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

Three games, but oooo boy is one of them good (and two others that aren’t half bad). Not only do we have the teams that are head and shoulders above the rest of the NBA in net rating, but the men who finished first and second in the MVP voting just last season.

Of course we start there.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Let’s give this the analysis it deserves, which starts with the obvious: Milwaukee is home.

In a normal year, that mean something, but this season, it means either nothing, or is actually a demerit for the team that gets to sleep in its own bed.

That was the case until this past weekend, before which the road teams actually had a better record than the home teams this season. So let’s go ahead and toss that perceived advantage right out the window.

In terms of recent play versus yearlong performance, on the surface, there really isn’t much of a difference either. Both teams were riding decent winning streaks (four for the Bucks, five for the Lakers) before falling in each of their most recent games. For Milwaukee, that came against the new look Nets, who bested them by two points in Brooklyn. For Los Angeles, it meant dropping a home game to Golden State that they led by 14 in the fourth quarter and then let their guard down.

If there’s a difference between these teams this season, it is that. LA’s losses have come seemingly as a result of boredom more than anything else (or, in the case of their opening night defeat to the crosstown Clippers, being high off the fumes of their glitzy ring ceremony).

Milwaukee has just plain gotten beat. Yes, they’ve had their fair share of big wins – four by 22 points or more – but they’ve also been soundly defeated by the Heat, the Jazz and the frisky Knicks. They’ve also had a few games that wound up closer than they should have been, winning by nine in Detroit, by three at home to Dallas, and by 10 to the shorthanded Cavs.

Looking a bit closer, according to Cleaning the Glass, over the last two weeks the Lakers have had the second best net rating in the NBA at plus 13.0, whereas the Bucks have been a more pedestrian plus 6.0 over that same span.

This is a national television game, so there’s no chance LeBron won’t be up for it from the jump. Milwaukee is still integrating several new pieces and figuring themselves out a bit. LA won’t make that process any easier.

The Pick: Los Angeles -1 @ -105

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New Orleans Pelicans vs. Utah Jazz

Two days ago, I wrote about how these teams were heading in opposite directions, with the Jazz having won five straight both on the court and against the spread despite playing only one of those games in Utah, and with the Pelicans having won just one of their previous six games and carrying the fifth worst net rating in the league over the previous two weeks.

I wrote about these teams together because they played one another, and sure enough, both trends kept going, with Utah winning 118-102 in a game they led by 22 entering the fourth quarter. The Jazz are simply clicking right now, and are the only team better than the defending champs over the last two weeks with a net rating of plus 15.4. Part of that includes a defense that has given up just 102.5 points per 100 possessions over their last seven games.

It’s as bad a matchup for New Orleans as one can imagine, not only because the Pels are in a rut, but because the thing that was supposed to be the strength of their team – their offense – ranks just 19th in basketball. On their other end, they’re giving up more wide open 3-pointers than any other team, and against the Jazz and Utah’s shooters, that spells certain doom.

The Pick: Utah -6.5 @ +100

New York Knicks vs. Golden State Warriors

New York has been one of the more surprising teams in the league, sporting the fifth ranked defense in the NBA and becoming the first team to hold consecutive opponents under 85 points in more than two years.

Part of their secret is their pace. Tom Thibodeau’s squad plays at the league’s slowest pace, making it harder for opposing teams to get into a rhythm. That serves them well, especially given how often teams fire away from the perimeter against them and how many of those shots are open.

New York’s luck has wavered a few times this season when they’ve given up larger point totals to teams like Denver and Brooklyn, but the Warriors aren’t that caliber of offense. Aside from Steph Curry, they simply don’t have the shooters that are going to make the Knicks pay, at least not enough to cover the points they’re giving here.

The Pick: New York +5.5 @ -105

Other NBA Games

No other games today

NBA Expert Picks

New York +5.5 @ -105

Utah -6.5 @ +100

Los Angeles -1 @ -105

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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