- With Nikola Vucevic (20.3 PPG) going up against a mediocre Wolves defense, Orlando has a strong offensive edge in the post.
Three at 3 wraps up the week with a trio of underdog plays for Friday night's games.
1. Washington Wizards at Miami Heat (-7)
8:00 pm ET
After it was revealed on Dec. 29 that Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall would require surgery on his heel that will sideline him for the rest of the season, Washington went out that night and beat the Hornets 130-126 as a 3.5-point underdog. In the team’s only game since then, the Wizards blew out the Hawks 114-98 as a six-point favorite on Wednesday. Although the style of play of Washington guard Tomas Satoransky is vastly different from that of Wall, Satoransky has proven himself a worthy replacement by averaging 17 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 6.5 APG across those two victories.
This is the first meeting between these teams since the Wizards prevailed 116-110 as a 3.5-point underdog in Miami on Nov. 10, a game that wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate: The Heat trailed by 17 points with a little more than three minutes remaining before cutting into the deficit, but Miami never seriously threatened. The first time last season that Washington faced Miami with Satoransky starting in place of an injured Wall, Satoransky posted a game-high plus-minus rating of plus-21 in a 117-113 victory last March as he and Bradley Beal combined for 49 points on 18-of-28 shooting from the floor that included 7-of-9 shooting on threes. Having proven they can remain competitive without their star player, the well-rested Wizards appear to be getting too many points here.
Pick: Wizards +7
2. Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves (-5)
Minnesota returns home tonight on the heel of road losses to New Orleans on Monday (123-114, PK) and Boston on Wednesday (115-102, BOS -6). Although Jeff Teague is expected to return to the lineup after having missed each of the past nine games with an ankle injury, Robert Covington will be sidelined for a second straight game and Derrick Rose is expected to miss his fourth, both with ankle injuries. For Orlando, a deep reserve of forwards and bigs has the Magic playing solid defense (106.9 defensive rating over last 15 games, ninth in NBA). The team’s biggest liability on that end of the floor would appear to be 6-foot, 31-year-old PG D.J. Augustin, who can struggle to defend against larger opposing backcourts. With Teague playing his way back into form and Rose likely sitting once again, however, Minnesota isn't primed to take full advantage of that potential weakness.
Orlando, meanwhile, is well-equipped to attack the Wolves' weaknesses. While center Karl-Anthony Towns has made some improvements to his interior defense this season, Minnesota still ranks only 19th in the league in opposing field goal percentage within five feet of the basket, allowing opponents to make 61.4% of their shots at close range. The Magic run their offense through seven-foot center Nikola Vucevic (20.3 PPG, 11.8 RPG), and they should be able to get him plenty of good looks near the hoop tonight. Orlando is 7-0 against the spread on the road this season when coming off a road game, and the Magic have outscored opponents by an average of 5.9 points in those contests. They're a strong bet to win outright.
Pick: Magic +5
3. Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks (-13.5)
Given that each of the Bucks' past three games has been a home win by at least 14 points, it's tempting to grab them as a double-digit favorite against the lowly Hawks in Milwaukee tonight. What should give bettors pause is not necessarily the matchup this evening with Atlanta, but the showdown looming between the Bucks and the Raptors tomorrow night. With the Bucks and Raptors owning the top two spots in the Eastern Conference standings, it's a potential lookahead spot for Milwaukee against Atlanta, and also one in which they could look to give a few guys some rest on the front end of a back-to-back. There's precedent for the Bucks looking ahead in this type of situation, as they suffered a shocking 116-114 home loss as a 13.5-point favorite against the Suns on November 23 as they prepared for a visit from the Spurs the next night. Don't be surprised to see a Hawks team that has been hot from three-point distance (38% over its last five games) keep the final outcome of this one to a single-digit margin.
Pick: Hawks +13.5