NBA point spreads
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MILWAUKEE BUCKS (36-37) at ATLANTA HAWKS (55-18)
The Bucks continue to fight for playoff positioning when they head to Atlanta Monday and face a Hawks team that has already clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks hosted the Warriors on Saturday and lost 108-95 as 5-point home underdogs. Milwaukee had won two straight games coming into that one and will now look to turn things around quickly against Atlanta. The team is allowing 107.5 PPG over the past two contests and must find a way to play better defense moving forward. The Hawks, meanwhile, lost their most recent game 115-110 as 6.5-point underdogs in Charlotte. They had won-and-covered in two straight games before that loss and the difference was that they held their opponents to just 84.5 PPG in the victories. The Hawks will need to be better defensively against Milwaukee and theyll also need to get back to playing their efficient brand of offense. These teams have met three times this season and Atlanta is 2-1 SU and 1-1-1 ATS in those games. The home team has not won a single game SU in this series. Over the past three seasons, however, the Hawks are 9-1 SU and 6-3 ATS against the Bucks. They are 3-1 SU but just 1-3 ATS when playing as the host in that time. Milwaukee is 15-6 ATS in road games after one or more consecutive Unders this season and 19-10 ATS as a road underdog as well. Atlanta, however, is 24-11 ATS after two straight games with 10 or less offensive rebounds this season. SF Jared Dudley (Back) is doubtful for the Bucks, who are already without SF Jabari Parker (Knee) and SF Damien Inglis (Foot) for the season. PG Jeff Teague (Ankle) is doubtful for the Hawks, who are without PF Mike Scott (Toe) indefinitely.
The Bucks are still playing to determine where theyll be seeded in the Eastern Conference playoffs and they need PG Michael Carter-Williams (14.5 PPG, 6.8 APG, 5.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG) to play much better. He had just eight points and three assists in 22 minutes against Golden State last game, picking up three personal fouls and also turning the ball over three times in the process. He has not been able to avoid foul trouble recently and his lack of ball security is alarming. Carter-Williams needs to slow down and start playing much more efficiently moving forward. PF Ersan Ilyasova (11.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG) had a bad game against the Warriors, scoring just eight points (1-for-10 FG, 0-for-5 3PT) in 23 minutes of action. He had been on a tear for the team, scoring 15+ points in five of the six games before losing to Golden State. He should be able to play a little better in this one, as its unlikely that a good outside shooter (37percent 3PT) will be that inaccurate two games in a row. SG Khris Middleton (13.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG) is averaging 14.0 PPG in three games against the Hawks this season. Middleton will really need to step it up in this one if Ilyasova were to somehow not find his touch. With Dudley out, Middleton is one of the only reliable shooters on the team (42percent 3PT). SF Giannis Antetokounmpo (12.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.1 BPG. 1.0 SPG) has really struggled against the Hawks this season, averaging just 10.3 PPG on 36.7percent shooting from the field in three meetings. Hell need to find a way to be more effective in this one. C Zaza Pachulia (8.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.0 SPG) comes into this meeting with his former team on a tear. Hes now scored in double figures in 10 straight games and will need to do the same against Al Horford Monday.
The Hawks have been one of the best teams in basketball all season long, but they have not looked that way in recent weeks. The team needs to get back on track heading into the playoffs or it will be very prone to an early round upset. PG Dennis Schroder (9.9 PPG, 4.2 APG) has been playing outstanding over the past five games for the Hawks. Hes averaging 15.8 PPG, 6.8 APG and 3.2 RPG in 26.8 MPG in those contests. Schroders play is crucial for this Hawks team because PG Jeff Teague (16.3 PPG, 7.0 APG) is out with an injured ankle. C Al Horford (15.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 BPG) was given the game off against the Hornets on Saturday and will now be fresh for this meeting with his old teammate, Zaza Pachulia. Horford is averaging 16.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 2.0 BPG against the Bucks this season and will need to play the same brand of two-way basketball on Monday. PF Paul Millsap (17.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG) is coming off of a day off as well and had been scorching hot before resting. He was averaging 21.8 PPG in the four games before not playing against the Hornets. The Bucks dont defend power forwards that well and Millsap should be able to take advantage of that. SG Kyle Korver (12.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.5 APG) also got the game off against Charlotte Saturday. Korver has struggled against Milwaukee this season, averaging just 7.0 PPG on 25percent shooting in three meetings with the team. Hell need to knock down his outside shots in this one or the Hawks might not have the spacing they need to win.
Examining NBA's fast -- and slow -- starts
As we inch closer to another Power Rankings Monday, your faithful committee (of one) is already starting its computing.
And it sure helps when your Sunday brunch includes a surprise heads-up from a research-minded pal like ESPN.com's Adam Reisinger, who has helpfully passed along a handy list that puts some of the good (and bad) starts we've seen into some historical perspective.
Entering Sunday's play:
Golden State Warriors: 5-0 start is the Warriors' best since they went 5-0 in 1994-95. They finished 26-56 that season.
Memphis Grizzlies: 6-1 start is the Grizzlies' best in team history.
Houston Rockets: 6-1 is the Rockets' best start since a 6-1 launch in 2007-08, when they went 55-27 and reeled off an unforgettable 22 straight wins in one stretch.
Toronto Raptors: 5-1 start is the best in franchise history.
Sacramento Kings: 5-1 start is the Kings' best since they opened up at 9-1 in 1999-2000, when they ultimately faded to 44-38.
Washington Wizards: 5-2 start is the Wizards' best since they went 5-1 in 2005-06, when they finished 42-40.
Chicago Bulls: 5-2 start is the Bulls' best since a 7-1 start in 2011-12. They finished 50-16 in that lockout-shortened season.
Denver Nuggets: It's actually the Nuggets' second straight 1-4 start.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 1-5 is the Thunder's worst start since they went 1-14 in 2008-09 in the club's first season in OKC.
New York Knicks: 2-5 is the Knicks' worst start since a 1-9 start in 2009-10 that set the tone for a 29-53 season.
Indiana Pacers: 1-6 is the Pacers' worst start since they went 1-6 in 1993-94, when they rallied to post a 47-35 mark.
Los Angeles Lakers: 0-5 is the Lakers' worst start in Los Angeles and their worst since they went 0-7 in 1957-58 in Minneapolis.
Philadelphia 76ers: 0-6 is the Sixers' worst start since a 0-15 start in 1972-73 ... which, of course, was Philly's 9-73 season.
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NBA Double Header
DALLAS MAVERICKS (5-5) at BOSTON CELTICS (4-4)
Sportsbook.com Line & Total: Boston -5.5 & 183.5
Opening Line & Total: Celtics -5.5 & 185.5
The Mavs look to build on their first road win of the season when they visit a well-rested Celtics team on Wednesday night.
After losing their first three road games of the season (the final two by 17 and 22 points), Dallas cruised to a 100-86 win in Detroit on Tuesday. The Mavs, 4-1 (SU and ATS) in their past five games, continued their excellent team defense. In the past six games, no Dallas opponent has shot above 45% from the floor, averaging 89.2 PPG on 42% FG. The Celtics havenít played since Friday, an ugly 87-74 home loss to Indiana, but none of the Dallas starters logged 30 minutes in Tuesdayís victory, so fresh legs should not be an issue in this one. And even though Jason Kidd (back) wonít play, Delonte West proved himself more than capable of running the point in Detroit with 10 assists, two turnovers and five steals. Since the 2005-06 season, the Mavs are 9-3 ATS (5-7 SU) against the Celtics, and with a moderate point spread, that trend should hold true again.
Dirk Nowitzki posted an incredible +42 rating in his 28 minutes of action on Tuesday, finishing with a team-high 18 points (9-10 FG) and seven rebounds. Six other Mavs scored 9+ points during the balanced attack. Nowitzki has always enjoyed facing Boston in his career, pumping in 27.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 3.1 APG in 24 lifetime meetings. The scoring average is his highest versus any opponent in his NBA career, helped by 31.2 PPG (57% FG) in his past five meetings with the Celtics. SG Jason Terry continues to provide a lift off the bench, as heís second on the team with 13.8 PPG. Terry has been the teamís lone marksman from three-point land (44%), as the rest of the Mavs are a pathetic 25% from downtown this year. SG Vince Carter (9.1 PPG) is finally starting to find his rhythm though, connecting on 9-of-18 FG in his past two games. He started the season in a 20-of-58 funk (35%). Dallas is still waiting for offseason acquisition Lamar Odom to get comfortable with his new team. So far Odom is shooting a laughable 28% FG (21-for-75) including 5-of-31 (16%) from three-point range.
The Celtics offense was horrendous in Fridayís 87-74 loss, especially Paul Pierce (3-of-17 FG). Pierce also had five turnovers in the defeat. Itís been a rough season for Pierce (39% FG), but he usually plays well against Dallas in his career with 22.0 PPG on 46% FG. In contrast to Pierce, Ray Allen has been lights-out on the offensive end all season. He leads the team with 20.4 PPG on 58% FG, including an amazing 63% from three-point land. Allen had 23 (7-of-11 FG) of his teamís 74 points in Fridayís loss. Three other Celtics are shooting better than 50% this year -- Rajon Rondo (14.8 PPG, 52% FG), Kevin Garnett (12.9 PPG, 52% FG) and Brandon Bass (12.9 PPG, 53% FG). Rondo continues to be a great ball distributor (10.5 APG), but heís committed a career-high 4.1 turnovers per game. His decision making will be key against an improving Mavs defense.
MIAMI HEAT (8-2) at LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (4-3)
Sportsbook.com Line & Total: Miami -4 & 203
Opening Line & Total: Heat -4 & 202
There will be no shortage of star power when Miami stops into L.A. for a matchup with the new look Clippers on Wednesday night.
Both teams are traveling from the Pacific Northwest after tough losses: the Heat went to overtime in Golden State while the Clippers lost at Portland Tuesday night. Fatigue is more likely to be a factor for Miami, who has a banged-up superstar and a short bench. The Heat led by 12 after three quarters and by as many as 17 on Tuesday before blowing the game in Oakland. SG Dwyane Wade returned to the lineup for the first time in eight days because of a bruised foot. He played 37 minutes while LeBron James (43) and Chris Bosh (38) played heavy minutes as well.
Wade (21.0 PPG, 5.9 APG) played well in his return to the lineup, scoring 34 thanks to 16 trips to the line at Golden State. But itís yet to be seen how his foot will react to a back-to-back. Going with pretty much an eight-man rotation, the Heat got nearly no help from their bench, which scored just 16 points in the loss. Veterans Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem came off the bench and posted atrocious plus/minus numbers, -12 and -15 respectively. The Heat got another big game from James (29.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.6 APG), who had 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. But the return of Wade coincided with the disappearance of Bosh (19.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG), who had just 16 points and four rebounds against a weak Warriors front line.
The Clippers were competitive in Portland, one of the NBAís toughest road venues. Blake Griffin (23.7 PPG, 10.6 RPG) posted another double-double (18 points, 12 rebounds), but PG Chris Paul (14.6 PPG, 8.4 APG) is still not being assertive. He scored just 11 points on nine shots with three assists on Tuesday. Perhaps the marquee matchup against the Heat will bring out a little more fire in him. He had 13 points and 19 assists in a home win over Miami with the Hornets last year.
The Clippers continued to struggle from behind the arc (6-for-23, now 31.4% on the season). The good news is that they had their best game of the season on the boards. After allowing 11.8 offensive rebounds per game through their first six games, they held Portland to just seven offensive boards on 35 misses on Tuesday night.