NBA Thursday Tipsheet: Raptors and Bucks heading under in their table-topping clash

Kawhi Leonard
Lowry and Leonard host their biggest rivals in the East tonight
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The best two teams in the East meet in Toronto tonight, though their stuttering form on the spread means under holds the appeal, writes Mark Kirwan....

"The Raptors are 9-3 in their last twelve, but 3-5 on the spread in eight, and that includes some games against very weak opposition. Questions continue to simmer away as to how compatible Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard are, and they'll have to be resolved if this team wants to best the West's terrifying talent pool."

Eastern leaders cool down

Milwaukee Bucks @ Toronto Raptors
Friday, 01:00
Live on Sky Sports Main Event, USA

While the league buzzes with febrile anticipation due to Anthony Davis' trade request, two teams who'd love to secure his services (who wouldn't?) as the final piece in their 2019 title charge meet in Toronto.

Neither team has been playing at their peak recently, so maybe they'd be tempted to go all in for the want-away Pelican? It's unlikey either could put together a deal to better the 28 other teams in the league for his contract, but they can dream. And, as the trade deadline approaches, it wouldn't be surprising to see both these teams making some lesser moves.

But for tonight, they've to make do with what they've got.

The Bucks have cooled off a bit from their turn-of-the-year form. They're still winning - just look at their performance against Detroit on Tuesday night to see that. But they're not quite doing it with same swagger as before.

Eight of their last 11 have gone under and they've covered just once, the Pistons game, in five. That's not the kind of form they want to bring into a head-to-head with their biggest rivals in the East.

Fortunately, it's a similar story for their opponents. The Raptors are 9-3 in their last twelve, but 3-5 on the spread in eight, and that includes some games against very weak opposition. Questions continue to simmer away as to how compatible Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard are, and they'll have to be resolved if this team wants to best the West's terrifying talent pool.

They managed to outfight Luka Doncic and the second triple-double of his rookie season in their last game. Dallas isn't the easiest place to play, especially with the Slovene playing as he has, so getting the win after two road losses in their previous games was all that really mattered, but they shouldn't be pressed as hard as they were. Maybe getting back on home court tonight will help.

Malcolm Brogdon and Jonas Valanciunas could both return for their respective teams in this, and that'll be a boost for each, but with neither side quite at their best, the under on the line of 229.5 looks appealing.

Catching up with the Nets

Brooklyn Nets @ San Antonio Spurs
Friday, 01:30
Live on Betfair Video

Are the Nets... good? It's not a question we've had to ask all that often, but there's a strong case to be made for New York's minor partner with the form they've hit recently.

Kenny Atkinson's team has gone 11-3 since the turn of the year and have been almost as impressive on the spread, at 10-4. They're beating up on bad teams, and the only losses they've taken have come to the Celtics and Raptors, and all three were on the road. Their run has solidified their sixth spot as the best of the rest in the East.

It's just a pity that they've lost their Sixth Man of the Year candidate Spencer Dinwiddie due to thumb surgery for the foreseeable future. He's been having a great year, and even with D'Angelo Russell playing to potential at last, the absence will be felt.

The Spurs will be a real test of their mettle. They're 20-7 at home on the season, and have covered the spread 18 times in 27 on their own court. They're 5-2 on the handicap in their last seven, though the number of 7.5 gives pause because they've tended to perform better in tighter contests.

With Brooklyn's recent form, it makes more sense to take them with the points.

Warriors stepping up

Philadelphia 76ers @ Golden State Warriors
Friday, 01:00
Live on Betfair Video

There's plenty of chatter around the 76ers as the trade deadline approaches too. They've got their big three, but would definitely like to add greater depth - Corey Brewer was picked up a few weeks ago off the street and has seen plenty of playing time.

While their starting five is scoring over 11 points more per 100 possessions than their opponents, the bench is not holding up its part of the deal. Dewayne Dedmon has been mooted as a possible target, though Markelle Fultz would likely have to move the other way, and the Sixers are reluctant to sell the first overall pick from 2017 just yet.

Anyone joining the organisation has had plenty of warning by now though: you need to have a thick skin in Philly. Peace, love and harmony is not on the agenda wherever Jimmy Butler sets foot, but winning a title could be.

This is their third of four games on the road. You'd like to see them put it up to the Warriors here if you're backing them to make a run, but the Warriors are 10-0 in the previous ten meetings with the Sixers, and 11-0 in their last 11 games.

Don't get your hopes up.

Joel Embiid was rested and Butler missed the loss to Denver on Sunday. That break may benefit them here. They'll clearly need any help they can get with the Warriors clicking into title form.

DeMarcus Cousins' emergence from a year-long injury fog is clearly part of their surge. He gives them yet another offensive threat, and at center too. Scoring 15 points per night since debut, he makes their title defence seem that little bit more inevitable.

The Sixers are 4-6 on the spread in the last few weeks, while the Warriors will be bouncing back on home court after a five-game road trip where they went 4-1 against the number. 9.5 is lot, but, given their record against the champs, you it's hard to fancy them to play this close.

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