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

A five-game slate on Thursday night, headlined by 2021’s best team looking to start a new winning streak, the East’s top squad aiming to flex their muscles, and the defending champs taking on the team they faced in the Western Conference Finals just last season.

Utah Jazz vs. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks were one of the many pieces of roadkill left behind during Utah’s 11-game winning streak when Atlanta dropped a road game to the Jazz 116-92 a little less than three weeks ago.

Since then, Trae Young & Co. have been up and down, winning five of nine heading into Monday night’s bout with the Dallas Mavericks. On the bright side, they have a borderline top-10 net rating on the year, as they’ve been about equally impressive on both ends of the court.

On the downside, they’re somewhat banged up. De’Andre Hunter is out at least another few days with what the hawks have called “wear and tear” on his right knee, rookie Onkeya Okongwu has played just 60 minutes this season with a left Achilles injury, and Bogdan Bogdanovic remains out indefinitely.

Utah got back to their winning ways against Detroit at home on Tuesday night, but only managed to push on a 12-point spread in a game that the Pistons got to within four with two minutes to go. That this came after a drubbing in Denver is at least a little concerning. Atlanta, meanwhile, nearly made it four covers in a row against the Lakers on Monday, briefly coming within one with 1:40 remaining before LA pushed it to an eight-point margin on a seven-point spread.

Those outcomes both point toward the Hawks, but unlike the Jazz, Atlanta is on the second night of a back to back and is playing their third game in four nights. For that reason, give the points.

The Pick: Utah -7.5 @ -103 (Click To Bet)

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Other than Utah and the LA squads, Philly is the only team in the league with a winning percentage over .700. Their net rating isn’t quite as impressive – the Sixers’ plus 4.4 figure ranks sixth in the league – but that stat is also a bit of a misnomer, as it includes games in which one or both of Philadelphia’s stars haven’t played.

The most important one of those, of course, is possible MVP front runner, Joel Embiid. With him on the court, the Sixers are outscoring teams by 13.2 points per 100 possessions. When he’s paired with Ben Simmons, that margin increases to 14.2. It’s part of the reason why they’re a perfect 11-0 this year in games in which the starting lineup is intact.

Of course, Damian Lillard fears no man and no dynamic duo. He’s almost single-handedly led them to four separate one-possession victories this season, and as a result, Portland sports a winning record and – for the moment at least – a spot in the Western Conference Playoffs.

But those last second wins have masked some ugly losses. The Blazers have dropped five games by 20 or more, including earlier this week against the Bucks.  With a bottom-three defense, this isn’t exactly a surprise. Alternatively, the Sixers have the third best defense in basketball, and should be able to bring the hammer down on a Portland team that is still banged up by injuries to three starters. With the added issue of Philly’s continued dominance at home, it looks like Dame Time will run out in Philly.

The Pick: Sixers -9.5 @ -105 (Click To Bet)

Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Don’t look now, but the Nuggets are starting to figure things out.

Not only is Denver 6-1 over their last seven games, but they haven’t played since January 31, when they upended the Jazz by 11 points. The Nuggets are playing like the team that faced off against the Lakers with the Finals on the line, sporting the sixth best offense in the league over the last two weeks at an impressive 118.0 points per 100 possessions. Their defense hasn’t been shabby either, and is nearing the top half of the league after starting the season as a bottom five unit over their first 10 games.

In the Lakers, they get a team that has been a tad inconsistent after reeling off an impressive three week stretch to start January. They have three losses in their last eight games, and even more concerning, only three covers in that span as well. The Nuggets game will represent their first home matchup after a seven-game, 12-day road trip, so maybe the City of Angels will cure whatever ails them.

But to give points against Nikola Jokic right now is a dangerous proposition. The Lakers won the West Finals in five games, but all of them were close. This one should be too, especially with the Nuggets so well rested and the big guy making an MVP push.

The Pick: Denver +5 @ -110 (Click To Bet)

Other NBA Games

Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs are coming off a back to back and have been scuffling. Meanwhile, the Warriors have been better since moving James Wiseman to the bench. Go with Steph.

Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies

Houston has the second best net rating in the NBA since the Harden trade, and over that time has been defending at rate that would blow away the top ranked Lakers. They’re also draining threes like we’re used to seeing, having just hit 11 in the first quarter against the Thunder. The grizzlies have been playing well, but they’re running into a buzz saw here.

NBA Expert Picks

(Click Odds To Bet)

Utah -7.5 @ -103 (Click To Bet)

Sixers -9.5 @ -105 (Click To Bet)

Denver +5 @ -110 (Click To Bet)

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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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