It’s not a real NBA season until the Lakers play the Celtics, and it’s even better when both teams are competitive in their respective conferences.
That game, plus an early must-win for a supposed contender and a gut check for an MVP candidate highlight our Saturday slate of games.
Two weeks ago, the standings saw these two teams atop the West and the East, with the Lakers far and away the top team in the league with a record of 11-3 and Boston holding steady at 8-3.
Since then, things have been a bit uneven, more for Boston than Los Angeles. It started to go downhill for the Celtics with the return of Kemba Walker, who made his debut against the Knicks on Sunday, January 17. Since then, the C’s have lost four of six, both in real life and against the spread, and they’ve gotten outscored by 6.6 points per 100 possessions with Walker on the court.
With Jayson Tatum also now back in the fold – he made his return two days ago, and has looked good thus far – things will start to turn around, but they’ll face their Saturday opponent at the worst possible time.
Following a 12-2 stretch in which they were absolutely steamrolling teams, the Lakers have dropped two in a row. The first of those was on the road against Philly in which LA nearly made up a double digit deficit in the final two minutes, and then on Thursday they dropped one in Detroit when Anthony Davis sat out.
Only once last season did LeBron lose three healthy games in a row, and Anthony Davis missed one of those. LA still has the NBA’s top defense and Boston has been a middling team in the half court all season long. Don’t bet against the King.
The Pick: Los Angeles - 3 @ -105
Is there a team in the league more desperate for a win than Miami?
Eric Spoelstra’s squad has lost five games in a row, which is the longest current streak in the NBA. They are 6-12 overall and enter Saturday night just a game and a half out of last place in the Eastern Conference.
But as we know from the year they started 11-30 and finished with a .500 record, there is no quit in Pat Riley’s organization. That’s doubly so because they are just now starting to get healthy. Tyler Herro made his return after seven straight games on the sidelines and scored 19 points in his return. Now it’s Jimmy Butler’s turn, who looks to play against Sacramento in what would be his first game since January 9th.
In the absence of Herro and Butler, Bam Adebayo continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Leading the team in points, rebounds, assists and blocks, Adebayo has become the best playmaking five this side of Nikola Jokic.
In Sacramento, Bam and the Heat get perhaps the perfect opponent. The Kings are still giving up what would be an all-time worst 118.1 points per 100 possessions, and are coming off a back to back, having beaten Toronto on Friday night. That makes it three straight wins for Sacramento, but two of those victories have come against the offensively challenged Knicks and Magic. If Butler is back, it will turn Miami into a far more formidable force.
At some point, the Heat are going to right the ship. Might as well be here.
The Pick: Miami -5.5 @ -104
Although they’re not quite as low in the standing as the Heat, the Mavericks may have even more cause for concern.
The thinking was that as long as they could withstand the early-season loss of Kristaps Porzingis, they would be fine in the long run. That may still be the case, but so far, the Mavs are just 3-7 since KP made his season debut, and he’s appeared in every one of those games except for one – a 25-point home loss to Houston.
Dallas has the fourth worst point differential in the NBA over the last two weeks according to Cleaning the Glass, and their record-setting offense from last season has been outside of the top-10 this year. Now they play against a solid Suns team that already beat them on opening night, and are coming off a back to back that saw them lose on Friday night in Utah. Worse yet, Devin Booker – who has missed the last three games with a left hamstring strain – should be making his return to the lineup.
Luka has put up the numbers of an MVP, but the clock will start ticking fast on his candidacy if Dallas can’t right the ship soon.
The Pick: Phoenix +2.5 @ -108
Other NBA Games
Portland Trail Blazers at Chicago Bulls
Two of the more volatile teams in the NBA, although Chicago’s 11-6 record against the spread is the second best in basketball. They also beat Portland on the road, 111-108 just three weeks ago, and this Blazer team is more banged up than that one.
Milwaukee Bucks at Charlotte Hornets
The Bucks quietly have the third best point differential in the NBA, and they’ve won three straight. But they also continue to make games closer than they should (they’re three games under .500 against the spread) and the Hornets have been frisky, beating Indiana on Friday to get to 8-11. Take the points here.
Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans
The Rockets have quietly sported the best defense in the league since the James Harden trade, and while they’re still not gelling as an offense, they’re playing with a ferocity that was largely missing amidst the drama that engulfed them early on in the season. The Pelicans, meanwhile, have a bottom-five net rating over that same time span, and their recent three-game losing streak was only halted thanks to the hapless Wizards. Go with Houston.
Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio
Memphis returns to action for the first time in nearly two weeks. It’s impossible to know what the team will be like when it shows up, so this is probably a stay away, but if you can’t help yourself, go with San Antonio, who quietly has the sixth best net rating in the league over the last two weeks.
Detroit Pistons at Golden State Warriors
How about the frisky Pistons? They’ve covered three of their last four games, one of which was against the defending champs and two of which were against the East-leading Sixers. Dwayne Casey seems to be figuring things out, and they’re getting a nice handful of points here. Take ‘em.
NBA Expert Picks
(Click Odds To Bet)
Los Angeles Lakers -3 @ -105
Miami Heat -5.5 @ -104
Phoenix Suns +2.5 @ -108
NBA Free Picks
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