Be sure to check out our NBA Picks: Thursday Night Parlay
Lakers at Heat
This used to be arguably the marquee matchup on the NBA schedule as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James get to meet only twice a season since they have yet to face off in the NBA Finals. Now it looks like a cakewalk for the Heat with Los Angeles sinking closer and closer to last in the Western Conference without the injured Kobe. Miami opened as 12-point favorite on NBA odds with a total of 211.
We know pretty much the whole L.A. backcourt -- Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar -- remain out injured. We also know that small forward Xavier Henry, who had been having a nice season for himself, will miss a 12th straight game with a knee injury. So essentially the starting five again will be Pau Gasol and four guys who have no right starting. Gasol has been improving his trade value of late, averaging 22.0 points and 12.4 rebounds in the past five games. He did miss practice on Wednesday with a wound on his toe but will play here.
The Lakers (23-18-1 ATS, 23-19 O/U at sportsbooks) have followed a six-game losing streak by winning two of three and played pretty well in that loss, 102-100 in overtime on Monday night at the Bulls. This will be game No. 5 on L.A.'s seven-game road trip necessitated by the Grammys at Staples Center. They have covered the past four for sports bettors.
The main question for Miami (18-24, 25-17 O/U at sportsbooks) is whether Dwyane Wade plays. The Heat look exhausted and perhaps a little out of sync because they don't know when "Flash" will be in the lineup. Miami returned home Tuesday from a six-game road trip on which the team lost four games and beat Boston 93-86 but didn't look great in doing it, blowing an 18-point lead -- we projected a Celtics cover on NBA picks if Wade sat out. It was his 12th game on the sideline (Miami is 6-6) and third straight. So with nearly a week off the chances would seem good Wade could play Thursday and the Heat aren't in action again until Sunday in a Finals rematch with San Antonio.
Miami visited the Lakers on Christmas Day and beat them 101-95 as a 9.5-point favorite on NBA odds with a total of 206.5. Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh combined for 65 points. The Heat outscored the Lakers 58-26 in the paint. Bryant, Nash and Blake all missed that game as well.
NBA free pick: Heat -12 if Wade plays, Lakers and the points if not, and the under to your NBA picks.
Nuggets at Trail Blazers
It sure seems like the Nuggets franchise went downhill the night that Danilo Gallinari tore up his knee on April 4, 2013. Last year Denver finished third in the Western Conference and a stellar 38-3 at home. The Nuggets thought they were deep enough to beat anyone in the playoffs. That all went bye-bye when Gallinari, the team's second-leading scorer, went down. Denver was ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State and things only got worse. NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri left for Toronto after the season, NBA Coach of the Year George Karl wasn't brought back, and All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala left as a free agent for Golden State.
So it's not a huge surprise that Denver (18-22 ATS, 20-20 O/U at sportsbooks) enters Thursday game at Portland as a .500 club. Gallinari was officially ruled out this season earlier this week after he underwent a second surgery on that ACL as the first procedure didn't fix the problem. Denver is 50-21 since start of last season with the Italian in the lineup and 27-24 without. The Nuggets also remain without injured center JaVale McGee. He hasn't played since Nov. 8. They have lost three of their past four and allowed at least 116 points in all of them -- all over the total for sports bettors.
Portland (24-18 ATS, 29-13 O/U at sportsbooks) will be glad to be home after losing Monday in Houston and Tuesday in Oklahoma City. The NBA's highest-scoring team was held to 97 by the Thunder, the Blazers' first game under 100 since Jan. 4. Starting forward Nicolas Batum has been scuffling of late as he plays with a splint on broken left middle finger.
These clubs have met once this season, a 113-98 Portland win in Denver on Nov. 1 with the Nuggets as 4.5-point favorites on NBA odds. That ended Denver's 23-game home regular-season winning streak and was the home debut of new coach Brian Shaw. Ty Lawson had 21 points, the only Nuggets starter in double figures.
NBA free pick: Portland -7 and the over.