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

Ride the wave.

As we reach the portion of the season where the cream rises to the top and the anchors sink to the bottom, it’s time to start paying extra close attention to trends to catch the crest at just the right time. We have a few such opportunities on the docket for Sunday.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers

There is arguably no hotter team in the league than the one that flamed out against the Denver Nuggets in last season’s playoffs.

The Clippers not only entered the weekend tied for the best record in the league with their crosstown rivals at 12-4 but also as one of two teams undefeated in their last six games. LA sports a positive 17.1 net rating over those half dozen victories, and it’s partly why they’ve covered four in a row and are one of only three teams in the NBA to have double digit victories against the spread this season.

How are they doing it? Shooting, of course. Several of their players are having career years from deep, but none more so than Paul George, who has made more than he’s missed from long range on significant volume.

At some point this will taper off, but it won’t be on Sunday against the Thunder. Oklahoma City sports a bottom ten defense, and while taking away the three is one of their specialties (10th in limiting frequency and 6th in lowering accuracy according to Cleaning the Glass), this Clipper team is on a different plane right now. That’s why Los Angeles bested the Thunder 120-106 when the two teams played on Friday night, a game LA 25 to 8 and 55-28 in the first and second quarters before some garbage time baskets made it more respectable.

The line here is significant, but is less than that eventual margin of victory. That’s low enough.

The Pick: Los Angeles -13 @ -107

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Charlotte Hornets vs. Orlando Magic

There are offensive struggles and then there are whatever the Orlando Magic are going through.

Were it not for a midweek game that the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves absolutely gave away in the closing moments, the Magic would be owners of the longest losing streak in the NBA at eight in a row. Their hot start, which saw them stand along as the last undefeated team in the NBA, is a distant memory.

Simply put, without a competent NBA point guard and no playmaking outside of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross, they struggle immensely to execute a basic NBA offense. They have the 28th ranked offense over the last two weeks, and that’s even after they put up 118 points against the Pacers on Friday night.

That game – a tight, two-point loss – is perhaps a sign that things are turning around, but it came as a result of Orlando going 17-of-37 from downtown, which is far above their putrid conversion rate on the season (33.2 percent, second worst in the league)

The Hornets, meanwhile, have allowed the fifth lowest 3-point conversion rate this season. Charlotte also allows a lot of open looks, but even if that’s the case against the Magic, it’s unlikely that Orlando will make them pay. The Hornets are also desperate, having lost four in a row themselves, although they have been in every game.

Even with those struggles, Orlando has no business getting points against any NBA team right now. Take full advantage.

The Pick: Charlotte +1.5 @ -110

Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers

You might look at the Raps as an opportunity to capitalize on their season-long struggles. After all, they are 6-9 and a league-worst 5-10 against the spread.

Both of those records are misnomers though. Toronto has won four of their last five games and has a .500 record against the spread after starting out 1-6 in that department. History tells us that the Raptors have as strong a culture as there is in the league – how they rebounded from losing Kawhi Leonard is proof enough of that – and their recent positive stretch of play is another reminder that it is still very much in place.

Toronto also quietly has a top-10 net rating over the last two weeks, which is far more than the Pacers can say. After getting out to a 6-2 start, the Pacers have dropped four of seven and five of seven against the spread, including their last three. They have the 20th ranked net rating over the last 14 days and have been uneven since trading away one-time franchise cornerstone Victor Oladipo.

Toronto is catching their opponent at the right time, and Indiana is catching theirs at the wrong time. Take advantage.

The Pick: Toronto +1 @ -108

Other NBA Games

Cleveland at Boston

Doubt the Cavs at your own risk after they just swept back to back games against Brooklyn.

Washington at San Antonio

With Washington last having played on January 11, this one is probably best not touched, although teams this season have shown a surprising amount of resilience when faced with COVID-related hurdles to overcome.

Atlanta at Milwaukee

These teams are seventh and eighth in net rating over the last two weeks, and Atlanta has won and covered three in a row, albeit against subpar competition. Still, Milwaukee doesn’t deserve the points its getting.

New York at Portland

When New York makes shots, they win. It’s that simple. Sadly, figuring out when that’ll happen is a shot in the dark. Worse yet, the defense they’re facing on any given night doesn’t seem to matter, as we learned when the historically porous Kings held them to 94 points on Friday night. This is a stay away, but take the frisky Knicks if you must.

NBA Expert Picks

(Click Odds To Bet)

Los Angeles -13 @ -107

Charlotte +1.5 @ -110

Toronto +1 @ -108

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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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