The BIG game is still a week away, but the NBA is holding it down this Sunday with a handful of games featuring conference leaders, fun upstarts, and a few teams that offer top notch car accident rubber necking potential.
The matchup of the day, and given their history in the playoffs last season, maybe the matchup of the season.
In one corner, we have Utah: winners of 10 in a row, including the last two without the assistance of Donovan Mitchell. It hasn’t mattered one bit, as they wiped the floor with Dallas by 31 total points over both contests. Their net rating over the last two weeks – plus 21.0 – is nearly twice that of the next closest team (the Clippers), and the difference between them and the third best team over that span (San Antonio) is larger than the gap between the Spurs and the 25th ranked Magic.
In the other corner, we have Denver, who got off to a slow start at 1-4 but has righted the ship to get to 11-8. The Nuggets had won and covered five straight until dropping the fifth game of a five-game road trip in San Antonio on Friday night. Now, they return to Denver for arguably the best home court advantage in the NBA.
It feels ridiculous to pick against the Jazz right now, who haven’t failed to cover a spread since January 6 and may be getting Mitchell back for Sunday. The truth is that it probably doesn’t matter. Mike Conley can step into Donovan’s role within the offense and Utah barely skips a beat.
That said, Denver gave the Jazz their only close game of this streak – a 109-105 defeat two weeks ago. These two teams always seem to play close games, and this one will be no exception.
The Pick: Denver -1.5 @ -106
Those fightin’ Knicks.
Not a phrase anyone is used to hearing since the days of Patrick Ewing, but here we are, with the Knicks in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race and sporting the third best defense in the league. On Friday night, they held Cleveland to just 81 points – the fourth time in 20 games a team has failed to score 90 against them.
In comes Los Angeles, who is a bit of a different animal from the team New York just bludgeoned. Outside of Utah, no one is playing better than the Clippers right now. They’re 12-8 against the spread and head into Madison Square Garden with the second best record in the league.
The Knicks have been playing way above expectations, but their defense has one fatal flaw that has seen it give up a few high point totals on the season, including 116 to Brooklyn and Portland and 114 to Denver in recent weeks: elite outside shooting can be their downfall.
The Clippers, with their league-leading (by far) 41.4 percent conversion rate from deep, are exactly the team New York doesn’t want to see. The Knicks will fight, but the smart money says they’ll be outgunned here.
The Pick: Los Angeles -8 @ -105
Imagine how Bradley Beal must feel right now. Almost from the day that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving decided to sign with Brooklyn, Beal was rumored to be the third star that the Nets were targeting. Now, as James Harden has helped rocket New York’s other team to second in the East after some early season struggles, Beal sits in Washington with the worst record in the NBA. His scoring efforts over the last eight games have been prodigious, with an average of nearly 39 points, but it has translated to just one win.
Worse yet, since they came off the COVID bench, Washington has yet to cover a spread, losing four straight by an average of 18.5 points. Brooklyn is easily the best team of that group, and they’re coming off a 147-point effort against the Thunder without the assistance of KD. Bank on the Nets getting their fifth win in a row, and it not being close.
The Pick: Brooklyn -8 @ -110
According to Cleaning the Glass, Cleveland has been the fourth luckiest team in the NBA this season. They are within a game of .500, but have a minus 4.2 net rating, which says that they’ve played more like a 7-12 team than the 9-10 one they appear to be.
A big part of that is the offense, which ranks second to last in the league. Thankfully, the team they’re playing on Sunday is the only one that ranks lower.
It’s tough to put into words just how bad Minnesota has been this season…but I’ll try. Last in offense, 27th in defense, 28th against the spread (7-11) and the second worst record in the NBA. Their best player, Karl-Anthony Towns, still has no return date, and their best available player, D’Angelo Russell, has the worst individual on/off differential in basketball.
In short, take advantage of the fact that this line isn’t as high as it should be. Cleveland fights like hell and have covered more than they haven’t despite being ransacked by injuries and COVID-related absences. They’ll take care of business here.
The Pick: Cleveland -3.5 @ -107
Other NBA Games
Philadelphia 76ers at Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have been quietly scuffling, with an under-.500 record in their last 11 games. Philly, meanwhile, just had a statement win against the world champs, and followed it up with a 24-point drubbing of the Wolves. This is not one to overthink.
Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors
Just when it looked like the Raptors were righting the ship with five wins in six games, they’ve dropped three in a row, and failed to cover every one. The Magic, meanwhile, have dropped four of five, and sport a bottom-five offense. Flip a coin for this one, but go with the better net rating (Toronto, who is somehow plus 0.3 to Orlando’s minus 6.2) if you must.
NBA Expert Picks
(Click Odds To Bet)
Denver -1.5 @ -106
Clippers -8 @ -105
Brooklyn -8 @ -110
Cleveland -3.5 @ -107
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