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Posted at 2:00 PM EST. Odds subject to change.
Indiana Team Total under 229½
Best Odds: -110 at Sportsinteraction
7:10 PM EST. It's a meeting of two teams going in opposite directions in their first game back from the break, as the no-expectations-Pistons go up against an up and coming program in the Pacers. We have no naivete to the potential of Rick Carlisle's Indiana Pacers, a roster that only got better after its recent trade for Pascal Siakam. Since Pascal joined his new team, the Pacers' offense had some big moments, like their back to back 130+ point explosions against the Sixers and Suns (both wins), or a big victory over the Knicks before the break. Siakam was instrumental in these positive showings for the Pacers, averaging 25 ppg in those victories. Of course Indiana's offense has always been pretty darn good - they lead the NBA, averaging 123.5 ppg.
But their new composition hasn't always been smooth. Roster changes can interfere with team chemistry, and while Siakam adds to Indiana's dynamic offense, the soul of their program is still Tyrese Haliburton. Haliburton has been in and out with injury bugs in January and February, which made chemistry-building even more difficult. It also led to some down moments for the Pacers, who lost 5 of their last 9 games before the break. Since returning from injury, the two-time All Star hasn't been quite as potent, shooting under 34% in a few recent performances and never eclipsing 22 points in 10 games. Indiana's offense is rated 12th since the trade.
Now we'd be a bit pretentious if we proceeded to claim that Detroit's defense is a good or even average unit. They're not very good on defense and they haven't been all season. But lately they have showed some improvement, even if it is minute. Detroit's defensive efficiency is 19th over the last three weeks before the break, a far cry from their typical bottom-3 rating. They also run at a slower pace, and they've only permitted 130 or more points in 2 out of their last 16 contests. Monty Williams' is an old-school, disciplinary coach who highly values defense, so we wouldn't be surprised if their ascent continued. And unlike the Pacers, the Pistons earned some impressive wins (vs. OKC and at SAC) before the break. Their defense held those top offenses to just 224 combined points.
Both the Pistons and Pacers have been nice companions for over-bettors, but this number on Indiana's total is still far too high. On any given night, scoring 130+ points is an outlier, no matter what the situation or offense at play. The potential for an explosion from Indiana's offense is always there, but the reality is they've only surpassed 129 points in 4 of their last 16 games. Oddsmakers see a faster-paced, offensive battle between two well-rested teams. We see two outfits who are well-coached and who know that their opponent's strength is in their scoring ability. The emphasis will be on slowing those units down, and both coaches have had extra time to prepare. We're fading an inflated number, especially in their first game back.
Indiana Team Total under 129½ -110 (Risking 2.2 units - To Win: 2.00)
Posted at 2:00 PM EST. Odds subject to change.
New York over Philadelphia
Best Odds: +103 at Pinnacle
7:10 PM EST. The Knicks weren't themselves before the All-Star break. Although consistently one of the best teams in the NBA since December, the injury bug finally caught up to the Eastern Conference elite. New transfer OG Anunoby, who was traded to the Knicks along with Precious Achiuwa before the new year, had to receive surgery on his elbow in the beginning of February. Anunoby was a perfect fit for New York ever since he arrived, adding to an already stacked depth chart of blue collar, two-way players. He'll be out for some time. Then Isaiah Hartenstein, who's been a nice surprise as Mitchell Robinson's replacement, incurred an achilles injury. Then Donte DiVincenzo, Bojan Bogdanovic, and star guard Jalen Brunsoon all missed some time, too. It's been a rocky road for New York, who closed out the pre-All-Star break calendar with four straight losses. After a week of rest and ample time to fire themselves up for redemption, only OG Anunoby is expected to miss Thursday's game.
Of course part of the reason why the Knicks opened as an underdog is because oddsmakers didn't know just how injured they'd be heading into their first game back. It's also about Julius Randle, who's been out since January 27th. We're just not the biggest fans of Randle, who's as inconsistent as any #2 in pro basketball and often stumbles in big moments. Brunson and the New York crew should be fine with their current roster, which is as deep as any in the association. Regardless, their opponent is even more banged up than they've been.
We all know that the knee injury to last season's MVP is a huge loss for Philadelphia, but markets don't seem to think it'll affect the home team all that much on Thursday night. We beg to differ. Not only is Philly just 6-14 without the big-man, but their production on both ends of the court changes drastically when he's off the floor. Full season they average 118.3 ppg and allow 113.9 to their opponents; without Embiid that reverses - they score only 113 ppg and allow 118. And since Philly's injuries are mounting (Nicholas Batum is questionable and De'Anthony Melton will not play Thursday), it forces pressure on 23 year old Tyrese Maxey to become their main scorer. Since Embiid went down in late January, Maxey has only led the 76ers in scoring in 4 out of 11 games, and he's certainly had a few stinkers along the way. The kid is clearly talented, but against a Knicks' defense that's been very stout on defense all year (ranked 9th this season, 3rd since January 1st), it won't be easy sledding. PS - Maxey tweaked his ankle in the All-Star game, something Philly backers are praying doesn't rear its head again.
The last time the Knicks played the 76ers on January 5th, they obliterated their rival in Philadelphia and with Joel Embiid healthy, in a 128-92 win. Even more impressively, they out-rebounded their foe 49-38, which is never an easy feat against Embiid and the Sixers' front court. Tom Thibodeau is a coach we trust, always firing up his guys to play hard no matter what the situation is, but we imagine they'll have plenty of organic motivation coming off a week of losses before the break. Expect the Knicks to isolate Maxey on defense and start with a bang, which probably means another big performance from Jalen Brunson.
New York +103 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.06)
Posted at 2:00 PM EST. Odds subject to change.
L.A. Clippers/Oklahoms City over 235½
Best Odds: +101 at Pinnacle
8:10 PM EST. In case you've been living under a rock, we're here to inform you that the LA Clippers and OKC Thunder have been two of the strongest teams in the NBA's Western Conference this season. Most of that is because of their respective offenses. Since December 1, no offense has been more efficient than LAC, as a (finally) healthy roster started to find its groove after a shaky start in October and November. Kawhi Leonard is playing some of the best basketball of his career (shooting 53% from the field), Russell Westbrook is content and formidable as the leader of LAC's second unit, Paul George is arguably the best #2 in the league, and the Clippers' roster is composed of assassins who can play defense and shoot from anywhere on the court. Unsurprisingly, Ty Lue's program is listed as having the 3rd best odds of winning this year's NBA title because of their two-month surge. Since December 1, LAC is averaging an absurd 121 ppg.
The OKC Thunder are no slouches, either. At 37-17, they're the #2 team in the West, just 1/2 game ahead of the Clippers, and much of their success can be attributed to their explosiveness on offense, too. OKC's pace has been top-10 all season and it's a reflection of their style of play. Shae Gilgeous Alexander, whose star-power is rapidly rising, leads a fast-paced, highly efficient Thunder offense that, like their opponent, has been top 3 in every major scoring category since December 1. On top of that, they're among the best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA (39.3%, 2nd overall), they average a ridiculous 50% from the field (only Indiana is better), and they own the best overall shooting efficiency in the association (a composite metric that measures each shot opportunity and success rate). The Clippers haven't needed to play much defense since their offense has been so exceptional, but they rank just 17th in that category - good luck to their chances of slowing down OKC off rest tonight. We don't see it.
Tonight marks the rubber match between these two contenders and we love the complimentary matchup for both offenses. Their previous two games went way over tonight's listed total, and unlike what we see from other outfits, neither team slows down in the second half (they each average 60 ppg in the 3rd and 4th quarters). Look for a live total-over if this starts slow. The Clippers' have the veteran advantage, but OKC is at home and Gilgeous-Alexander has made several fired up comments (via Twitter and to the press) leading up to this big contest. The young Thunder have something to prove - that they can hang with present and former elites - and what better way to put those intentions on display than a raucous offensive performance in their first game back? From what we've observed from LAC, they're usually happy to follow the tempo and output of a high-scoring opponent; just look at their recent totals in games against ATL, GS, DET, PHX, and of course, OKC. Expect a showcase of offensive talent tonight - this number is way too low.
L.A. Clippers/Oklahoma City over 235½ +101 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.02)
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