Our NBA handicapper looks ahead at the top post All-Star break games this week to help you decide where to place your NBA picks and start the second half of the season on the right foot.
Thursday, February 18
Bulls vs. Cavaliers
The Bulls are reeling, losing six of their last seven games and they will be without Jimmy Butler, who is still nursing a strained left knee. Not having Butler in a tough visit against the Cavaliers, the best team in the Eastern Conference, will likely inflate the NBA odds in Cleveland's favor. The Cavs have won three straight but they're 0-2 in the season series against the Bulls.
Spurs vs. Clippers
The Spurs have won their last six games while the Clippers are coming off a tough 139-134 road loss against the Celtics, which ended a three-game winning streak. San Antonio won the only meeting this season, 115-107 at home. Blake Griffin finished with 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in that setback and he will not play on Thursday, so consider the Spurs for your NBA picks because this is the kind of game in which his absence can be felt.
Friday, February 19
Heat vs. Hawks
Chris Bosh will not play in this game because he is expected to meet with doctors to determine the seriousness of blood-clotting fears in his left calf and whether there's a way for him to return this season. The Heat have lost two in a row while the Hawks haven't lived up to expectations. Both teams are rumored to be active on the trade market so keep an eye on potential moves before betting this game. Miami leads the season series 2-1.
Pacers vs. Thunder
The Thunder won their last two games and they're 25-5 at home while the Pacers are coming off a disappointing 117-95 home loss against the Hornets last Wednesday and they're just 11-16 on the road. This will be the first meeting between these two teams this season and I can't see how the Pacers can contain Durant and Westbrook and keep up with the Thunder. Also, keep in mind that Indiana is 6-17 ATS against Western Conference opponents this season.
Saturday, February 20
Knicks vs. Timberwolves
The Knicks are a mess, having lost nine of their last 10 games. On paper, this visit to the Timberwolves might be the perfect opportunity for them get back on track, but Minnesota is actually playing decent basketball, with three wins in their last four games. Will these teams make significant trades before this game? That's another aspect to consider ahead of this contest.
Warriors vs. Clippers
The Warriors, who own the best record in the league, visit a Clippers team that is 17-8 at home as of this writing. Golden State leads the season series with Los Angeles 2-0, with both wins coming by an average of 5.5 points. I don't see how the Clippers can slow down Curry and Thompson but online sportsbooks like 5Dimes might inflate this line because of Blake Griffin's absence.
Sunday, February 21
Cavaliers vs. Thunder
The Cavaliers visit the Thunder in a potential NBA Finals preview that we can expect to go down to the wire. The Cavs are playing decent basketball under new head coach Tyronn Lue and the Thunder have positioned themselves as one of the top teams in the Western Conference, so this will be a must-watch game. The Cavaliers won the first meeting 104-100 in Cleveland and we can expect a similar outcome in Oklahoma City.
Lakers vs. Bulls
It's going to be an emotional night as the Kobe Bryant farewell tour continues with his last game in Chicago, which will also be his last against his former teammate and personal friend Pau Gasol. The Lakers have lost three straight contests, but they're 5-0 ATS in their last five games and as mentioned above, the Bulls are really struggling, so another cover for Los Angeles isn't out of the question.
Toronto's DeMar DeRozan is our player to watch for this week's fantasy corner. DeRozan is a shooting guard that averages just 0.6 three-point attempts per game but his value lies in two critical stats among roto systems: scoring and free-throws. You can count on him to put up 24-25 points per game the rest of the season and he is shooting a career-high 83.6 percent from the free-throw line, with only DeMarcus Cousins and James Harden attempting more free-throws per game than him (8.3 FTA).