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

Yesterday, I highlighted three of the five best teams by net rating in the early going of this NBA season. Today, we go in the opposite direction, spotlighting three of the four teams that have a minus 10 net rating or worse – Minnesota, Golden State and Chicago - to see if the odds makers are treating their slow starts with the appropriate level of severity.

Denver Nuggets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

These two teams are proof of why you throw early season records out the window.

On one hand we have the Denver Nuggets, who are 1-4, but have lost twice to the Sacramento Kings. One of those losses came on a last second turnover in overtime in a game that Jamal Murray fouled out of after hitting just one field goal. In the other, the Nuggets were within one midway through the fourth and then went through a cold stretch. They also lost to a Clippers squad avenging last season’s playoff embarrassment and then most recently by three to the Suns thanks to late bucket by Chris Paul.

On the other hand, we have Minnesota, who had two close wins against the Pistons and Jazz to start the season but since then has gotten throttled by the Lakers, Clippers and previously winless Wizards. The average margin of defeat in those three games? 26.6 points. Yikes.

Part of the reason for the recent struggles is that Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns has been out thanks to a dislocated left wrist, and he figures to miss this one as well. Without him, the Wolves have been relying on Naz Reid in the starting lineup. That’s a frightening proposition as they prepare to face off against Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 23 points, 11 boards and a league-leading 13 dimes per game.

The Nuggets probably haven’t earned a line this high, but then again, if it were any lower, it would be a no brainer. Don’t let having to give this many points on a 1-4 team sway you.

The Pick: Denver -8.5 @ -110

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors

Like Wolves / Nuggets, the records of the two teams in this one are pretty meaningless.

The Blazers are 3-2, but one of those wins is against the Lakers, who have otherwise looked unbeatable since their ring ceremony malaise-induced loss on opening night. More importantly, they just defeated these Warriors by 25 points in a game that saw Portland jump out to a 29-9 lead and never look back. Save for a 16 second stretch in the third quarter when the Warriors cut the lead to 9, this one was double digits all the way.

Much like the rest of Golden State’s games, this blowout came despite the efforts of Steph Curry. The lone healthy Splash Brother had 26 points and five dimes in this one – both right in line with his season averages.

Unfortunately he isn’t getting much help. Kelly Oubre Jr is shooting 27 percent from the field on the season, and has made an almost unreal 1-of-25 from deep. Andrew Wiggins, meanwhile, isn’t doing much better, hitting 37.5 percent of his field goals and struggling mightily with a Warrior offense that requires its key components to think the game at the highest level.

Golden State’s loss to Portland was its third by at least 25 points, and their two wins – against the struggling Bulls and Pistons – came by a total of 11 points. The Blazers are streaky and their bottom-10 defense has a tendency to keep opponents in games even when they shouldn’t be, but this line is just close enough for comfort.

The Pick: Portland -5 @ -105

Dallas Mavericks vs. Chicago Bulls

The Mavs have been the most uneven team in the league coming out of the gate.

In back to back games, the Mavs had arguably the most impressive first half performance in NBA history, taking a 77-27 lead into halftime against the contending Clippers, and then followed it up by being down 29 to the Charlotte Hornets heading into the fourth quarter of that affair. Even their most recent effort – a 10-point home win against Miami – required a 7-for-33 shooting night behind the arc for the Heat.

On Sunday, they face off against a Bulls team that would kill for inconsistency because it would mean that things have occasionally been going well.

Yes, the Bulls have two wins – the same as Dallas – but those were both close ones against a Washington squad that has been dealing will all sorts of issues in their own right. Chicago’s other four games consisted of 20-plus point losses to the Hawks, Pacers and Bucks, and a close defeat at the hands of the struggling Warriors.

The Mavs’ inconsistency is why this line is so low, but if Doncic & Co. get going, there’s virtually no chance the Bulls stay in this one. Worst case, it’s close throughout, but the spread is low enough that a Dallas cover still won’t be out of the question.

The Pick: Dallas -5.5

Other NBA Games

Boston Celtics at Detroit Pistons

Blake Griffin missed Friday night’s win versus the Celtics – Detroit’s first of the season – and may be back for this one. This is a stay away, especially with his status uncertain.

Washington Wizards at Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have suddenly become a tough team to figure out, losing three of their last four to the Hornets, Grizzlies and Hawks. Washington is coming off their first win after an 0-5 start. As odd as it sounds, stick with the momentum here and go Wizards. Russell Westbrook is never above settling old scores.

Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis has been feisty without Ja Morant, winning two of three since the guard went down, but this line is only so low because there’s always the danger one of the two LA stars decides to sit out at the last minute. If you feel lucky, take this gift of a line that should be double digits.

Utah Jazz at San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are a frisky 2-3 and had the unfortunate luck of running in the Laker buzz saw for their last two losses, both of which were very competitive. Utah is slightly easier fare, and this line is close enough that the home team should get the nod.

Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns

The Suns have arguably been the most consistently impressive team in the early going. Chris Paul will have them ready for this one, and the fact that they’re getting points is a nice bonus.

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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