producer outside of that dynamic guard duo. However, here's the rub. Portland will play eight of its final 13 games on the road, with the remaining opponents at home including Houston, Boston and Utah.
The pick: No interest at all in taking the Pistons (see the team's current results above) but not so sure I want to be in a position of winning this by double digits in order to cover. Detroit is allowing 112.8 PPG during its 11-game road losing streak and Portland is averaging 112.1 PPG during its 11-game overall winning streak. Let's make the Over an 8* play.
|03-17-18||Wolves +4 v. Spurs||Top||101-117||Loss||-105||12 h 2 m||Show|
The set-up:The Timberwolves and Spurs meet Saturday night in a contest between a pair teams smack in the middle of the crowed Western Conference's playoff scramble. As I've noted often, the No. 3 through No. 10 seeds are separated by just five games. The 40-29 T-wolves are currenly the No. 5 seed, while the 39-30 Spurs own the No. 8 seed. Minnesota may be holding onto the No. 5 spot entering Saturday's play (just one game behind No. 4 OKC) but the T-wolves are only just one game ahead of the No. 8 seed Spurs and two games up on the No. 9 Nuggets, who are currently outside of the playoff cut line. Minnesota is trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2004 but for San Antonio, it has not missed the playoffs since the 1996-97 campaign .
Minnesota: The T-wolves are feeling good about themselves after back-to-back wins over Golden State and Washington. Minnesota is 4-3 since losing Jimmy Butler () to knee surgery last month and has replaced him in the starting lineup with the 6-10 Nemanja Bjelica (6.8 & 3.8). "Going big" has worked well, with Bjelica averaging 13.9 & 8.3 in his seven starts. The remaining starters are familiar in Towns (20.7-12.2), Wiggins (17.9 7 4.1), Teague (13.6 & 6.9 APG) and Gibson (12.4 & 7.2).
San Antonio: The Spurs share the same record with the Jazz but would finish eighth based on the head-to-head tiebreakers with Utah. With Leonard still sidelined, only Aldridge (22.2 & 8.3) can be counted on nightly. Ten others are averaging between 4.5 and 11.1 PPG, with just two in double digits. Some good news is that the Spurs have won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 28-30, after knocking off Orlando and New Orleans on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. After holding the Magic to 34.1 percent shooting from the floor in a 108-72 win, the Spurs held on for a 98-93 win over the Pelicans. In fact, Thursday's win over New Orleans was the first for San Antonio over a West playoff contender since knocking off Denver 106-104 back on Jan. 30, and the schedule won't let up the rest of the way. San Antonio will not face a team with a current losing record until visiting the Los Angeles Lakers on April 4.
The pick: In contrast to the Spurs' tough road ahead, the Timberwolves get two more games against winning teams with encounters against Houston and the Clippers, before playing six of their final 10 games against losing teams. A Minnesota win tonight will assure them of at least a .500 season and would be its second victory in the last 26 trips to San Antonio plus would snap an eight-game road losing streak in the series. However, Minnesota snapped a 12-game losing streak in the series with a 98-86 home win on Nov. 15, so I'll argue that the T-wolves are poised to get a "W' tonight. leonard is at best questionable for tonight's game and Aldridge was iffy with a sore knee early in the week,. Make Minnesota a 10* play.
|03-16-18||Nets +8.5 v. 76ers||Top||116-120||Win||100||11 h 14 m||Show|
The set-up: The Philadelphia 76ers made it 12 wins in their last 17 games with Thursday's 118-110 comeback victory over the New York Knicks at MSG. The 76ers, who are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 37-30, took another step toward making the postseason for the first time since 2012 when they outscored New York 35-19 in the fourth quarter. They enter Friday's home contest against the Brooklyn Nets to begin a stretch in which six of seven games are at home. The Nets limp in having lost 18 of their last 21 games after suffering a 116-102 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. Brooklyn's 21-47 record leaves them better than only the 21-48 Magic and 20-49 Hawks among Eastern Conference teams.
Brooklyn: "We're trying to build something here," head coach Atkinson told reporters. "Us finishing the season in an upward take, upward kind of move, it's important to us. So we're kind of playing our own playoffs. Every game for us is huge for our development." PG D'Angelo Russell has put together back-to-back stellar games by averaging 29 points and going 11-of-20 from three-point range during the stretch. He's a quality player, averaging 16.1 & 4.8 APG on the season. PG Spencer Dinwiddie is just 7-of-25 shooting over the past two games but he's shown great promise, as the injury to Lin has given him a chance to show he's an NBA player. Dinwiddie did nothing for Detroit in his first two seasons but after averaging just 7.3 PPG for the Nets last season, he's averaging 13.0 & 6.9 APG in almost 30 minutes this season. The Nets also have six other regulars who are averaging 10-plus points per game. Team D has been a big problem though, as Brooklyn allowing 110.2 PPG (28th).
Philadelphia: Center Joel Embiid (23.6 & 10.9) recorded 29 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double and 35th of the season against the Knicks. He and Ben Simmons (16.2-7.8-7.7) are prime examples that Philly's "Process" is no longer a standing joke in the NBA. Simmons had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists against the Knicks for his eighth triple-double of the season, the second-most by a rookie in NBA history behind legendary Oscar Robertson (26). Simmons also joined Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only rookies in NBA history with at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists. Throw in SG Redick (16.6), PF Saric (15.1 & 7.0) and SF Covington (12.6 & 5.4) and the 76ers have a 'big league" starting-five.
The pick: This is a quick turnaround from last Saturday’s meeting in Brooklyn, when Philadelphia crushed the Nets 120-97. It's true that the 76ers have won 13 of 14 SU (12-2 ATS) at the Wells Fargo Center since New Year’s Day but the Sixers have covered just 3 of 10 chances when unrested this season (like here, off a Thursday game at MSG). Meanwhile, it's true the Nets are just 9-24 SU on the road but they are 21-12 ATS, getting outscored by an average of just 5.3 PPG away from home. Take the big points and make Brooklyn an 8* play.
|03-15-18||Pistons v. Nuggets -7.5||Top||113-120||Loss||-109||13 h 5 m||Show|
The set-up: The Denver Nuggets have hurt their cause in the Western Conference playoff race with three losses in their last five games. Denver fell 112-103 at the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, falling into 10th place in the West at 37-31, although the Nuggets are just one game out of a playoff spot. The Nuggets remain a strong home team at 26-10 but they are just 11-21 on the road. So, with their longest road trip of the season on the horizon (will play) seven consecutive contests away from home, Thursday's home matchup with the reeling Detroit Pistons is practically a "must-win" scenario for the Nuggets. Acquiring Blake Griffin in a blockbuster deal six weeks ago was supposed to be a difference-maker for the Pistons but after Detroit's 110-79 loss in Utah on Tuesday, the team has lost 11 of its last 14.
Detroit: The Pistons are now 30-37 and five games out of the final playoff spot in the East. Detroit's starters combined for 43 points on 16-of-43 shooting in the loss at Utah (Griifin was 5 of 16 with points) and the defeat was Detroit's 10th straight on the road. The lopsided contest allowed rookie Luke Kennard to see a personal-high 36 minutes and he responded with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting. However, the 12th pick in last year's draft is averaging only 6.7 PPG in about 18 1/2 MPG. Griffin's numbers are solid (19.8-6.5-5.6) but he's done absolutely nothing to improve this team.
Denver: "We've just got to win games," center Mason Plumlee told reporters after the second chippy contest with the Lakers in less than a week. "We've got to go home and beat Detroit. We're done with the Lakers for the season, so you've got to move on." Denver led by 13 points with just over two minutes left in the third quarter at Los Angeles, before fading down the stretch. The loss dropped Denver to just SU on the road, which hardly inspires confidence for a team looking forward to (dreading?) an upcoming seven-game road trip. Wilson Chandler was one of the bright spots against the Lakers, scoring 26 points. However, it's been Denver's guard trio of Harris (17.8), Murray (16.2) and Barton (14.9-4.1-5.0) which has given the Nuggets consistent perimeter scoring. Center Jokic (17.1 & 10.4) and now healthy PF Millsap (14.0 & 6.3) are tasked with the heavy lifting up front.
The pick: This is clearly a "must win" for Denver and as noted, Detroit limps in on a 3-11 SU run overall (3-11 ATS too), as well as on an 0-10 SU & 1-9 ATS run on the road. Make Denver an 8* play.
|03-15-18||Raptors v. Pacers +3.5||Top||106-99||Loss||-103||11 h 5 m||Show|
The set-up: The Toronto Raptors have won nine straight games (two shy of matching the franchise mark), as well as 16 of their last 17 and 18 of their last 20. Tuesday's 116-102 triumph in Brooklyn gave Toronto 50 victories for the third straight season and the Raptors' 50-17 mark has them 4 1/2 games up on Boston in the race for the East's No. 1 seed. The Raptors seek their 10th consecutive victory with a visit to the hard-charging Indiana Pacers, who earned a big 101-98 win Tuesday in Philadelphia to maintain their grip on third place in the East, a half-game ahead of Cleveland. Indiana's win was the team's 10th time in its last 13 contests, giving them a 40-28 record (who needs Paul George?).
Toronto: The All Star backcourt of DeRozan (23.6-4.0-5.1) and Lowry (16.4-5.6-6.7) were limited to a total of 26 points at Brooklyn but center Jonas Valanciunas shouldered the load with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Along with PF Ibaka (12.7 & 6.1), Valanciunas (12.3 & 8.5) has been a steady presence in Toronto's frontcourt. The Raptors tied a franchise record for consecutive 100-point games with 20 in a row in the win over the Nets (Raptors are the East's highest scoring team at 112.3 PPG) and now have set their sights on 60 wins. They would need to win 10 if their last 15 games. "It's never been done (in Toronto)," Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan told the Toronto Star. "Not many people get the opportunity to win 60-plus games. We came close a couple of years ago. That's big."
Indiana: Center Myles Turner (13.8 & 7.0) scored 25 points in the 101-98 triumph at Philly and has averaged 21.3 in his last four games. Thaddeus Young (11.6 & 6.1) added 19 points and 10 rebounds as Indiana showed its resiliency and depth in a tough road game that saw guards Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic combine to make only 5-of-32 shots. However, Oladipo (23.6-5.3-4.3) and Sabonis (11.7 & 7.9), the two players acquired for Paul George, have been everything and more, for the Pacers. Indiana has won 21 of its last 30 games but in the tightly bunched East, the team is well aware that while it may be the No. 3 seed at the moment, the Pacers are closer to the No. 8 seed (4 1/2-game lead) than they are to the No. 2 seed (5 1/2-game deficit).
The pick: The two teams split their first two meetings this season, with the home team winning each one. Hard to buck the Raptors and it's not good news for Indian fans (bettors) that Domantas Sabonis suffered a left ankle sprain at Philadelphia and will miss Thursday's game. However, just like 'it felt" like a good spot to take the Raptors at home over tehg red-hot Rockets on , "it feels" like the right time to take the Pacers over the Raptors, here. Make Indiana a 10* play.
|03-14-18||Wizards v. Celtics -1||Top||125-124||Loss||-105||12 h 17 m||Show|
The set-up: The Toronto Raptors easily handled the Nets 116-102 last night (the team's ninth straight win) and moved four full games ahead of the 46-21 Boston Celtics for the East's No. 1 seed. The Celtics will welcome the 38-30 Washington Wizards to the TD Garden tonight but they will be severely shorthanded. PG Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) is among the four players who will miss the contest while power forward Al Horford is questionable due to illness. Marcus Smart (thumb), Jaylen Brown (concussion) and forward Daniel Theis (knee) will also be in street clothes for a team that has dealt with injuries since losing small forward Gordon Hayward to a broken ankle in the season opener. As for the Wizards, Washington is struggling with five losses in its past seven games after losing 116-111 to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday. The Wizards currently own the East's No. 5 seed, two games back of the No. 3 seed but also just two games ahead of the No. 8 seed.
Washington: Markieff Morris (11.4 & 5.8) stood out with a season-high 27 points in the loss to Minnesota, with leading scorer Beal (23.2-4.5-4.6) adding a modest 19. However, Tomas Satoransky continues to play well in place of injured All-Star John Wall (knee) and recorded 15 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals against the T-wolves. Wall has been out for the last six weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. He is working out but there's still no target date for a return.
Boston: Theis was ruled out for the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. He has been a key member of the rotation lately, with averages of 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds while recording 48 blocked shots and 30 steals. The Celtics have struggled offensively most of the season (104.4 PPG ranks 20th) and know with mounting injuries, will need to rely on its excellent defense even more. Boston enters the game allowing 100.2 PPG (2nd) on 43.6% shooting (1st).
The pick: These teams engaged in a vicious seven-game playoff series last spring and have split the first two contests of their four-game season series this season, each winning on the other's court. I expect that to change here and look for Boston to win and cover in this one. The Celtics allow just 99.7 PPG at home and that's the key. Make Boston a 10* play.
|03-13-18||Nuggets v. Lakers +2||Top||103-112||Win||100||25 h 4 m||Show|
The set-up: The Denver Nuggets finished off a 2-1 homestand with a 130-104 rout of Sacramento on Sunday and at 37-30, remain tied with the Jazz and Spurs for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Denver is 26-10 at home but the Nuggets will play 10 of their final 15 contests on the road, where they are just 11-20. The first of those 10 road games comes tonight at Staples Center against the LA Lakers. The Lakers may be just 30-36 but after they fell 125-116 at Denver on Friday, they bounced back to roll over the Cavs 127-113 on Sunday at home, improving to 15-7 in their last 22 games.
Denver: If the Nuggets are going to make the playoffs, they will have to perform better on the road. Nikola Jokic notched his seventh triple-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the win over the Kings, as Denver led by as many as 36 points. Long overdue for a blowout like that," forward Paul Millsap told reporters after the Nuggets' most lopsided victory since Nov. 17. PF Millsap (14.4 & 6.3) just returned from a wrist injury on Feb 27 and has averaged 12.3 & 6.6 in his seven games back (Nuggets are 4-3). Jokic (17.2 & 10.4) really stepped up in his absence, as he was the only frontcourt player of note when Millsap was sidelined. However, Denver features a strong trio of guards in Harris (17.8), Murray (16.2) and Barton (15.0-5.0-4.2).
LA Lakers: Los Angeles will be beginning a back-to-back tonight, which also involves a visit to Golden State on Wednesday. Head coach Luke Walton is electing to give standout forward Brandon Ingram (16.2-5.4-3.9), who has missed five straight games with a strained groin, both games off before he is re-evaluated. Julius Randle is averaging 22.4 points with Ingram out and Brook Lopez has posted 21.2 PPG in the same stretch. Randle is now up to 15.5 & 7.7 on the season, while Thomas checks in a 15.9 PPG in his 12 games with LA and the "steal of the 2017 NBA Draft (27th pick)," Kyle Kuzma, averages 15.3 & 6.0.
The pick: The Nuggets are not only just 11-20 SU on the road this year (where they are allowing 110.2 PPG) but they are just 5-16 on the road vs. Western Conference opponents. The Lakers are 6 1/2 games behind the Nuggets, Jazz and Clippers with 16 games left, so it's highly unlikely LA will be playoff-bound this April. However, the Lakers have won seven of their last nine and since losing 106-81 to OKC back on Feb. 8, have topped 100 points in each of their last 12 games, averaging 117.7 PPG! Make LA a 10* play.
|03-13-18||Pistons +8.5 v. Jazz||Top||79-110||Loss||-110||24 h 35 m||Show|
The set-up: The Utah Jazz have won six straight and 18 of their last 20 games but can't seem to put any distance between themselves and the crowded Western Conference field, behind Houston and Golden State. The 37-30 Jazz are currently tied with the Nuggets and Spurs and sit just a half-game back of the No. 7 LA Clippers (37-29). The Jazz will try to win their seventh straight when they host the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday. The Pistons have been off since snapping a four-game slide with a 99-83 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday and are sitting in the No. 9 spot in the East at 30-36. However, Detroit enters play on Tuesday five games behind the eighth-place Milwaukee Bucks, with the Pistons having just 16 games left to make up the difference.
Detroit: There was plenty of talk that Blake Griffin would "put Detroit over the top," but that surely hasn't been the case. Griffin is averaging 20.2-6.8-5.8 in his 17 games with Detroit but the Pistons enter this contest having lost 10 of their last 13. Center Drummond (14.9 & 15.8) is a double-double 'machine' but the fact that PG Jackson (14.6 & 5.5 APG) hasn't played since Dec. 26, remains a huge negative. Detroit has fallen off the pace in the postseason race and begins a six-game trip here in Utah, having gone just 9-22 SU away from home this season.
Utah: The Jazz know that they need to avoid the temptation of dwelling on what the other teams around them in the standings are doing. The key is to just concentrate on winning. "Winning feels good: You don't need another reward," Ricky Rubio told reporters. "It's a win, you go home and you feel good about yourself and feel you did a good job. That's why we're doing what we're doing." Rubio collected 30 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists on Sunday, his second consecutive points-rebounds double-double. Rubio's had a solid season (12.5-4.5-5.3) but the team's fortunes will rest on the shoulders of rookie guard Mitchell (team-best 19.8 PPG) and center Gobert (13.5 & 10.6). The Jazz are 19-4 since Gobert returned to the court back on Jan. 19 .
The pick: The Pistons are not only just 3-10 their last 13 but they are also just 3-10 ATS in that span. They need this game badly. Take the points and make the Pistons an 8* play.
|03-12-18||Heat v. Blazers -7.5||Top||99-115||Win||100||13 h 51 m||Show|
The set-up: The Western Conference race behind Houston and Golden State features eight teams vying for six playoff berths. There are just 3 1/2 games separating the No. 3 through No. 10 seeds. However, Portland has used a nine-game winning streak to put a little separation between themselves and the rest of the pack. The 40-26 Trail,Blazers currently hold down the No. 3 seed, two games clear of a trio of teams vying for the No. 4 spot and 3 1/2 ahead of three teams tied for eighth. The Blazers welcome the 36-31 Miami Heat to the Moda Center on Monday. The Heat are in a similar battle for position in the East (No. 3 thru No. 8 seeds are separated by 4 1/2 games) and are currently holding down the No. 7 spot, with the third-seeded Indiana Pacers only 3 1/2 games in front of them entering Monday. Miami comes in with two straight wins over teams above it in the standings, most recently crushing the Washington Wizards 129-102 on Saturday.
Miami: The Heat will begin a three-game road trip with this contest, one that continues Wednesday at Sacramento and Friday in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The Heat's win over the Wizards was somewhat tempered by the fact that Dwyane Wade went down with a strained hamstring and does not expect to play on Monday. Wade is averaging 15.7 points in six games this month and the team is 7-5 in 12 games since he was acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers. The fact that center Hassan Whiteside (14.3 & 11.8) sat out Saturday with a hip issue and is questionable for Monday, makes for more bad news for the Heat. Both players made the trip to Portland but Wade has all but declared himself out of commission for tonight's game.
Portland: The Blazers aren't taking their position as the No. 3 seed for granted, as the squad continues to stay up to date on the teams chasing them in the standings. "I think we're all very much aware of what the standings are and there's not a team in that group 3-10 that has the luxury to get too excited about anything one way or the other," Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts told reporters. Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 58 points on Friday as Portland knocked off the defending champion Golden State Warriors 125-108. Lillard is averaging 26.8-4.5-6.5 and McCollum 21.8-4.0-3.2, making for one of the league's best backcourt duos. However, center Nurkic is the only other Portland player in double digits (14.0 & 8.4).
The pick: Portland has been fortunate to face opponents with key players missing this month, including Minnesota (Jimmy Butler), Oklahoma City (Carmelo Anthony) and Golden State (Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala). The Blazers good fortune may continue tonight, as Wade is almost assuredly out and Whiteside may miss as well. That said, don't think the Blazers are no more than lucky. "They're a dangerous team out west," Miamia head coach Spoelstra said. "They have some continuity from the last couple of years. They seem to be gaining confidence. They know who they are. They have a couple of guys (McCollum and Damian Lillard) who can take over in close games. And, they're very well-coached. Terry (Stotts) has done a really nice job with that team. He has developed a program that absolutely fits the strength of that team." In particular, Lillard is averaging 34.7 points and playing some of the best ball of his six-year career over the last 11 games. Portland has taken the last four in the series, including a 102-95 victory at Miami back on Dec. 13. Make the Blazers a 10* play.
|03-11-18||Jazz v. Pelicans +2.5||Top||116-99||Loss||-102||5 h 39 m||Show|
The set-up: The 36-30 Utah Jazz are in New Orleans to take on the 38-27 Pelicans. Both teams are right in the middle of a Western Conference playoff race that features eight teams battling for the final six playoff berths. The No. 3 thru No. 10 seeds are separated by just four games, with just six of the eight being able to earn berths behind Houston and Golden State. The Pelicans are currently the No. 4 seed, while the Jazz are currently on the outside looking in on the playoff picture but sitting just a half-game back of the Clippers. who occupy the the and final Western Conference playoff berth.
Utah: The Jazz enter play on Sunday tied with Denver but just a half-game back of the 8th-seeded Clippers and for that matter, just 2 1/2 games back of the fourth-seeded Pelicans. Utah has taken the first two of its three-game trip by a total of 37 points and has won five straight and 17 of its last 19 contests. Utah picked up its 10th consecutive road win with a 95-78 triumph at Memphis on Friday in which it held the Grizzlies to 37.3 percent shooting. Utah managed to find enough offense against Memphis despite star rookie Donovan Mitchell slumping to 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting, just the third time in the last 12 games that he failed to reach 20 points. Mitchell has been a huge factor for Utah this season, averaging a team-high 19.7 PPG. The return of center Rudy Gobert (13.4 & 10.5 RPG) has also been big, as the Jazz are 18-4 since he returned to the court back Jan. 19 on .SF Jae Crowder looks like he's found a home in Salt Lake City, averaging 13.5 PPG in his 11 games with the Jazz.
New Orleans. The Pelicans' 10-game winning streak didn't provide much separation from the rest of the pack in the Western Conference and they badly missed star forward Anthony Davis while watching their winning streak come to an end on Friday. Davis suffered a sprained ankle in a 114-101 win at Sacramento on Wednesday but sat out Friday as New Orleans returned home and watched their winning streak disappear in a 116-97 loss to the Washington Wizards. Guard Jrue Holiday, who had emerged as a second scoring option behind Davis during the winning streak, was held to four points on 2-of-8 shooting without Davis around to draw the defense on Friday. Holiday (19.2-4.3-5.7 on the season), averaged 24.9 points on 52.1 percent shooting and 8.5 assists during the winning streak. The Pelicans hope to have Davis back in the lineup when they host the hard-charging Utah Jazz on Sunday.
The pick: Without Davis (28.1 & 11.2), the Pelicans will have to rely on Nikola Mirotic to fill in the gaps on the frontline against Utah. Mirotic was brought in to replace the previously injured Boogie Cousins (25.2 & 12.9) and in his 14 games with New Orleans, has averaged 15.1 & 8.2, Obviously, having Davis means a lot but I like New Orleans either way and we'll get a much better line (and a margin of error), without him. Make New Orleans a 10* play.
|03-10-18||Magic +11.5 v. Clippers||Top||105-113||Win||100||15 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: Behind the rockets and Warriors, the Western Conference playoff race is a log-jam. Only 4 1/2 games separate The No.3 and No. 10 seeds. The 35-29 Los Angeles Clippers, who have won 12 of their past 17 games, are currently the No. 8 seed (final playoff spot) but are also just 2 1/2 games back of the No. 4 seed, which would earn them a home series. LA is looking to avoid a letdown after recording an impressive 116-102 home victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, with the 20-46 Orlando Magic coming into Staples Center tonight. The Magic have lost 10 of their last 12 games after Friday's 94-88 loss to the Sacramento Kings, dropping them to 0-3 on their current five-game road swing.
Orlando. To add is insult to injury, Orlando is without its top two scorers, power forward Aaron Gordon (18.3 & 8.4) who is out with a concussion and swingman Evan Fournier (17.8), out with a sprained MCL in his left knee. The Magic used their 20th different lineup combination Friday and it didn't go well, as they scored fewer than 90 points for the second time in three games in the six-point loss. Swingman Jonathon Simmons (13.5) played the go-to scoring role and delivered 25 points and six assists to break out of a funk in which he averaged seven points over the previous four games. First-round draft pick, the 6-10 Jonathan Isaac (4.5 & 3.5), made his third start of the season and had only six points on 2-of-8 shooting but he will likely remain in a starting role until Gordon is cleared. Center Vucevic (17.3 & 9.1) is Orlando's best healthy player.
LA Clippers: Many though the Clippers were "throwing in the towel" by trading Blake Griffin to Detroit but the 'joke' looks to be on the Pistons, who have flopped. Center DeAndre Jordan (11.9 & 15.2) dominated the interior with 20 points and 23 rebounds against the Cavaliers and he has three 20-rebound efforts this month while averaging 16.5 points and 19.5 rebounds in four games. Veteran Lou Williams continues to produce career-best averages in points (23.0) and assists (5.5) plus Tobias Harris has averaged 19 & 7.1 in the 14 games since coming from Detroit in the Griffin deal (Blake, we hardly miss ya!).
The pick: The Clippers have won eight consecutive meetings with the Magic by an average margin of 14.1 PPG. However. off beating LBJ and the Cavs, I can see a less than focused LA team struggling to cover this big number. Sure, the Magic are short-handed but they have covered four straight in the 2nd of back-to-back games. Make the Magic a 10* play.
|03-09-18||Rockets v. Raptors +2.5||Top||105-108||Win||100||13 h 49 m||Show|
The set-up: The Houston Rockets' current play has left no doubt that this team is a legitimate threat to end Golden State's three-year reign atop the Western Conference. Houston pushed its winning streak to 17 in a row with a 110-99 win at the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday but t he team's MVP says the Rockets are not focused on the streak. "We're just out there hoopin'," James Harden told reporters. "We're not worried about wins and losses right now. We're worried about playing the right way on both ends of the floor and that's going to carry over into the postseason." No team is hotter than 51-13 Houston but the Rockets will get a real test tonight at the Air Canada Centre when they visit the 41-17 Toronto Raptors. Toronto became the first team to clinch a playoff spot and brought its own winning streak to six in a row with a 121-119 overtime triumph over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.
Houston: Obviously, Harden (30.9-5.2-8.9) and Paul (18.8-5.6-8.1) are paramount to Houston's success but Gordon (18.6) completes the league's highest scoring guard trio plus when center Capela (14.3 & 11.0) is in the lineup with both Harden and Paul, Houston has has lost just once all season. Both Harden and Paul have been singing the praises of the team's supporting players. The Rockets won on Wednesday despite missing power forward Ryan Anderson (hip) and shooting guard Joe Johnson (illness).
Toronto: DeMar DeRozan scored 42 points on Wednesday but passed up the opportunity for the last shot while well defended, instead finding guard Fred VanVleet for the game-winning basket. VanVleet was 1 of 9 before hitting the game-winner! Derozan (24.0-3.9-5.2) and Lowry (16.6-5.7-6.6) are an All Star backcourt duo plus PF Ibaka (12.8 & 6.1) and center Valanciunas (12.0 & 8.3) form a strong inside tandem, as well. Toronto scores like Houston (112.0 PPG ranks 4th) and defends better, allowing 103.3 PPG (6th-best!).
The pick: The Rockets have to lose sometime, right? Many thought Milwaukee might have been the spot but it wasn't. How about right here in Toronto? Yes, Houston has won 17 straight but Toronto is 15-2 in its last 17 and comes in 27-5 SU at home. Make Toronto a 10* play.
|03-06-18||Pelicans +3 v. Clippers||Top||121-116||Win||100||15 h 45 m||Show|
The set-up: The Pelicans lost 112-103 to the Clippers in New Orleans back on Jan. 28, beginning a stretch in which they would lose five of six games. Back then, they had the look of a defeated team, having just lost DeMarcus Cousins (25.2 & 12.9) for the season. However, the Pelicans come to Los Angeles for Tuesday's rematch with the Clippers at Staples Center under very different circumstances. An eight-game winning streak (the team's longest in over seven years) has vaulted Alvin Gentry's 36-26 team into fourth place in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the 34-28 Clippers are in ninth place in the West but only two games behind New Orleans (note: The West's No. 3 through No. 10 seeds are currently separated by just four games!).
New Orleans: With Cousins out, Anthony Davis (28.01 & 11.1) has thrust himself into the MVP debate with a torrid stretch in which he owns a double-double in each of the Pelicans' eight straight wins (37.3 & 14.8). However, Jrue Holiday's improved play has also been just as important during New Orleans' surge. Holiday (19.4-4.4-5.6) is averaging 25.9 points on 55 percent shooting during the winning streak. Let's not forget Mirotic's contributions, as the former Bull is averaging 14.9 & 7.8 in 11 games since the trade. The Pelicans are averaging 126.8 PPG during their eight-game win streak.
LA Clippers: The Clippers are hardly "going quietly" after trading Blake Griffin to Detroit. In fact, LA is averaging 120.4 points over its last eight games, going 6-2 in that stretch. The team's only only defeats in that run? To the Warriors and Rockets. Austin Rivers (15.7) scored 27 points in a 123-120 win over Brooklyn on Sunday, the sixth time in the last seven games that Los Angeles has produced at least 122 points. Veteran guard Lou Williams is averaging a career high in points (23.1) and assists (5.4) this season and center Jordan (11.8 & 15.0) is a double-double machine. Then there is Tobias Harris, who is averaging 19 points on 48.3 percent shooting and 6.8 RPG in 12 games since being acquired from Detroit.
The pick: Both teams are 'lighting it up' but I'm not stepping in front of the Pelicans' 'train' (8-0 SU & 7-1 ATS run). Davis continues to be the catalyst, earning Western Conference Player of the Week honors with an average of 34 points in his last three games and 15.3 rebounds, while shooting 50.7 percent from the floor. Make New Orleans a 10* play.
|03-05-18||Blazers v. Lakers +2||Top||108-103||Loss||-107||14 h 23 m||Show|
Portland: The Blazers continue to rely on the backcourt duo of Lillard and CJ McCollum. They combined for 48 points on Saturday but contributions from further down the roster are helping fuel the winning streak. Reserve power forward Ed Davis (5.6 & 7.4) hauled in double-digit rebounds in each of the last three games and rookie center Zach Collins (4.3 & 3.4) scored 12 points off the bench on Saturday to reach double figures for the first time since Dec. 23, when he scored 11 at the Lakers. Still, after Lillard (26.4-4.5-6.5) and McCollum (21.7), only center Nurkic (14.1 & 8.3) averages in double digits.
LA Lakers: Rookie PG Lonzo Ball returned five games ago from missing 15 games with a knee injury and the Lakers are 5-0 (Ball sat out one game in a back-to-back situation). He's averaging 12.0-6.8-7.3 in his four games back and more importantly, is shooting 55.2% from the floor, including 63.6% on threes. The Lakers overcame a 17-point, second-half deficit in a 116-112 triumph at the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, which gave them a sweep of their four-game road trip. "It shows we're growing," Ball told reporters. "At the beginning of the year we might have just gave up, take the L and go home. Be happy with a 3-1 trip. We're growing up. We know we can win every game we're in." PF Randle moved into the starting lineup shortly after Portland last faced the Lakers (Dec. 23) and his scoring average has increased every month. He averaged 19.4 points in February and has scored 25 points in both victories in March to bump his season average to 15.1 PPG (he also leads the team in rebounding at 7.5 per). Second-year SF Ingram leads the team in scoring at 16.2 PPG, IT is up to 16.1 PPG in his eight games as a Laker (has come off the bench in each one) and the 'steal' of the 2017 draft, Kyle Kuzma, continues to thrive averaging 15.3 & 5.9.
The pick: With the 3 thru 10 teams in the West being separated by just four games, the Lakers can throw some chaos into the Western Conference postseason race with a win. However, Portland enters this contest on a 14-game winning streak against the Lakers, including eight straight at Staples Center. Then again, while LA's defense tends to be invisible at times (especially when IT is on the floor), "the Walton Gang" (remember that one UCLA fans?) is averaging a whopping 121.4 PPG during its winning streak. I don't want to buck the Lakers here, as Portland is just a so-so road team. Make LA a 10* play.
|03-04-18||Nets +8 v. Clippers||Top||120-123||Win||100||13 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: Many felt as if the Clippers were "giving up" on the current season when they traded away Blake Griffin. However, after routing the Knicks 128-105 on Friday night, the 33-28 Clippers have won 10 of their last 14 game to pull within one game of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Amazingly, the Clippers are also just three games out of The West's No. 3 seed! Los Angeles welcomes another New York-based team to Staples Center tonight, as the 20-43 Brooklyn Nets come to town. The Clippers picked up a 114-101 win at Brooklyn just prior to the All-Star break, part of the Nets' current 2-14 slide. Brooklyn allowed a game-tying basket in the closing seconds of regulation and then stumbled in overtime in a 116-111 loss at Sacramento on Thursday.
Brooklyn: The Nets are just one game ahead of the Hawks, who reside in the Eastern Conference's 'basement.' Brooklyn has dropped seven straight road games overall and it is 3-11 away from home against the West, after being outscored 43-32 after the third quarter on Thursday. In an odd twist, three players, DeMarre Carroll (22 & 10), Jarrett Allen (15 & 11) and D'Angelo Russell (15 & 11 assists), all finished with double-doubles in the loss. Russell, the team's leading scorer at 15.8 PPG, tied a career high with 11 assists. The Nets have been among the worst defensive teams all season and currently rank 25th in allowing 109.7 PPG. Considering Brooklyn ranks dead-last (30th) in offensive FG percentage (43.7%), one can see why this team only has 20 wins.
LA Clippers: Lou Williams led six players in double figures with 21 points against the Knicks. The vet is having a career season, averaging 23.2 PPG and 5.4 APG, both of which would be single-season career highs. The 6-8 Montrezl Harrell (9.8 & 3.9) collected 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting and he is averaging 18.7 points on 72.7 percent shooting over his last three games. Harris has been excellent since coming over from Detroit in the Griffin deal, averaging 18.4 & 6.6 in 11 games. Of course, let's not forget Jordan, who chips in with 11.8 PPG and 15.0 RPG.
The pick: The Clippers have recorded six straight wins against the Nets here at Staples Center but LA checks in at just 15-15 ATS on its home floor on the season. In fact, LA was on a 1-5 ATS run at home before taking down the Knicks on Friday. Meanwhile, the sad-sack Nets are a moneymaking 18-12 ATS on the road, despite going only 8-22 SU. A closer look finds them at 15-8 ATS when getting four-plus points away from home. Make Brooklyn a 10* play.
|03-02-18||Pistons v. Magic +2.5||Top||106-115||Win||100||11 h 20 m||Show|
The set-up: It's starting took as if more than a few people "jumped the gun" in their praise that the addition of Blake Griffin was going to help the Detroit Pistons secure an Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Pistons obtained Griffin from the LA Clippers on Jan. 30. They had lost eight straight but beat Cleveland shortly after the deal was completed. Griffin's arrival occurred in the second game of what would become a five-game winning streak that pushed Detroit one game above .500 on Feb. 7 after beating the Brooklyn Nets. However, Detroit then lost six of its next seven, with five of those defeats coming by double digits.The 29-32 Pistons are currently sitting in the No. 9 spot in the Eastern Conference, 2 1/2 games outside of the playoff 'cut line.' Detroit will be in Orlando tonight to face the 18-43 Magic, as they open a three-game road trip. Orlando owns the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the Magic are coming off a 117-104 home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, the team's seventh straight loss. It marks the team's fourth losing streak of at least seven games this season.
Detroit: The Pistons did earn an impressive win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday (110-87) and will try to make it two in a row in tonight's game. Detroit snapped a three-game slide with Wednesday's win and a big difference was the play of the second unit, led by Johnson. He has been moved from the starting lineup to the bench and delivered 19 points, six rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes. "We've got, what? Twenty-one games left?" Pistons small forward Stanley Johnson asked reporters after Wednesday's win. "And we're back what? Three games (entering play on Thursday)? We've got to get on it. There's no sugar coating that. Everyone in the gym knows it. We know it. Y'all know it. It's our job to do our job." Griffin scored 24 points in his Detroit debut back on Feb. 1 in a 104-102 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Pistons are 6-6 in the 12 games Griffin has played with him averaging 18.3-6.8-5.5. Center Drummond is a double-double 'machine' (15.1 & 15.8) but the Pistons really need PG Jackson (14.6 & 5.5 APG) to get back on the court. Head coach Stan Van Gundy said he's hopeful Jackson (ankle) can return to practice at some point prior to the team's West Coast road trip on Mar. 13.
Orlando: The Magic Orlando allowed the Raptors to shoot 54.2 percent from the floor on Wednesday and is near the bottom in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense (.47.5% ranks ). "We kind of lose the same way every night," Magic swingman Evan Fournier told reporters. "We start well, we're playing good, and in the third quarter or fourth or whatever we let them get on a run and we never recover from it. They get too comfortable and once the lead is up to seven or eight, the lead keeps growing and we're just never able to come back." The loss repeated the pattern from Monday's five-point loss at Oklahoma City on Monday. The Magic shot 56 percent and scored 62 points by halftime against the Thunder, but those totals dropped to 42 percent and 43 points in the final two quarters. "It's been an issue for us all year long," Magic center Nikola Vucevic told reporters. "We have to figure out how to do a better job defensively, follow the game plan, compete and make the extra effort out there. We don't (make) enough of those plays consistently." PF Gordon (18.0 & 8.2), SG Fournier (18.0) and center Vucevic (17.2 & 9.0) are all quality players but the Magic continue to struggle.
The pick: Detroit bounced back nicely by dominating the paint and the boards in a 110-87 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday but how much does that really mean? Detroit hasn’t covered two straight in a 21game spanand is 2-11 SU in its last 13 road games. Friday begins a stretch with nine of 12 games outside of Detroit and the Pistons haven't won on the road since Jan. 10 at Brooklyn (are 9-19 SU away from home on the season). Sure, Orlando has won just 18 games all season but the Magic have won five straight here in Orlando vs. the Pistons. Take the home dog and make Orlando a 10* play.
|02-28-18||Thunder -5 v. Mavs||Top||111-110||Loss||-100||13 h 50 m||Show|
The set-up: With all sorts of "tanking" stories surrounding them, the Dallas Mavericks beat the Pacers 109-103 on Monday. The 19-42 Mavs remain at home for Wednesday's game against another playoff-hopeful opponents, the 35-27 Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder bounced back from a 112-80 Saturday loss at Golden State by beating the Orlando Magic 112-105 on Monday. Oklahoma City is among a group of teams clustered between No. 5 and No. 9 in the West (currently own the No. 7 seed) and can't afford a loss to a team at the bottom of the standings.
Oklahoma City: OKC got 48 points from its reserves in Monday's win and is hoping that contributions from players other than Russell Westbrook (24.8-9.6-10.4), Paul George (22.3 & 5.5) and Carmelo Anthony (17.0 & 5.9) is something that will continue on a regular basis. "This is the way we have to perform for the rest of the year and throughout the postseason," reserve guard Raymond Felton told reporters. Felton (7.1) led four reserves in double figures with 13 points against the Magic. However, other than starting center Adams (14.0 & 9.1), no other OKC player is averaging even 8.0 PPG.
Dallas: Owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 by the NBA last week for suggesting on a podcast that it might be best for the franchise if the team continued to lose this season in order to improve its draft prospects but the players are refuted that position. The Mavs don't score much (102.0 PPG ranks 27th) but six players average in double digits, led by Barnes, the team's leading scorer (18.2) and rebounder (6.5) plus rookie PG Dennis Smith Jr. (14.6-3.9-4.8). Dallas is capable of getting plenty of support of its bench. J.J. Barea scored 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 26 minutes on Monday and the Mavericks added to the bench at the trade deadline with Doug McDermott, who is averaging 9.8 PPG in his six games with Dallas, while shooting 51.2% from the floor, including 54.5% on threes.
The pick: Surprisingly, the Mavs have taken two of the first three meetings this season, including a 116-113 win at Oklahoma City in the latest matchup back on Dec. 31. The Mavs also beat the Thunder 97-81 earlier this season here at American Airlines Center. However, it should be noted that OKC is a very dangerous (although volatile) team. The Thunder were one of four teams (Golden State, Houston, Toronto were the others) to enter the All Star break ranked in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Will OKC ever get its act together? That's TBD but in this one, OKC takes care of business. Make the Thunder a 10* play.
|02-27-18||76ers -1 v. Heat||Top||101-102||Loss||-100||12 h 51 m||Show|
The set-up: The 32-26 Philadelphia 76ers are the East's No. 7 seed and the 31-29 Miami Heat are the conference's No. 8 seed. The teams meet tonight in Miami and while Philly leads Miami by just two games, the Sixers have been on quite a roll with the Heat seemingly headed in the opposite direction. Philly lost at Washington on Sunday but that defeat snapped a seven-game winning streak (club's longest since 2009). As for Miami, the Heat beat the sad-sack Grizzlies 115-89 but entered that game having had dropped eight of their previous nine
Philadelphia: Sunday's loss marked the start of a stretch of seven of eight on the road for Philadelphia, which is gunning for homecourt advantage in the playoffs (Sixers are just . two games back of Washington, which owns the No. 4 seed). Joel Embiid (23.9 & 11.2) only recently started playing in back-to-back games and came through a stretch of three games in four nights coming out of the break without a problem. He averaged 27.6 points on 55.6 percent shooting and 12.3 rebounds, serving up three consecutive double-doubles. Embiid and 6-foot-10 rookie PG Ben Simmons (16.7-7.7-7.4), veteran shooting guard JJ Redick (16.6), plus forwards Dario Saric(14.5 & 6.9) and Robert Covington (12.6 & 5.5) comprise a strong starting-five. Philadelphia's bench is now led by SG Marco Belinelli (11.8 PPG in his four games with the team), who is the team's highest scoring reserve and is similar to Redick in that both have more than a decade of NBA experience.
Miami: "It's kind of a relief a little bit," said PG Goran Dragic (17.4-4.1-4.9) after the win over the Grizz. "The last 17 games have been close games. Finally, we put together a great game where we were up 20 points. We've started the homestand well. Hopefully we'll continue that Tuesday." Shooting guard Tyler Johnson (11.8) went nine straight games without hitting at least half of his shots before going 4-of-7 in the loss at Philadelphia on Feb. 14. Johnson carried that shooting over the break and is 12-of-22 from the floor in the last two games. Hassan Whiteside (14.2 & 11.9) is a consistent double-double 'machine' but Wade has added little since returning to Miami, averaging 8.6 & 5.0 in five games (team is 2-3).
The pick: Beating the Grizzlies is hardly cause for celebration (Memphis is currently on a 10-game slide) and these teams met right before the break when Philly pulled out a 104-102 win at Wells Fargo Center on Valentine’s Day. Miami was just 7-16-3 ATS line as host before break and I do not assume much will change down the stretch, even with the return of Wade. While Miami has slipped from the No. 4 seed to the East's' No. 8 seed, Philly's been "movin' on up" and can 'smell' a possible Game 1 contest at home in the opening round. Make Philly a 10* play.
|02-26-18||Lakers -1.5 v. Hawks||Top||123-104||Win||100||14 h 31 m||Show|
The set-up: The Atlanta Hawks have played just once since the break, losing badly at Indiana by the score of 116-93. It was Atlanta's third consecutive loss and fifth in six games. Atlanta's 18-42 record currently leaves the Hawks last in the Eastern Conference and with a record better than only the 18-43 Suns in the entire NBA. The Hawks will host the Lakers for the only time this season at Philips Arena and will be looking to split the season series after Los Angeles won 132-113 back on Jan. 7 at the Staples Center. The 25-34 Lakers are surely not playoff-bound but this young team has shown improvement this month. The Lakers are undefeated in two games since the All-Star break and check in at 6-3 since Feb. 1.
LA Lakers: The game will be a homecoming for Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who played at the University of Georgia. He coming off his best performance of the year, a season-high 34-point effort that included a career-high eight three-point baskets in a 113-108 win over the Sacramento Kings. Caldwell-Pope (13.5 & 5.0) has scored in double figures in 39 games and had nine 20-plus point performances. Los Angeles is bringing rookie PG Lonzo Ball back slowly from a knee injury and continues to bring Isaiah Thomas off the bench, leaving PF Julius Randle and fellow forward Brandon Ingram to handle the playmaking responsibilities with the first unit. Randle (14.7 & 7.5) ripped off a triple-double in a 124-102 win over Dallas on Friday while Ingram (16.1-5.3-3.8) paced the team with eight assists in a triumph at Sacramento on Saturday.Atlanta: The Hawks never led in Friday's loss to Indiana, committing 13 turnovers in the first half (22 on the game). The bright spot was Isaiah Taylor (he avergags just 4.9 PPG), who scored a career-high 17 points and added six assists and two steals. The Hawks may be without veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova (10.9 & 5.5), as the club is working on a buyout, which would allow him to re-sign with the Philadelphia 76ers. Dennis Schroder was on a roll before the break and had averaged 22 points on 53.2 percent shooting in his last three games but looked rusty on Friday, when he was held to nine points on 3-of-12 from the floor. Still, he's been Atlanta's best player all season, averaging 19.3 PPG and 6.2 APG. The pick: It's a revenge spot for Atlanta but this team has little to play for except the No. 1 position in the draft. The Lakers are a poor defensive team (110.0 PPG allowed ranks 27th) but LA has scored in triple digits for 14 straight games and has averaged 118.5 PPG in going 2-0 since the break. The Hawks do not have the firepower to match LA right now, ranking 23rd in the league in both scoring (103.5 PPG) and FG percentage (45.0%). Make LA a 10* play.
|02-25-18||76ers v. Wizards -2||Top||94-109||Win||100||13 h 47 m||Show|
The set-up: No one is making fun of "The Process," these days. Philly's 116-105 victory over Orlando on Saturday at home gave the 76ers seven straight wins, matching the franchise's longest run since a nine-gamer late in the 2002-03 season. Larry Brown was coaching Allen Iverson on that team, one which was just two years removed from an NBA Finals appearance. These Sixers are 32-25 and while they are the East's No. 7 seed at the moment, they are just 2 1/2 games back of the third-seeded Cavs. Philly will be in Washington tonight to face the 34-25 Wizards, who are 8-3 since losing PG John Wall (19.4 & 9.3) to a knee injury. The Wizards are the No. 4 seed and while they are just one game back of the Cavs (No. 3), they are also just 1 1/2 games ahead of the 76ers (No. 7).
Philadelphia: Joel Embiid (23.9 & 11.2) scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Saturday's win as Philadelphia recorded at least 112 points for the fourth time during the winning streak. Rookie Ben Simmons (16.7-7.7-7.4) chipped in 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and he has made 65.4 percent from the floor over a four-game stretch. Veteran shooting guard Marco Bellinelli has produced at least 15 points in two of three games since being acquired by Philadelphia (he's averaging 12.8 PPG). Joining Embiid and Simmons in the starting lineup are SG Redick (16.8), PF Saric (14.6 & 6.9) and SF Covington (12.7 & 5.5). Philly is for real.
Washington: The Wizards returned from the break and won 110-103 at Cleveland on Thursday but then flat on their faces the very next night, losing 122-105 at home to the Hornets, a team which is seven games under .500. "We just didn't have energy, focus, no fight back, no nothing," All-Star guard Bradley Beal told reporters after the loss to Charlotte. "They flat out whooped us." Beal scored 33 points in the loss and he has made 9-of-18 from three-point range over his last three games. He leads the team in scoring (23.7) plus Washington also has five others averaging between 8.7 and 14.5 PPG, excluding Wall.
The set-up: Dropping that game against the Hornets represented Washington's 10th loss against a team with a losing record. With Philly playing so well and off that ugly (and embarrassing loss), I can't imagine Washington being 'flat' for this one. The home team has won the last six meetings between these two and the Wizards have won seven straight meetings at home over the Sixers. Make Washington a 10* play.
|02-24-18||Celtics -4.5 v. Knicks||Top||121-112||Win||100||12 h 25 m||Show|
The set-up: The Boston Celtics limped into the All-Star break off an 0-3 homestand while falling out of first place in the Eastern Conference (Toronto held a two-game lead at the break). However, they emerged from the break looking more like the team that led the Eastern Conference for the bulk of the first half of the season. Boston snapped its three-game skid with a 110-98 victory over the Pistons on Thursday, pulling within a game of first-place Toronto in the East. The Knicks had dropped eight straight games before the break but snapped the team's slide with a 120-113 victory at Orlando on Thursday. Trey Burke came off the bench to post a season-high 26 points to go along with six assists as New York tied its season high for scoring, first accomplished against Phoenix in the eighth game of the season.
Boston: Rookie Daniel Theis (averaging a modest 5.2 PPG on the season) paced a balanced attack with a career-high 19 points in Thursday's win. Kyrie Irving (24.6 & 5.1 APG) produced 18 points and Jayson Tatum (13.5 & 5.1) added 15. Boston's bench outscored Detroit's by a whopping 65-21 margin, as Theis was one of four reserves to score at least 11 points, including Marcus Smart (12 points) in his return from a hand laceration. The break allowed Smart to heal a bit more and the PG, who cut his hand punching a framed picture in January, provides some much-needed defense, as well as being capable of scoring in double digits (10.1).
NY Knicks: Burke, who is averaging just 8.7 PPG in 14 games for the Knicks, was 12-for-22 from the floor in 30 minutes, displaying an aggressive approach that could yield some positive results for a team playing the stretch run without leading scorer Kristaps Porzingis (22.7 & 6.6). Another positive came in the play of Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.9 & 4.1), who broke out of a long slump with 37 points in the final game before the break before chipping in 23 against the Magic. Hardaway is now 23-for-43 (53.5%) from the floor in his two-game surge, after going 24-for-93 (25.8%) over his previous seven contests.
The pick: New York was just 1-7 ATS during its eight-game slide (no one better say "tank," these days) and I'm not sure a win over the equally hapless Magic means much of anything. Meanwhile, the Celtics are fully engaged in an effort to earn back the East's top record and Boston's19-8 SU & 18-9 ATS road record makes them a 10* play in this one.
|02-23-18||Mavs v. Lakers -3.5||Top||102-124||Win||100||15 h 7 m||Show|
The set-up: Who would have expected that the Dallas Mavericks, who at 18-40 (14th place in the Western Conference), would be the league's biggest attention-grabber coming out of the All Star break. And, for all the wrong reasons. Sports Illustrated published a report on a culture of misogyny within the Dallas organization on Tuesday night and then owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for publicly endorsing tanking on the "House Call with Dr. J" podcast. The Mavericks return to the court Friday night and get focused on basketball when they visit Staples Center to face the 23-34 LA Lakers. The Lakers could have been accused of tanking last season but are surely trying to win this season while developing the younger players on the roster the rest of the way, looking forward to this summer's free agent class. They are expected get rookie PG Lonzo Ball back from a knee injury on Friday but one wonders if that is good or bad news.
Dallas: "Players never play to lose," 20-year veteran Dirk Nowitzki told reporters. "It might happen, but you don't play for it. I still love to compete. That's one big reason why I'm still out there. I'll never stand for losing on purpose. It's just not who I am." Losing has been a way of life for the Mavs this season. They started by dropping nine of their first 10 games and 14 of 16 before showing some improvement with an 8-8 record in December, including a season-high four-game win streak from Dec. 26 to Dec. 31. However, the Mavericks began another free fall in January and they're 5-15 in 2018. Only the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns have worst records of 18-41. The bright spots have been leading scorer (18.3) and rebounder (6.6) Harrison Barnes and rookie PG Dennis Smith Jr. (14.8-3.9-4.9).
LA Lakers: The offense is humming right along but Los Angeles broke down at the defensive end while integrating PG Isaiah Thomas, who was acquired at the trade deadline from Cleveland, into the rotation. LA is 0-3 with Thomas, scoring 117.0 PPG but allowing 129.3 PPG! Getting Thomas and Ball on the floor together will be a challenge for the coaching staff. Ball is averaging 10.2-7.1-7.1 (how many rookies have put up that kind of a line?) but his shooting is off-the-charts, ugly (35.6% overall, including 30.3% on threes). Ingram (16.2 & 5.2) is now the team's leading scorer, rookie Kuzma (15.7 & 5.9) is arguably the 'steal' of the 2017 draft and Randle (14.7 & 7.4) has begun to look like a solid game-in and game-out performer (he's averaging 21.4 points on 62 percent shooting over the last five games).
|02-23-18||Clippers v. Suns +4.5||Top||128-117||Loss||-105||14 h 37 m||Show|
The set-up: The LA Clippers returned from the All Star break and lost 130-127 at Golden State, as Steph Curry scored 44 points in leading the Warriors to win in which the Clippers allowed Golden State to shoot 62.7 percent from the floor. The 30-27 Clippers now sit 9th in the West, one game out of the final playoff spot. The Clippers travel off last night's loss to Phoenix, where they'll take on the 18-41 Suns, who are tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the league's worst record, having dropped seven straight games and 15 of their last 17.
LA Clippers: The Clippers not only allowed the Warriors to shoot over 60 percent for the game but also allowed more than 30 points in every quarter. The good news is, Los Angeles has played excellent defense against the Suns this year, allowing an average of 91.5 PPG in two victories by margins of 42 and 13 points. Tobias Harris, who was acquired from the Detroit Pistons as part of the Blake Griffin deal, is fitting in nicely with the Los Angeles attack. Harris scored 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting against the Warriors for his third 20-point outing in seven games with the team (17.9 & 6.7 with LA). Standout guard Lou Williams had 21 points and tied his career high of 12 assists against the Warriors and he has recorded 10 or more assists four times this season after reaching that figure once over his first 12 NBA campaigns. Williams is averaging career-highs in both scoring (23.1) and assists (5.4).
Phoenix: The Suns' next loss will clinch their fourth straight losing campaign. Devin Booker dazzled while winning the NBA three-point shooting contest last weekend,and he also enters the post-break portion of the season with a streak of 60 make free throws. Booker is averaging 24.2 PPG, while connecting on 38.3% of his threes and 89% of his FTs. Something to be closely observed down the stretch is how well recently acquired PG Elfrid Payton (from Orlando) meshes with Booker, as the club has experienced issues at the position since dealing Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks in early November. It should be noted that Payton had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in the Suns' 107-97 loss at Utah before the break, his third game with the Suns and first with Booker at off guard. It was his first triple-double of the season and ninth of his career. Payton is averaging 20.3-8.3-8.7 in three games with Phoenix.
The pick: The Clippers have won 15 of the last 17 meetings with the Suns, including the last seven in a row. Sure, Phoenix has nothing to play for over the final 23 games but Devin Booker doesn't see the stretch as a lost cause. "Build on for next year, trying to get some momentum that will carry over to the summer, that will carry over to the next season," Booker told reporters. I like the Booker and Payton backcourt combo for the Suns and I'm not even a little convinced that the Clippers will do much down the stretch. On the second of a back-to-back, I'll go against the Clipps and 'bark' with the home dog. Make Phoenix a 10* play.
|02-22-18||Nets +7.5 v. Hornets||Top||96-111||Loss||-100||11 h 26 m||Show|
The set-up: The NBA All Star break is over and Thursday serves up a six-game schedule. The 19-40 Brooklyn Nets will be in Charlotte to take on the 23-33 Hornets, which is not exactly a marquee matchup. Brooklyn limped into the break with losses in seven straight and is just one game ahead of the last-place Atlanta Hawks in the East. Meanwhile, Charlotte is 5 1/2 games out of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference with 25 games left in the regular season. The Hornets will play 21 of their last 25 games against East teams and get three of their first four out of the break at home, where they own a modest 15-15 record. The teams have yet to meet this season.
Brooklyn: Head coach Kenny Atkinson has told reporters that his team need to return to play with a chip on its shoulder but one wonders, what makes him think that is going to happen. With just 23 games left until 'vacation time,' it's unlikely we'll see anything different from the Nets in this final stretch. Brooklyn did not have an All-Star but made its mark on the weekend when PG Spencer Dinwiddie won the Skills Challenge. Dinwiddie (13.6 & 6.7 APG) is a breakout player in an otherwise down season for the Nets and is logging big minutes due to Jeremy Lin's season-ending knee injury and D'Angelo Russell's knee troubles. Speaking of Russell,the team's leading scorer at 15.7 PPG, he is expected to make his first start for the Nets since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in November. He has played 13 games as a reserve under a minutes restriction since returning from his two-month absence. He averaged 18.3 points in 28.7 minutes in his last three games before the break. That, coupled with the additional week off, has gotten him deemed ready to resume the starting role he had to begin the season.
Charlotte: The Hornets went into the break healthy and got an extended rest for everyone but point guard Kemba Walker, who was a member of the winning Team LeBron in Los Angeles on Sunday. Walker came into the season as the undisputed floor leader in Charlotte and fought through trade rumors while putting together another All-Star campaign. He's averaging 22.9 points and 5.8 assists. Walker plays two solid SGs in the backcourt, Lamb (13.5 & 4.4) and Batum (12.0-4.3-4.7). There is also center Dwight Howard (15.8 & 12.6) but in what has become the norm, this big man rarely makes his team better,
The pick: Eleven of the Hornets' next 18 games are against teams with losing records, but the club went into the break with four losses in its last five games, not exactly a momentum-builder. What's more, while the Hornets won last year's season series 3-1, all four games featured tight finishes. The total margin of victory in the four games was 17 points. Sure, the Hornets have beaten the Nets in seven of t last eight meetings but the Nets have covered SIX in a row and eight of the last nine in this series. Maybe surprisingly to some, Brooklyn is 14-7 ATS a road dog of four-plus points. Make the Nets a 10* play.
|02-15-18||Lakers +10.5 v. Wolves||Top||111-119||Win||100||13 h 30 m||Show|
The set-up: All-in-all, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made significant improvements as the NBA's All Star Weekend looms. However, Minnesota was 31-18 just 3 1/2 weeks ago, before hitting a slight skid lately in which the team has gone 4-7. In the team's final game before the break, Minnesota welcomes the 23-33 LA Lakers to the Target Center. The Lakers enter having had won 12 of 16 games (including eight of their last 10), before experiencing defensive issues on the first two stops their three-game trip. After allowing 130 points in Saturday's loss at Dallas, the Lakers got hammered 139-117 at New Orleans four nights later.
LA Lakers: "We’ve got to get our mojo back. We somehow lost it quickly,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton told reporters of the back-to-back setbacks. Lonzo Ball will miss his 15th consecutive game due to a sprained left knee but the rookie PG said he will be ready to get back on the floor when Los Angeles returns from the All-Star break on Feb. 23 against Dallas. Is that good or bad news? LA's roster has changed since the trade deadline but pretty much all season, the Lakers have struggled defensively, allowing 110.1 PPG (28th).
Minnesota; The Timberwolves saw their 13-game home winning streak end in Tuesday's 126-108 loss to the Rockets. All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns (20.4 & 9.7) leads the NBA with 50 double-doubles, including a performance against the Rockets in which he recorded 35 points on 12-of-16 shooting and 12 rebounds. Minnesota is considering whether or not to sign PG Derrick Rose, who currently is a free agent, as he was released by Utah two days after being acquired from Cleveland. Rose played for Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau in Chicago and was teammates with All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler and power forward Taj Gibson. Butler's been everything Minnesota could have hoped for, averaging 22.4-5.5-5.0, and Gibson (12.1 & 7.3) has been a solid starter at PF.
The pick: Minnesota is tied for second in the league in home wins at 23-6 but has lost three of four games overall. The lone win in that span came against the Kings and just barely (111-106 as a 13-point favorite). Tom Thibodeau has been known as a defensive coach but this Minnesota team, while greatly improved and on its way to the postseason after a long drought, is allowing opponents to shoot 47.8%, which is a league-worst! That's why Minnesota is a sub-.500 team ATS (28-30-2). Take the big points and make LA a 10* play.
|02-14-18||Clippers v. Celtics -4.5||Top||129-119||Loss||-105||12 h 4 m||Show|
The set-up: The Boston Celtics have been 'Kings of the East' since the start on the current NBA season but the 40-18 Celtics now trail the 40-16 Toronto Raptors by two games in the loss column for the conference's best record. Maybe of even greater concern is that the "new-look" Cavs are showing definitive signs that their Eastern Conference reign is not about to end. "As we go forward I think that we can consistently learn from not only a game like tonight but the last few games with playing the high intense teams of the Eastern Conference, where we’ve been tested," All-Star Kyrie Irving told reporters after Boston's 121-99 home loss to the Cavs Sunday. The Celtics, losers of three of their last four, will host the 29-26 LA Clippers on Wednesday. LA is probably not looking forward to the All Star break, as the Clippers won six of their last eight and 18 of 26 overall.
LA Clippers: Head coach Doc Rivers was in Boston (Sunday) to participate in Paul Pierce's ceremony and then guided Los Angeles to a 114-101 win at Brooklyn on Monday, behind a balanced attack. Seven players scored in double figures against the Nets, led by Lou Williams' 23rd 20-point effort (points) in the last 25 games. Austin Rivers added 17 points in his best output since returning from a heel injury. Overall, the team shot 56.5 percent from the floor. Williams is averaging career highs in points (23.2) and assists (5.3 , while Rivers (15.7) has settled in to become a solid regular. Harris is averaging 16.4 & 6.6 in his six games (was part of the Griffin trade) plus there is still center Jordan and his seasonal double-double (11.4 & 15.1).
Boston: An issue in Boston's recent slump has been the downturn of rookie Jayson Tatum (13.6 & 5.1), who has seen his three-point percentage fall in every month this season, from 50 percent in October to 33.3 percent in February. He is averaging 9.8 points (nearly four below his average) on 37.5 percent from the floor during the Celtics' current 1-3 stretch. Jaylen Brown (14.1 & 5.4) joined Tatum in single digits with five points on 2-of-9 shooting in the loss to Cleveland and Brown had just nine points on 2-of-10 shooting in a win at Los Angeles last month. Kyrie (24.6 & 5.0 APG) is the unquestioned leader but the veteran Horford (13.2-7.7-5.2) remains the unsung hero. In the end, Brad Stevens' team relies on a defense allowing 99.1 PPG (2nd-best) on a league-low 43.3% shooting.
|02-13-18||Heat +7.5 v. Raptors||Top||112-115||Win||100||12 h 44 m||Show|
|02-12-18||Clippers v. Nets +4.5||Top||114-101||Loss||-105||21 h 38 m||Show|
The set-up: The Los Angeles Clippers won their "trade-revenge" game at Detroit on Friday in Detroit (emotional win over former teammate Blake Griffin) but then tired down the stretch on Saturday in the second night of a back-to-back. LA's three-game winning streak ended with a 112-98 loss at the Philadelphia 76ers, after the Clippers had pulled within 95-93 in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles (28-26) currently sits one-half game behind New Orleans. The Clippers remain slightly out of eighth place because while New Orleans overcame blowing a 28-point lead to get a 139-129 double-overtime win at Brooklyn Saturday, they lost at Philadelphia on Saturday. As for those Nets, the losses are starting to pile up for Brooklyn. Since earning a 116-108 home win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 31, the Nets have gone winless with losses to the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and Saturday's wild loss to the Pelicans. At 19-38, teh Nets are only one game up on the Eastern Conference-worst Atlanta Hawks.
LA Clippers: Tobias Harris (18.0 & 6.3) and Avery Bradley (8.5 & 5,3 plus excellent perimeter defense) are providing a spark to their new team (over four games) but the return of small forward Danilo Gallinari is another key reason the team is staying in the playoff hunt despite trading Griffin. Gallinari (15.8 & 4.8) played in just two games between Nov. 5 and Jan. 28 while dealing with a glute tear but isn't having any trouble adjusting in five games since returning to the lineup. He is averaging 21 points on 52.2 percent shooting (43.3 percent from beyond the arc) and proved himself in game shape by scoring 22 points while logging 40 minutes on Saturday. Let's also not forget center DeAndre Jordan (11.3 & 15.0), who is averaging 17.5 rebounds over the last six games (including 21 at Philadelphia) or teh career season Low Williams is having (23.3 & 5.3 APG).
Brooklyn: The Nets are losers of five in a row and nine of 10, after Saturday's double overtime home loss. Brooklyn was down 28 points to the Pelicans on Saturday before coming back to force overtime. "It's just too many times that we've gotten in a big hole," Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters. "I loved the comeback, I loved our spirit in the second half, how competitive we are. I'm just mystified how the first half was completely different. We've talked about this before. You just can't get in a hole down 28 against a very good team." The Nets have played 15 games where they faced a deficit of at least 20 points this season. Five of those instances have occurred in this 10-game stretch. In those five games where the Nets have fallen behind by 20 or more, they have been outscored by a 163-92 margin in the first quarter. Saturday was another instance as the Nets were outscored 34-22 in the opening 12 minutes, trailed by 28 before making a furious comeback. Brooklyn is allowing 112.7 points during its five-game losing streak on 49.0 percent shooting and 41.3 percent from three-point range
The pick: It seems clear that LA owner Steve Ballmer isn’t in all-out tank mode just yet. He didn't move DeAndre Jordan and gave a nice contract extension to Lou Williams. Yes, the Nets are going nowhere but LA is just 12-14 SU on the road (not good news when being installed as a road favorite) plus the Nets are 15-13 ATS at home and since right after Christmas, are 14-9 (61%) ATS in all games. Home dog barks here. Make Brooklyn a 10* play.
|02-11-18||Pistons -3.5 v. Hawks||Top||115-118||Loss||-105||8 h 14 m||Show|
The set-up: Blake Griffin scored 19 points in Friday’s 108-95 home defeat against the Los Angeles Clippers, ending Detroit’s five-game winning streak, the final four of those victories coming after the Pistons had acquired Griffin from Los Angeles in a six-player deal Jan. 29. “I didn’t play the way I wanted to,” Griffin told reporters after shooting 7-for-19 from the floor and then leaving the court at game’s end without shaking hands with any of his former teammates. “We had a good five-game run and we get back to work tomorrow.” Detroit's and Griffin's "work" begins with a visit to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon. While the 27-27 Pistons enter Sunday just 1 1/2 games out of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, the 17-39 Hawks own the NBA’s worst record. Think it's safe to say that Atlanta's run of 10 consecutive playoff appearances (second-longest active NBA streak to only the Spurs) will end in this season?
Detroit: Griffin has averaged 21 points and 7.8 rebounds since joining Detroit and his line for the season is an imprerssive22.4-7.9-5.5. Center Andre Drummond leads the NBA in rebounding at 15.6 per contest (adds 15.0 PPG) and has raised his production of late, averaging 18.1 points with 18.4 rebounds over his past nine games. The Pistons have forced 10 or more turnovers in 53 of their 54 games, including 41 consecutive contests, which is the longest streak in the NBA this season. The Pistons are also on pace to make 877 three-pointers this season, which would surpass the franchise record of 740 set in 2015-16.
Atlanta: The Hawks pushed the Cavs for 2 1/2 quarters Friday at home before succumbing 123-107, falling to 3-7 in their past 10 games. PG Dennis Schroder leads the team in scoring (19.5) and assists (6.3) but behind him, the wealth is spread around, as six players contribute between 9.8 and 13.0 PPG (note: Marco Belinelli, who has averaged 11.4 points and shot 92.7 percent from the free-throw line in 52 games, agreed to a contract buyout Friday). Tyler Dorsey (a rookie from Oregon), continues producing as his role expands. He is averaging only 4.7 PPG on the season but he's scored in double figures for three consecutive games for the first time in his career, averaging 11.7 points and 3.7 assists in that span. The Hawks are tied for first in the NBA in forcing turnovers, as opponents average 15.3 miscues per contest, but that hasn't translated into very many wins.
The pick: The Pistons are 9-16 away from Detroit and have won just one of their past nine road games. However, Griffin is expected to change that dynamic. Playing at Atlanta is hardly a daunting task this season, as the Hawks are just 12-17 SU at home. Atlanta was 11-1 at Philips Arena against Detroit over a seven-season stretch before the teams split two games in Atlanta each of the past two years. The Pistons have had a day to shake off that "trade-revenge" loss against the Clippers and they have won four of the last five against the Hawks, including the first two games of the season series against this year (111-104 & 105-91). They have gotten 14 points and 19.5 rebounds per game from Drummond in those two wins and now the Pistons have added Griffin. Make Detroit a 10* play.
|02-08-18||Hornets v. Blazers -4||Top||103-109||Win||100||14 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: The Portland Trail Blazers went 0-3 on a recent three-game road trip that featured stops in Toronto, Boston and Detroit. The Blazers now limp home to the Moda Center at 29-25, tied with the Nuggets' for the West's No. 6 seed (note: both teams are just one game ahead of the Clippers, who are currently the 9th-seed and outside of the playoff cut line). Portland will play three of its next four at home, beginning with tonight's game against Eastern Conference foe, the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets will look to bounce back after watching a three-game winning streak come to an end with a 121-104 setback in Denver on Monday. Charlotte is 23-30 on the season, leaving them four games back of the East's No. 8 seed (76ers).
Charlotte: The Hornets allowed the Nuggets to shoot 56.8 percent from the floor and drain make 18 three-pointers on Monday. PG Kemba Walker () again leads the team in scoring and overall, Charlotte does a nice job offensively on the perimeter. Shooting guards Lamb (13.6 & 4.5) and Batum (12.2-4.5-4.7) have lately seen second-year shooting guard Treveon Graham (5.2) emerge as a scoring option, while earning extra playing time over the last four games. Graham scored in double figures in three of the last four contests, matching his total of double-digit scoring outbursts from his first 36 games. Center Dwight Howard (16.0 & 12.6) averages a double-double but once again the question looms, is he making his latest team any better?
Portland: The Blazers had scored at least 100 points in 17 straight games before missing the mark against Boston and Detroit to close out the trip. CJ McCollum, who scored 50 points on 18-of-25 shooting in the last home game on Jan. 31, slumped to 14 points on 6-of-15 in Monday's setback while All-Star point guard Damian Lillard went 6-of-21 from three-point range on the trip. Portland can't afford its guard duo to play like that, as Lillard (25.1-4.7-6.6) and McCollum (21.8-3.9-3.2) are the 'heart' of this team. Only center Nurkic (14.2 & 8.2) can be counted on besides that duo to contribute on a regular basis.
The pick: The Blazers have been in trade talks over the past couple of weeks but as of Wednesday hadn't pulled the trigger on any deals. The team's two stars, Lillard and McCollum, have said they hope general manager Neil Olshey will stand pat. We'll see. The good news is that Portland takes the court tonight on an eight-game home winning streak (7-1 ATS) and while the Blazers are only 12-20 against teams that are .500 or better, they are 17-5 against teams without a winning record. The Hornets are a sub-.500 team (23-30), including an 8-16 road record. Lay the points and make Portland a 10* play.
|02-08-18||Celtics +2 v. Wizards||Top||110-104||Win||100||12 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: The Boston Celtics finish off a quick two-game road trip at the Washington Wizards on Thursday. The first stop on the trip didn't go well, as the Celtics lost 111-91 at Toronto on Tuesday and saw their lead in the Eastern Conference shrink to one game over the Raptors. Kyrie Irving returned from a quad injury to score 17 points in 22 minutes for Boston but the Celtics' 37-point first half did them in. As for the Wizards, they surprisingly won five straight after losing All-Star PG John Wall () to a knee injury, before falling flat in Philadelphia on Tuesday in a 115-102 loss. Bradley Beal scored 30 points in the loss but is averaging 23.4 points (on 50 percent shooting) and 6.2 assists over his last five games.
Boston: The 39-16 Celtics saw Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown combine to shoot 10-of-17 from the floor at Toronto but the team's three other starters , Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Aron Baynes, scored only a combined 12 points, while connecting on just 6-of-22 shots (27.3%). "We looked slow, we looked like we weren't ready to react to their speed or their physicality," head coach Brad Stevens told reporters. "I think that was probably the case the whole night." Terry Rozier scored 18 points off the bench and is averaging 19.3 over a four-game span.
Washington: The 31-23 Wizards (31-23) have moved into the No. 4 seed position in the East (just a half-game back of the Cavs), due to their recent surge. After the Wizards had 30 assists and eight players scored in double figures against the Raptors, Beal explained the contagious ball movement as "everybody eats." Center Marcin Gortat later tweeted out "Unbelievable win tonight! Great team victory!" Many interpreted those statements as a shot against Wall, charges Beal and Gortat denied. Thursday afternoon's NBA trade deadline is looming with the primary buzz involving Washington centers plus the lingering narrative about the team's improved play without Wall. He is averaging 19.3 points and 9.3 assists and expects to be out six to eight weeks following left knee surgery on Jan. 31.
The pick: These teams had a pretty tough East semifinal last spring that Boston won in seven. Washington is 10-7 without Wall this season but his play helped lead the Wizards to a 111-103 at Boston on Christmas Day, getting a small piece of revenge. Beal scored 25 points, Wall had 21 and 14 assists plus Otto Porter finished with 20 points. However, Boston is an Eastern Conference best 18-8 SU on the road and this time around, they are the ones seeking revenge (from that Christmas Day loss), not to mention looking to "make up" from the team's poor effort in Toronto on Tuesday. Make Boston an 8* play.
|02-07-18||Wolves v. Cavs +4||Top||138-140||Win||100||12 h 21 m||Show|
|02-06-18||Grizzlies +2.5 v. Hawks||Top||82-108||Loss||-115||12 h 11 m||Show|
The set-up: The Memphis decided to sideline PG Mike Conley (17.1 & 4.1 APG) after a game on Jan 13, so he could rest his Achilles. More recently, the team announced Conley would not return this season. Memphis was 7-6 when Conley was sidelined but has gone 11-28 since, leaving them 9 1/2 games out of the West's final playoff spot at 18-34, overall. The Grizzlies will visit Philips Arena Tuesday night to take on the 16-37 Hawks, whose 10-year playoff run will come to an end this season. The Hawks are just trying to stay clear of the East 'basement,' edging the New York Knicks 99-96 on Sunday to earn their second win in four games (the Hawks are a half-game worse than the Magic, leaving them 15th of 15 teams in the East).
Memphis: The Grizzlies are trying to find their way while surrounding center Marc Gasol (18.0 & 18.6) with a plethora of young players. Swingman Tyreke Evans (19.5-5.0-5.0) was picked up for 'a song' and has been Memphis' best player but he's on the trading block and has been absent from the first three games in Memphis' four-game trip pending a potential deal prior to the Thursday deadline.The 6-8 JaMychal Green (10.1 & 7.4) is the only other Memphis player in double digits.
Atlanta: The Hawks surrendered an average of 121 points in losses to Charlotte and Boston before turning things around on the defensive end and limiting the Knicks to 5-of-23 from three-point rang in Sunday's three-point win. That victory was just the Hawks' third road win against the East, snapping an eight-game conference losing streak. PG Dennis Schroder (19.3 & 6.4 APG) is the team's lone "go-to" scorer, although six others are averaging between 10.0 and 13.2 PPG. That group includes 6-10 rookie John Collins (Wake Forest), who is averaging 10.4 & 6.9 in about 22 minutes.
The pick: The Grizzlies are just 5-29 on the road and 3-15 outside of the Western Conference but playing at Philips Arena hasn't been a home court advantage for the Atlanta, as the Hawks are just 11-16 SU. I'll take depth-shy Grizzlies, making Memphis an 8* play.
|02-05-18||Blazers v. Pistons -2||Top||91-111||Win||100||12 h 4 m||Show|
The set-up: The Pistons opened the new year 2-11 and had lost eight games in a row before trading for the Clippers' Blake Griffin. This just in, the "Blake Griffin era" is off to a rousing start. The Pistons ended their eight-game slide by taking down the Cavs 125-114 the game before Griffin joined the team and then added two more wins with Griffin averaging 20.0-9.5-6.0. "Just a little more tired today - the adrenaline wore off a little bit, just the toll of the week," Griffin told reporters on Saturday. "It's amazing to see all these guys step up and play so well." Detroit gets set to host the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday. The Trail Blazers arrive in Detroit looking to recover from blowing a 16-point halftime lead at Boston on Sunday, losing 97-96 when Al Horford beat the buzzer with a 15-footer!
Portland: CJ McCollum led the way with 21 points for Portland, but after scoring at least 100 points in 17 straight games, Portland's streak came to an end in Boston. Portland,, which shoots 45.4% from the floor on the season, shot just 39.6 percent with Damian Lillard being one of the main culprits with a 6-for-19 effort (his worst single-game shooting percentage since Nov. 13. Maurice Harkless (5.4) helped to pick up some of the slack by making a career-high five three-pointers in as many attempts and scoring 19 points, eclipsing his total from the previous eight games combined. Lillard (25.2-4.7-6.7) and McCollum (21.9-4.0-3.2) are an excellent guard tandem but only center Nurkic (14.3 & 8.2) joins them in double digits.
Detroit: All-Star center Andre Drummond (15.0 & 15.3) has welcomed Griffin with open arms, and the tandem has shown flashes of dominance underneath, outrebounding Miami on their own by a 29-26 margin. Drummond grabbed 20 of those boards to go along with 23 points, four blocks and four steals, and the big man has registered six straight double-doubles. " Ish Smith scored a season-high 25 points against the Heat and is shooting 60.7 percent over his last five games. He's taken over for the injured Jackson at PG and is up to 10.6 PPG and 4.4 APG on the season.
The pick: Griffin has re-energized the Detroit franchise. The Pistons have won the first three games of a six-game homestand since acquiring Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers and at 25-26, can get back to the .500 mark if they continue their streak against Portland on Monday night (note: the Pistons are now a half-game behind Philadelphia for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference). The early returns on the power pairing of Griffin and All-Star center Andre Drummond have been promising and note that D rummond averaged 23.5 points and 14.5 rebounds as Detroit went 2-0 against Portland last season. One wonders just how Portland recovers thsi quickly after Sunday's brutal loss in Boston? Make Detroit a 10* play.
|02-04-18||Hornets v. Suns +6||Top||115-110||Win||100||8 h 32 m||Show|
The set-up: The Suns began a three-game homestand with a 102-88 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday but that defense did not carry over to Friday, as Phoenix was trounced 129-97 by the Utah Jazz and the Suns have now lost six of their last seven to fall to 18-35 (1 1/2 games out of the Western Conference 'basement'). Phoenix completes its three-game homestand by hosting the 22-29 Charlotte Honets on Super Bowl Sunday. The Hornets have lit up the scoreboard in back-to-back wins over in Atlanta on Wednesday (123-110), followed by a 133-126 home win over Indiana on Friday.
Charlotte: PG Kemba Walker (22.9 & 5.9 APG) scored 41 points in the win over the Pacers, after getting 38 at Atlanta. "Offensively, we are playing great," Walker told reporters. "We were moving the basketball and making the extra pass and knocking it down when we needed to. Defensively, I think we can be a lot better, but I think we have been doing a great job, especially when we really need it. We are getting some big-time stops." SG Nicolas Batum is finally rounding into form as well, and followed up a triple-double at Atlanta with 31 points and nine rebounds against Indiana. Batum is now averaging 11.9-4.5-4.7, not quite at the level of production he had last season but he's heading in the right direct. Center Dwight Howard averages a double-double (15.9 & 12.7) but once again the question arises, is he really making his team better?
Phoenix: About the only positive coming out of Friday's ugly 32-point loss was the continued strong play of rookie small forward Josh Jackson. He scored 20 points to reach that mark for the third straight game, the best stretch of his young career. Jackson is averaging10.5 & 3.8 on the season but another young Phoenix player is not having such a strong run. 20-year-old power forward Marquese Chriss (7.0 & 5.0) is expected to serve a team-imposed one-game suspension on Sunday for reportedly getting into a verbal confrontation with an assistant coach. Devin Booker broke the franchise record for consecutive made free throws in a season when he reached 60 on Friday, surpassing the previous mark of 57 shared by Kevin Johnson and Mike Bratz. Booker (24.3) is the team's lone "All Star caliber" player, although one can't discount T.J. Warren's (19.5 & 5.2) consistent production. However, when a team ranks dead-last in points allowed at 112.1 PPG, most games are an up hill battle.
The pick: This Super Bowl Sunday matchup sets up as a showdown between a pair of two perceived all-star snubs, Kemba Walker and Devin Booker. The Hornets begin a four-game road trip with this one and with trips to Denver, Portland and Utah on the schedule, this is easily the team's best chance to pick up a win on this Western swing. However, it's difficult for me to view Charlotte, a team with a 7-15 SU record on the road, being a road favorite. Let me note that the home team has taken each of the last four in this series, with the Suns earning a 120-103 triumph back on March 2 in the Hornets' most recent visit to Phoenix. Make the Suns a 10* play.
|02-02-18||Jazz v. Suns +5.5||Top||129-97||Loss||-105||14 h 54 m||Show|
The set-up: The 22-28 Utah Jazz head to Phoenix on Friday night to open a four-game road trip, having won three in a row and four of five. The 18-34 Suns welcome the Jazz to Phoenix having snapped a five-game losing streak with a 102-88 home victory over Dallas on Wednesday. Utah's recent uptick has them within 'shouting distance' of a playoff berth (Jazz sit 10th in the West, four games back of the final playoff spot), while the Suns are already nine games out of a playoff berth, just two games better than the West's worst team (Mavs).
Utah: The NBA season is a grind but the Jazz can't help but be feeling somewhat giddy after they shot a season-high 58.7 percent against Golden State in Tuesday's 129-99 home win. "Shooting is an equalizer," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder told reporters afterward. Small forward Joe Ingles (10.0 & 4.2) had 20 points and a career-high six three-pointers, while Ricky Rubio (11.4 & 5.0 APG) had a double-double with 23 points and a season-high-tying 11 assists. Rookie Donovan Mitchell, the team's leading scorer at 19.2 PPG, had 20 points against the Warriors. Mitchell is making a strong case for NBA Rookie of the Year consideration, after averaging 22.2 points in 11 January games, with season highs of 34 and 35 points. He was named the Western Conference rookie of the month for January.
Phoenix: Devin Booker had 15 points and Marquese Chriss had his second double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds when both returned to the lineup against Dallas after missing a game. NBA folowers know all about Booker (24.4 PPG) but with a third-quarter steal Wednesday, third-year forward Chriss became the fourth player in league history to record 100 steals, 100 blocks and 100 3-pointers before his 21st birthday. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant are the others. "I think it is pretty dope," said Chriss, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds a game. "I like to block shots. I like to shoot. So I think that's me."
The pick: The Jazz know they need to avoid a letdown off that Golden State win, as they prepare for a trip that will take them through San Antonio, New Orleans and Memphis after leaving Phoenix. "You want to move on from it in the sense that there's some sense of accomplishment: It's over," Quin Snyder told reporters. "But how you got the win, and how you played and what you're doing -- we need to understand the things that we did that we want to do again. It becomes a question of repeating it. The more you do it, the more it becomes who you are. Games like that can give you some confidence." There is no doubt that the return of center Rudy Gobert has made a difference for Utah (14.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG and 2.7 BPG in his six games back) but the Jazz are just 7-19 SU on the road and a let down off that Golden State win seems almost inevitable. Make Phoenix an 8* play.
|02-02-18||Knicks v. Bucks -2.5||Top||90-92||Loss||-110||10 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: Jabari Parker takes the court for the first time in nearly 12 months when the 27-23 Milwaukee Bucks host the New York Knicks on Friday. Parker has been recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee. It was supposed to mark the first time Milwaukee put its core of Parker, Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Bledsoe on the floor in the same game. However, Antetokounmpo, who has been battling a knee issue this season, suffered an ankle injury late in a 108-89 loss at Minnesota on Thursday night. Making matters worse for Milwaukee, point guard Malcom Brogdon was also injured Thursday night. The team tentatively announced that Brogdon suffered a strained left calf but will undergo further testing Friday night and isn't expected to play tonight when the 23-29 NY Knicks visit . the Bradley Center.
NY Knicks: Facing a short-handed Bucks squad would be good news for the Knicks, after the team saw its a two-game winning streak snapped with a horrific 103-73 loss to Boston on Wednesday, the team's largest margin of defeat this season. The Knicks may come into the game six games under .500 and 10th in the Eastern Conference but they are still within striking distance of the playoffs, trailing No. 8 Philadelphia by three games and No. 7 Milwaukee by five. Porzingis (23.1 & 6.6) remains the "go-to" guy on offense but although the Knicks shoot well as team (46.8% ranks 7th), they average a modest 104.5 PPG (20th). Defensively, they are middle-of-the-pack a in allowing 105.9 PPG (16th).
Milwaukee: Parker had posted career-best averages of 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in 51 games last season prior to his latest ACL tear. Parker was informed that he will play about 15 minutes in his return and the club will certainly monitor him closely due to the fact that he's had two ACL tears in the same knee in a 26-month span). Brodgon's (13.3) injury came in the second quarter but Antetokounmpo's (28.2-10.4-4.8) came in the fourth with the Bucks trailing by as many as 17. Interim head coach Joe Prunty defended his decision to keep his star player on the floor late in a blowout loss on the first night of a back-to-back. "That's the whole thing, (the deficit) was right around 15 and that's what we were talking about, was, 'Can we make a push here'?" Prunty said. Milwaukee shoots well like the Knicks (47.9% ranks 4th) but similarly, does not score well enough (104.8 PPG ranks 19th).
The pick: The Bucks are 6-3 when unrested this year (played last night) but the injuries to Antetokounmpo and Brogdon could cause concern. Then again, the Knicks are just 7-20 SU and 11-16 ATS on the road. I'll make Milwaukee a 10* play.
|01-31-18||Heat v. Cavs -1.5||Top||89-91||Win||100||10 h 42 m||Show|
The set-up: Cleveland's 99-92 loss at Golden State on Christmas Day sent the team into a 4-10 tailspin, before back-to-back home wins over the Pacers (Fri) and Pistons (Sun) gave a glimpse of a 'light at the end of the tunnel.' However, in last night's quick turnaround matchup with the Pistons (this time in Detroit), the Cavs not only lost 125-114 to the depth-shy Pistons (due to the team's trade with the Clippers), but All-Star power forward Kevin Love (17.9 & 9.4) was removed from the game with 7:19 left in the first quarter and did not return. An X-ray showed a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal on his left hand, according to the team, and his status would be updated Wednesday. Reports have already surfaced saying that Love will likely miss six-to-eight weeks. Cleveland welcomes the Miami Heat to Quicken Loans Arena tonight, a team which has won 11 of its last 15 contests to reach 29-21, leaving them just one-half game behind the third-place 29-20 Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Miami: The Heat posted a 95-88 win at Dallas on Monday, when they limited the Mavericks to 38.4 percent shooting while holding a fourth straight opponent below 100 points. Center Hassan Whiteside had 25 points (on 10-of-15 shooting) and 14 rebounds against the Mavericks, a performance that occurred one day after an hour-long conversation with coach Erik Spoelstra. Whiteside had averaged just seven points on 6-of-17 shooting over the previous two games but whatever Spoelstra said it worked, as Whiteside (14.6 & 11.9) posted his 18th double-double of the campaign. Dragic (17.0-4.1-4.8) leads the team in scoring but with SG Waiters (14.3) out for the season, Miami is sure glad to get
Cleveland: "When it rains, it pours," downcast Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue told reporters after the setback. "Kevin has been great for us all year. To lose an All-Star in the midst of what we are going through is tough. But next man up, we've got to be ready to play. But I feel sorry for Kevin." Cleveland has dropped 11 of its last 16 contests and now will be adjusting to not having Love, although he has been involved in team friction lately, most notably with guard Isaiah Thomas. Veteran forward Channing Frye picked up some of the scoring slack last night with season bests of 20 points and four three-pointers, and figures to be one of the players asked to step up his production.
The pick: The Cavs' ATS record has been dreadful (especially at home where it's 5-18-1) but getting right back on the court after the loss to the Pistons (and the loss of Love), may just be a rallying point for this team. The pointspread has been adjusted down and I'm not convinced that Love's absence is all that big of a deal. Make the Cavs a 10* play.
|01-30-18||Thunder v. Wizards +3.5||Top||96-102||Win||100||11 h 28 m||Show|
The set-up: Russell Westbrook has elevated his game to MVP-levels once again during Oklahoma City's eight-game winning streak (longest active in the NBA) and the 27-22 Washington Wizards will now take on Westbrook and the 30-20 Thunder for the second time in less than a week. Westbrook scored a season-high 46 points in a 121-112 win over Washington at home on Thursday and the Wizards, who lave lost four of their last six, could be without All-Star point PG John Wall (knee) for a second straight game.
Oklahoma City: The Thunder are averaging 122.5 points over its last six games and with Westbrook (25.7-9.5-10.1) coming off a 37-point, 14-assist effort in Sunday's intense victory over Philadelphia, he's averaging 33.8 points and 11.8 assists over his last five games. "I play the same way," Westbrook told reporters following the 122-112 triumph. "I can't really give you another answer because I do the same thing every night, regardless of what's going on." Sunday's game was the first since the team lost defensive stalwart Andre Roberson for the season due to a ruptured patella tendon and there may have been some greater incentive to keep the streak alive while figuring out new rotations. Paul George scored 31 points and is averaging 27.8 over a five-game span. George is up to on21.2 & 5.4 the season and 'Melo is at 17.6 & 5.9.
Washington: Wall's absence didn't matter much in Saturday's 129-104 win at Atlanta, as Washington shot 57.6 percent from the from and 56.3 percent from 3-point range, as six players scored in double digits. Head coach Scott Brooks said that Wall (19.4 & 9.3 APG), who missed eight games earlier this season with a sore knee, wanted to play against Atlanta but the team exercised caution ahead of a challenging stretch of five games in eight days, the last three on the road. Markieff Morris (13.6 & 6.9) tied his season high with 23 points and Tim Frazier fell one assist shy of matching his career high when he handed out 14 in the win. Beal (23.9-4.4-3.8) joins Wall in an All-Star backcourt plus six others contribute between 6.2 and 13.6 PPG.
The pick: Wizards could not slow down Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road last week but even if Wall sits, I see this game turning out much differently. Bradley Beal scored 41 points in the earlier loss to the Thunder and note that the Wizards won 120-98 in the last meeting between these two in Washington back on Feb. 13, 2017. Yes, OKC has won eight straight (6-2 ATS) but right before the team's winning streak began, the Thunder had been on a 2-5 SU & ATS run. Westbrook "stared down" Embiid on Sunday and is a "world class" talent but has anyone reminded him he wasn't "won anything" in his career? Or for that matter, neither has George nor 'Melo. Make Washington a 10* play.
|01-29-18||Celtics +1.5 v. Nuggets||Top||111-110||Win||100||13 h 12 m||Show|
The set-up: The Boston Celtics lost 109-105 in Oakland to Golden State this past Saturday but the 35-15 Celtics still own the East's best record. However, the Raptors have closed within one game of Boston after it has lost five of its last six games. The Celtics will be looking to go 2-2 on their four-game road trip with a win tonight in Denver against the 26-23 Nuggets. However, the Nuggets are looking to wrap of their five-game homestand with a fourth win and Denver is an impressive 19-6 at the Pepsi Center on the season.
Boston: The Celtics led most of the game at the defending champion Warriors on Saturday, before falling just short in a 109-105 loss. Irving was brilliant in Saturday's setback, scoring 37 points on 13-of-18 shooting while going 5-of-6 from three-point range. However, Stephen Curry "one-upped" him with 49 points! Boston's recent slump is just the latest indicator that Brad Stevens needs a tune-up for the Boston engine, as Celtics rank last in NBA offensive efficiency since mid-December. With Hayward out, Boston has falled to 23rd in scoring (102.9 PPG) and ranks 24th by making 44.7% of its shots. However, great defense has kept Boston atop the East, as the Celtics rank first in FG percentage (43.3) and second in points allowed (98.5 per).
Denver: The Nuggets followed up a 130-118 Thursday win over the Knicks by edging the Mavs 91-89 on Saturday. Being able to win a high-scoring game and a grind-it-out game is a good sign for the team. "To be a good team in the NBA, you have to be able to win (playing) different styles," head coach Michael Malone told reporters. "... It shows that late in the game, you have to be able execute on offense. And at the end of the game, you gotta be able to get timely stops." The Nuggets aren't worrying about the finals but they are focused on making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. They occupy the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference after winning three in a row and are just 1 1/2 games behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the sixth seed (note: New Orleans just lost DeMarcus Cousins for teh season).
The pick: I realize Denver owns an impressive home record (see above) but the Nuggets have lost two home games in January to the sad-sack Atlanta Hawks and equally inept Phoenix Suns, plus nearly let one slip away against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night. Boston has an excellent 16-7 SU record on the road and is a remarkable 9-1 ATS as a dog, Make Boston a 10* play.
|01-28-18||Bucks -2 v. Bulls||Top||110-96||Win||100||8 h 3 m||Show|
The set-up: The Milwaukee Bucks are 2-0 since dismissing head coach Jason Kidd but both games were played at home against lower-rung teams like Phoenix (17-32) and Brooklyn (18-32). The 25-22 Bucks will be on the road on Sunday against the Bulls but while Chicago is just 18-31 overall, one has to note that after a 3-20 start, the Bulls have gone a playoff-worthy 15-11 in their last 26 games. That's despite coming into this contest on a three-game slide.
Milwaukee: All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (28.5-10.2-4.6) returned from a two-game absence on Friday and looked refreshed while collecting 41 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in 33 minutes. Shooting guard Khris Middleton, one of teh NBA's more underrated players who is averaging 20.4-5.2-4.2, pointed to joy as one of the reasons for the easy win. "That's what we're getting back to, just having fun," Middleton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We're playing for one another. When we're having fun and relaxed, but we play hard we're one of the best teams, I feel like. The last two nights we showed it. Granted, it wasn't against some of the best teams, but we feel like we can do that every night." The Bucks remain inside the Eastern Conference's playoff picture after winning back-to-back games under interim coach Joe Prunty, as they visit the United Center as the No. 8 seed but with a 3 1/2-game gap between them and the 9th-seeded Pistons.
Chicago: The Bulls are having some trouble finding a rhythm with starting PG Kris Dunn (13.7-4.6-6.4) out with a concussion and Zach LaVine working his way into the rotation off a severe knee injury. "Kris (is) obviously our best push guard and getting the ball down in a hurry and is our best player in our flow offense," Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters. "We're still adjusting without Kris, who obviously has been a big part of what we are doing here. We are trying to get Zach reintegrated into what we are doing as well. Some if it is moving parts, understanding where guys are on the floor." LaVine went 3-of-17 from the floor in Friday's loss and is shooting 38.2 percent through seven games, averaging 13.6 & 4.6. Big man Lauri Markkanen (1715.3 & 7.7) has been one of the league's best rookies and the return of Nikola Mirotic (17.1 & 6.4 in 24 games), has made the Bulls a competitive team.
The pick: Chicago has won the two previous games this season (both at Milwaukee in Dec.) by similar scores, 115-109 and 115-106. However, Chicago has struggled mightily without guard Kris Dunn, who remains out with concussion symptoms. The Bulls have lost three of four without Dunn and Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo, after missing the previous two games with right knee soreness, finished Friday's victory with 41 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks. He got an extended eight-game break by missing those two game and it seemingly provided him with the rest he needed, if results mean anything! Make Milwaukee an 8* play.
|01-26-18||Pacers v. Cavs -5||Top||108-115||Win||100||12 h 8 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers have never recovered from their 99-92 loss at Golden State on Christmas Day, entering tonight's game just 3-10 to fall to 27-19. The Cavs are now 6 1/2 games back of the top-seeded Celtics, five game back of the second-seeded Raptors and incredibly, only 3 1/2 games up on the eighth-seed 76ers (chew on that for awhile!). A team meeting and an airing of grievances hardly seems to have helped and the Cavs will welcome the 26-22 Indiana Pacers to Quicken Loans Arena looking to avenge three previous losses this season to the Pacers. Indiana has won seven of its last 10 after building a 38-point lead in the third quarter and cruising past the Phoenix Suns 116-101 on Wednesday.
Indiana: The Pacers added to Cleveland's misery by overcoming a 22-point deficit to down the Cavaliers 97-95 on Jan. 12, after winning the first two meetings, 124-107 at Cleveland and 106-102 at Indiana. Victor Oladipo was named to his first All-Star Game on Tuesday and celebrated with 21 points and nine assists in 33 minutes against the Suns. Oladipo is averaging 24.1-5.2-4.0 and scored 19 points in the Jan. 12 win while Lance Stephenson (8.6-5.6-3.0) collected 16 points and 11 rebounds in that one plus also played strong defense against Cleveland superstar LeBron James. The Pacers shoot very well (47.9% as team ranks 4th) but would surely like to get a little better point production, as they average 106.4 PPG (12th).
Cleveland: The Cavs held a team meeting on Monday that included coach Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman and reportedly it got quite heated. However, nothing changed on the court as the team dropped a 114-102 decision at San Antonio on Tuesday. "When it gets tough, we've just got to stay together," Lue told reporters. "Some guys are frustrated because they missed shots. Some guys are frustrated because they can't get their rhythm. Some guys are frustrated when they get scored on. So, I think it's a combination of a lot of things. But for the most part, (we've) just got to stay together and continue to play the game." Lue signaled after Tuesday's loss that there would be changes coming to the lineup but LBJ (26.8-7.9-8.6) will naturally be expected to carry the load. The Cavs have struggled tremendously to make virtually anything work with Isaiah Thomas on the court, as in his eight games, he may be averaging 15.9 PPG but he's shooting just 39.1%, including 28.0% on threes. Lue plans to start Tristan Thompson (5.3 & 5.7) at center and slide Kevin Love (18.4 & 9.4) back to power forward, which means Jae Crowder (8.7 & 3.3) goes to the bench. Either way, the Cavs HAVE to find a way to improve a defense that is the league's second-worst, including THE worst over the team's last 15 past games.
The pick: The Cavs are a mind-numbing 12-33-1 ATS, which includes an unfathomable 3-18-1 at home.That said, in a 'TRIPLE-REVENGE" situation, I have to be on the Cavs. Make Cleveland a 10* play.
|01-25-18||Kings +10.5 v. Heat||Top||89-88||Win||100||12 h 7 m||Show|
|01-24-18||Raptors -6 v. Hawks||Top||108-93||Win||100||13 h 60 m||Show|
The set-up: The Toronto Raptors begin a stretch in which they will play 10 of 13 in Air Canada Centre on Friday against Utah. The Raptors are 17-3 at home and 31-14 overall, just 1 1/2 games back of the Celtics for the East's best record. They hope to head back to Toronto on a winning note, as they visit Philips Arena to take on the 14-32 Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. However, the Raptors are off a 115-109 loss at Minnesota on Saturday, the team's fourth loss in seven games following having won 17 of 20. The Hawks' 14 wins are tied with the Magic and Kings for the fewest in the NBA but Atlanta is on its best run of the season with four victories in its last six games.
Toronto: Saturday's loss at Minnesota wasted a phenomenal effort fby Kyle Lowry, who posted a season-high 40 points in 34 turnover-free minutes, as the team as a whole faded in the second night of a back-to-back. "We've got to come out with a little bit more energy on the back-to-back, but it's no excuse," Lowry told reporters. However, Lowry's effort was great news for Toronto, in his fourth game back after sitting out three games with a back injury. The backcourt duo of Lowry (17.0-6.0-6.7) and DeRozan (25.0-4.2-5.0) 'drive the show' for Toronto, complemented by the frontcourt duo of PF Ibaka (13.6 & 6.0) and center Valanciunas (11.1 & 8.1).
Atlanta: Taurean Prince (12.4 & 5.2) had 17 points, as 12 different Atlanta players got into the scoring column in the win over the Jazz. The victory gives the Hawks a 7-7 mark after a 7-25 start. "We've got to keep it going," Prince told reporters after matching his scoring total from the previous four games combined. PG Schroder is averaging 22.2 points and seven assists through the first five games of the homestand (Atlanta is 3-2) and 20.0 PPG on teh season, along with a team-leading 6.6 APG. 6-10 Wake Forest rookie John Collins looks to be "a keeper," averaging 10.6 & 6.9 in about 22 minutes per game.
The pick: Toronto has won its first two games against Atlanta this season by an average of 23.5 points and has had three days off since losing at Minnesota (Sat.) in a back-to-back situation. Atlanta is just 4-10 at home against Eastern Conference opponents and I don't see them having much luck staying with the Raptors, who rank third in the NBA in averaging 111.3 PPG, trailing only the Warriors and Rockets. Make Toronto a 10* play!
|01-23-18||Cavs +1.5 v. Spurs||Top||102-114||Loss||-110||12 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers season has been spiraling in the wrong direction ever since the team's 99-92 Christmas Day loss in Oakland to the Warriors. That defeat was the beginning of a 3-9 run in which the latest loss came this past Saturday in a 148-124 home loss to OKC. Cleveland has lost by margins of 34, 28 and 24 over the past six games and the defensive effort against Oklahoma City was just atrocious, as the Thunder scored at least 33 points in every quarter. The 27-18 Cavs (now six games back of the Celtics and only four games ahead of the No. 8-seeded 76ers) will travel to San Antonio in an attempt to "right the ship" but the problem is that the 30-18 Spurs own the best home record in the NBA at 19-3, despite dropping a 94-86 decision to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday;
Cleveland "It's embarrassing. It's not acceptable," PG Isaiah Thomas told reporters after the loss to OKC. "We can only go up from here, that's the only positive about that. We've got to really look in the mirror, look at ourselves and get some pride."LBJ (26.8-7.8-8.7) continues to post superlative numbers but he is more interested in figuring out his team's porous play. Speculation regarding the status of coach Tyronn Lue has arisen and that deeply concerns James, who doesn't see Lue as the problem but stopped short of giving his coach an endorsement. "I don't know what's going to happen with our team," James told reporters. "I have no idea what conversations have been going on." Kevin Love (18.6 & 9.4) played just three minutes due to an undisclosed illness in the OKC and while he's is expected to play here, he's also been the center of some recent controversy.
San Antonio: Sunday's loss to the Pacers snapped a 14-game home winning streak for the Spurs, as they committed 20 turnovers. "It happens a little too much with our team," center Pau Gasol told reporters afterward. "We get a little bit out of whack. We don't execute, we're a little sloppy at times and we pay the price." The Spurs have not played up to their reputation this season, as Kawhi Leonard has played in just nine games due to a quadriceps injury that is reportedly causing issues between Leonard and the organization. Coach Gregg Popovich decided to shake things up on Sunday by moving veteran point guard Tony Parker (12 points and five assists in 20 minutes on Sunday) to the bench and starting Dejounte Murray, who had eight points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes.
The pick: In recent seasons, a game between the Cavs and Spurs would have been one of the marquee contests of the NBA calendar but the 2017-18 season is different. Both teams are in third place in their respective conferences and because of injuries for San Antonio and a dead-legged and greying roster for Cleveland, the Cavs and Spurs are not currently in the discussion as teams that can win the league championship. The Cavs are a mess and while the Spurs won both of last season's meetings, including a 103-74 home romp, the team's Sunday home loss to the Pacers shows that these are not your father's Spurs. How low can the Cavs go? I say they snap out of it right here against a team also struggling with distractions. Make Cleveland a 10* play.
|01-22-18||Wizards -1.5 v. Mavs||Top||75-98||Loss||-110||13 h 15 m||Show|
The set-up: The 26-20 Washington Wizards will visit Dallas and it's the midpoint of a five-game road trip for the Wizards. Washington dropped a 133-109 decision at Charlotte to begin the trip and was similarly terrible on defense while falling behind 29-19 after the first quarter in Detroit on Friday, before earning a 122-112 win that snapped a two-game skid The Wizards currently sit fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Mavericks endured a slow start in their last game as well but didn't have enough to overcome the deficit after falling behind 33-20 in the first quarter at Portland. Dallas was down by as many of 18 points in the first half at Portland, before getting within five in the second of a 117-108 loss. The Mavericks just didn't have enough down the stretch. "The first half, I thought it was bad," head coach Rick Carlisle said. "I thought the second half was very good. But you've got to play both halves, so we've got to get a better start."
Washington: The Wizards' turnaround was sparked by reserve forward Kelly Oubre Jr. who not only played his customary strong defense in the win but continued a recent scoring binge by pouring in 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 31 minutes. Oubre is averaging 19.5 points over the last four games and is 14-of-23 from three-point range in that span. He's now averaging 12.2 PPG, third-highest on the team. Washington scored 45 in the third period at Detroit, with 26 points coming from Bradley Beal and John Wall, to take a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter. SG Beal (23.8-4.3-3.7) leads Washington in scoring and PG Wall (19.5-3.6-9.3) is second.
Dallas: In losses to the LA Lakers, Denver and, most recently, at Portland on Saturday, the Mavs have found themselves down big early, only to fight back in the second half. The final scores have been relatively close, which only leads to extra frustration. "We're coming out too sluggish, too lackadaisical and too nonchalant," point guard Dennis Smith Jr. told reporters after the 117-108 setback. "Whatever word you want to use, we don't have the right disposition to start games out." Smith (14.7-3.9-4.5) is one of the NBA's top rookies this season, while Harrison Barnes (18.5 PPG) is again leading the Mavs in scoring and this season, he's also the team's top rebounder at 6.7 per game. However, Dallas does not score on a consistent basis (102.2 PPG ranks 23rd) and that's reflected in the team's 15-31 record (only the 13-32 Kings are worse in the West).
The pick: Oddly enough, Dallas has pretty much owned Washington as of late. The Mavericks swept the season series in 2016-17, the sixth sweep in seven years. The Mavs will go for another season sweep here, as Dallas earned a 113-99 win at Washington back on Nov. 7, behind 31 points from Harrison Barnes. That said, the Wizards are the significantly better team in this game and with this pointspread, a win almost guarantees a cover. Mavs are just 9-15 SU at home and I'll make Washington a 10* play.
|01-21-18||Pacers v. Spurs -6||Top||94-86||Loss||-110||21 h 33 m||Show|
The 30-17 San Antonio Spurs will welcome the road-weary Indiana Pacers (24-22) to the AT&T Center on Sunday night. The Spurs come into the game on the heels of an 86-83 loss at Toronto on Friday that gave them a 5-6 record in their past 11 games. Nine of those games came on the road and the Spurs went 3-6 away from home during that stretch.
Indiana: Indiana was just brutal in going 2-of-25 from beyond the arc in Friday's loss at LA, after going 7-of-26 from three-point range at Portland on Thursday. Leading scorer Victor Oladipo was a combined 2-of-14 in the last two losses, after connecting on 7-of-12 from beyond the arc in the first two stops (both wins) on the trip. The Pacers are shooting percent from the floor on the season (47.8% which ranks 4th) and have shot less than 40 percent from the floor only four times this season, but that includes the last two games. Oladipo led the Pacers with 25 points against the Lakers and Domantas Sabonis finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Oladipo (24.3-5.3-4.0) and Sabonis (12.4 & 8.5) were the two players acquired from OKC in the Paul George trade and they've been terrific. Forward Myles Turner (13.9 & 6.5) missed his sixth straight game with a shoulder injury and forward Lance Stephenson didn't suit up against the Lakers because he was sick. It remains to be seen whether either will play Sunday. Sephenson (8.6 & 5.5) isn't having much luck on the road trip and is averaging four points so far, after going 1-of-18 from the floor over the last two contests, so maybe it's better if he doesn't play.
San Antonio: The Spurs know all about players sitting out due to injury. The team announced Saturday evening that forwards Rudy Gay (right heel bursitis) and Kawhi Leonard (return from injury management) are out for the game against Indiana and that reserve guard Manu Ginobili (right thigh contusion) is questionable. San Antonio has been asking power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to carry the load but he struggled to 6-of-25 from the floor in Friday's 86-83 loss to the Raptors. Aldridge is averaging 22.6 points on 48.9 percent shooting for the season and still led the Spurs in scoring with 17 points at Toronto. Aldridge notched his 19th double-double of the season with his 17 points and 14 rebounds (8.6 RPG on the season), as the game marked the 36th time Aldridge has led the team in points, the most games a player has led his squad in points in the league.
The pick: San Antonio is 19-2 at home (15-5-1 ATS), the best record in the NBA. The Spurs have won 14 straight home games, also a league-leading mark this season. The Spurs are averaging 107 points on 48.2 percent shooting in 21 home games but watch those numbers drop to 96 points and 43.3 percent shooting on the road. So, the fact that the Spurs will now play seven of their next eight games at home, has to be good news. As for the Pacers, the news is "not so good!" Make the Spurs a 10* play..
|01-20-18||Mavs v. Blazers -5||Top||108-117||Win||100||15 h 6 m||Show|
The set-up: The Portland Trail Blazers are looking to make it a clean sweep of a three-game homestand when they host Dallas Mavericks on Saturday. In fact, 24-21 Portland will be going for its sixth straight home victory against the 15-30 Mavs, who are battling to stay out of the Western Conference 'basement,' currently occupied by the 13-32 Sacramento Kings.
Dallas: The Mavs enter having lost five of seven but are still getting big performances from rookie PG Dennis Smith Jr., who led the way with 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting and five assists on Tuesday in the team's 105-102 loss at Denver. It marked the third time in the last four games that the NC State product scored 20 or more points, raising his season scoring average to 14.5 (3.1 RPG and 3.9 APG). Fellow young PG Yogi Ferrell (10.2-3.5-2.4) is enjoying a hot stretch as well, averaging 15.3 points on 53.5 percent shooting over the last four contests. SF Harrison Barnes leads the team in scoring (18.7) and rebounding (6.7) and while Nowitzki (12.2 & 5.5) is no longer an All Star, he's a dependable player.
Portland: The Blazers watched a 20-point lead evaporate, before holding on for a 118-111 triumph over Phoenix on Tuesday. They then had a much better showing late on Thursday, holding the Indiana Pacers to 12 points in the fourth quarter to earn a 100-86 victory. "We just made plays when we needed to in the fourth quarter," Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts told reporters. "In the fourth quarter, it was good to see just the lead kind of expand without having very many mistakes." Portland will challenge Smith and Ferrell with its star guard tandem of Damian Lillard (25.0-4.8-6.5) and CJ McCollum (21.5-4.0-3.3). However, Portland is at its best when center Jusuf Nurkic (14.5 & 8.0) is producing. Nurkic delivered 19 points and 17 rebounds in Thursday's win and averages 15.2 points and 8.7 boards in wins while posting 13.7 and 7.3 in losses.
The pick: The road team won each of the four meetings last season, with Dallas winning the two in Portland by a total of five points. However, Dallas is just 6-15 SU on the road this season while Portland's current five-game home winning streak is its longest of the season. This "more than reasonable" pointspread makes the Blazers a 10* play.
|01-19-18||Knicks v. Jazz -4||Top||117-115||Loss||-115||26 h 9 m||Show|
The set-up: The Utah Jazz put together a six-game winning streak to reach 13-11 at the end of play on Dec. 4 but have since won just five of 20 games to fall to 18-26. However, after Wednesday's 120-105 win at Sacramento, the Jazz have a chance for consecutive wins for the first time in over a month when they host the New York Knicks on Friday. The Kicks are coming off a 105-99 loss at Memphis on Wednesday that dropped them to 5-16 on the road for the season and to 20-25 overall, after losing 11 of their last 14 games.
NY Knicks: New York rallied from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter at Memphis to make it interesting but the Grizzlies held on, despite playing without three starters. New York head coach Jeff Hornacek indicated he wants more from his first five. "We're all frustrated," Porzingis told reporters. "We all want to win. We just need to understand in our minds what are the things we need to do throughout the game to be able to be in position to win late in the game. Not have all that pressure late in the game, and that's when we start playing and we turn it up. We need to have that early on and then we'll be fine." Porzingis (23.6 & 6.9) has at least 21 points in five of his last six games and is averaging 3.3 blocks and 2.5 steals over the last four outings. PG Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks' top choice in last year's draft, has gone scoreless in three of his last five games, shooting a combined 0-for-11 in those three contests (he's averaging just P5.4 PG and 3.6 APG). Porous defense has been a major obstacle for New York in turning things around. The Knicks have held just two opponents under 100 points over their last 14 games (winning just three) and they rank 20th among NBA teams with a 108.2 defensive rating in January.
Utah: Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell was 14-for-19 in a 34-point performance in teh win over teh Kings and is averaging over 25 points over an eight-game stretch (19.7 PPG on the season). Mitchell has shot 50 percent or better in each of the last three contests and is adding a highlight-reel play or two seemingly every night. Mitchell is an electrifying talent but has some work to do on the defensive end before he can be included with the league's elite players. "He played very well tonight," coach Quin Snyder told the media Wednesday. "There were a number of things on the defensive end that he's going to hear about. He's gotta keep getting better in every aspect of the game. That's what he wants to do." Rodney Hood (2nd-leading scorer at 16.7 PPG), who had 30 points in a loss at New York earlier this season, added 25 points while shooting 9-for-16 in the win over the Kings.
The pick: The Knicks were talking playoff at 17-14 but they are just 3-11 since. Their road woes are well-documented (see above) and while te heazz are also just 5-15 their last 20, they are getting some good news. Center Rudy Gobert (11.6 & 9.6), who sustained a sprained PCL in his left knee and bone bruise in his tibia while missing 15 games (Jazz are 4-11), is expected to return to action against the Knicks on Friday! Make Utah a 10* play.
|01-18-18||Magic +11 v. Cavs||Top||103-104||Win||100||12 h 54 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Cavaliers lost 99-92 on Christmas Day in Oakland to the Warriors and it sparked a downward spiral. The Cavs lost again to the Warriors this past Monday (MLK Day) 118-108 and are now losers of four straight and eight of their last 10 games to fall seven games behind the East's No. 1 seed (Boston) and even four games back of Toronto for the No. 2 seed. Trade rumors are already beginning, as the Cavaliers try to put their internal squabbles behind and snap their slide when they host the Orlando Magic on Thursday. Cleveland's last win came at Orlando came back on Jan. 6, 131-127 and was part of a seven-game slide for the Magic that ended with a 108-102 win over Minnesota just this past Tuesday. The 13-31 Magic are tied with the Sacramento Kings for the NBA's worst record.
Orlando: The Magic were able to snap their losing streak on Tuesday thanks to a career-high 32 points from Evan Fournier (18.0) and a strong effort in the middle from Bismack Biyombo (5.5 & 5.9) and Khem Birch (2.5 & 1.9), who combined for 22 points and 26 rebounds. Birch was playing in just his eighth career NBA game, "We have good players and when you look at the roster, you don't (think), 'Oh, they should only have 13 wins," Fournier told reporters. "The reality (of the record) is different, but when we play like this -- we play hard, with enthusiasm and with a purpose, it makes a huge difference. We have to keep playing like this. We have about 40 games left, and we have to try and fight. Just try and compete." That sounds good but the Magic have lost 27 of their last 32 games and even in a rare moment of glory for the Magic, reserve guard Arron Afflalo threw a punch at Minnesota's Nemanja Bjelica and is facing likely discipline from the NBA.
Cleveland: That said, the Cavs are a mess, considering their DNA and string of three consecutive Finals trips. Anonymous leaks to the media have several players on the team doubting that the roster as currently constructed can solve some of the issues that plague Cleveland, especially on the defensive end. The Cavaliers are 28th in the NBA in defensive rating entering play on Wednesday and allowed at least 118 points in four of their last five games while trying to work 5-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas into the scheme. Thomas is struggling at both ends of the floor through his first five games with his new team and is shooting 36.1 percent from the floor, including 23.3 percent from three-point range. Thomas played a season-high 32 minutes in Monday's 118-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors but needed 21 shots to reach 19 points. Cleveland ranks 25th in both points allowed (108.7 per) and shooting percentage (47.2%). "This is a difficult year for our team," said LeBron James, who scored 33 points with 10 rebounds and nine assists in the last game against the Magic. "Seems like I say that every year, but this one has been even more challenging. But with everybody who has been out and coming back in and the rotations and things of that nature, it's been very challenging on our team. But we have to figure it out."
The pick: Sure, the Magic own the worst record in the NBA and have lost 18 of their last 19 to the Cavs. However, the one win was this season, when Orlando came to Cleveland and rolled to a 114-93 triumph on Oct. 21. When the Cavs came to Amway Center in Orlando on Jan. 6, the Magic pushed the Cavs all the way, scoring 40 points in fourth quarter, almost erasing an 18-point deficit before Cleveland held on to win by just four. The Cavs' 3-16-1 ATS home record speaks for itself. Make Orlando a 10* play.
|01-17-18||Knicks v. Grizzlies -1.5||Top||99-105||Win||100||12 h 25 m||Show|
The set-up: Either the NY Knicks or the Memphis Grizzlies will walk away from tonight's game off back-to-back wins. That's a bigger deal than it sounds, as both teams have endured lengthy stretches this season without consecutive wins. The Knicks haven't had a winning streak since a four-gamer from Dec. 10-16, while the Grizzlies are without a winning streak since October. The Knicks have been awful on the road this season at 5-15, although they are 3-3 in its last six road games after a 2-13 start away from home. For Memphis, the loss of PG Conley has been a huge blow but they have been more competitive lately, recovering from a 2-19 stretch (from Nov. 11-Dec. 21) to win five of their last nine games.
NY Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis (23.7 & 6.9) had 26 points and nine rebounds, while Michael Beasley (12.5 & 5.1) finished with 23 and 10, as the Knicks won 119-104 Monday in Brooklyn against the Nets. Beasley paced a group of reserves that combined for 70 points while shooting 54.5 percent in the win. Running the show for that group was rookie guard Frank Ntilikina, who recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 assists while chipping in seven rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal. "Frank's an amazing player," Beasley told reporters. "He has to learn what pace he wants to go. But as soon as he figures it out, Frank will be an easy triple-double guy. Easy triple-double." Maybe Beasley knows what he's talking about but a check of the stat sheet reveals that Ntilikina is averaging 5.6-2.4-3.5, which is not quite Russell Westbrook-like!
Memphis: The Grizzlies recorded 24 assists and had their second-best scoring total in Monday's 123-114 win over the Lakers, as they eight different players scoring in double figures. "We shared the ball. We moved it," center Marc Gasol told reporters. "We were moving our bodies. The ball was moving faster. We have been working on that in practice. Obviously, in the fourth quarter, we got a little more static. We had a lead and our defense was pretty good throughout three quarters so we were able to mess up a little bit in the fourth." However, on a regular basis (since the loss of Conley), only Gasol (18.4-8.6-4.0) and swingman Evans (19.6-5.1-4.8) have produced regularly for Memphis, which is averaging just 99.1 PPG (29th of 30 teams). JaMychal Green (10.0 & 6.8) is the only other Memphis player in double figures (just barely) and he's been limited to 27 games due to injuries.
The pick: The Grizzlies have rebounded from one of the worst stretches in franchise history (losing 19 of 21) with five wins in their last 10 games. However, they have followed their last nine wins with losses. Can (will?) that change here? I see the Knicks playing the perfect foil.They are 5-15 on the road and since winning at Cleveland in October, their only road success has come at Brooklyn twice, and at New Orleans and Dallas. Memphis should be confident, as the Knicks haven't won at Memphis since March of 2011, with the Grizzlies six straight home wins over the Knicks in that span coming by an average of 11.5 PPG. Make Memphis an 8* play.
|01-17-18||Heat v. Bucks -4.5||Top||106-101||Loss||-108||12 h 25 m||Show|
The set-up: The Miami Heat had their seven-game winning streak snapped with a 119-111 loss Monday at Chicago. Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra was peeved with his team's perimeter defense. "They lit us up," Spoelstra said after the Bulls hit 16 three-pointers, the second-highest total for a Heat opponent this season. The 25-18 Heat will look to start another winning streak when they visit Milwaukee's Bradley Center to take on the 23-20 Bucks. Milwaukee shot a season-low 31.6 percent at Miami on Sunday in a 97-79 loss but bounced back Monday with a 104-9 win on Monday at Washington.
Miami: Even with the loss at Chicago, Miami's current 14-5 run has been impressive. A big part of its current surge has been the play of Tyler Johnson, who averaged 15.9 points in December. However, he left Monday's loss with an ankle injury and is doubtful for this one. Fellow guard Goran Dragic (Miami's leading scorer at 17.3 PPG) is on a season-high run of four straight games with at least 20 points and backup Wayne Ellington (10.8) hit that mark while making five three-pointers in the loss to Chicago. Center Whiteside (13.8 & 11.6) is back healthy (knee), having played in the last 10 games (Miami is 8-2).
Milwaukee: The Bucks' MVP candidate, Giannis Antetokounmpo, finished with 27 points and a career-high 20 rebounds in Monday's win at Washington and is now averaging on the season. Antetokounmpo ranks second in the NBA in scoring, ninth in rebounding and in the top-20 in both steals (1.54) and blocks (1.24). "He was all over the floor tonight," teammate Eric Bledsoe told reporters after the Washington win. "That's the things we need from him night in and night out." Bledsoe chipped in 23 points - his best output in seven games - and recorded four steals for the fourth time this month. Bledsoe is averaging 17.9-3.9-4.2 in his 33 games with Milwaukee, teaming in the backcourt with last year's ROY, Brogdon (13.4-3.3-3.4). SF Middleton (19.9-5.0-4.2) is the last part of Milwaukee's 'Core Four," and may be one of the NBA's least appreciated players.
The pick: Miami's problems at the SG position began earlier this season when Dion Waiters (14.3 PPG) suffered a sprained ankle that required season-ending surgery. Johnson has moved into the role and thrived before issues with his neck and shoulder popped up last week. Now, it's his ankle. Miami struggles offensively with "all hands on deck," averaging a modest 101.1 PPG (27th). I expect the Heat to have a big problem here vs. a highly-motivated Milwaukee team looking to avenge Sunday's 97-79 loss in Miami. Make Milwaukee an 8* play.