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GAMBLING AGAINST GREATNESS: HARDEN AND IRVING BATTLE LEBRON IN LOS ANGELES WHILE THE RAPTORS LOOK TO FEAST ON THE BUCKS AND THE HEAT TRY TO SAVE THEIR SEASON

@TheWillBaldwin

What’s popping on Air-Ball

Last Week: 3-2

Season: 55.5% 

After a disappointing two-week stretch to close January, last week we got back into the green with a 3-2 record and only really missing on the Philadelphia/Portland matchup. This week with only three games it’s important to get them right to help fix that percentage so, let’s go. 

Raptors vs Bucks

Line: Bucks -6.5

Pick: Bucks -6.5

If the Bucks won on Tuesday, this game would’ve been much harder to pick. However, the Bucks come in losers of four straight with a defensive rating of 121.1 in those games. After a day off to think things over, I expect an inspired effort from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and the host of other Bucks who have been off as of late. Every once in a while, good teams have regular-season games that matter a little extra in terms of righting a ship or getting back on track and I feel like this is one of those for the Bucks. The case for the Raptors upsetting them a second straight game is the continued high-level play of Fred VanVleet, the resurgence of Pascal Siakam and the overall fact this team has underachieved all season, especially based on their point differential and net rating. With Kyle Lowry listed as questionable though, I just don’t think they’re is equipped with enough gas to beat a Bucks team needing a win, especially if Lowry isn’t 100% even if he plays. 

Nets vs Lakers

Line: Lakers -3

Pick: Nets +3

This is the game of the night and a fun one to pick. Both teams are missing MVP calibre forwards in Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis but that doesn’t mean they’re left with no talent. Los Angeles has LeBron doing his usual MVP type stuff to go with a supporting cast that’s played pretty well with Davis out of the lineup. The Nets meanwhile return Kyrie Irving to their lineup that with James Harden beat the rolling Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. For me, this game comes down to one stat. When Davis is off the court, the Lakers offensive rating is just 106.7. However, without Durant, the Nets offence still rolls at 113.6. What this means is while Brooklyn should still be able to score without their star forward, the Lakers will struggle to do the same. This is how teams like the Pistons and Thunder have given them trouble of late and neither of those teams had anyone like Harden or Irving. I expect a close game that down the stretch the Lakers offence struggles and Irving and Harden go to work. Nets coach Steve Nash said their locker room was in great spirits after the Phoenix win, I expect that to continue Thursday night in Staples Center. 

Heat vs Kings

Line: Even

Pick: Heat 

Let’s be honest, both these teams have really struggled of late and really need a win. For the Kings, they’ve lost four straight and with this being the final game before a long road trip, really need some positive momentum sooner rather than later. Miami on the other hand after winning four following Jimmy Butler’s return have lost three straight. Arguably no team has lost more to injury and COVID-19 this season and yet, this recent dip has felt a lot more like real roster problems than just health issues like before. If they don’t turn it around ASAP, they could be heading into the second half of the season below .500 and out of even the play-in tournament. So, with both teams needing this so badly, the pick for this really comes down to which team you think is better. I may feel like an idiot tonight but I still think it’s the Heat. I know the Kings also had a nice stretch in February but I feel like the fact they’re 5-14 the rest of the season is much more indicative of who they are than that seven wins in eight games streak. The Heat still have Butler, Bam Adebayo and a solid all be it disappointing supporting cast, that’s just better than what the Kings have to offer. It’s a must-win for both so give me the more known and talented commodity in Miami.    

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