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

It’s a packed Thursday slate, with a rematch of one of last season’s conference semifinal matchups, a head to head between a couple of future Hall-of-Famers still at the top of their games, and arguably the biggest surprise in the league trying to stay ahead of the pack in the West.

Toronto Raptors vs. Boston Celtics

After much early season consternation, the Celtics are Raptors will enter this game securely slotted into playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

It doesn’t mean the teams are on equal footing though. Over the two weeks prior to play on Wednesday night, Toronto had the 11th best net rating in the league with a mark of plus 3.1, whereas Boston ranked 19th with a negative 1.9 differential. Over that same time span, there’s an even greater gap between the two teams’ respective differentials against the spread, with the Raps ranking 7th and the Celtics 22nd.

Of course, for as much as Toronto should be the clear pick here, there’s a complicating factor for this game in the form of the ever-present health and safety protocols. Starters Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are all expected to be ruled out for this one, leaving the Raptors reliant on Kyle Lorwry, Norm Powell, Chris Boucher and not much else.

But if there’s any organization that comes up big when the chips are down, it’s Toronto. They seem to specialize in having players who normally occupy lesser roles that will then rise to the occasion, and against a Boston team that has been struggling mightily, Thursday night should be no exception.

The Pick: Toronto +8 @ -108 (Click To Bet)

Golden State Warriors vs. Phoenix Suns

Before Chris Paul and Steph Curry do battle in Sunday’s All-Star game, they will face off in a matchup between the West’s fourth and eighth seeds.

One could argue that Phoenix has been as disrespected as any team in the NBA this season. They have the fourth best net rating on the year, and are the only team besides Utah with both a top 10 offense and defense. They’re coming off a big win in Los Angeles against the defending champs and have covered 15 of their last 18 games. They absolutely look the part of a legit championship contender.

Golden State has been to that mountaintop and is trying to get back, although everyone seems to accept the fact that this is a transition year for the franchise as they await the return of Klay Thompson and decide how best to capitalize on some interesting trade chips. It’s gone mostly OK, but they have also struggled at times, particularly on the road against superior competition. Away from their home arena, Golden State entered play on Wednesday night just 4-7 as a road dog with a minus 5.0 margin against the spread – fourth worst in the league in such situations.

Steph always has the capability to make things interesting, but they’ve also been blown out their fair share this season, including a 21-point-loss in Phoenix at the end of January. This result will be no different, especially with the Warriors playing on the second night of a back to back.

The Pick: Phoenix -6 +100 (Click To Bet)

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Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have won and covered six of their last nine games, including a blowout of the Knicks in their most recent outing. That might not have sounded like a big deal in years’ past, but New York has been in almost every game this season, and San Antonio’s pass-happy approach was able to figure out the Knicks second-ranked defense.

It came as a bit of a shock - they were dogs in the game despite playing at home - but perhaps it shouldn’t have been. San Antonio’s net rating of plus 0.2 is that of a barely above-.500 unit, but sometimes teams just know how to win games, and San Antonio’s 18-13 record shouldn’t be dismissed as pure luck. They still have the best coach in the history of the sport at the helm and while they may be short on star players, they go 10 deep (at least) with guys who know their roles and play them well.

In OKC, the Spurs will get a team that also has a record that doesn’t match their peripheral stats. The Thunder have the fourth-worst net rating in the league at minus 5.9 and yet are 14-20 after 34 games. They’re particularly feisty as road dogs, going 11-5 in such situations against the spread.

That number is worrisome, but the Spurs won’t be caught off guard like many teams earlier in the year who the Thunder took by surprise, especially with an extra day’s rest and Oklahoma City playing the second night of a back to back.

The Pick: San Antonio -6 -110 (Click To Bet)

Other NBA Games

Los Angeles Clippers at Washington Wizards

The Wiz have been better of late, with a nearly even point differential over the last two weeks to go with a 5-3 record, whereas the Clippers are just 3-5 with a minus 3.3 net rating in that time. Back the home team.

Detroit Pistons at New York Knicks

Coming off easily their worst showing of the season, Thibs will have the Knicks ready to play against one of the worst teams in the league. New York just blew out the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday night, and this one is in MSG with fans in the building. The Knicks will go into the break on a high note.

Denver Nuggets at Indiana Pacers

Denver is 5-3 in the last 14 days with the third best point differential over that span, whereas the Pacers have been steadily dropping in the standings since the first week of the year and are now just 15-18 with a negative 5.3 net rating since February 17. They’re also playing the second night of a back to back. Nuggets all the way.

Milwaukee Bucks at Memphis Grizzlies

It’s hard to know what to make of the Bucks coming off of a blowout home loss to Denver that followed five straight victories. Now they head to Memphis, who has won and covered three of four but is just 7-10 at home this season and just 3-5 as a home dog. Here’s betting the Bucks bounce back in a big way.

Miami Heat at New Orleans Pelicans

This is a rematch of a Christmas Day game Miami thoroughly dominated, but the Pelicans have been playing a bit better of late. Still, Miami is rolling, having won and covered six straight before dropping Tuesday’s game to a Hawks team they were facing for the second time in three nights that played inspired ball for their new coach. The Pels are also playing the second night of a back to back. Go with the road team.

Sacramento Kings at Portland Trail Blazers

The Walton Watch continues after the Kings lost an unconscionable game to the Hornets on Sunday night. The Blazers are inconsistent but are also a solid 9-6 at home and are in a dogfight for Western Conference playoff positioning. They won’t mess around here.

NBA Expert Picks

(Click Odds To Bet)

Toronto +8 @ -108 (Click To Bet)

Phoenix -6 +100 (Click To Bet)

San Antonio -6 -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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