17 Jan

Sixers’ Joel Embiid addresses narrative about missing games ahead of matchup vs. Nuggets, Nikola Jokic

Joel Embiid’s health has been a constant topic of conversation since before he even entered the league. If it wasn’t for questions about his foot back in 2014, he likely would have been the No. 1 pick in that year’s NBA Draft. A decade later, concerns about Embiid’s ability to stay on the floor remain.

The Philadelphia 76ers star has already missed 10 games this season and is on pace to play just 60, which would make him ineligible for year-end awards, like the MVP and All-NBA. This is because the NBA instituted a new player participation policy ahead of the season, indicating that players must appear in at least 65 games to be eligible for major awards. An appearance is defined as registering at least 20 minutes of action. Furthermore, a number of Embiid’s absences have come against other top teams, including the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves.

His next big matchup will come on Tuesday when the Sixers host Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Embiid is expected to play despite the fact that he just returned from a three-game absence on Monday and that game will be the second of a back-to-back. After dropping 41 points and 10 rebounds on the Houston Rockets in another impressive showing, Embiid said he’s heard the noise:

“I saw it,” Embiid said. “But I can’t control if I get sick, if I get the flu or whatever. Can’t control that. Can’t control if my knee is gonna swell up. It just happened. It was against New Orleans and Boston. I got the flu, obviously you can’t go. A lot of guys on the team had it. Like I said, the goal is to be ready for the playoffs. If I cant meet the criteria of 65 games, and if I can’t play against some of the best teams in the league then… As long as I’m ready to be dominant when it gets to that time in April, that’s all I care about.

“Every single team that I play against, I dominate. We win and I put up numbers necessary to win. You can’t read too much into it because one of the main things that I see is that as soon as you use the name Joel Embiid, that’s gonna get you a lot of likes and that’s gonna get you a lot of money. As long as my name has a chance to help somebody make money, I’m all for it. Keep trolling. I like it, I love it.”

Embiid’s big game against the Rockets was his 16th consecutive outing with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, which tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the second-longest such streak. For the season he’s averaging a league-leading 34.9 points, 11.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists and two blocks per game on 53.6% shooting. While he’s certainly taken advantage of some lesser opponents along the way, he’s also dropped 51 points on the Timberwolves and their league-best defense and went for 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

If his comments on Monday are any indication, he’ll be looking to make a statement against Jokic and the Nuggets.

17 Jan

Damian Lillard’s heroics power Bucks’ jump, red-hot Jazz climb as Knicks tumble

What a difference a week makes. This time seven days ago we were asking what was wrong with the Milwaukee Bucks, who, at the time, looked to be in an absolute free fall. Well, when you have two of the best players to ever lace them up, things tend to get remedied pretty quickly.

Behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, the Bucks jumped an unprecedented 13 spots to take the crown in this week’s NBA Power Rankings. They drubbed the previous No. 1 Boston Celtics to start the week, then Lillard put the icing on the cake with a deep, game-winning 3-pointer to beat the Kings in overtime.

The Celtics didn’t fall far, landing at No. 2. But the big surprise in the top five is the presence of the red-hot Utah Jazz, who are absolutely clobbering everyone in their path. They jumped 12 spots to No. 5 thanks to four more wins, including one over the defending champion Nuggets.

We can’t talk about risers without talking about fallers, and that’s where the New York Knicks come in. It wasn’t a horrible week by any stretch, but they dropped 10 spots as they came back down to earth following the OG Anunoby trade.

The other big news this week is that the Detroit Pistons are no longer in the cellar. Another win means that they climb ahead of the Wizards, Blazers and Hornets into relatively rarified air. Breathe it in, Detroit.

17 Jan

Draymond Green says ‘there’s just no pride’ after Warriors’ ugly loss to Grizzlies in return from suspension

The Warriors have been hearing a lot of boos recently. Unfortunately, most have been from their own fans. On Monday, however, the boos were sweet music to their ears, as Draymond Green was greeted with a chorus of them by the Memphis Grizzlies fans at FedEx Forum, who clearly had a photographic memory of Green’s “Whoop That Trick” antics during the playoffs a couple of seasons ago.

Even the boost provided by Green in his return from a 12-game suspension (16-game absence) — his play, his leadership and his communication — wasn’t enough to get them past a skeleton Grizzlies crew without Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Marcus Smart and a host of others. In the end, it was a 116-107 Golden State loss in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day national TV showcase. The fact that you have to check if this is the Warriors’ worst loss of the season tells you everything you need to know about their troubling state.

What was supposed to be a beacon of hope — proof that when Green is on the court with the other vets, this team is different — instead turned into what could have been the final straw. If we can’t beat this team, how can we conceivably consider ourselves even remotely in the championship conversation?

In terms of basketball, Green was just fine in his return on Monday — seven points, seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and a plus-one in 24 minutes off the bench. He, Andrew Wiggins and Lester Quinones (who played five minutes) were the only players to finish with a positive plus-minus in the box score.

Especially with Chris Paul out, the Warriors need Green to be the secondary playmaker who allows Stephen Curry to work his magic off the ball, and the chemistry between the two longtime teammates returned immediately.

Defnsively, Green took on his normal role as the anchor and small-ball center, communicating with teammates to get them in the right position in the Warriors’ switching defense. The fact that he was plus-one in a nine-point loss shows how effective he was on both sides of the ball.

Ultimately, though, it didn’t matter.

The Warriors were plagued by the same problems that have crushed them all year — too many turnovers, too many fouls, not enough help for Curry, not enough athleticism. Golden State had 19 turnovers, gave up a season-high 20 3-pointers and allowed 40 free throw attempts. They looked ill-equipped to handle the energy and pace of the young and largely unproven Grizzlies.

“We have to understand where we are as a team — what our record is, where we are in the Western Conference,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after the loss. “What that means is we have to be sharp. We have to play a smart, clean game. We can’t turn it over. We can’t reach. We can’t foul. We did all those things.”

Once he gets back to speed, Green will increasingly provide help. But Monday’s terrible loss shows that even with Green firing on all cylinders, this team is still far from contention. Perhaps a trade deadline move is the answer, with plenty of targets out there who can potentially make a difference. If it isn’t, however, the Warriors have to face the reality that they simply aren’t good enough, and think about what that means for the future of the franchise.

“You just gotta have pride in yourself as a man that I’m not gonna let my guy score,” Green said after the game. “Our closeouts [were] too soft. Our rotations were too slow. So there’s just no pride. Until every guy takes pride in themselves, and wants to stop the guy in front of him, we’ll suck.”

17 Jan

Lakers plan to stick with new starting lineup for ‘foreseeable future,’ but recent history suggests otherwise

There was a bit of confusion when it came to Darvin Ham’s starting lineup on Monday. During his pre-game press conference, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin asked the Los Angeles Lakers’ coach if they were going back to last season’s starting lineup of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves. Ham confirmed that was the plan “for the foreseeable future,” but that group ultimately didn’t even start the game. Ham would later clarify to McMenamin after the press conference that he had misheard the question and that Taurean Prince, not Vanderbilt, would be the team’s fifth starter.

It was a somewhat fitting sequence of events for a Lakers team that has been defined by its inability to settle on a starting lineup. The Lakers, who rank 29th in the NBA with a minus-12.8 first-quarter net rating, have now used 11 of them on the season, and on the night in which they were expected to return to the lineup that took them to the Western Conference Finals last spring, they instead returned to the five they used on opening night. It worked in a 112-105 Lakers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the group as a whole has had mixed results this season.

That unit played a major role in the Lakers setting records for first-quarter futility early in the season, but don’t expect it to go anywhere any time soon. Ham again confirmed that he plans to stick with this group moving forward, and he’s already shared his beliefs on the subject this season. “You can’t just keep, on a whim, changing,” Ham said after a Dec. 20 loss to the Bulls. “That’s a big deal when you change your starting lineup at this level.”

Of course, Ham wound up changing his lineup again three days later, when the Lakers faced the Thunder. As they did on Monday, the Lakers defeated Oklahoma City. But for a variety of reasons, they have thus far been unable to maintain continuity in their starting lineup.

While Ham noted that the goal of Monday’s lineup was to put “as much skill and shot making around our two captains as possible,” it’s worth noting that the absence of former starter Cam Reddish, who is dealing with a knee injury, likely played a part in the change. Reddish has started 24 of the last 25 games he’s played in.

Reddish isn’t the only notable injury to deprive the Lakers of starting lineup consistency. Last year’s starting group has played only nine total possessions together this season, and Vanderbilt’s absence when the season began is part of what prompted the move to Prince in the first place. Vanderbilt is back now, and the option to return to that group —which outscored opponents by 37 points in 77 total regular-season minutes a year ago— has been available to Ham. He still hasn’t gone to it, and it’s just about the only lineup he hasn’t yet used.

The Lakers initially moved off of this group for defensive purposes. Reaves and Russell are both below-average defenders, and without Vanderbilt to protect them defensively, Reddish was inserted in Reaves’ place to provide theoretical balance. The Lakers have spent the season trying and largely failing to achieve that balance, with the offense most often suffering as a result. Russell in particular has seen his minutes yanked around. He’s played 77 in the last two games, but averaged just 22.8 in the seven games that preceded them.

And then there’s the matter of the trade deadline, now less than a month away. Russell has been involved in just about every Lakers rumor. His $17 million salary will be needed for just about any trade of note, particularly those that involve a guard. The Lakers have been heavily linked to Zach LaVine and Dejounte Murray, both scoring guards in Russell’s mold. Any significant deal would further destabilize the Lakers’ starters, but as they learned last season, that might not be the worst thing.

The Lakers are 20-21. If there was a solution to their problems as simple as “revert to the opening night lineup,” they likely would have landed on it before the halfway point of the season. They landed on a solution to the specific problems that the Thunder posed on Monday. Their own recent history suggests that the solution is closer to temporary than it is to being permanent.

17 Jan

2024 NBA picks, January 16 predictions from proven model

We’ve got another exciting Pacific Division matchup on Tuesday’s NBA schedule as the Phoenix Suns will host the Sacramento Kings. Phoenix is 21-18 overall and 11-11 at home, while Sacramento is 23-16 overall and 10-9 on the road. The Kings have won four straight meetings between the two, including a pair of victories in Dec. 2023. Sacramento is 21-18 against the spread in the 2023-24 NBA season, while the Suns are 14-24-1 ATS.

Tip-off is at 9 p.m. ET at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. The Suns are favored by 4 points in the latest Kings vs. Suns odds, per SportsLine consensus, and the over/under is 243.5 points. Before entering any Suns vs. Kings picks, you’ll want to see the NBA predictions from the model at SportsLine.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 13 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 42-23 roll on all top-rated NBA picks this season, returning nearly $2,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

The model has set its sights on Sacramento vs. Phoenix. You can head to SportsLine to see its picks. Here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Kings vs. Suns:

Suns vs. Kings spread: Suns -4
Suns vs. Kings over/under: 243.5 points
Suns vs. Kings money line: Suns: -179, Kings: +149
Suns vs. Kings picks: See picks at SportsLine
What you need to know about the Suns
Winning is just a little bit easier when your shooting is a whole 15.6% better than the opposition, a fact the Suns proved on Sunday. They came out on top against the Portland Trail Blazers by a score of 127-116. It was another big night for Devin Booker, who scored 34 points to go along with seven assists and six rebounds, while Bradley Beal had 23 points.

Beal now has 60 points over his last two games, shooting a blistering 12 for 16 (75%) from beyond the arc. Though he’s missed lots of time and has played in just 15 games, Beal has career highs in both field goal percentage (51.2%) and 3-point percentage (42.4%) this season. However, the trio of Beal, Booker and Kevin Durant has vastly underperformed relative to expectations when they’ve shared the court together, as Phoenix is just 1-7 against the spread when all three are in the starting lineup. See which team to pick here.

What you need to know about the Kings
Meanwhile, the Kings fought the good fight in their overtime matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday but wound up with a less-than-desirable result. They lost 143-142 on a last-minute jump shot From Damian Lillard. The Kings have struggled against the Bucks recently, as their match on Sunday was their 11th consecutive lost matchup. Even though the team lost, it still had its share of impressive performances as Domantas Sabonis dropped a triple-double on 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists, while Kevin Huerter had 26 points and 10 rebounds.

Sacramento has yet to find the offensive rhythm that powered the league’s highest-scoring offense last season with the best offensive rating. The Kings rank just eighth in points and 14th in offensive rating this year, and a big reason for the dropoff is the team’s struggles from the charity stripe. Sacramento ranks last in the NBA with a 73.3% clip from the free throw line as its top two scorers in De’Aaron Fox and Sabonis are combining to shoot just 70% from the line. Keegan Murray (hip) is questionable for Tuesday. See which team to pick here.

Key Betting Info
Booker will likely loom large in the final result, win or lose. For the season, he has averaged 26.6 points and 7.7 assists.

The Suns have struggled as the favorite so far this season and are currently 11-17-1 when expecting a win. Meanwhile, the Kings are 7-4 as underdogs.

Some of the betting trends to consider are:

The Suns are 3-11 against the spread in their last 14 games vs teams that win more than 55 percent of games.
The Kings are 6-2 against the spread in their last 8 games as the road underdog.
The Suns are 7-15 against the spread in their last 22 games when at home.
How to make Suns vs. Kings picks
The model has simulated Kings vs. Suns 10,000 times and the results are in. We can tell you that the model is leaning Under, and it’s also generated a point-spread pick that is hitting in well over 50% of simulations. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.

17 Jan

Shai-Gilgeous Alexander leads Thunder trio worth stacking in daily fantasy vs. Clippers

Monday’s loaded 11-game slate featured 22 of the league’s 30 teams, so it makes sense that Tuesday’s NBA action will only consist of three games. Fantasy managers can take advantage of the small field by stacking strong plays on the same team, and one squad stands out from the rest of the field. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a strong trio worth rostering in tournaments and cash games when it comes to DFS after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in Monday’s last game.

Here’s the full breakdown of the three players you might want to group together for your lineups on Tuesday:

Thunder stack
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Chet Holmgren
Jalen Williams
The Thunder face the Clippers on Tuesday night, and SGA has had no problem torching his old team since they sent him to OKC. The Thunder point guard has totaled at least 30 points, four rebounds, and three assists in four of his previous five meetings with the Los Angeles Clippers. His pesky defense helped him amass an impressive 19 stocks (steals + blocks) during that span. Gilgeous-Alexander is shooting a season-high 59.5% from the field and 38.2% from deep in January. Josh Giddey’s diminishing on-ball role should make for a big night for SGA, as his ability to create off the dribble will be crucial to breaking down the opposition’s capable perimeter defenders.

Holmgren tallied 23 points, seven assists, and six rebounds in his first matchup with the Clippers and his mobility gave Ivica Zubac fits. Zubac has improved tremendously in pick-and-roll sets with James Harden, but that doesn’t make him equipped to stick with Holmgren outside of the painted area.

Then there’s Williams, who’ll likely have the most difficult job out of this group. He’ll likely be assigned to guard Kawhi Leonard, who missed the first pairing between this teams this season. However, Williams is amid what’s arguably the best month of his career so far. He’s averaging 19.9 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 63.5% from the field and 57.9% from beyond the arc in January. The Thunder are letting him serve as the primary ball handler and initiate the offense more and more. Over 30% of his assists this season have gone to Holmgren.

17 Jan

Nuggets, Suns among best bets for Tuesday

Three games make up Tuesday’s NBA slate with matchups tipping off between 7:30 and 10 p.m. ET. There aren’t a ton of options to choose from, but there is value on the table for sports bettors. Are you looking to find an edge? We’ve gone over each pairing to identify a moneyline, spread and player prop pick worth considering.

Moneyline: Denver Nuggets (+105) @ Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers are entering the second night of a back-to-back following a nine-point win against the Houston Rockets. They’re 0-3 straight up against teams that currently have winning records when they have no rest. This won’t be an easy matchup for Joel Embiid, who’s been battling knee soreness as of late. Nikola Jokic and company had Monday to rest and can go all out knowing they won’t have to play again until Friday. All the Nuggets’ starters have been upgraded to probable after initially carrying injury designations. Philly, on the other hand, won’t have role players De’Anthony Melton or Robert Covington. I like Denver’s odds of winning a third straight contest here, even if it’s on the road.

Spread: Phoenix Suns -4 (-115) vs. Sacramento Kings
The Suns’ new big three is entering its fifth straight game together. Phoenix is 21-18 despite its health issues and will get to host a Kings team that’s dropped two straight road games. The home team has more firepower in its starting lineup and Sacramento will be at a huge disadvantage if Keegan Murray (hip) joins Kevin Huerter among the inactive players. Phoenix has all the momentum following two consecutive double-digit victories.

Player prop: Jalen Williams over 8.5 rebounds + assists (+100)
Williams has fallen short of this total just once in his previous seven outings. The Oklahoma City Thunder forward posted seven rebounds and four assists in his first meeting with the Los Angeles Clippers this season and has averaged 6.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds per contest since Jan. 3. OKC could need him even more now than they did in December, as the Thunder will face Kawhi Leonard for the first time in 2023-24. Trends suggest that Williams’ more involved role should help this prop cash with relative ease.