NBA Picks for Thursday, January 18

Each day Contest General offers you the opportunity to pick head-to-head NBA matchups from some of the league’s top games.

Thursday offers a four-game slate, but TNT’s doubleheader should be appointment television. Minnesota visits Houston in a battle for the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference, and Boston will play Philadelphia for the fourth time this season and second time in the last week.

Below is a guide on which teams to pick.

Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics

The Celtics are trying to run away from the Eastern Conference while the 76ers are trying to run into a playoff bid. Both seem to be happening rapidly.

Boston has won seven straight entering this week, and that streak includes victories over Houston, Cleveland, Minnesota and these very 76ers. Five of those seven failed to score 100 points and three did not even reach 90.

Philadelphia has won five out of six following an MLK Day win over Toronto. In fact, that lone loss came to Boston on January 11. The Celtics have taken the first three meetings with each spread being double digits.

Boston is clearly the superior team, and playing at home – where the Celtics have won five straight games – makes it increasingly unlikely that the 76ers will pick up a win.

However, Joel Embiid has been playing at an extremely high level. He’s averaging 24.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists as well as 1.9 blocks over his last seven games. Embiid has four double-doubles in that span and has scored at least 20 in every game but one — his 15-point performance last week against the C’s.

Boston is so sound defensively and Philadelphia just isn’t diverse enough offensively to counter. Embiid is shooting just 10-for-33 from the field against Boston, averaging just 13 points.

As long as the Celtics are forcing opponents to shoot just 43 percent from the field, I’ll take them on nearly every occasion. Philly has shot 48, 42 and 38 percent from the field in three meetings.

Boston wins — again.

Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets

On paper, this is uniquely intriguing because you have two extremely potent offenses that do things in very different ways.

Houston (second in scoring and second in offensive rating) and Minnesota (sixth in scoring and fourth in offensive rating) have scored at least 120 points 10 and seven times, respectively.

The Rockets do so with a perimeter-themed attack, shooting three-point field goals on nearly 51 percent of their overall field goal attempts. Houston’s nearly 44 three-point attempts is by far the most in the NBA. Unsurprisingly, the team ranks dead last in two-point field goal attempts.

The Timberwolves lead the NBA in two-point field goal attempts at nearly 33 per night. Consequently, the Wolves have attempted the third-fewest three-point field goals in the league this season. They also rank fifth in field goal percentage.

Both teams have also mastered the art of getting to the free throw line, ranking top-five in attempts per game.
So, do you prefer threes or attacking the rim?

Minnesota is just 2.5 games behind the Rockets in the West, suggesting different strokes for different folks can lead to the same result. But, these two squads are heading in vastly different directions.

The Rockets, after one of the best starts in franchise history, have lost eight of their last 13 games. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves have won five straight.

Maybe the most intriguing matchups are individually based. Can Clint Capela slow Karl-Anthony Towns, and can Jeff Teague not give up a monster night to Chris Paul?

Capela doing a good job on Towns isn’t that far-fetched. He’s sixth in the NBA in blocks, owns the third-highest rebounding rate in the league and ranks 12th in individual defensive rating. On the other side, Teague has posted an individual rating of 110, which is the worst of his career.

Something’s gotta give, right?

Capela does a solid job on Towns, Teague gets lit up by Paul and the Wolves win because Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins have big nights. Rockets fans cannot wait for James Harden to come back.

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