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

We’re now more than two weeks into the season, which is long enough to say that some of the early season trends we’ve been seeing might just be real. The records are still a little funky compared to teams’ actual performance (the Kings and Warriors are both .500 despite net ratings that rank 22nd and 25th in the NBA, while the fourth best team in the league by that stat is sitting with the same record…we’ll get to them in a bit), but overall, we now have a pretty good sense of what’s fact and what’s fantasy.

With that backdrop, we can say that there are two very even, quality NBA matchups on the slate for tonight, one between two of the league’s elite teams and another between a couple of squads hoping to push their way into that conversation. Let’s get to it.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets

There’s only one team remaining with a sole defeat on their ledger, and it’s the one with a new coach and head basketball executive, both of whom have seemingly taken a talented lump of clay and molded it into something efficient, if not outright beautiful.

The Sixers aesthetic may not be for everyone. Up until last night, they had been pounding teams into the ground as the sport’s lone team giving up fewer than 100 points per 100 possessions. Then Bradley Beal came to town, decided to turn on the jet fuel, and went off for 60 in yesterday’s 141-136 affair that saw Washington come up just short despite Beal’s heroics.

It was the first crack in the Sixers defensive armor, and the fact that they wake up today still in the top spot in the defensive rankings is a testament to how solid that armor is, although it will get another test tonight. Brooklyn may be without their top banana, but they have someone in Kyrie Irving who has some experience in that role himself.

On Tuesday nigh, against a solid Utah team, Irving scored 18 points in the first 10 minutes of action, the Nets went up 20 before the end of the first quarter, and the game was never in doubt from there. They ended up winning 130-96, the third time they’ve won a game by at least 26 points this season, which is part of the reason they have that 4th best net rating in the league - plus 7.8, just a hair behind Philly’s plus 8.2.

But the Sixers have been far more consistent, and are 5-3 against the spread despite getting some sizeable lines tossed their way in the early going. They’ve also achieved that point differential despite their one loss, an ugly 118-94 defeat at the hands of Cleveland in which Joel Embiid sat out.

Embiid should be a full go for this one, although it’s worth noting that he and the rest of the Sixers will be less than 21 hours removed from the track meet against Washington when this one tips off, while the Nets have had a full extra day of rest after a game in which they basically took the second half off. If the big guy isn’t able to play big minutes, it could have a significant effect on the outcome; the Sixers are getting outscored by 10.8 points per 100 possessions when Embiid goes to the bench.

Brooklyn is feast or famine, but given how this one is lining up, count on the Nets – and Irving - to produce one of their better games for a national TV audience.

I wonder if James Harden will be watching?

The Pick: Brooklyn +1.5 @ -106

Dallas Mavericks vs. Denver Nuggets

If the season ended today, both of these teams would be sneaking into the play in tournament as the 9th and 10th seeds from what can only be described as an ever-expanding morass of mediocrity in the Western Conference.

As things stand, nine teams are either 4-4 or 3-4. Almost every one of them have an argument for why they should be the one to emerge as the fourth best team in the West, after the two LA teams and the somewhat surprising Phoenix Suns. Before the season started, Denver fancied itself a member of that group, but uneven play has left them scuffling if not outright struggling.

Dallas, on the other hand, knew it was going to have a tough go of things out of the gate as Kristaps Porzingis recovered from offseason knee surgery. He’s on the verge of a return, but will still be out for this one.

No matter; Luke is here to save the day. After a one-game absence to rest an ailing quad, Doncic returned and put up 33 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists in Monday's 113-100 win over the Rockets. Like the Sixers with Embiid, the Mavs have been a different team when their wunderkind is on the court this year despite him still shooting under 20 percent from long range.

That 3-point accuracy is trending upwards thought, as Luka has made 3-of-10 from deep in each of his last two games. As a team, the Mavs take a higher frequency of shots from long range than all but three teams, but thus far this season have been the fourth least accurate team from that distance. One figures this is going to change at some point sooner rather than later.

Both of these teams have been better than their records indicate, with slightly positive point differentials and not much separating them. Denver also seems to find itself in a lot of close games. This one figures to be no exception.

The Pick: Dallas +2.5 @ -108

Other NBA Games

Cleveland Cavaliers (4-4) at Memphis Grizzlies (2-5)

The Grizzlies will be happy to see anyone that isn’t the defending world champs, who they just played in back to back games. Both were losses, but Memphis kept the second one close throughout, falling by only two. They’ve been feisty all year long, while Cleveland has dropped four of five. Go with the home team.

San Antonio Spurs (3-4) at Los Angeles Lakers (6-2)

Speaking of teams that could use a reprieve from LA, this is already the fourth time this season that San Antonio has faced a Los Angeles team, and third time playing the Lakers. Both of the previous games were L’s, but San Antonio kept them close for the most part, and only lost the last one by six. Coming off a victory against the Clippers in the same building they’ll play tonight, they should be able to keep the momentum going.

Minnesota Timberwolves (2-5) at Portland Trail Blazers (3-4)

Two teams that should never be trusted, so this is a stay away, but if you must, go with the team that doesn’t have the worst net rating in the NBA and hasn’t dropped five in a row. Portland is the pick.

NBA Expert Picks

Brooklyn +1.5 @ -106

Dallas +2.5 @ -108

NBA Free Picks

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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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