- The Jazz earned some much-needed confidence with a win over the Warriors, and they'll put it to good use against the Blazers on Friday.
After going 2-0-1 last night, the Three at 3 is now 13-4-1 over the last six days in action. Here are our three best bets for Friday night in the NBA:
1. Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks (-3.0)
7:30 pm ET
In terms of defensive efficiency rating, only the Cleveland Cavaliers are worse than the Knicks this season. New York only has a few good defenders on its roster, and one of them, Frank Ntilikina, barely even sees the floor. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Mudiay, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter all play around 30 minutes a night for the Knicks. Those are some of the worst defenders the league has to offer, an obvious liability tonight against a Hawks team that has some real firepower offensively. Rookie Trae Young has struggled with his shot this season, but he has improved in recent games. Young has made four of eight three-pointers over his last two games, and he should get plenty of open looks here. Atlanta also has John Collins playing the best basketball of his life, and rookie Kevin Huerter starting to get comfortable on the court. Over the last five games, Collins is averaging 22 points and 12.8 rebounds for Atlanta. His ability to score around the basket is remarkable for such a young player, and he’ll have a field day against the Knicks' interior defense. Meanwhile, Huerter is shooting 48.3% from the outside over the last five games. He moves incredibly well without the basketball, and his shot is automatic when he gets his feet set. Like Young, it’s hard to imagine him having a tough time getting looks. The Knicks will also be without Allonzo Trier in this game, which is bad news considering he is the team’s best bench scorer and this game figures to be a high-scoring affair. It’s also worth mentioning that New York is just 8-18 against the spread in home games against teams that average at least 23 assists per game over the last two seasons.
Pick: Hawks (+3.0)
2. Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics (PK)
The last time the Bucks and Celtics met was on November 1st, when Boston won 117-113 as a two-point home favorite. The Celtics had been struggling at that point in the season, but they have been getting better in recent weeks—despite losing their last two games. But it is important to note that the Bucks went nine for 29 from the outside in that game—which is uncharacteristically low for one of the league’s best offensive teams—and Al Horford was on the court for the Celtics in that one. That won’t be the case here, as the big man is out indefinitely.
Over the last three seasons, Milwaukee is 14-4 against the spread in road games when coming off a game in which they allowed 115 or more points. With Horford out, the Bucks have the luxury of knowing that they will be able to attack Boston with a heavy dosage of pick and rolls. Rookie center Robert Williams (aka “Time Lord”) has given the Celtics some productive minutes off the bench over the last few games, but he is still very raw. It wouldn’t be surprising if he gets into some foul trouble with MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo attacking the basket here. Overall, it seems like a tough ask for the Celtics to beat one of the best teams in the league without an important player like Horford. Milwaukee will be out for blood after letting their first meeting slip away.
Pick: Bucks (PK)
3. Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers (-2.0)
After beating the Golden State Warriors the other night, the Jazz should be brimming with confidence when they take on the Blazers. This has been a rough season for Utah, but the team has had some games where they show that last year’s team is still hiding somewhere within. The Jazz played harder than most of their opponents over the second half of last season, and this year's team seem to be struggling to find that motivation on a nightly basis. Ricky Rubio is shooting the ball terribly—38.5% from the floor and 31.1% from three—which has really taken away a lot of Utah’s spacing. But it really does seem like the Jazz have had something of a breakthrough this week. They lost a close one in Houston on Monday and then bounced back with that impressive win over the Warriors.
Portland has been playing well lately, too. The Blazers have won five of their last seven, and they have covered in all of those wins. The last three came against the Raptors, Clippers and Grizzlies, so they’ll also be confident tonight. The problem for the Blazers is that Utah just matches up really well with them right now. In Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have a guy that can slow down Jusuf Nurkic while also preventing Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum from easily attacking the basket. And while Rubio is struggling on offense, he always brings it on the defensive end. He should give Lillard some trouble on the perimeter, as well. And then there’s Donovan Mitchell, who will have the luxury of going at McCollum here. Mitchell has been very inconsistent this season, but he has the ability to absolutely shred a poor defender like McCollum.
Pick: Jazz (+2.0)
Overall Record: 77-60-4