It’s an East-heavy slate of games on Sunday, with 10 of the 16 teams in action coming from the conference that has traditionally brought up the rear in the NBA over the last few decades but seems to be experiencing a resurgence this season. We’ll start by highlighting the best cross-coast rivalry of the day.
One MVP candidate down, another one takes his place.
There’s only three teams in the NBA that can legitimately say as much with a straight face, and all three have needed to recently. On Thursday night, both Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant were down when the Nets toppled the Lakers, as LeBron James outscoring James Harden wasn’t enough to make the difference.
Now, Harden will once again have to be in MVP-form to take on the other LA squad, except this one will be at full strength. Both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have missed portions of this season with assorted injuries, but each one was in action on Friday as the Clippers halted Utah’s nine-game winning streak.
This version of LA’s other team is as intimidating as any in basketball. The Clippers are 16-3 when both Leonard and George suit up, including an undefeated 8-0 record at home, where they’ll be for this one.
Harden and the Nets are riding high with five straight wins, all of which they’ve covered, but this is also the fifth game of a five-game road trip and has all the makings of one they simply won’t be able to stay in until the very end. Statement game for LA.
The Pick: Clippers -5.5 @ -110
The Boston Celtics’ season has been one of the easiest in the NBA to figure out. When they score, they win.
115 points, specifically. When the C’s hit that number or higher – which they’ve done a dozen times – they’re undefeated. On the flip side, when they don’t score, they lose. In games they don’t hit over 110 points, they have just one win in 13 tries.
Enter the Pelicans, owners of the 29th ranked defense in the NBA. New Orleans has given up 115 or more points 15 times this season, and over 110 a total of 22 times. They have just five wins in those games.
The Swiss cheese defense has been especially bad of late, as the Pels have given up an astounding 126.5 points per 100 possessions over the last two weeks. That’s part of why they’ve lost five of six, failing to cover each one they’ve dropped.
This is exactly what the doctor ordered for Boston, and a recipe for disaster for New Orleans.
The Pick: Boston -3 @ -105
The Hawks have somewhat quietly been one of the coldest teams in the league for the entire month of February.
Since February 1, they’re just 2-8, and 3-7 against the spread. They have the third lowest net rating in the NBA for the month, with a 27th ranked defense that had looked more than respectable early on. Worse yet, the seemingly fool proof offense isn’t in the top half of the league over that span.
In Denver, they get a team that refuses to put it together completely, but is showing signs of returning to its conference finals form. In their last six games, they’ve put up 133 and 120 against the similarly defensively deficient Cavs, 128 against the Wizards and 122 against the defending champs. Best of all, Jamal Murray just had his best game since the aforementioned conference finals when he put a 50-spot on Cleveland.
On Sunday, he’ll be going against the diminutive Trae Young, so the good times should keep rolling. As we saw in the bubble, when Murray gets going, he’s not the easiest guy to shut down.
The Pick: Denver -3 @ -107
Sunday's Other NBA Games
Oklahoma City Thunder at Cleveland Cavaliers
By net ratings, these are two of the three worst teams in the NBA, but the Cavs are in a different category of putrid, having failed to beat their spread an astounding 12 times in a row. Back the Thunder, who recently covered four in a row before coming up against tough competition in the Blazers, Grizzlies and Bucks.
Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic
The Magic refuse to go quietly into the night, and have covered four of their last five. They’re still badly beset by injuries, but their offense has been better since the return of Evan Fournier, and between him, Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, they have just enough scoring punch to support their always stout defense.
Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors
The best team in the East versus the hottest team in the East. Toronto has won eight of 11, and have covered in all of those victories. Nine of those 11 have come on the road, and with this Sixers game, they’ll begin five of six in their home away from home in Tampa. The Sixers, meanwhile, may be 20-10, but they failed to cover four straight before barely covering a six-point spread with a seven-point victory at home against the Bulls. Go with the Raps.
Minnesota Timberwolves at New York Knicks
This is Tom Thibodeau’s first game against the franchise that fired him, and he’s had three full days to prepare against a young team that specializes in making mistakes at the wrong time. Their most recent loss was filled with one fourth quarter error after another, and this spread is small enough to feel more than confident in backing the Knicks.
Sacramento Kings at Milwaukee Bucks
The Kings dropped five straight heading into Saturday night and failed to cover each game. The Bucks are desperate to make their recent five-game losing streak a distant memory, and as they showed in Friday’s 98-85 victory over the Thunder – a game they led by 22 in the third quarter - they can still beat up on the bad teams.
NBA Expert Picks
(Click Odds To Bet)
Clippers -5.5 @ -110 (Click To Bet)
Boston -3 @ -105 (Click To Bet)
Denver -3 @ -107 (Click To Bet)
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