Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

MLK Day Essentials

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Martin Luther King Day slate

Oklahoma City (-9, 226) at New York, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV: The opening game on the 11-game slate probably won’t be filled with the emotion the Thunder’s most recent outing featured – I can’t imagine Russell Westbrook going after former teammate Enes Kanter the way he did Joel Embiid – which means complacency could be an obstacle for the visitors. After all, OKC just wrapped up a stretch where they faced a 76ers team they have beef with, a pair of games against the hated Lakers, a visit to division rival Portland and home-and-home sets against the Mavs and Spurs. They’re just 5-6 in the previous 11 games and have lost on the road in Dallas, San Antonio and Atlanta, which tells you a lack of focus in opposing arena has been an issue. Westbrook has only shot over 50 percent from the field in a game once since Dec. 30 and has shot under 40 percent six times and is 11-for-56 from 3-point range. His slump has made it easier for him to defer to Paul George but hasn’t made them a very cover-friendly group since the Thunder is just 2-5 ATS over their last seven. Alex Abrines remains sidelined, so look for Abdel Nader to continue getting minutes off the Thunder bench. The ‘over’ has prevailed in five of their last six games.

Last time we saw the Knicks, Allonzo Trier was being rightfully called for goal-tending at the buzzer to doom New York to a 1-point loss in London in a game they led by double-digits entering the fourth. Emmanuel Mudiay led the way with 25 points but had just two assists and five turnovers, providing a reminder of why it is the Knicks rank dead last in the NBA in assists. Kanter should have fresh legs in his return to the lineup after not accompanying the team to Europe for fear of retribution from supporters of Turkish president Erdogan. He hasn’t played since Jan. 8 and is averaging 15.8 points and 14.3 rebounds this month, so we should see David Fizdale give him substantial work against former teammate Steven Adams. The Knicks have only won twice in the last 20 games, dropping all eight games at Madison Square Garden since their stunning OT upset of the Bucks on Dec. 1. They’ve only covered in one them, last Monday’s 108-105 loss to Philadelphia. Although New York has lost five of six to the Thunder, it did win last season’s matchup at the Garden 107-96 in a game best remembered for Carmelo Anthony’s brutal 5-for-18 shooting performance. Michael Beasley, now with the Lakers, scored 30 points. Of the nine Knicks who suited up in the win, only Kanter, Courtney Lee and Frank Ntilikina remain. New York has the fewest home wins (4) in the NBA.

Chicago (-2.5, 213.5) at Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET: The Cavs rank next-to-last in the league in assists while the Cavs are 27th, so this might be a good spot to blindly bet the under if it weren’t for Cleveland having been torched for 111 or more points in 11 of its last 12 games. The ‘over’ has actually prevailed in seven of the last eight games involving the Bulls, who have hit the century mark in eight consecutive contests after opening 2019 with a 112-84 loss to Orlando. For more on over/unders, be sure to check out VegasInsider expert Chris David’s “Total Talk” that takes a close look at all of the Martin Luther King Day numbers.

Chicago has dropped 10 straight, failing to cover in six of the games. The Bulls just lost center Wendell Carter, Jr. to a thumb injury that threatens to cut his rookie season short if he opts for surgery, so Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis are expected to get the bulk of the minutes in the middle alongside Lauri Markkanen. The Cavs have lost 15 of 16 and haven’t won at home since Dec. 12. Their average margin of defeat on their six-game trip was 16.5 points and forwards Larry Nance, Jr. and David Nwaba remain sidelined. Tristan Thompson has been dealing with a sore foot but has a chance to return for this one, so be aware of his playing status prior to wagering here since the Cavs aren’t terrible when their top rebounder starts in the middle. The Bulls have won both meetings between these teams so far after falling in all four games against the LeBron James-led version last season.

Detroit at Washington (-5.5, 215.5), 2 p.m. ET: The Wizards return from London looking to build on a thrilling comeback and is 6-4 since John Wall was lost for the season, having registered upsets against the Bucks, 76ers and Thunder over the past few weeks. In the 12 games he’s played without Wall this season, Beal is averaging 33.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists. He’s getting the ball out quickly when extra bodies run his way and has even racked up 22 steals over his last nine outings. The seventh-year guard is on pace to set career-highs in every statistical category but looks to bounce back from shooting 10-for-29 at O2 Arena. He shoots it better at home than on the road, averaging 26.0 points with a clip of nearly 38 percent from 3-point range, so the Pistons are going to have to know where he is at all times.

Since Washington doesn’t have much beyond rookie Thomas Bryant inside, it would really benefit the Pistons to get the NBA’s leading rebounder back in the mix if he can make it through concussion protocol. Check on Andre Drummond’s ability prior to wagering here since Detroit would have a major edge to exploit if Drummond is back with fresh legs and Zaza Pauchila, also looking spry after recently returning from an extended absence, helps to anchor the second unit. Blake Griffin figures to face multiple defenders in Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green, Otto Porter and Sam Dekker as Scott Brooks look to wear him down. Griffin scored 38 points in Saturday’s loss to Sacramento that had the Pistons really salty afterwards due to what they felt were officiating mistakes. Dwane Casey shouldn’t have many problems motivating them for this matinee. Griffin has score 30 or more points six of his last eight games. The ‘under’ has prevailed in six of the last seven involving Detroit.

Dallas at Milwaukee (-11.5, 224), 2 p.m. ET: The Mavericks never quit in Indiana. Even in the final seconds, Dirk Nowitzki was still trying to appease fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse who were hoping to see one last bucket from him on his only stop in town. Dallas did have one frustrating evening. Luka Doncic came up empty on all five of his 3-pointers, shooting 3-for-14. He was so annoyed he wound up picking up two technical and being ejected. Wesley Matthews is playing banged up and rookie Jalen Brunson is doing his best to keep the drop-off on the second unit after losing J.J. Barea for the season. The answer may ultimately be giving Dennis Smith, Jr. Barea’s gig full-time, but he remains out one more game after separating himself from the team in anticipation of a trade that hasn’t come. Dallas has only topped 105 points three times over its last 12 games, so the ‘under’ is on a 9-2-1 run. That figures to be tested against a Bucks team that ranks second in the NBA with 117.6 points per game.

Dallas is a brutal 4-19 on the road, so visiting the team that shares the NBA’s top home mark with Toronto and Denver is one reason a lopsided result is expected. Milwaukee has been excellent in its new downtown arena and leads the league in margin of victory, covering in 11 of 13 games after beating Orlando by 10 points on Saturday night while laying 9.5. Eric Bledsoe scored a season-high 30 points and the Bucks looked visibly fresh, benefiting by getting into Orlando early on Thursday and having three days of rest. They’ll have three more days off before hosting Charlotte on Thursday, so the team with the league’s top record is really getting recharged.

Orlando at Atlanta (-1, 221), 3 p.m. ET, NBA TV: Magic head coach Steve Clifford has been disappointed in his team’s defense over the past few weeks. Since blowing out the Bulls on Jan. 2, Orlando has allowed at least 103 points in nine straight. The ‘over’ has come in four straight times, as Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba have all been out of the lineup. Gordon’s back locked up on him Friday night and he was absent against the Bucks on Saturday, but his possible return for this one could mean the Magic will be whole again for the first time in a few weeks. With the trade deadline approaching, Orlando must figure out what it plans to do with center Nikola Vucevic and shooter Terrence Ross, who have been the team’s most consistent performers over the past month or two but whose contract expire at season’s end. I expect both to be traded unless the Magic makes one big push on the court the next few weeks. They enter Monday’s action only ahead of the Hawks in the Southeast Division, but just four games back of first-place Miami.

The Hawks have home wins over the Heat and Thunder this month and didn’t embarrass themselves against the Bucks and Celtics in losses, so the kids are taking to State Farm Arena nicely. Rookies Trae Young and Kevin Huerter have found some consistency and are starting to get the better of veterans, while power forward John Collins is averaging a double-double rank him right up there with the East’s top power forwards. With center Dewayne Dedmon and backup point guard Jeremy Lin over an illness that spread through the team, the Hawks could be dangerous since they’ll view this as a must-win considering they’re leaving town for a season-long seven-game roadie that will have them out of town until they get back Feb. 5. This is the first meeting between these Southeast Division squads. They’ve split their four games in each of the last three seasons.

Sacramento at Brooklyn (-3.5, 231), 3:30 p.m. ET: We’ll see how Buddy Hield’s improbable game-winner in Detroit impacts the Kings this week since it kept them from opening a season-long six-game trip with consecutive defeats. Sacramento played poorly and was behind most of the night against the Pistons despite not having to deal with Drummond, so the verdict is still out on whether to trust them on the road since a Hield scoring flurry essentially stole Saturday’s game in the fourth quarter. The Kings have won four of five and can match a season-best 5-1 run that they’ve already accomplished twice if they find a way to win in Brooklyn. Hield scored 15 points in less than four minutes, while De’Aaron Fox makes like difficult for everyone with his speed and defense, so the Kings may have a fighting chance in most of these games and haven’t been on the road long enough for the grind to set in.

The Nets won’t be a pushover, having pulled off three straight upsets over the Celtics, Rockets and Magic. Since Dec. 7, Brooklyn is 16-5 straight up and 15-6 against the number. D’Angelo Russell comes off a 40-point game in Orlando in which he hit eight 3-pointers, while center Jarrett Allen has averaged 15.0 points, 15.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks in helping pull off last week’s three surprises. These are the two teams currently above .500 that no one saw coming, so this is one matchup worth keeping an eye on. The ‘under’ has prevailed in the last seven Sacramento games.

New Orleans at Memphis(-3, 219), 5:30 p.m. ET, TNT: Marc Gasol’s back was too stiff to play on Saturday and the Grizzlies promptly went out and suffered a 119-90 loss in the first game he’s missed this season. Considering all the nagging injuries he’s dealt with this season, it’s surprising he’s gutted things out to suit up night after night, but he and point guard Mike Conley appear to be losing patience with the direction of the team. Memphis has lost 16 of 19 since Dec. 14. Although forwards Jaren Jackson, Jr., Kyle Anderson and JaMychal Green have played well in spurts and guards Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple have been serviceable, that’s simply not enough firepower to withstand the grind. Considering the Griz are “Team Grit and Grind,” that’s a problem. Gasol is on track to shoot under 40 percent from the field for the second straight month, which for a center of his skill level, suggests he’s not being utilized properly. Anderson is sidelined with an ankle sprain, so the only bright side to this week is that they’ll play the next five games at FedEx Forum and that the run starts against a Pelicans team that just lost Anthony Davis for a week or two.

Davis sprained a finger, which means the Pelicans will have to survive without their star, who they’re already 1-4 without when he’s missed a game here and there this season. It will help that they’ve got forward Nikola Mirotic and point guard Elfrid Payton back up to speed and playing without minutes restrictions to help Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle keep the ship from sinking. There are already 11 teams ahead of New Orleans in the Western Conference standings, so if they fade completely over the next five or six games, listening to offers for Davis may be more appealing than the team claiming there’s no way they’re trading him at the deadline currently believes.

Miami at Boston (-8, 212.5), 6 p.m. ET: The Celtics have already won three straight and will spend the rest of the month in town playing games at TD Garden, so there’s a real opportunity for them to go on a run. After dealing with knee soreness for most of the season’s opening half, Al Horford looks like he’s rounding into form despite his minutes still being monitored. Kyrie Irving is in a great flow and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been much sharper than they were early in the season. With Gordon Hayward upgraded to ‘probable’ after missing their visit to Atlanta over the weekend for personal reasons, so Brad Stevens will have to keep his guys happy with their playing time but has all the ingredients to make their push into the East’s top-four. Currently on the outside looking, Boston has been sharper offensively of late and has been great at home, coming into this one with wins in 17 of 22.

The Heat are one of four Eastern Conference teams with a winning road record and come off a weekend win in Chicago to snap a two-game skid that opened a stretch of six of seven games being played outside South Florida. They’ll return home post-game to host the Clippers on Wednesday before going back to living out of a suitcase as a likely road favorite at Cleveland and New York. Miami leads the Southeast Division and will be looking to avoid slipping back to .500. It crushed Boston 115-99 thanks to great play from the Dwyane Wade-led bench and the continued emergence of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson.

Houston at Philadelphia (-4, 233), 8 p.m. ET, TNT: James Harden’s magical run continued on Saturday even though it looked like the Lakers were finally going to put an end to his run of consecutive 30-point games at 18. They were up by 21 points and doing a nice job making other Rockets trying to beat them, but an injury to Lonzo Ball opened the door and Harden ended up leading a comeback, finishing with 48 points after teaming with Eric Gordon to dominate the end of regulation and overtime. Harden is averaging 44.4 points per game in January. Before the Lakers slowed him down, he scored 57 against the Grizzlies and then poured in 58 in a loss to the Nets. With Gordon back, Gerald Green stepping up and Austin Rivers now making contributions off the bench, Houston is doing its best to try and overcome the extended absence of point guard Chris Paul and center Clint Capela.

Not having a mobile, active shot blocker to help challenge Joel Embiid could prove crippling for the Rockets as the visit Philadelphia for the first meeting between the teams this season. The teams split a pair of meetings way back in October of 2018 and haven’t seen each other since, so it’s really going to be fun to see how Ben Simmons fares against Harden. Jimmy Butler will also see a lot of Harden and prides himself on his defensive prowess, so Harden’s isolations against him will be must-see TV. Butler is from Houston and will expect to have this assignment, so as long as he stays out of foul trouble, we should see playoff-type defense show up on Martin Luther King Day. The 76ers come off a contentious loss to Oklahoma City on a frustrating Paul George game-winning 4-point play, so there’s no chance they won’t be ready to play this nationally-televised showdown that will command the most eyeballs on a busy day of basketball.

Portland at Utah (-5, 217.5), 9 p.m. ET: The Jazz have responded to the extended absence of point guards Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Raul Neto by handing the ball to Donovan Mitchell and challenging him to be great. Although he’s still struggled with his shot for stretches, he’s been aggressive getting to the rim and has been the catalyst for Utah’s seven-game winning streak. After shooting 8-for-24 in his team’s last loss, a 114-102 setback in Milwaukee on Nov. 7, Mitchell has shot just under 50 percent from the field during the win streak while averaging 25.7 points and 4.8 assists. Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale and Jae Crowder have also played major roles, while center Rudy Gobert has made 67 percent of his shots while averaging 17.4 points and 19.2 rebounds this month.

Portland lost its first two meetings against the Jazz by a combined 51 points, so we’ll find out tonight whether the Jazz are simply a bad matchup for its personnel. Rubio and Exum were excellent in the wins, so their absence here makes this a completely different matchup for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who is starting to come out of his slump. Jusuf Nurkic has been a stat-stuffing machine most of the month, he’s averaged just 8.5 points on 42 percent shooting against the length of Gobert. Small forwards Jake Layman and Mo Harkless come off big games in a weekend win over New Orleans, so Terry Stotts has his group at full strength. That’s a major development since the Trail Blazers bench has really struggled against Utah. The Blazers won last season’s final two meetings in blowout fashion but have otherwise lost six of nine in the series. The ‘under’ has hit in five of seven Utah games and prevailed in both head-to-head matchups vs. Portland.

Golden State at (-12, 232.5) L.A. Lakers, 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT: DeMarcus Cousins’ debut went smoothly despite the fact he fouled out in 15 minutes. He hit three of his four 3-point attempts, taking advantage of clean looks his new teammates will reliably provide. He’ll be back at Staples Center to face the Lakers and probably won’t play more than 20 minutes again tonight, but it will be interesting to see him bang with JaVale McGee, Tyson Chandler and surprising third-year center Ivica Zubac, who has averaged 21.5 points and 9.5 boards while shooting 16-for-20 over the last two contests. Luke Walton will have to put together a new temporary rotation with LeBron James and Rajon Rondo still out and Lonzo Ball now on the mend after a nasty ankle sprain suffered on Saturday night. Brandon Ingram will likely run the offense on the first team while Lance Stephenson should get the bulk of the minutes running the show on the second unit. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart also figure to get major minutes, so the Lakers will certainly have a patchwork group as they face what will likely be an inspired group of Warriors.

Although beating the Lakers without LeBron is going to be hollow revenge, Golden State still wants to impose its will on whoever remains in Purple and Gold considering L.A. spoiled Christmas night with a 127-101 rout. Curry is coming off one of his worst shooting games since returning to the lineup on Dec. 1, finishing just 3-for-11 from 3-point range. He’s shot over 45 percent from 3-point range in six of his last nine, knocking down at least eight from beyond the arc in the same game on four occasions. Without Ball to help shadow Curry, this could get ugly if the Warriors find the range early. Golden State has won nine of 10 and have helped deliver the ‘over’ in seven of those games. The 112 points the Dubs managed against the Clippers marked their lowest output of 2019, but it’s too early to say that had anything to do with catering to Cousins given Curry’s off night and the blowout minimizing the need to put their foot on the gas in the fourth quarter.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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