LeBron James wasn’t quite 100 percent Friday night. The Cleveland Cavaliers might be all right anyway when they face the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, but they need James healthy to beat the NBA odds.
Jason’s record as of Mar. 20: 55-49-4 ATS, 5-9 Totals, minus-1.00 units ML
It was a typical box score for LeBron James: 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists. But this wasn’t King James at his finest. Battling a head cold, James posted a team-worst minus-7 for the Cleveland Cavaliers in Friday’s 95-92 win over the Indiana Pacers (+10.5 away). He shot 13-of-26 from the floor to get those 29 points. Basketball Reference gave LeBron a Game Score of 18.2, one of his more middling performances this month.
These are the kind of details you need to consider when you’re making your NBA picks. Obviously James and the Cavaliers (45-26 SU, 35-36 ATS) are still in great shape – they just clinched a playoff berth. And it’s unlikely the Cavs will have too much trouble in Sunday night’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks (34-35 SU, 39-29-1 ATS), who have lost 12 of their last 16 games at 5-10-1 ATS since the All-Star break. However, the Bucks are getting 8.5 points at home on the NBA odds board as we go to press. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
A Nose for the Net
This wasn’t a minor case of the sniffles, either. James was sick enough that he didn’t participate in the team’s morning shootaround – he slept in, then rushed to see his son Bryce perform in a school play. He was a game-time decision for Friday. James played, of course, but he had nine points and a couple of bad turnovers going into the dressing room. Then he took his sweet time coming out for the second half.
Eventually, James took over in the fourth quarter and led the Cavaliers to victory, but it was a close one, and the Pacers covered with room to spare. While it wasn’t a particularly good shooting night overall for Cleveland at 35-of-82 (42.7 percent) from the floor, all that extra volume James put on his shoulders was reminiscent of Russell Westbrook at his most dubious for the injury-plagued Oklahoma City Thunder. The Cavs need more efficiency than that.
Get the Bucket
None of us here at the ranch is a doctor – although I did play one on TV. But we’ll go ahead and assume James will be close enough to full health for Sunday’s matinee game (3:00 p.m. ET). Which brings us to the Bucks. They’re going to need more than a nice hot bowl of chicken soup to get over their current malaise; this slump coincides with the big Trade deadline 3-way that brought Michael Carter-Williams (14.5 PER, minus-1.9 BPM for the Bucks) over from the Philadelphia 76ers, and sent Brandon Knight (18.6 PER, plus-2.4 BPM) to the Phoenix Suns.
The deal makes some sense in the long run. Knight is not much of a defensive player (minus-1.9 DBPM lifetime), as the Suns have discovered to their dismay. Carter-Williams (plus-0.5 DBPM lifetime) is a lot closer to the 2-way point guard that head coach Jason Kidd was back in the day. He’s also three inches taller than Knight at 6-foot-6, and has a bit more upside as an NBA sophomore. The Bucks also got Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee in the deal, so why not?
Well, the rookie Ennis (6.1 PER, minus-6.4 BPM) has been a disaster in his 17.3 minutes per game since landing in Milwaukee. And Plumlee (12.7 PER, minus-3.1 BPM) continues to regress in his third year in the bigs, although his defense (plus-2.0 DBPM) is still useful. But it’s the disappearance of Knight’s offense that really has Milwaukee in a bind right now. Knight (plus-2.5 OBPM) had a true shooting percentage of 55.6 for the Bucks. Carter-Williams (minus-2.2 OBPM) is at 46.9 percent. Wrapping a hot towel around his head won’t fix that.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Cavaliers at 5Dimes