After a hefty eleven-game schedule last night, there are only two NBA games today, and only one of the four teams featured comes in with any momentum. The Milwaukee Bucks sit joint top of the Eastern Conference with an 11-3 record, while the Portland Trail Blazers are struggling in a very competitive West at only 5-10. The other match-up features a New Orleans Pelicans team not as good as expected due to a plethora of injuries themselves versus an upstart Phoenix Suns team that so far has surprised everybody.
As always, we’ve scoured the major betting agencies to bring you all the best plays for the huge slate on offer this Wednesday. Check out our best pick, value pick, plus picks for all games below, and good luck to everyone following!
NBA Picks – Thursday, November 21st
Portland Trail Blazers @ Milwaukee Bucks
Fiserv Forum, 8:00pm ET
The Blazers are currently decimated by injuries; their starting front court of Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic are out long-term, but superstar Damian Lillard will also not play tonight in the backcourt, an area in which the Blazers are short of depth even when at full strength.
Sophomore guard Anfernee Simons, given the role of being the Lillard-like back-up to Lillard, is also listed currently as questionable for tonight’s game, leaving the Blazers almost entirely short of shot creators. And upfront, Hassan Whiteside, the biggest minute recipient at the centre spot trying to plug the Nurkic-shaped hole, is also questionable.
Given how short-handed they are versus a deep and healthy Bucks team that are also winners of five straight, there seems to be no way for the Blazers to win this game, which is reflected in the lines everywhere. They are losers of eight of their last ten games and are mired in the middle of a six-game road trip. That said, the significant injuries Portland are suffering opens up opportunities on the court for anyone healthy enough to take it.
In particular, there are only three players on the team who can consistently create their own shot off the dribble, and with Lillard and Simons potentially both unavailable, the onus falls on the third one. C.J. McCollum is not a natural playmaker for others, instead being the type to create some space for himself using dribble moves, but if the others are unavailable, he will have no choice. So limited are the Blazers for capable ball-handlers and shot creators on the perimeter that they throw the fewest passes per game in the league, 235.7. Someone therefore will be pounding the ball until their hands are orange. And that someone will be McCollum.
This backcourt frailty however also means potentially big nights for whoever is up against them. It is not a coincidence that in their last game without Lillard, Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans went off for his best offensive night of the year. And that was with Simons available as well – without him, McCollum flies solo at the lead guard spot, too muc responsibility for one man to handle for 48 minutes on both ends. His opposing number tonight, Eric Bledsoe, could therefore go off; even on the season as a whole, the Blazers are only 21st in defensive rating and 10th in pace, and so unless the game is a blowout, there will be plenty of scoring opportunities for him and all the other starters.
New Orleans Pelicans @ Phoenix Suns
Talking Stick Resort Arena, 10:30pm ET
The difference between Phoenix with Ricky Rubio and without is striking. Like Portland above, the Suns lack depth, and particularly for ball-handling and shot creation; as the primary option for both, Rubio is the lynchpin of both. When he was out with back spasms two games ago, they were unable to crack the Boston Celtics defence at all, and although Rubio played the first half of their last game, he shouldn’t have, clearly still not healthy, and will now miss tonight’s game.
This factor alone tips the balance significantly towards the Pelicans, who, notwithstanding their own injury list, are not as dependent on a few individuals as Phoenix are. With far greater depth, the Pelicans are winners of three of their last four games, the only loss coming against the Miami Heat, one of the best teams in the NBA. And with Rubio out, they should, despite the inferior overall record, have too many weapons for the Suns to handle.
Value Pick: Pelicans outright win (+165 at William Hill)
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