Only three games on Thursday night, but one of them includes the best player in the league facing off against the team he’s most likely to face in the Finals, so that’s where we begin.
Even though the Nets will be without Kevin Durant, who will miss this one with a left hamstring strain, this game feels huge.
For one, this is arguably the most likely Finals preview we have right now. There’s also the LeBron / Kyrie factor, which is always a thing. But more than anything, this game is big because it’s the first time the Brooklyn version of James Harden gets to face off against the team who wiped the floor with his Rockets in last season’s playoffs.
We have to specify which uniform he’s wearing because Harden has already played the Lakers this year - twice. It’s easy to forget those contests though because the Beard barely showed up to either. They were his last two times wearing a Houston uniform, and it was clear by then that he couldn’t wait to get out of it and into a different one.
This version of Harden will be a bit different. The Nets are on a four-game winning streak, covering all four games, the last three of which have come on the road, and the last two of which have come without Kevin Durant. Harden himself is coming off a 38-point, 11-assist performance on just 22 shots, helping Brooklyn beat Phoenix even though Kyrie Irving and KD were missing.
Irving will be back for this one, and he’s coming off a 40-point outing (also on 22 shots). Between the two of them, especially without Anthony Davis in LA’s lineup, they have more than enough to pull this one out. The numbers back that up, because even though the Lakers have a 6-1 record over the last two weeks, Brooklyn has a better net rating, spurred by their fourth ranked offense over that time to LA’s 19th ranked unit.
Throw in the fact that the Lakers are just 5-8 against the spread at home, and this one is an easy call.
The Pick: Brooklyn +2.5 @ -109 (Click To Bet)
We’re getting close to designating the Bucks as the most confusing team in the NBA.
On paper, they’re fine. Giannis is putting up 28, 11 & 6 on nearly a 60 effective field goal percentage, which is right on par with his last two seasons, both MVP campaigns. Milwaukee, meanwhile, is 16-12, which is a pace well below those previous seasons, but they also sport a plus 7.6 net rating, which is among a class of four teams (Utah and the LA squads are the others) that are in a grouping by themselves atop the league.
And yet, you look at their schedule and see things that flatly don’t make sense. A 12-point loss at Charlotte. A five-point loss in New Orleans. A 20-point loss to the Knicks. And none of those have come in the last four games, all of which have been losses. The last two – an 11-point defeat at the hands of the 11-16 Thunder and a nine-point home loss to the same Raptor team they’ll face Thursday night – have been particularly troubling.
Part of the problem is their defense. As usual, they’re giving up a ton of threes, but unlike seasons past, teams are converting them at an absurd rate: Milwaukee has been allowing teams to shoot 39.8 from behind the arc, which is second worst in the NBA.
Sure enough, Toronto puts up a greater frequency of 3-pointers than all but four teams, and they convert them at the seventh best rate according to Cleaning the Glass. Unsurprisingly, they were 17-for-43 from long range in Tuesday’s win in Milwaukee.
The Pick: Toronto +6.5 @ -110 (Click To Bet)
The Kings are coming off four straight losses, and they’ve failed to cover the spread in every one, but they have a schedule advantage here, having been off since Monday and with Miami having played on Wednesday night.
The Heat are still well below where their preseason predictions were, but they’ve finally gotten healthy (for the most part, as Goran Dragic remains out), and as a result, entered last night with the 11th best net rating in the league over the last two weeks.
The Kings, meanwhile, are desperate for a win. They’re also home, and while Miami will only have to make a short trip, the fact that they’re giving points here simply doesn’t make sense. The Heat entered Wednesday night with a 9-17-1 record against the spread, second worst in the league.
The Kings right the ship here.
The Pick: Sacramento -1.5 @ -108 (Click To Bet)
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NBA Expert Picks
(Click Odds To Bet)
Brooklyn +2.5 @ -109 (Click To Bet)
Toronto +6.5 @ -110 (Click To Bet)
Sacramento -1.5 @ -108 (Click To Bet)
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