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

When can one player shake up an entire league?

When he’s finished in the top-three of the MVP race in five of the last six seasons, that’s when.

James Harden is now a Net, Caris LeVert a Pacer, Victor Oladipo a Rocket, and Ben Simmons still a Sixer. Four franchises, all shaken to the core, either by moves actually made of those that didn’t come to fruition. How the ripple effects shape the NBA season moving forward will be fascinating to watch.

And it starts tonight, with three of those four teams in action. Let’s take a look at each one.

Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers

It’s impossible to know for sure how a player or team will react after someone’s name pops up in trade talks that don’t end up going all the way.

When that player is a star like Ben Simmons and that team has faced as much upheaval as the Philadelphia 76ers, maybe it’s just par for the course.

Still, Simmons has to know that he was being dangled by his GM in Daryl Morey’s attempt to land his old partner in crime. The former number one overall pick is also coming off an interesting game, when he took just two shots and scored five points in a 137-134 win against the Heat in the first half of this two-game set.

His teammate, Joel Embiid, had a far noisier night, going off for 45 points on just 23 shots. Embiid had the benefit of avoiding Bam Adebayo, who missed the game due to the league’s health and safety protocols, along with Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn and Moe Harkless. The fact that the game was as close as it was is a testament to the famed Heat culture under head coach Eric Spolestra (not to mention Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, who combined for 60 against the league’s fourth ranked defense)

Those players are all expected to miss this one as well, and as encouraging as Miami’s performance was, it’s a lot to expect them to overcome the talent deficit and keep it close for a second straight game. Drama or no drama, the Sixers are undefeated with both Embiid and Simmons in the lineup for a reason. They stay that way after this one, and it won’t be as close.

The Pick: Philadelphia -10.5 @ -107

Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs

That sound you hear is a sigh of relief from everyone in the Rockets organization now that the James Harden saga is finally over. Nowhere is it louder than from the very locker room the Beard used to occupy.

John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins didn’t make any effort to hide their feelings about Harden in the aftermath of Houston’s most recent loss, a 117-100 defeat at the hands of the Lakers. It was the Rockets’ fourth loss in five games, by an average of over 11 points. In short, they needed to make this trade, and they needed to do it now if they wanted to retain any hope of having a season.

Judging by what else they did on Wednesday, they have no interest in going in the tank. After initially getting back Caris LeVert in the deal, Houston flipped him to Indiana for Victor Oladipo, the former All-NBA level player who looks like he’s rounding back into form as he nears free agency. That makes three motivated former All-Stars for Houston, not to mention Christian Wood, who has been their best player on the season.

If ever there was a team looking to come out and prove a point, it is the Rockets right now. Even if Oladipo doesn’t play, the simple absence of the Harden distraction will pay dividends.

The Pick: Houston +6.5 @ +100

Indiana Pacers vs. Portland Trail Blazers

It feels like yesterday that Oladipo and the Pacers combined to form the feel good story in the NBA.

The hometown kid returned to his hometown team after Paul George wanted out, ‘Dipo garnered a few MVP votes after being written off as a relative bust, and the Pacers pushed LeBron and the Cavs to the brink in the first round of the playoffs.

Since then, Domantas Sabonis - the other half of the George trade - has emerged as perhaps the league’s preeminent low-post force and Indiana signed Malcolm Brogdon to lead their offense. Brogdon has been playing at an All-Star level, and he and Sabonis had the Pacers entering play Wednesday night with the fourth best net rating in the NBA.

In Caris LeVert, they’ll get someone who should be an easy plug and play, as he’s a somewhat similar player to the one they’re giving up. Whether or not LeVert plays is still up in the air, but even if he’s not yet ready to go, the Pacers get Portland on the back end of a back to back, coming off a road tilt in Sacramento.

Indiana is 7-4 and has been in every game. This one will be no exception.

The Pick: Indiana +3 @ -110

Other NBA Games

Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors

After the Wizards, no team over the last two weeks has outpaced it’s expected point differential on the spread more than the Charlotte Hornets, according to Cleaning the Glass. Toronto is 2-8, desperate for a win, and was reportedly in on the James Harden talks at one point, but go with the hot hand and take Charlotte.

Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets

The Warriors are fourth in the aforementioned actual vs expected spread differential, but are coming off a loss to the Pacers with Steph Curry having a very pedestrian 20-point night. Denver is also coming off a defeat, but to the Nets after Kevin Durant had a vintage performance. If one former MVP can crack the Nuggets soft defense with a depleted supporting cast, so can another one.

NBA Expert Picks

Philadelphia -10.5 @ -107

Houston +6.5 @ +100

Indiana +3 @ -110

NBA Free Picks

Every day there'll be free NBA picks and content on OddsChecker from our crack team of basketball experts. We're going to be with you every step of the way, as we move through the regular season, into playoffs and then onto the Finals. Sean Highkin and Jonathan Macri will be on hand to give you the best value bets, each and every day.

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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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