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Jonathan Macri previews Saturday's NBA games and gives us his picks

We have two thirds of the NBA’s teams in action on Saturday, with the only 10 sitting today out being those that suited up on Christmas day. All but one of those – Houston at Portland, with the Rockets barely having enough players to qualify – have lines, and all are single digits. Let’s get right into it.

Atlanta Hawks vs. Memphis Grizlies Predictions

The Hawks put up 124 on the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night, and that was only because Atlanta took its foot off the gas after an 83-point first half. They face a Memphis team that gave up 131 at home to the San Antonio Spurs. On the surface, this would not seem to be a game where the Grizzlies should be giving points.

Digging a bit deeper though, Atlanta is already banged up. They’ll again be without Kris Dunn, Rajon Rondo, Tony Snell and rookie Onyeka Okongwu. Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari, meanwhile, are both listed as doubtful. Capela missed the opener, but Gallo played and played well, putting up 13 points in 24 minutes.

On the Grizzlies side, Ja Morant had perhaps the best debut of the season, scoring 44 points on 27 shots and dishing nine assists. Memphis is clearly missing Jaren Jackson Jr though, and their small-ball starting five which includes guards Grayson Allen and Dillon Brooks could struggle against Atlanta’s size. Don’t overthink this one.

The Pick: Atlanta +1 @ -110

Philadelphia 76ers vs. New York Knicks Predictions

The Daryl Morey / Doc Rivers iteration of the Sixers is only one game old, but so far, so good. With the exception of backup center Dwight Howard, Philly’s entire rotation was made up of players who can space the floor around their two stars. It resulted in a six-point win over Washington despite 31 from Bradley Beal and a triple double from Russell Westbrook in his Wizards debut.

The most frightening part for opponents: that shooting hasn’t even come around yet. Danny Green went 1-for-6, Tobias Harris was 3-for-13, and the Sixers as a team only made eight of their 28 attempts from deep.

On Saturday, they’ll face a Knicks team that kept things close for three quarters in Indiana but ultimately faded late after Julius Randle got into some foul trouble and the Pacers tightened up their defense. New York saw a preseason spark provided by Immanuel Quickley, but both he and fellow rookie Obi Toppin will miss this one with minor injuries.

As a result, the Knicks will rely primarily on Elfrid Payton at the point. Teams have been going zone when Payton is on the floor, and thus far it has been effective. After Payton, New York’s backup point guards are Dennis Smith Jr, who didn’t see game action in the opener following his offensive struggles in the preseason, and Frank Ntilikina, who the team views more as a wing. RJ Barrett even got time running the offense in Indiana, and while that may make sense for the Knicks long term, it should play into Philly’s favor here.

One caveat: New York played Philadelphia tough last season, losing all four games but none by double digits, and maintaining an average margin of defeat of just 5.75 points. Even so, it’s tough to ignore the writing on the wall here.

The Pick: Philadelphia -7.5 @ -108

Orlando Magic vs. Washington Wizards Predictions

The book on Washington appears to be the same as it was last season, even with the swap of one non-shooting blur of a point guard for another: they will try to outscore you, because they sure can’t stop you.

The Wizards finished last season with the 29th ranked defense in basketball and a 114.7 defensive rating. They started out strong against the Sixers on opening night, holding Philly to 73 points through three quarters, but the dam broke in the fourth when Embiid & Co. put up a 40-spot. Washington was helpless.

Now they face off against an Orlando team who just defeated the defending Eastern Conference champs 113-107 (the same score, oddly enough, of Sixers / Wiz). The Magic reminded us of who they are: a sound team who defends like hell and will take what you give them on offense.

If the Wizards start the talented but defensively challenged Thomas Bryant like they did on Wednesday, it could lead to a big night from Nikola Vucevic, who had a quiet (for him) 15 and 11 in the opener. Vooch feasted in the three games he played against Washington last season though, averaging 26.3 points and 12.6 board. He was a plus-60 in 90 minutes of action.

Vucevic was as big a reason as any that the Magic were 4-0 versus the Wiz last season, with an average margin of victory of 16.5 points. The trend continues here.

The Pick: Orlando +2 @ -110

Other Games Across the NBA

Cleveland Cavaliers (1-0, +2.5) at Detroit Pistons (0-1, -2.5)

Neither of these teams is very good. Take the points, especially when you’re getting them with the bottom-feeder coming off the more impressive performance.

Oklahoma City Thunder (+3.5) at Charlotte Hornets (0-1, -3.5)

OKC’s opener was postponed thanks to Houston’s COVID issues, and they’ll face a Charlotte team that saw rookie LaMelo Ball struggle to an 0-for-5 start. Stay away from this one, but take the Thunder if you can’t help yourself.

Indiana Pacers (1-0, -4.5) at Chicago Bulls (0-1, +4.5)

The Pacers woke up at halftime of their opener and turned the screws on the visiting Knicks, holding them to 41 second half points, 11 of which were scored in the final four minutes when the game was already out of hand. Chicago has a better offense than New York, but they were an absolute mess in their first effort. This line feels a few points too low.

Toronto Raptors (0-1, -1.5) at San Antonio (1-0, +1.5)

Recency bias? The Raptors had 21 more wins than the Spurs last year, and aside from a slight downgrade at center for Toronto, both teams are essentially the same. Several young Spurs seem to have taken a step forward, including Lonnie Walker IV, who started and had 16 points in the opener. Even so, this line doesn’t give the Raps enough credit, and it’s hard to see them starting 0-2.

Minnesota Timberwolves (1-0, +7.5) at Utah Jazz (1-0, -7.5)

The Jazz went on the road and demolished a good Portland team in the opener, while Minnesota beat a bad Detroit squad at home. This should be a double digit spread.

Phoenix Suns (1-0, -3.5) at Sacramento Kings (1-0, +3.5)

The Kings have to be feeling good after a surprising last-second road win in Denver, but the Suns are already feeling the Chris Paul effect, and should be ready to avoid a letdown after their opening victory versus Dallas. Another stay away, but take the Suns, if you must.

NBA Expert Picks

Atlanta +1 @ -110

Philadelphia -7.5 @ -108

Orlando +2 @ -110

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Article Author


Dean of Knicks Film School, host: KFS Pod, co-host: Pick N Pod. There isn't much about Knicks basketball that Jonathan doesn't know and he's here to break down the big games each and every week.

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