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

Now that the NBA season has crossed over from pre- to post-All-Star, we can start paying attention to one of the most easy-money trends in sports: outright NBA tankery. In this condensed season, blatant tanking will begin even sooner than usual, and in some cases, it already has, including for a few teams on the Sunday schedule.

Boston Celtics vs. Houston Rockets

Just how bad are the Houston Rockets? Let’s go through some facts and figures:

  • They’ve lost 15 games in a row, and are 2-13 against the spread over that time.
  • Over those 15 games, Houston has a negative 16.6 net rating, which is not only the worst in the league by over three points per 100 possessions, but is double the distance away from an even net rating as the 28th ranked team, the Orlando Magic, who check in at minus 8.3.
  • Nine of the 15 losses have come by 15 points or more.
  • They are still without their top player, Christian Wood. PJ Tucker will no longer be a part of their active roster as they seek out a workable trade, and Eric Gordon will miss four to six weeks with a groin injury. Daniel House remains out, as does John Wall, who will also miss Sunday’s game with a left knee contusion, leaving Victor Oladipo as arguably the only true NBA rotation player that will be available.

Despite all of this, the Rockets actually covered the spread on Friday night against the Utah Jazz, who were favored by 19 and won by 15 after going up by as many as 26. For Houston, backdoors are the only covers available right now.

In Boston, they’ll face off a team fighting hard to remain in one of the 4/5 slots in the East so they can put off facing one of the big three until the second round. They’ve been inconsistent, with the 19th ranked net rating over their last 10 games. They’ve also failed to cover three of four and are just 17-20 against the spread this season.

But that just means they might not run away with this game early and the backdoor might never be opened. Any way you cut it, this is an easy choice.

The Pick: Boston -11 @ -105

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks

The Houston Rockets may be bringing up the rear over the last 15 games, but the Cleveland Cavaliers sure are giving them a run for their money. Over that span, the Cavs have just four wins and a nearly-as-bad negative 13.2 net rating.

In fairness, the Cavs did win four in a row shortly before the break, but two of those wins came against the Rockets and one came against the Atlanta Hawks right before they fired their head coach.

Those same Hawks are Cleveland’s opponent here, except they’ve been playing much better since Nate McMillan took over, winning three straight heading into Saturday night, all of which came on the road. Yesterday, Atlanta put a hurting on the Sacramento Kings, so they enter this one on their longest winning streak of the season.

The competition for the Hawks can’t get much worse. Since their 3-0 start, Cleveland has gone just 12-22 against the spread over that time, which is better than only Houston. Their losing ways will continue on the road against a team with something besides ping pong balls to play for.

The Pick: Atlanta -6 @ -105

Other NBA Games

Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have been feisty all season long, but they’ll likely be without both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley for this one, and they’ll be facing off against a Memphis team that has covered five straight and gets every ounce out of the talent it has on its roster. Factor in OKC’s 7-11-1 ATS record at home, and it’s Grizzlies all the way.

Utah Jazz at Golden State Warriors

The first place Jazz have actually failed to cover four of their last five spreads, but they face a Warriors team that has been dealing with their own struggles, losing on the scoreboard and against the spread in their last four, three of which have come by more than 20 points. They won’t right the ship here.

San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers are without Joel Embiid for two weeks, and when he sits, Philly gets outscored by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. The Spurs, meanwhile, have outpaced their expectations all season long, and have the 10th best net rating in the league over their last 10 games. They’re the bet here.

Miami Heat at Orlando Magic

The Magic have lost seven straight and are a deadline trade or two away from joining Houston and Cleveland in the tank brigade. Coming off a 27-point-loss to San Antonio, they’ll be no match for a Heat team that has won nine of 10 and also covered eight of those contests.

Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota may have thrown everyone off their scent with a 30-point win on Thursday at New Orleans, but this is the same team that had lost 13 of 15 before that, and this line doesn’t reflect that ineptitude. Portland takes care of business.

Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls

The once proud Toronto Raptors have lost four straight and six of seven following a blowout at the hands of the Hornets on Saturday night – a game in which they were down 24-4 midway through the first quarter. Chicago is 20-16 against the spread this season and are 6-0-1 against the spread in their last seven games against under-.500 teams. They’ll cover here.

Los Angeles Clippers at New Orleans Pelicans

The Clippers came out of the break with a purpose, demolishing the Warriors by 26 points to quash the concerns over their three-game losing streak entering All-Star weekend. New Orleans also sports a bottom-five defense and the Clippers will take full advantage.

NBA Expert Picks

(Click Odds To Bet)

Boston -11 @ -105 (Click To Bet)

Atlanta -6 @ -105 (Click To Bet)

NBA Free Picks

Every day there'll be free NBA picks and content on OddsChecker from our crack team of basketball experts. We're going to be with you every step of the way, as we move through the regular season, into playoffs and then onto the Finals. Sean Highkin and Jonathan Macri will be on hand to give you the best value bets, each and every day.

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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