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

And we’re back! The NBA has returned after the shortest All-Star break ever but one that felt like an eternity because of how condensed the first half of the season was.

Taking stock of things so far, it’s time to give credit where credit is due, first to the two teams that have dominated their betting lines – Utah and Phoenix, both above 68 percent, with no other team above 60 – and also to anyone who’s been consistently hammering the very worst team: Houston, who has covered less than a third of the time, when every other team has cleared at least 40 percent.

But we start with one of the league’s better stories facing off against arguably one of the bigger disappointments:

New York Knicks vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The Knicks – the New York Knicks – picked to finish dead last by many, already have 19 wins. More importantly for betters, they have covered 21 times in 37 games for a feel good percentage of 56.8 – tied for the third best in basketball. A decent amount of those wins have been as a road dog, when they’re 8-6 and have covered their spreads by an average of 4.5 points.

But they also got demolished by the Magic and Spurs in two of their last three road games, with a victory over the desultory Pistons coming in between. In Milwaukee, they’ll get a team they beat by 20 all the way back in December for their first win of the year, but that game was characterized by some red hot shooting by the Knicks (16-for-27) and an ice cold performance by the Bucks (7-for-38).

Recently, the underachieving team with the best pre-season over/under has been playing better, winning six of seven before the break, although only with four covers and one disastrous blowout at the hands of Denver. They also have Jrue Holiday back after a lengthy COVID absence, and his 3rd best on/off differential will be a welcome addition.

The Knicks haven’t been blown out very often, and with their top-three defense, they usually figure out a way to stay in games they otherwise shouldn’t. However, they’ll be down Derrick Rose in this one, and while rookie Immanuel Quickley has been a revelation, he’s struggled at times running the backup offense.

Still, Tom Thibodeau is the Bill Belichick of NBA coaches, and he’s had a week to prepare for this one. They have a double digit cushion, which is a margin they’ve covered in 14 of the last 16 games.

The Pick: New York +11 @ -110 (Click To Bet)

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Other NBA Games

Detroit Pistons at Charlotte Hornets

The Pistons covered three of their last six and certainly aren’t acting like a tanking team. The Hornets, meanwhile, just finished a six-game Western trip with a 3-3 record themselves and now play three straight at home before another five consecutive games on the opposite coast. Charlotte has the 12th best net rating in the NBA over the last two weeks and seems poised to make a run. They’re also 9-7-1 against the spread at home this season. Back them here.

Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn will still be without KD for this one, and they’re just 10-9 against the spread at home. Boston is riding a four game winning streak and will look to put their first half struggles in the rear view mirror. They also have that 28-point Christmas Day beat down to avenge.

Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors

The Hawks should still be riding the new coach bump following the firing of Lloyd Pierce, and they won two straight before the break in contrasting styles: 94-80 at Miami and 115-112 at Orlando. The Raptors have lost four of five, but still hold a top-10 net rating on the season. Still, Toronto is just 6-10 against the spread at their home away from home this season, so take the road team here.

Orlando Magic at Miami Heat

Miami is finally putting things together, with the sixth best net rating in the NBA over the five games heading into the break. They’re healthy and ready to go on a roll. Orlando enters this one with the 26th ranked offense and 29th ranked point differential against the spread. This is an easy choice.

Philadelphia 76ers at Chicago Bulls

Joel Embiid is about to put the stamp on his MVP campaign, but he won’t get the chance on Thursday in Chicago, as both he and Ben Simmons will miss this one thanks to health and safety protocols. The Sixers have just a 103.7 offensive rating without those two on the floor this season according to Cleaning the Glass, and against a Bulls offense that has been in the top half of the league all year long, they won’t be able to keep up.

Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Pelicans

If the Pels were ever going to put together a run, the time is now. Minnesota has the 29th ranked net rating in the league over the last two weeks, better only than Houston, as they’re getting outscored by nearly 20 points per 100 possessions in that time. The coaching change was DOA and rumors are already starting to swirl about Karl Anthony Towns’ future with the organization. Zion and Co. will put on a show at home. 

Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder

Dallas is the only team in action tonight that’ll be playing on the second half of a back to back, and they’re facing off against a Thunder squad that is 19-16-1 against the spread this season. The Mavs won a slap fight at home against OKC right before the break, 87-78, and even though this game is in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have struggled covering at home this year, going just 6-10-1. Take the Mavs before they go on their run and the lines start getting inflated.

Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers

Arguably the game of the day, the Warriors come into this one just 7-12 against the spread on the road. They also came into the break losing three in a row, two of which were in blowout fashion to the Lakers and Suns. The Clippers haven’t been much better of late, going just 3-6 in their last nine, although Kawhi and Paul George each missed two of those losses. They’ll get back on track here.

Phoenix Suns at Portland Trail Blazers

New rule: back the Suns until they prove otherwise. Phoenix rampaged through the league over the final six weeks of the first half, winning 16 of 19 outright and against the spread. One of those came against Portland by 32 points. No reason to think this will be different.

Houston Rockets at Sacramento Kings

The team with the worst winning percentage against the spread visiting the team tied for the fourth worst winning percentage against the spread. Of the two, the Kings still have faint hopes of making a run in the West, and you’d have to figure whatever last gasp they have in them will be expended soon after the break, especially against the Rockets, who have dropped 13 in a row and 12 of 13 against the line.

NBA Expert Picks

(Click Odds To Bet)

New York +11 @ -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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