- Russell Westbrook and De'Aaron Fox will each have a physical edge on Thursday when they match up with Kemba Walker and Trae Young, respectively.
Here are our three best bets for Thursday night’s NBA action:
1. Oklahoma City Thunder at Charlotte Hornets (-1.5)
7:00 pm ET
The Thunder have won back-to-back games, but they know they need to beat the Hornets on Thursday. Oklahoma City can’t afford to fall to 2-5 in what is a difficult Western Conference, so it’s important for the team to beat its Eastern Conference opponents regularly. This game against an improved Charlotte team is no different. Two trends that stick out when looking at this game are that the Hornets are 2-16 against the spread when playing eight or more games in a span of 14 days since the start of last season and 15-28 against the spread when playing a second consecutive home game since the start of the 2016-17 season. And while this year’s Hornets team is an impressive 6-2 against the spread overall, the Thunder are 6-1 straight up and 4-2 against the spread when these teams have met in Charlotte since the start of the 2010-11 season.
The difference in this game ultimately comes down to the point guard and center positions. Kemba Walker is enjoying the best season of his life thus far, but Russell Westbrook’s size is going to give Walker trouble on both ends of the floor. Westbrook has the strength to keep Walker from getting to the rim as easily as he is used to, and Walker’s lack of strength will be an issue when defending the 2016-17 MVP. On the inside, the Hornets do not have anybody that can match up with Steven Adams in the paint. Adams is one of the best two-way bigs in the game, and he has showcased a few new post moves early this season. His fingerprints should be all over this one.
Pick: Thunder (+1.5)
2. Sacramento Kings at Atlanta Hawks (+2)
7:30 pm ET
The Kings have surprised a lot of people by starting the season with a 5-3 record, and the team should be able to make it 6-3 with a win in Atlanta tonight. Sacramento has won and covered in four straight games coming into this one, and each of the past three were against Eastern Conference opponents. One of the easiest ways for a Western Conference team to guarantee it ends up with a decent record is by taking care of the weaker East competition, and Atlanta is among the NBA's very worst teams.
The Hawks are a lousy 4-15 against the spread when coming off a road loss by 10 points or more since the start of last season, and 3-18 against the spread when playing at home after failing to cover in five or six of their previous seven games since the start of the 2016-17 season.
Beyond that, the Kings have also looked like a much better team early on. Sacramento is currently 14th in the league in offensive efficiency rating and 15th in defensive efficiency rating. Keep an eye on the matchup between De’Aaron Fox and Trae Young. Young has been good in his rookie season for Atlanta, but Fox should be able to manhandle him in this one. He has the size and speed to really dominate him on both ends of the floor.
Pick: Kings (-2)
3. Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics (-3)
8:00 pm ET
The Bucks have been one of the best teams in the league to start the year, but it’s simply unfair to expect them to go into Boston and beat the Celtics at this point. Milwaukee has made significant improvements under new coach Mike Budenholzer and, despite the early success, it’s going to take some time for them to figure out how to beat an elite team like this one. The Celtics might have the worse record of the two, but Boston is definitely the better team here. Despite not having the best player on the floor—that is clearly Milwuakee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo—Boston’s roster is significantly better, and the team should get up for a game like this.
One trend that really stands out when looking at this contest is the fact that the Celtics are 38-19 against the spread versus teams that are shooting at least 46% from the floor since the start of last season. Boston just knows how to suffocate a team that is normally comfortable on offense. The Celtics are also 16-4 against the spread when facing teams that outscore their opponents by three or more points per game since the start of last season. And even with losses to the Raptors and Magic early on, Boston is still the league’s best team defensively. The Celtics just need to figure out their offense, which shouldn’t be a huge problem with Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum all playing significant minutes. It’s only a matter of time before they break out.
Pick: Celtics (-3)
Overall Record: 17-17-2