• With a strong record against the spread at home last season, Portland could give the Lakers trouble on Thursday night. Plus, two more best bets for NBA action.
By Zachary Cohen
October 18, 2018

There are only three Thursday games to follow up Wednesday's busy slate, but it’ll be an exciting night as LeBron James takes the floor in a Lakers uniform for the first time in meaningful action. Here are the three best bets of the night.

1. Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers (-3.0)

10:35 pm ET

The offseason buzz surrounding Los Angeles was palpable, which isn’t a surprise considering the Lakers signed LeBron to a four-year deal. But the Lakers have a lot to prove this season, and a failure to live up to their considerable hype is a major possibility. Meanwhile, the Blazers appear to be a forgotten team in the Western Conference. Despite the fact that Portland won 49 games last season, you don't have to look hard to find members of the media leaving the Blazers out of this year’s playoff projections, and they are going to be out to show they belong in their home opener. Last season, the Blazers went 28-13 when playing at the Moda Center and 23-14-4 against the spread in those games. The Blazers are also typically known for their ability to score the basketball, but they hung their hats on their defense a year ago. Last season, Portland ranked sixth in the league in defensive efficiency rating, allowing only 105.5 points per 100 possessions. Los Angeles has all sorts of firepower offensively, but this team hasn’t played together much.

Portland forward Al-Farouq Aminu is a player to keep an eye on here. While Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are Portland’s household names, Aminu is the one that will be primarily checking LeBron on Thursday. Nobody on the planet is capable of completely shutting James down, but Aminu has the length to at least make him work hard. This should be pretty close throughout, but look for the Blazers to pull away late.

The Pick: Blazers -3.0

2. Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers (Total: 216.0)

8:05 pm ET

The 76ers were downright awful offensively in their season opener, losing 105-87 in a game where they shot only 39.1% from the floor and 19.2% from three against the Boston Celtics. Fortunately for the Sixers, they now face a Chicago Bulls team that just might feature the league’s worst defense. In Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker, Chicago has two guys that will be playing big minutes but only care about scoring the basketball. That means that there will be open lanes for Ben Simmons to get to the rim whenever he wants, and Markelle Fultz should be able to do the same. And when multiple players in the same lineup aren’t covering their assignments, shooters like JJ Redick and Landry Shamet will have opportunities to break free for open looks. Due to the way the Bulls defend, the game will end up being a little more open and fast-paced than the Sixers generally prefer. That means a lot of points will be scored, with the Bulls’ talented offensive players doing their parts as well.

The Pick: Over 216.0

3. Miami Heat at Washington Wizards (-5.0)

8:05 pm ET

The Wizards are constantly one of the toughest teams in the league to figure out, and that is no different this season. Washington added both Austin Rivers and Dwight Howard in the offseason, and those two enigmatic personalities enter a locker room that has been divided in recent years. Meanwhile, Miami continues to build one of the better team cultures in the NBA, and the Heat return pretty much the same roster they had a year ago. The team is coming off a tough 104-101 loss to Orlando on Wednesday night, but the Heat will be feeling good about their chances on Thursday. One reason for that is that the team has absolutely dominated the Wizards in recent years. Dating back to February of 2016, Miami is 7-2 straight up and 6-2-1 against the spread when facing Washington. The Heat are also 5-1-1 against the spread when facing the Wizards at the Verizon Center dating back to the March of 2015. On top of that, this is simply too many points to be giving a Miami team that is capable of digging in on the defensive end. The Heat were eighth in the league in defensive efficiency rating last season, and they should be a bit better this year with rim protector Hassan Whiteside having focused on conditioning over the offseason. Miami will keep this close, and it won't be surprising if it wins outright.

The Pick: Heat +5.0

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)