This week's TNT doubleheader, the only games on Thursday's NBA schedule, features two interconference matchups between likely playoff teams, with the Spurs making their only trip to Brooklyn and the Bulls making their lone stop in Oakland. Find out which teams we're backing for our NBA Picks of the Day.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Brooklyn Nets
Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez all have been NBA All-Stars. Yet might the most important player on the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets be Russian Andrei Kirilenko?
Here's all you need to know: On New Year's Eve, Brooklyn (22-24 ATS, 24-19-3 O/U at sportsbooks) lost 113-92 in San Antonio, which was a 12-point favorite on NBA odds, to drop the Nets to a season-worst 11 games under .500 at 10-21. Kirilenko played in that game, but just 11 minutes after missing the previous 25 games due to injury. Since that point, the Nets are 11-4. Two of their losses in that stretch were last Friday against Oklahoma City and Saturday at Indiana, both games Kirilenko sat out again. He also missed Monday's 108-102 victory over Philadelphia, but Kirilenko practiced in full Wednesday and will play Thursday.
Kirilenko averages just 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in 18.1 minutes, but he's a stellar defender, usually drawing the Kevin Durants, Carmelo Anthonys and LeBron James' of the world. Brooklyn as a team is simply a vastly different unit with Kirilenko around and Garnett playing center with Lopez out for the season.
Two other key Nets missed that Sixers win Monday but will play against San Antonio: Johnson and backup center Andray Blatche. Johnson was really struggling, averaging only 9.6 points on 36.4 percent from the field in his previous five games before taking a seat with knee tendinitis. Blatche has missed the past two with a hip problem. He is having a nice season, putting 12.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in only 22.3 minutes.
It's the second of a back-to-back for the Spurs (24-25 ATS, 28-20-1 O/U at sportsbooks) as they won 125-118 in double overtime in Washington on Wednesday, San Antonio's 16th straight win over the Wizards. The Spurs rallied from an early 17-point deficit behind 31 points and 11 rebounds from Tim Duncan in a season-high 40 minutes. Thus he might not play tonight. For sure Tony Parker won't play against the Nets. He left Wednesday's game with tightness in his lower back. San Antonio got starting guard Danny Green back in Monday's win at New Orleans after Green missed 10 games with a finger injury. However, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard are both likely a few weeks away from their injuries.
Parker led six Spurs in double figures with 18 points in that first meeting with Brooklyn, and San Antonio shot 51.3 percent from the field. Leonard and Ginobili combined for 21. Williams, Johnson and Garnett combined for just 20 points for the Nets.
Free NBA Picks: Nets -6.5 on NBA odds with the under 193. San Antonio will be exhausted and for sure without three of its best players in Parker, Ginobili and Leonard and possibly Duncan too. Brooklyn, 1-20 in its past 21 regular-season meetings against San Antonio, ends a six-game losing streak in this series and covers for our NBA picks for the sixth time in its past seven Thursday games.
The sign of a well-coached team is one that rebounds from a disastrous effort in the next game. The Bulls (22-26 ATS, 19-29 O/U at sportsbooks) clearly are well coached by Tom Thibodeau and they proved that theory correct Tuesday. Chicago played perhaps its worst game of the year in losing 89-70 in Sacramento on Monday. The Kings had lost seven straight but jumped out to a 24-12 first-quarter lead and the Bulls essentially laid down. They shot 28.2 percent, the worst for any Kings opponent since the team moved to Sacramento. Clearly the effort bothered All-Star center Joakim Noah as he dropped F-bombs at each official during a tirade in the third quarter. Noah was ejected but somehow avoided a suspension for Tuesday's game at Phoenix.
The Suns carried a five-game winning streak into that one, hadn't played since Saturday and were 7.5-point favorites on NBA odds, but Chicago rolled 101-92 and never trailed. Noah had 14 points and 14 rebounds, and Carlos Boozer 19 and 12 as the Bulls held Phoenix to 38.8 percent shooting and nearly 13 points below its scoring average.
We will see how the Warriors (21-26-2 ATS, 20-28-1 O/U at sportsbooks) bounce back from a terrible effort. They scored their second-fewest points of the season Tuesday in a puzzling 91-75 home defeat to Charlotte. The Warriors couldn't have been tired as they had been off since winning in Utah on Friday. However, Golden State shot only 31.2 percent, the lowest for the franchise since Nov. 12, 2004. Stephen Curry was just 1-for-7 from long range and a team-worst minus-18, while David Lee was 3-for-13 for six points. He had scored in double figures in 123 straight games. Lee had missed the Utah win with a shoulder injury so perhaps he wasn't 100 percent. On the bright side, Warriors backup center Jermaine O'Neal played his first game since Dec. 9 and had nine points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes. O'Neal could be almost like a trade acquisition if he can stay healthy and backup Andrew Bogut.
Free NBA Picks: Golden State -8 on NBA odds and under the 191 total in the first meeting of the season between these teams. Expect the Warriors to have a spirited effort just like Chicago did against Phoenix. The Bulls have covered just once in their past five after a win for sports bettors, while the Warriors have covered eight of their past nine following a loss of at least 10 points at home.