The resolve of the Los Angeles Clippers will be tested over the next two months, as Lob City will have to do their best to keep their heads above water without star point guard, Chris Paul. The next two weeks may be the most trying part of their journey, too, as the Clips will be manning the rugged waters of the NBA without Paul and Blake Griffin.
It doesn’t look good at first glance, but it’s not all bad. L.A. is in a great spot right now, as they’re riding a hot 7-game winning streak and have the fourth best record in the Western Conference (29-14). Even if they shrink under a horrible slide, they’re still probably a lock for the playoffs and know they will get Griffin back within the next two weeks and CP3 back in time for the playoffs.
The question, of course, is how should we be betting with them in mind until Griffin gets back to the court? The answer slowly begins to leave the tip of our tongues on Thursday night when Los Angeles plays host to a young and talented Timberwolves squad.
L.A. absolutely has the depth and talent to get some wins, but will they be able to flex their depth muscle tonight? Find out as we take a look at all five of Thursday’s NBA contests via our daily NBA picks:
Phoenix Suns (+12.5)
Cleveland Cavaliers (-12.5)
This game is without a doubt one of the easiest to call on this light slate, as the Suns are one of the most erratic teams in the league, don’t defend and rarely get wins on the road. Their shaky 13-28 season record tell us that, while they’re giving up over 111 points per game on the year and sport a horrendous 5-16 road record.
None of that looks good for Phoenix, but it gets even worse when they head to Quicken Loans Arena, where the defending champs are a blistering 18-3. Cleveland has also owned this series, ripping off wins in each of the last four meetings.
The only silver lining for the Suns could be Cleveland possibly resting some key guys. Kevin Love (back) is ailing and looks questionable to hit the floor tonight:
Now Lue said Love didn't participate fully. No contact. Questionable for tomorrow. He's on the court now doing shooting drill
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving could both be rest candidates in a game the Cavs could potentially win with 1-2 of their main starters resting. Odds are we’ll see Irving and King James whether Love sits or not, however, so we have to look at this game just like any other Cavs game. If it were in Phoenix, the Suns could be a sneaky play to hang. Denver Booker has been absolutely on fire lately (25, 39 and 39 points over his last three contests) and should again be able to put some balls in the bucket.
All that being said, the Suns really aren’t a match for the Cavs on the road. Look for Cleveland to win and cover.
Dallas Mavericks (+2)
Miami Heat (-2)
We get a fun rematch of two past NBA Finals series, as Dirk Nowitzki leads his Mavericks into South Beach to battle a Heat team that has really fallen on hard times. Goran Dragic played extremely hard to help the Heat to upset the Rockets in their last game, however, so with Miami at home and playing hard, we could have a tight finish.
Vegas seems to think so, as both teams still have some star talent to lean on and will also be dealing with their own health issues. Dallas is probably healthier at the moment, but will miss the defensive presence of star center Andrew Bogut (hamstring), who has already been ruled out for tonight’s contest:
Bogut being out probably has the Mavs rolling out more small ball lineups, with Nowitzki playing some center. That should mean we see a little more Seth Curry and J.J. Barea, which hypothetically should help Dallas offensively. Miami can counter that with Hassan Whiteside at the five and a lot of Luke Babbitt and James Johnson at the four. On paper, this should be a matchup where Whiteside feasts.
Miami isn’t the better team right now, but they’re at home and for this matchup, they may have the edge. The oddsmakers are calling it close, and so are we; Miami by three.
Washington Wizards (n/a)
New York Knicks (n/a)
This is one of the oddest games on this slate, as it’s projected to be tight and the Knicks do play well at the Madison Square Garden, but it’s tough to know where to go here. Both teams could be tired after playing last night, while New York surprisingly looked good in a win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.
It’s been the Wiz that we’ve been able to trust lately, of course, as they’ve been red hot, winning 7 of their last 10 games. John Wall has the Wizards heading in the right direction and they’ve also largely taken care of business against the Knicks (won 10 of the last 11 meetings).
It could get worse for the Knicks, who are a solid 12-9 at MSG, but could be severely shorthanded in this one. Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porzingis both sat out last night and it’s possible both could miss this contest, as well. Zinger is the name you’ll really want to watch, but an MRI scheduled for today on his ailing Achilles could put his status in jeopardy:
With or without their two key big men, the Knicks don’t feel like the right play here. Derrick Rose was awesome last night (30 points) and Carmelo Anthony can score the ball, but New York has not been good overall (3-7 over their last 10 games) and the Wiz play a faster brand of basketball. Look for the Knicks to be a little more tired and too undermanned in a tight home loss.
Denver Nuggets (+12.5)
San Antonio Spurs (-12.5)
This is the other game on tonight’s slate with a nasty spread that you probably will want to act on. The Spurs have been good all year, are red hot (7-3 over their last 10 games) and will be at home (where they’re 15-5) against a severely mangled Denver lineup.
The Nuggets have been better ever since sliding Nikola Jokic into the starting center spot, but he got banged up in their last game and could be one of a laundry list of injury casualties in this one. Jokic joins the likes of Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur – all of which are questionable to suit up tonight.
Even at full strength, it’s safe to say the Nuggets would find taking down the Spurs in San Antonio a challenge. The Nuggets haven’t been very good 8-12 on the road, still don’t defend well and in this specific series are just 1-11 in the last 12 meetings. It doesn’t look good for Denver tonight, regardless of who winds up hitting the floor.
Minnesota Timberwolves (+2)
Los Angeles Clippers (-2)
The final game of the night could easily end up being the best one, as it ties for the best spread on Thursday and also offers two teams that should be fairly evenly matched. L.A. is obviously vulnerable right now due to both CP3 and Blake Griffin being sidelined, but they still have DeAndre Jordan and a slew of guards to lean on.
The Clippers will lack star power, but they’re still good at home (17-6) and have dominated this matchup (won 16 of the last 17 meetings). It’s tough to suggest they’ll easily keep that dominance going, but they couldn’t be in a better spot. Minnesota is just 4-6 over their last 10 games (lost two in a row) and struggles on the road (5-15). In addition, Ricky Rubio trade rumors have been swirling, which could be causing a distraction.
That could very well be the case, but we need to pay mind to Rubio, who has been on fire lately (10+ assists in five straight games). Sadly, Rubio’s efforts haven’t exactly turned things around for the Wolves and they’ll be on the road against a Clippers team that still has the defensive tools to give them fits even without their top two stars.
The reality is the Clippers have enough defenders at all the key spots to give Minnesota problems, while the Timberwolves already tend to shoot themselves in the foot on the road. This is undeniably a solid spot to roll with the Wolves as the underdogs, but the Clippers have terrific depth and can win games without their top players. This is certainly one of those games.
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