Ahead of the five-day break for All-Star Weekend, the NBA schedule is packed with a nine-game slate on Thursday. Thursday’s slate of NBA action features one nationally televised game on TNT in addition to a couple of marquee conference matchups. Check out the Last Word on Pro Basketball staff’s official predictions for NBA action on Thursday night.
Big Slate of NBA Games Ahead of All-Star Weekend
Miami Heat at New Orleans Pelicans, 8:30 pm ET on TNT
The Miami Heat (17-18) have turned a corner after the long absence of Jimmy Butler earlier this season. Head Coach Erik Spoelstra and his squad are 6-4 in their last 10 games including a six-game winning streak to end February. The New Orleans Pelicans currently sit 15-20 for the 11th seed in the Western Conference. These two teams met once before, back on Christmas Day. Miami walked away with a 111-98 home victory, each team’s second game of the year. Butler remains the “X” factor in this series. Although Butler played just 16 minutes in the first matchup, Miami still emerged victorious. Miami is just 4-10 in games without Butler this season, including their last loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Butler has been listed as questionable with right knee inflammation while missing the past two games, however, he traveled with the team to New Orleans. It’s quite possible he plays. The betting line opened with New Orleans at -3 (110). If Butler plays, expect the Heat to at least cover this spread. If he sits, with New Orleans playing at home, the Pelicans should have no problem winning this one by more than three points.
Jimmy Butler traveled with Heat to New Orleans for Thursday's game at Pelicans (9:30 p.m., TNT, Brian Anderson/Grant Hill). So quite possible he could play
— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) March 3, 2021
NBA Eastern Conference Rivals: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics
Tonight’s NBA matchup with the Toronto Raptors visiting the Boston Celtics is a tale of two tapes. Toronto, currently 17-18, is trending in the wrong direction after a run-in with the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The Raptors have lost three of their last four including a postponed matchup with the Chicago Bulls to end February. Five players including Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby were ruled out for last night’s 24-point loss to the Detroit Pistons. It’s likey those same five will remain sidelined tonight. Boston sits fourth in the Eastern Conference with an 18-17 record while riding a nice three-game winning streak.
Every time Boston and Toronto match up, fans are reminded of the dramatic 2019-20 Eastern Conference semifinals. Boston opened as -8 (110) favorites on the betting line and should have no issues in this one. In their last two matchups this season, the Celtics have won by 12 and 14 points, respectively. Eight points is a large spread but expect another double-digit win for Boston tonight.
Milwaukee Bucks at Memphis Grizzlies
The Milwaukee Bucks travel to take on the Memphis Grizzlies ahead of NBA All-Star Weekend. Despite their inconsistency, Milwaukee is still considered one of the best teams in the entire NBA. The Bucks are 21-14 for the third-best mark in the Eastern Conference. It’s been difficult to get a true read on who the Bucks are this year. In their last 15 games, Milwaukee won five, lost five, and then rebounded for five more consecutive victories. The Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo averaging 29.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game this season, are fully healthy heading into the break. However, can the Grizzlies catch them napping ahead of All-Star Weekend?
Memphis sits at 16-15 and near the back half of the Western Conference, which is where all the experts had them pegged heading into this season. The Grizzlies have also been without forward Jaren Jackson Jr. all season while Grayson Allen and Kyle Anderson are listed as questionable. Still, Memphis is 9-9 as underdogs against the spread this season and 17-14 ATS overall. Milwaukee, on the other hand, has a sub-.500 overall record ATS and just 6-9 as away favorites. The betting line opened with Milwaukee as -6 (110) favorites. Expect the Bucks to pull off a win, but this game plays closer than it should.
NBA Battle Out West: Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns
Thursday’s slate of NBA action concludes with a Western Conference matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns. Golden State appears desperate for the All-Star break after concluding a four-game East Coast trip. The Warriors enjoyed one game at home before two away losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers. Golden State suffered their last loss to Portland just last night before a quick trip down to Phoenix. The Suns are 12-2 in their last 14 games since the beginning of February and, at 23-11, now own the second seed in the West.
It’s never a good idea to bet against Stephen Curry, but this matchup favors the Suns way too much. Phoenix is 23-11 against the spread this season including a 17-9 record ATS when favored. The Suns are also 12-7 ATS with one day of rest. The betting line opened closer than expected with the current trends of these two squads. Phoenix is favored just -2.5 (110), which may be indicative of Curry’s prowess, but the Suns should easily cover this win.
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