NBA bettors have an unusually light schedule on Friday & we have prepared previews for five (as well as top total value and ATS picks of the night). Here's a synopsis of those with all times Eastern.
Bulls vs. Hornets (+1, 189), 7 p.m.
Covered by: Jason
Potential first-round playoff preview here, although Charlotte certainly isn't guaranteed of even making the Eastern Conference field. The Hornets lost their second straight on Wednesday, 113-106 at home to Sacramento -- a type of game you simply can't lose when fighting for a playoff berth. There was mixed news for Charlotte in that one. Star point guard Kemba Walker returned from an 18-game absence due to knee surgery and had six points in 16 minutes off the bench. He will come off the bench Friday as well. The potentially terrible news was that center Al Jefferson, the team's best player if Walker isn't, left in the third quarter with a calf injury and heard a "pop." An MRI revealed nothing significant but Jefferson will miss at least a bit of time. In addition, forward/center Cody Zeller missed Wednesday's game and won't play Friday. The Bulls won't be empathetic with Charlotte as they remain without Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. Center Joakim Noah missed Wednesday's win in Philadelphia with knee soreness and is a game-time decision for Charlotte. Chicago has won six of its past seven in Charlotte. Jason leans Hornets.
Heat vs. Raptors (-5.5, 204), 7:30 p.m.
Covered by: Scott
Miami's starting backcourt of Dwyane Wade (illness) and Goran Dragic (back injury) were both game-time decisions for Wednesday's home matchup against Brooklyn but both played in a 104-98 win to finish off a season sweep of the Nets. Wade had 28 points and nine rebounds while Dragic had 17 points. The Heat played without center Hassan Whiteside due to a one-game suspension, but Chris Andersen stepped into the starting lineup and tied a career high with 18 points and set a season high with 14 boards. Andersen had just one double-double in his previous 236 games. He should go back to a reserve role with Whiteside back Friday. Toronto has dropped four straight, although its huge Atlantic Division lead is in no jeopardy. Rather amazingly, the Heat have beaten the Raptors 16 straight times. Miami can match its longest winning streak ever over one team (Milwaukee) with a win. Scott leans Miami.
Timberwolves vs. Thunder (-10, 211), 8 p.m.
Covered by: Jason
Expect a monster game here from Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook. Why? He was outplayed in Wednesday's home loss to the Clippers by point guard counterpart Chris Paul. Westbrook nearly had another triple-double with 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists but he also turned it over a career-high 10 times and hit just five of 14 shots from the field. Westbrook hasn't had back-to-back games without a triple-double since Feb. 21-22. OKC can't lose a game like this at home while fighting for the West's final playoff spot. Minnesota will likely be without center Nikola Pekovic after he left Wednesday's loss in Phoenix early with an ankle injury. The Thunder have won 10 straight at home vs. Minnesota. Jason is going 'over' the NBA Odds total.
Clippers vs. Mavericks (-2.5, 202.5), 8:30 p.m.
Covered by: Dave
When the Mavericks lose lately, it's been by blowout. Amare Stoudemire publicly called out his team following Tuesday's rather embarrassing 33-point home loss to Cleveland. The Cavs did whatever they wanted offensively. Dirk Nowitzki is struggling in March, averaging just 12.6 points on 35.9 percent shooting. The Mavericks are a .500 team since Jan. 7. The Clippers will remain without injured sixth man Jamal Crawford for this game, but All-Star Blake Griffin is close to returning. It will not happen against Dallas. Los Angeles has blown out Dallas twice this season and won three straight overall in Big D. Dave says Clippers will cover against struggling Mavs.
Warriors vs. Nuggets (+6.5, 217.5), 9 p.m.
Covered by: Jason
Denver is a better team under interim coach Melvin Hunt, going 4-2 under him and reaching triple digits in every game. The Nuggets routed the Eastern Conference's best team, Atlanta, 115-102 on Wednesday. Now they get a shot at the West's best club in Golden State, which is expected to rest at least a couple of key guys. Denver won't lack for motivation as the Warriors' largest margin of victory this season was a 122-79 victory over the Nuggets on Oakland on Jan. 19. This is Golden State's only visit to Denver and the Warriors have won two straight there. Could be a bit of a trap game with the Warriors back home Saturday night to begin a six-game homestand and Coach Steve Kerr saying some are going to sit vs. the Nuggets. He just hasn't said who. Jason is taking the points for his NBA Picks here.