Thursday’s short NBA slate presents us with some intriguing storylines to follow.
There’s a great matchup between the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, a potential trap game for the NBA’s hottest team, the Phoenix Suns, on the first night of a back-to-back against the Detroit Pistons, and then there’s the Portland Trail Blazers (minus Damian Lillard), who are looking to stay scorching hot at home where they face the visiting San Antonio Spurs.
Our NBA analyst break down all three matchups and give their best bets for Thursday night below.
NBA Odds & Picks
|Click on a game to skip ahead|
|Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks||7:30 p.m. ET|
|Detroit Pistons vs. Phoenix Suns||9 p.m. ET|
|San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers||10 p.m. ET|
|Pick||Alex Burks Over 16.5 Points (+100)|
|Tipoff||7:30 p.m. ET|
Joe Dellera: The Knicks shuffled up their starting lineup and removed Kemba Walker entirely from the rotation while elevating Alec Burks to join the starters. This is a strong move because of Burks’ defensive length and his versatile scoring ability.
Burks has played with the starting unit seven times over the past two seasons and he’s averaged over 30 minutes per game in those contests. When Burks plays at least 30 minutes the last two season, both his mean and his median point total is 21 points. Given the way he’s performed in this role and how Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau will likely push his starters against the Bulls, this is a great opportunity for Burks.
He’s cleared 16.5 points in 11 of his 13 games with at least 30 minutes, and he’s cleared 20 in nine of 13. I’m buying Burks to put up some points against the Bulls and I’ll sprinkle a bit on him hitting 20-plus as well at (+194 FanDuel).
|Pick||Ayton under 1.5 Assists (+115)|
|Tipoff||9 p.m. ET|
|TV||NBA League Pass|
Ayton has gone under 1.5 assists in nine of 16 games this year, hitting this under 56% of the time. Last season, he had zero or one assist in 40 of 69 games, hitting this under 58% of the time. It’s not a huge edge, but it’s in our favor, and we’re getting plus juice that implies only a 47% hit rate.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll see the edge more clearly. Ayton has more games with zero assists than with three or more each of the last two seasons, so that shows a clear ceiling on his passing. He’s also averaging just 2.3 potential assists, per NBA Advanced Stats. Players typically convert about half of their potential assists, and obviously he’d need teammates to convert “both” of his 2.3 potential assists to hit this over.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers
|Pick||Under 217.5 (-115)|
|Tipoff||10 p.m. ET|
Kenny Ducey: The Spurs have come alive on the defensive side of the ball. They stymied capable offenses like the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics in the past two games, holding both teams below 100 points. Next up is a visit to Portland where they’ll take on a wounded Trail Blazers team playing without Damian Lillard and Nassir Little, and I think the defense will step up once again.
Yes, it’s been extremely hard to trust San Antonio on the defensive end this year, but consider the fact that Portland has scored 8.3 fewer points per 100 possessions with Lillard off the court this year, according to NBA.com. That’s a pretty significant number considering Lillard hasn’t even been at his best so far.
On the other side of the coin, Portland’s defense has actually been better without Lillard by about three points per 100 possessions, which is a testament to the strides Anfernee Simons has made defensively. The Blazers shouldn’t have many issues stopping a Spurs team that sits firmly in the bottom half of the NBA in offensive efficiency.
On top of the matchup here, we can also expect the pace of play to be slow — the Trail Blazers rank 17th in Pace this season and the Spurs sit 26th in Pace over the last five games (Portland’s 21st in that time frame).
The Trail Blazers should see a slight boost defensively given the splits and a soft matchup with the Spurs, and with the pace of this one I’m confident 217.5 is too high of a total, but I wouldn’t go lower than 216.