76ers, Thunder to Cover on Road vs. Lottery-Bound Teams

Troy Haliburton

Thursday, February 22, 2018 4:51 PM UTC

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 4:51 PM UTC

Two matchups on Thursday's NBA slate feature big favorites visiting struggling teams. Can Philadelphia (at Chicago) and Oklahoma City (at Sacramento) take care of business?

Thursday NBA: 76ers vs. BullsFree NBA Pick: 76ers -6.5Best Line Offered: Bookmaker

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With 27 games left in their season, the Sixers are inching closer to ending their five-year playoff drought, while the Bulls are very much interested in going in the opposite direction in order to get the best possible positioning for the draft lottery. A part of the Bulls' strategy to bottom out is to start playing their younger players to get a look at what they can do. Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday will be replaced in the starting lineup by Christiano Felicio and David Nwaba.

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The Bulls starting Felicio is about as good as it gets from a tanking perspective given how bad they've been with him on the floor this year.

— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) February 20, 2018

Philadelphia is 14-12 ATS on the road this season and is a 6.5-point favorite on tonight's NBA odds board. Before the All-Star break the Bulls had lost eight of 10 games, in part because of their inability to score. Chicago is ranked 24th in the NBA in scoring, managing to put up only 103.3 points per game.

The Bulls are struggling to score in large part because point guard Zach LaVine is still adjusting to live action after missing the first few months of the season recovering from a torn ACL. The time off might have benefited LaVine by giving him time to rest and allow his body time to recover from having to get into "basketball" shape this late in the year. LaVine is tasked with not only being the primary ball-handler for the Bulls, but also for setting up his teammates, and he's the team's best isolation scorer. Lauri Markkanen has shown a feathery touch on his outside shot, but he still lacks the physicality to be able to create for himself.

Philadelphia has a clear advantage with its front-court players, based purely on the dominance of Joel Embiid, who is coming off his first All-Star appearance and is showcasing his talents for the world. Embiid being matched against Felicio should result in a big game for him and a much-needed win for the Sixers, so with my NBA picks I'll take Philly minus the points.

Thursday NBA: Thunder vs. KingsFree NBA Pick: Thunder -7.5Best Line Offered: Pinnacle

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Oklahoma City has been consistently inconsistent this season and has only two months to get on track before the playoffs. Luckily for them, tonight they are playing one of the worst teams in the NBA in returning from the All-Star break and will look to build some momentum with a win in Sacramento, where they are road favorites on the NBA odds board. The Kings, 10-15 AST at home, have made it very clear they intend on playing their younger players, especially after trading one of their key veteran pieces in George Hill. De’Aaron Fox will take over as the point guard of the future for the Kings and will have his hands full trying to slow Thunder star Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook has gotten into a groove this season, partly because the Thunder have figured out a hierarchy in their team production. Paul George and Westbrook have emerged as the clear leaders of the team and warrant high usage rates. However, Carmelo Anthony is having one of his worst seasons, shooting only 42.1 percent from the field, and has almost turned into a liability.

The injury to Andre Roberson is turning into a serious problem for the Thunder’s season because his defensive intangibles were able to cover up for a lot of Anthony's deficiencies. Oklahoma City lost six of nine games heading into the All-Star break, but with my NBA picks I think they'll get back on track against a Kings team that has almost no incentive to win.

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