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NBA Three at 3: Best Bets for Friday, December 31

Published on 12/31/2021
By Zachary Cohen
Blazers star Damian Lillard
The Blazers need Damian Lillard to play well against the Lakers.
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

In the final Three at 3 of 2021, we'll look to give you some winners for an NBA slate that will be capped off with the Portland Trail Blazers taking on the Los Angeles Lakers on NBA TV: 

1. Mavericks at Kings - The Mavericks and Kings met in Sacramento just two nights ago, when the Kings won on a buzzer-beating three by Chimezie Metu. Sacramento was a 2.5-point home underdog in that game, and the value is just too good with the Kings as a home underdog tonight. Dallas is missing a ton of players coming into this game, with Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber being a few of them. That's one of the best players in basketball, plus two key role players. Meanwhile, the Kings are at full strength entering this game, and they are the far more talented team to begin with. Also, the Mavericks have to be somewhat deflated by the way the last game ended, while the Kings should be energized by it. And Dallas has had trouble taking bad teams seriously over the years, in general. Over the last two seasons, the Mavericks are 16-28 against the spread when playing teams with losing records. 

THE PICK: Kings +1.5 

2. Knicks at Thunder - After back-to-back road losses, the Thunder head back to Oklahoma City for a meeting with the Knicks. Oklahoma City had covered in six straight games before failing to do so against Sacramento and Phoenix, showing that this team is a lot more competitive than people think it is. The Knicks have gotten to face shorthanded versions of the Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons in each of their last three games, and they expectedly went 3-0 both straight-up and against the spread in those games. This Thunder team is, however, a lot more talented than those groups were, and Oklahoma City would actually have the best player on the floor — by far — if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ends up playing tonight. The guard is listed as questionable, but the Knicks are going to be without Julius Randle here. That should even things out if the Thunder guard is forced out of action, but the real reason to back Oklahoma City is that this New York team isn't very good and hasn't been tested at all lately. The Thunder have also responded to adversity all year, as they are 10-2 against the spread after having lost two of their last three games this season. They're also 16-7 against the spread when coming off a game in which they scored 105 points or less. 

THE PICK: Thunder +5

3. Blazers at Lakers - There's no downplaying just how bad Damian Lillard and the Blazers have been this season, but they do have a good matchup tonight. Before giving up only 104 points in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, the Lakers had allowed 121.2 points per game over their previous five games. This is a team that is playing some of the worse defense in basketball at the moment, and Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles backcourt is a huge reason for that. With that in mind, this looks like a game in which Lillard and Norman Powell could go off for Portland. Also, the Lakers could have trouble dealing with the persistent energy of role players like Nassir Little and Larry Nance Jr. It doesn't help that Los Angeles hasn't had much of a home-court advantage this year either. The Lakers are just 6-14 against the spread at home this season, and they're also 1-3 both straight-up and against the spread in their last four games against the Blazers. Overall, it wouldn't be surprising if Portland actually won this game outright. 

THE PICK: Blazers +5.5 

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