Saturday presents an eight-game slate, highlighted by a Western Conference battle for playoff seeding between two relative disappointments looking to make a late season push.
Coming into the break, you could argue that outside of the Suns, there were no two hotter teams in the West than the Mavs and Nuggets.
On one hand, we had Denver, winners of four straight by a total of 77 points. All four of those were on the road, and it was a streak that included a 31-point win in Milwaukee against a Bucks team that had previously been surging.
On the other hand, we had Dallas, perhaps the most disappointing team in the league over the season’s first six weeks that came into All-Star weekend winning 10 of 12 games. They lost on Thursday night to the Thunder on the road, but they were without both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, both of whom should be ready to go for this one.
Last season, the Mavericks went 2-1 against the Nuggets, with their only loss coming by one point in a game Porzingis missed. They also shot between 34 and 35 percent from deep in each of those games - the same area of struggle that caused them to struggle so much in December and January of this season.
Lately though, Dallas has been on fire, hitting 38 percent from deep since they started turning things around on February 6. That they’re doing so on top-six volume in that span is even more encouraging.
Throw in the fact that Denver will be playing on the second night of a back to back, and it’s easy to see this one going the way of Luka & Co.
The Pick: Dallas +2.5 @ -105
Another day, another step up the contender ladder for the frisky Phoenix Suns.
Is it time we started to put a little more respect on their name? Following Thursday’s six-point victory at Portland that saw Phoenix take command late, the Suns have now won and covered 17 of their last 20 games. They entered play on Friday night with the second best record in the NBA and the third best net rating after Utah and Milwaukee. They have an All-Star backcourt surrounded by shooters and a young center in Deandre Ayton who has both good and bad moments but is an overall positive on most nights.
The next speedbump for them to cross over comes in the form of the Indiana Pacers, who had lost five of six heading into the break, with the lone victory coming against the moribund Cleveland Cavaliers. They’ve also dropped all six against the spread, and now they’re coming into Phoenix on the second night of a back to back, having faced the Lakers on Friday evening.
This is one where the spread couldn’t possibly be high enough despite Indiana’s reputation as a solid, middle of the pack team. At some point, you are what your record says you are, and since their 3-0 start to the season, the Pacers are 13-19. Getting Caris LeVert back will help eventually, but trying to reintegrate him against the Suns’ fourth ranked defense on Saturday night won’t be an easy task, and will probably hurt more than it helps.
The Pick: Phoenix -6.5 @ -108
The Knicks were feeling good coming out of the break, with a 19-18 record and the 12th best net rating in the NBA.
My how quickly things can change. One blowout loss at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks later, and many of the same questions that came up throughout the first half of the season have once again been raised. How safe is this team to back as long as Elfrid Payton is the starting point guard? Can they survive an off night from Julius Randle, who had a season-low seven points on Thursday? And will their defense, which has either (depending on your point of view) benefited from or caused poor opponent 3-point shooting all season long, finally come back down to earth, at least a little?
In this Saturday afternoon matinee, they get a team that beat them at MSG earlier this season, but it may be for the best that they’re playing the Thunder in Oklahoma City, where they’re just 7-11 and 7-10-1 against the spread. One of those wins and covers came on Thursday against Dallas, where the Thunder emerged with an eight-point win, but it came against a Mavs team without its two stars.
The Knicks may or may not be without Derrick Rose, who remained out in Milwaukee due to health and safety protocols. Even if he’s out though, the Knicks are the better team on paper, and knowing Coach Thibs, they’ll be playing with a little extra motivation after Thursday’s beat down.
The Pick: New York -5 @ -110
Other NBA Games
Detroit Pistons at Brooklyn Nets
Thursday’s win in Boston marks 11 wins and covers in 12 tries for the Nets, who sure don’t seem to be feeling the absence of Kevin Durant all that much. Detroit will be outclassed in this one, and Brooklyn owes them one after falling by 11 to the Pistons on the road in early February, when the Nets were still struggling.
Toronto Raptors at Charlotte Hornets
It’s do or die for the Raptors, who have now lost five of six and into a tie for ninth in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte, meanwhile, is surging, with an 18-18 record overall, a 10-8 mark at home, and an 8-5 record in their last 13, which included a six-game Western swing. They’ll be up and ready to go for this one.
Milwaukee Bucks at Washington Wizards
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bucks were beginning a second half of the season run in which they make a push for the top seed in the conference. Now winners of six of seven games, they get a Wiz squad that got blown out by Memphis. Washington looked like a team still on vacation from the very start of the first quarter on Thursday night, so bet on Milwaukee keeping the train moving.
Sacramento Kings at Atlanta Hawks
That’s three straight for the Hawks under their new coach, and now they head back home for the first time under Nate McMillan to face a Kings team that just handed the Rockets their 14th straight loss. Don’t let Houston’s ineptitude fool you though; Sacramento still sports by far the worst defense in basketball, and they won’t be able to keep this one close.
Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves laid the smack down on an unprepared Pelicans squad on Thursday that had Stan Van Gundy fuming after the game, but just as important is the fact that Minnesota was down 16 early and is still struggling to put forth competent NBA lineups for 48 minutes a night. Portland had won three straight before running into the Phoenix buzz saw after the break, and they know they’ll need to take advantage of a Wolves team that’s second to last in net rating for the season.
NBA Expert Picks
(Click Odds To Bet)
Dallas +2.5 @ -105 (Click To Bet)
Phoenix -6.5 @ -108 (Click To Bet)
New York -5 @ -110 (Click To Bet)
NBA Free Picks
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