This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
Opening night is only weeks away, and the lines for the first two days of the season are up via the DraftKings Sportsbook. There is always room for things to change from now until then, but I've outlined my picks for each game below
Nets (PK) at Bucks
Pick: Nets (PK)
Confidence: Not compelled to bet it
Having this as a pick-em is fair since the Bucks are at home and will be raising their championship banner and getting their rings. But, I still can't shake the feeling that the Nets will win this one. They're the best team in the league – maybe the most potent offensive team ever – and the Bucks just don't match up with across-the-board talent. Fundamentally, I think Brooklyn should be favored in every game this season.
Warriors at Lakers (-4.5)
Pick: Lakers (-4.5)
Confidence: Put it on the ticket
I'd hear the argument for taking the Warriors if Klay Thompson was fully healthy, but he's out until Christmas at the earliest. Sure, Golden State shored up its depth in the offseason with some free agent signings – Otto Porter, Nemanja Bjelica, Andre Iguodala – and drafted Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, but the Lakers both increased their top end talent and their depth. I'm as critical of Russell Westbrook as anyone, but he makes the Lakers better, and Los Angeles' bench unit should destroy Golden State's. Bottom line: the Lakers have better top talent and bench talent, making it extremely easy to take a -4.5 spread.
Bulls (-2.5) at Pistons
Pick: Bulls -2.5
Confidence: Liquidate all your assets and invest in the spread of this game (Legal note: This is not financial advice)
What am I looking at? Chicago is starting three All-Star caliber players this season, plus Lonzo Ball, and they are barely favored over Detroit, whose best player is…Cade Cunningham? Jerami Grant? I know the Bulls' bench is tragic, but it's certainly not as tragic as the Pistons', which is full of guys who are only back because they had nowhere else to go. In my book, the Bulls have the upside to win a first-round playoff series, and the Pistons could be a bottom-three team. Lay the points.
Pacers at Hornets (-2)
Pick: Hornets -2
Confidence: Zilch, zero, nada, none
If the Pacers were healthy, I'd take Indiana here, but it seems like they'll be without Caris LeVert (back) and TJ Warren (foot). I still think the Pacers have the coaching advantage, but the available talent is pretty close, and Charlotte has some decent depth. I just really don't know what to do here, so I'll take the home team, and it'll be more fun to have money on LaMelo Ball than Malcolm Brogdon.
Celtics at Knicks (-1)
Pick: Celtics +1
Confidence: A strong breeze could change my mind
The Celtics are better at every position except point guard, but the Knicks are (presumably) better coached and are at home, so this spread seems right to me. Ultimately, this is just a bet on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown's talent. But, again, this is a coin flip for me.
Wizards at Raptors (-3)
Pick: Wizards +3
First, I do think the Raptors' home-court advantage for this game will be huge. This is their first game in Toronto since the pandemic started. The standing ovation will be absurd. However, the Raptors without Pascal Siakam (shoulder), who is expected to be out until early November, are just a bad team. Their No. 2 option on offense is either Gary Trent or OG Anunoby. Maybe Goran Dragic? The Wizards aren't exactly a potent offense, either, but it's not unreasonable to expect 55 combined points from just Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie. I still can't have a ton of confidence, though, as I wouldn't want my money on either team if I could help it.
76ers (-1.5) at Pelicans
Pick: Pelicans -1.5
Confidence: Worth considering
So the assumption has to be that the 76ers are without Ben Simmons, meaning their second-best player is Tobias Harris. I like Harris, but not that much. The rest of the rotation will be cobbled together from passable-but-not-potent offensive options, and the bench is pretty weak. Plus, I at least trust Jonas Valanciunas to not get bullied by Joel Embiid. And I don't think Philly has the personnel to slow down Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Even Devonte' Graham could have a nice game against the likes of Shake Milton, Seth Curry and Tyrese Maxey. This will be a good litmus test for both how good the Sixers actually are without Simmons and how the new-look Pelicans operate.
Cavaliers at Grizzlies (-7)
Pick: Cavaliers +7
Confidence: Higher than it should be
Dare I say the Cavs might have a talented roster? It might not fit together perfectly, but I think there will be some nights where they have offensive outbursts, especially if Lauri Markkanen can finally find a role that suits him. The Grizzlies obviously have more organizational competency after making the playoffs last season and far exceeding expectations in Ja Morant's rookie year, but as odd as it is to say, they aren't pressing the gas down as hard as Cleveland. It wouldn't be remotely shocking if the Cavs won this game. I'd certainly consider the +230 moneyline as well.
Rockets at Timberwolves (-4.5)
Pick: Timberwolves -4.5
Confidence: Probably ticket-worthy
The Timberwolves are better than the Rockets at every single position, though I'd understand if you want to claim that Daniel Theis is better than Jaden McDaniels/Jarred Vanderbilt, and maybe Kevin Porter Jr. is comparable to D'Angelo Russell. I just wouldn't expect the Rockets to come together on the first game of the season to upset the Timberwolves, who actually have some continuity from last season. This number isn't off by a lot in my book, but I'd at least like to see what sort of odds I can get on the Wolves winning by 10+ points once that's available.
Magic at Spurs (-4.5)
Pick: Spurs -4.5
Confidence: Do not place wagers on either of these teams with your hard-earned money
These are some bad teams, and I think I'd rather watch some competitive cornhole instead of bench minutes from this game. I don't really want to spend much time on this. The Spurs are better. Just take the more talented team with Gregg Popovich at the helm and move on.
Thunder at Jazz (-10.5)
Pick: Jazz -10.5
Confidence: Quite high, but always concerned about a backdoor cover when the spread is double-digits
Last season, the Jazz had the point differential of a 66-win team (best in the NBA!). The Thunder had the point differential of a 16-win team (worst in the NBA!). Neither team's dynamic changed enough for me to feel any differently about them this year, and I actually like the win total over for the Jazz (51.5) and under for the Thunder (23.5). So, I think it's best to lay the points before everyone realizes how good Utah is and how bad OKC is.
Nuggets at Suns (-5.5)
Pick: Suns -5.5
Confidence: Will always be low betting against Nikola Jokic
The Nuggets had a +2.5 point differential last season with Murray off the court, and Phoenix had a +6.2 differential last season, so it tracks that the Suns are 5.5-point favorites. While I don't want to bet against Jokic, I don't have confidence in his supporting cast to outplay the Suns' supporting cast. This certainly isn't one I'd put on a ticket.
Kings at Trail Blazers (-5.5)
Pick: Trail Blazers -5.5
Confidence: Not one I'd put on a ticket
I don't want to bet against Damian Lillard, which is a huge reason I'm taking Portland. But, the Kings have a chance to be a competitive team, and the Blazers' bench is abhorrent, so my confidence isn't especially high.