Weekly Pick ‘em: TPN sports staff makes NBA game predictions


Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS

Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert (27) grabs Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) after a foul was called against the Warriors in the second quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals in Salt Lake City on May 8, 2017.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

Our TPN sports staff returns in our second edition of Weekly Pick ‘Em, with this week’s slate featuring NBA action while both the Pittsburgh Panthers and Steelers take a break during bye weeks.

Last week, our writers performed admirably in picking six college football games, with five writers going 3-3, three going 4-2 and two going 5-1. The favorite won in almost every game — the problem was that many on our staff thought the upset of the week would come from Georgia Tech over Duke, but instead Virginia shocked the nation and knocked off No. 16 Miami. Only Michael Nitti predicted that outcome, and he still finished 4-2.

Tyler Moran made our staff proud, hitting on every one of his picks except Miami and coming within one point of nailing Boston College’s final score of 38-20 over Louisville, predicting a 38-21 final. On Twitter, the follower vote went with all the favorites and thus turned in a solid 5-1 record, with the lone miss once again coming on the Miami game.

If you’re a basketball fan and think your crystal ball works better than ours, then check out the @pittnewssports Twitter page to cast your votes on our selection of the upcoming week’s best NBA matchups.

Friday, Oct. 19: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors

Trent: Boston 108, Toronto 101

Jack: Toronto 95, Boston 88

Nitti: Toronto 107, Boston 103

Ben: Boston 115, Toronto 95

Stephen: Boston 102, Toronto 94

Tyler: Boston 106, Toronto 99

Andrew: Boston 104, Toronto 97

Friday’s 8 p.m. matchup between the Celtics and the Raptors could be a preview of this season’s Eastern Conference Finals. These were the top-two seeds in the East last season and their rosters only got better in the offseason, with Toronto upgrading from DeMar DeRozan to Kawhi Leonard and Boston’s Gordon Hayward now at full health following a broken leg in 2017.

This game should be a scrappy, defense-oriented grime fest, with both teams taking immense pride in their tough defense and deep benches. The Raptors have two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, and they also have the diminutive but rambunctious Kyle Lowry, who tried to fight 6-foot-10-inch Ben Simmons last season. The Celtics, on the other hand, finished third in team defense last season and also have their fair share of guys who like to tussle.
But the Celtics did nearly take down Lebron and the Cavs in the playoffs last season without their two best players — Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. With both those players healthy, our staff favors Boston 5-2.

Friday, Oct. 19: Golden State Warriors at Utah Jazz

Trent: GSW 120, Utah 107

Jack: GSW 110, Utah 100

Nitti: GSW 121, Utah 106

Ben: GSW 110, Utah 94

Stephen: GSW 115, Utah 95

Tyler: GSW 112, Utah 96

Andrew: GSW 106, Utah 92

This game presents a classic battle of offense vs. defense. Last season, the Warriors led the NBA with 112.8 points per game. Their offense is a borderline unstoppable force, with two of the greatest outside shooters of all time in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, as well as 7-footer Kevin Durant, who can pull up to shoot his elite jumper over defenders like they’re not even there.

The Jazz, even with young sharp-shooting phenom Donovan Mitchell, are still a team very much rooted in defense. They finished second in team defense last season, holding opponents to a stingy 100.4 points per game. This comes as a result of head coach Quin Snyder’s strict defensive principles and willingness to slow the pace on offense, but it also has something to do with 7-foot-1-inch French big man Rudy “Stifle Tower” Gobert anchoring the post and swatting everything in sight.

Gobert may go for 20 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks, but it won’t matter. Unless the Warriors have an extremely off night, there’s no reason to ever doubt them. That’s why our entire staff is locked in on Golden State.

Saturday, Oct. 20: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers

Trent: Houston 126, LA 112

Jack: LA 115, Houston 112

Nitti: LA 111, Houston 106

Ben: LA 94, Houston 90

Stephen: LA 127, Houston 108

Tyler: LA 117, Houston 114

Andrew: Houston 104, LA 102

The Rockets travel to Los Angeles Saturday for a battle that could essentially show who is the second-best team in the West. Neither the Rockets nor Lakers take defense very seriously — Houston wasn’t a great defensive team to begin with, then they added the slow and aging Carmelo Anthony in the offseason, which only further handicaps them. The Lakers, with their youth and general inexperience across the board, allowed the fifth-most points in the NBA last season.

On the offensive end, however, these teams don’t mess around, with LA constantly looking to push the pace and Houston setting the NBA record for 3-point shots taken each of the past two seasons. It should be a high-scoring affair, and our staff predicts Lebron James to carry the Lakers to victory in his first true test this season.

Monday, Oct. 22: Washington Wizards at Portland Trail Blazers

Trent: Portland 108, Washington 106

Jack: Washington 112, Portland 92

Nitti: Portland 107, Washington 97

Ben: Portland 102, Washington 87

Stephen: Portland 110, Washington 90

Tyler: Portland 98, Washington 93

Andrew: Portland 96, Washington 91

Monday’s matchup between the Wizards and Trail Blazers is the NBA equivalent of the classic Spider-Man-pointing-at-himself meme.

That’s because these two teams are identical — they both feature elite backcourt duos, they both talk themselves up as a contender in their conference every season, and they always make the playoffs, only to get eliminated in the first two rounds due to a lack of depth on the bench.

It will be a close, entertaining game, with Washington’s All-Star guard combination of John Wall and Bradley Beal trading blows with Portland’s Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. It appears to be an evenly matched duel on paper, but our staff views Portland’s home court advantage as the tiebreaker, with six of seven writers going with the Trail Blazers.

Monday, Oct. 22: Chicago Bulls at Dallas Mavericks

Trent: Dallas 115, Chicago 112

Jack: Chicago 103, Dallas 101

Nitti: Dallas 101, Chicago 94

Ben: Chicago 98, Dallas 97

Stephen: , Dallas 108, Chicago 101

Tyler: Chicago 105, Dallas 98

Andrew: Dallas 104, Chicago 95

Most games on this slate feature some of the best teams from each conference, pitted against each other in a test of starpower and top-notch ability. This should be a good game, but not because these teams are good. On the contrary, they project to be two of the worst teams in their respective conferences this season.

Chicago finished 13th out of 15 teams in the East last year, while Dallas likewise finished 13th in the West. Dallas did more to improve in the offseason, drafting touted Slovenian prospect Luka Doncic third overall and adding established center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. That’s why our writers give the Mavericks a slight 4-3 edge in this bottom-of-the-barrel contest.

Wednesday, Oct. 24: Philadelphia 76ers at Milwaukee Bucks

Trent: Philadelphia 113, Milwaukee 109

Jack: Philadelphia 119, Milwaukee 115

Nitti: Milwaukee 115, Philadelphia 108

Ben: Milwaukee 94, Philadelphia 83

Stephen: Milwaukee 115, Philadelphia 98

Tyler: Milwaukee 107, Philadelphia 105

Andrew: Philadelphia 109, Milwaukee 96

If the Raptors-Celtics game is a battle for the best team in the East, Wednesday’s clash between Philadelphia and Milwaukee should serve as the third-place consolation game. This matchup will feature some of the league’s brightest young talent, with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid leading the 76ers and Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo doing it all for the Bucks. All three players are favorites for the MVP award, and all three are 24-years-old or younger.

It’s very possible that these two squads meet again in the playoffs with high stakes on the line. In their inaugural meeting of 2018, our staff favors Milwaukee to outduel Philadelphia, picking the Bucks four times.