- The Nets have a good chance to improve to 2-0 over their crosstown rival Knicks when the teams meet in MSG on Monday. Sports Illustrated analyzes that matchup and more in the Three at 3.
Here are our three top plays for Monday night’s NBA action:
1. Portland Trail Blazers at Indiana Pacers (-3.5)
7:30 pm ET
Don’t look now, but the Pacers are fifth in the league in offensive efficiency rating and 10th in defensive efficiency rating. Continuity plays a big part in Indiana's success on both ends of the floor. The Pacers brought back most of the team that shocked the basketball world last season, and they also made some nice under-the-radar moves to improve their bench in the offseason. Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner form a young core that has given opponents fits this season.
The Pacers are 4–2 both straight up and against the spread this year. One of those victories was an impressive 116–96 win over the Spurs in San Antonio. A win and cover against a prospective Western Conference playoff team bodes well for this meeting with the Blazers. It also plays to Indiana's advantage that Portland is currently in the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency. The Blazers could have an especially difficult time stopping the Pacers because this Indiana team feeds off the energy of its home crowd. The Blazers are 8–2 both straight up and against the spread against the Pacers in their last 10 meetings. But this is the worst Portland team we’ve seen in years—even with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in their primes—and Indiana is no joke. The Pacers know how to suffocate good offenses. They are 27–11 against the spread when facing teams that shoot 46% or better from the field since the start of last season.
Pick: Pacers (-3.5)
2. Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks (-2.0)
7:30 pm ET
Since the start of the 2016–17 season, the Nets are 15–3 against the spread versus uptempo teams that average 88 or more shots per game. So far this season, the Knicks are averaging 93.8. Brooklyn also comes into this game knowing that it has what it takes to easily beat New York. While their meeting earlier in the season came down to a game-winner from Caris LeVert, the Nets outscored the Knicks 90–79 in the first, second, and fourth quarters. New York played uncharacteristically well in the third quarter, and it’s hard to imagine that happening again. Brooklyn was clearly the better team in that contest, which featured a healthy Kevin Knox for the Knicks. Knox had 17 points and six boards on an efficient 7-for-14 shooting, but the rookie will miss this game with an ankle sprain. Look for the Nets to not only cover but roll to another straight-up victory. The Knicks don’t have anybody that is capable of stopping LeVert—who had 28 points on only 13 shots in their first meeting—and big man Jarrett Allen will give the Knicks trouble on both ends of the floor. He had 15 points, 11 boards and four blocks when the teams clashed in Brooklyn.
Pick: Nets (+2.0)
3. Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota Timberwolves (-1.0)
8:00 pm ET
The Lakers have lost four straight games against the Timberwolves, but look for that to change tonight. Even though Los Angeles is coming off a loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers outplayed their opponent by a significant margin in that one. LeBron James and the Lakers played a poor fourth quarter against the Spurs but should be able to get back on track here. James has helped the Lakers find their rhythm recently. He is averaging 31.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game over the past two contests, and he should be able to dominate in this one. Minnesota's Jimmy Butler is a fantastic two-way player, but he simply doesn’t have the size to keep LeBron in check.
The Lakers have two other difference makers in Lonzo Ball and JaVale McGee. Ball has made his doubters second guess themselves this season. The second-year guard is shooting just over 40% from three thus far, and his size will make him tough for the T-Wolves' Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose to guard. Meanwhile, McGee’s length and athleticism should similarly disrupt Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. McGee is one of the league’s best shot blockers, and he has been driving opponents nuts with his ability to get up the floor and finish on the fast break. With James, Ball, and McGee, the Lakers are playing with the league’s fifth-fastest pace and are eighth in offensive efficiency rating. Minnesota also happens to be a miserable 16–35 against the spread when coming off back-to-back games with a combined score of 215 or more points since the start of 2016–17.
Pick: Lakers (+1.0)