Eight games on the schedule for Sunday and all but one has playoff implications. We start with the hottest – and most improbable - team in the league
When the New York Knicks started off this season 5-8 with the 25th ranked net rating in the league, they more or less looked like the team most people expected: fighting hard but woefully undermanned and not able to compete with the best of the best (or even the meh of the mediocre).
My, oh my, how things have changed. Starting with a 30-point drubbing of the Celtics in Boston on January 17, the last three months has seen New York accumulate 25 wins and a positive 3.7 net rating, both of which are good enough to rank them eighth in basketball over in that span.
They have, of course, done it primarily with defense, sporting the third best unit in the NBA and continuing to give good offenses fits, like they did in defeating the high octane Mavs on Friday night, their fifth victory in a row.
But lately, the Knicks are scoring the ball a little bit as well. They have a top-10 offense over their last eight games, and with the defensively challenged Pelicans coming into the Garden on Sunday afternoon, they figure to keep the good times rolling.
New York just handled Zion and the Pels in New Orleans on Wednesday night, largely by swarming the big man down the stretch and taking the ball out of his hands. Lonzo Ball will be back for this one, but it didn’t make a difference vs the Wizards on Friday, and against a Knicks team feeling as good about itself as it has in years, it won’t either.
The Pick: Knicks - 1 @ -109 (Click to Bet)
It’s hard to complain about much if you’re a Nets fan.
Aside from being relevant for the first time since moving from the swamps of Jersey, they’re 20 games over .500 and second in the East. Their 4.4 net rating on the season trails their conference competitors the Bucks (6.6) and Sixers (5.2), but those teams have been far healthier than Brooklyn, whose big three has only shared the court for 186 minutes over seven games this season.
That means 51 times this season, one of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or James Harden were missing (or, in Harden’s case, on another team). This can be looked at as either a gift or a curse, depending on your viewpoint. What’s indisputable is that Durant is the most important piece to that puzzle, which is perhaps why the Nets are undefeated against the spread since he returned, with three covers to zero drops.
The Heat have had no such luck. They’ve dropped five of six against the spread and lost their last three outright, including a game at the Timberwolves, who were tied for the worst record in the NBA before that game.
Afterwards, Jimmy Butler called out his team as soft, and it’s hard to disagree given the results. In other words, it’s a bad time to be facing KD, Kyrie, and a motivated Brooklyn team looking to make a final push for the top seed and a privilege of avoiding either the Bucks or Sixers in round two.
The Pick: Nets -3.5 @ -108 (Click to Bet)
Other NBA Games
Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks
A massive game by any measure, the Hawks are in a dog fight for an outright playoff birth, while the Pacers are currently in the nine-slot, secure that a play-in game will be in their future but trying hard to escape the one-and-done side of the bracket. Atlanta is the more banged up team and Indiana has won four of six, with the only losses coming to the Jazz and Clippers. Take the road squad.
Portland Trail Blazers at Charlotte Hornets
The Blazers have felt the Mavs nipping at their heels for a while now, while the Hornets are just trying to tread water until Gordon Hayward comes back. It hasn’t been going so well, as they haven’t won or covered since Hayward went down four games ago. Their struggles continue here; go with Portland.
Sacramento Kings at Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs played a good game against the Knicks but just ran into a buzz saw in Julius Randle. The Kings, meanwhile, have basically thrown in the towel, losing nine in a row and dropping all but two of those against the spread. Dallas is the pick.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Clippers
Beware the feisty Wolves! They’re 6-5 against the spread in their last 11 and have won four of those games outright, three of which have come against playoff contenders New York, Chicago and Miami. The Clippers are in a different class though, as LA had won seven in a row before dropping a close one to the Sixers without Kawhi Leonard. Whether he’s back or not, this one is too much for the Wolves to handle.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Toronto Raptors
Toronto still has postseason hopes thanks to the struggles of the Chicago Bulls. The Raptors, Bulls and Wizards all entered the weekend in a three-way tie for 10th, so Toronto needs this game in the worst way, and they’re getting to face a Thunder team with the worst net rating in the league over the last 10 games. The Raptors, meanwhile, have the 10th best in that span. Easy choice here.
Houston Rockets at Orlando Magic
The only meaningless game of the day, but go with the Magic if you must, who have mostly kept things respectable with three wins in their last 10 games and a 5-5 record against the spread. Houston has lost 10 of 11.
NBA Expert Picks
(Click Odds To Bet)
Nets -3.5 @ -108 (Click to Bet)
Knicks - 1 @ -109 (Click to Bet)
NBA Free Picks
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