NBA Spotlight on Bulls, Cavs Heading into the All-Star Break

LeBron Rose
LeBron Rose
LeBron James and Derrick Rose hook up in Chicago tonight.

The National Basketball Association is a one-man show this evening as all of the focus is on the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. It also happens to be the last game of the “first half” of the season. Friday evening brings a number of events as does Saturday before it all culminates on Sunday in the annual All-Star Game between the Eastern and Western Conferences.

The first portion of the season has brought numerous storylines to the forefront of the league. From Atlanta’s rise in the East to the rise of Golden State and Memphis in the West.

Today I’m looking at the Bulls and Cavs as the two Central Division rivals hook up with momentum for the second half on the line.

Cleveland (-1) at Chicago (O/U 201.5) – The Cavaliers have been as streaky as any team in the National Basketball Association this season and they’re now in the midst of an upswing but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues. As I wrote in the blog yesterday, LeBron James tweeting an anonymous, motivational message to teammate Kevin Love was not the way I or many others would have done things but if it works then OK.

Love
Kevin Love responded to LeBron's tweet but will he keep it going?

At 33-20, the Bulls have a solid record and lead the Cavaliers by just a game right now in the Eastern Conference. Chicago is tied with Washington for the third seed but holds the tie-breaker while Cleveland sits in fifth. The fact of the matter is, and this goes for both the Cavs and Bulls, is that they are light years behind conference leader Atlanta who has a lead of 11 and 10 games respectively.

Although the All-Star Game is this weekend, the season is well past the halfway point. What this means for the Cavs and Bulls is that any designs on getting the one seed in the East are futile barring an epic collapse by the Hawks and I don’t see it happening.

If you didn’t think the Bulls and Cavaliers were close enough in just about every way then consider this; they both average exactly 102.0 points per game and defensively Cleveland gives up 99.2 points per game while Chicago gives up 99.1. So far this season, the Cavaliers own a 2-0 record against the Bulls.

Cleveland won the first match-up with Chicago in the Windy City in overtime and then defeated the Bulls in Cleveland by 14.

The Pick: If Kevin Love continues to play inspired and LeBron keeps on being LeBron then the Cavs are going to be difficult on anyone they play. While the Bulls have the advantage of being at home this evening, they also played Miami last evening while Cleveland had an off night. Keep in ind too that the Bulls have better on the road than at home. Take the Cavs to cover and take the UNDER tonight as well.

Trends: Cleveland has won nine of their last ten games (written before conclusion of last night’s game)… Chicago has won three straight games and six of their last ten games… The Cavs are 12-12 on the road… The Bulls are 14-11 at home.

Social Media Motivation Would Never Have Flown in Jordan’s Day.

Jordan
Jordan
I can't imagine Michael Jordan eve sending a tweet to motivate a teammate.

Fair or unfair, those of us who were alive to watch every second of Michael Jordan play basketball in college and in the NBA have naturally compared LeBron James to him. Much like the natural cycle of life, comparing great players in any sport is a rite of passage. I have always found the comparisons of players from different eras to be fruitless.

While team titles are typically used as one of the more important factors in deciding what player is better, that shouldn’t always be the overriding fact either. Karl Malone and Charles Barkely never won titles but should that detract from their greatness? Will Kobe always be second fiddle to Jordan because he will likely finish with five titles to Jordan’s six? Keep in mind, Bryant has surpassed Jordan in all-time scoring but will he ever be put atop of his Airness?

More than likely not.

Let me get back to my original thought about Jordan and LeBron… I couldn’t help but wonder this week about social media and Michael Jordan. What would Jordan have been like had social media been around as it is today?

James and Love
Taking to Twitter to motivate Kevin Love may have worked for LeBron but I don't think it looks good.

I ask this because of a tweet LeBron James directed at Kevin Love. First of all, this is what the tweet read: “Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts.”

Once that comment made the rounds, it became clear it was directed at Love who admitted a day after that he was a bit taken aback by it but didn’t have a problem with it. I credit Love for taking the high road here and I wish I could do the same with LeBron.

Can you imagine Jordan taking the passive-aggressive approach that James did? I’m almost in a complete chuckle over the thought. No one in modern sports’ history was as notorious for getting after his teammates like Jordan did. Read any definitive book on Jordan or books by his teammates and they’ll tell you that Jordan had complete authority things even got to the point where Jordan would challenge players by hitting them.

While that last part may have in fact gone a bit overboard, it sure as heck beats the move by James.

If LeBron had something to say to Love then he should have said it in-house and behind closed doors. I’m not letting Jordan off the hook because there were times when he would make comments to the press about guys needing to play better but he didn’t hide from his comments either.

I realize I’m from a different generation than the one currently playing sports today but isn’t there still a “proper way of doing things?”

Great leaders know how to motivate their teammates and maybe James is a better leader than I give him credit. Perhaps he’s been around Love long enough now to know that this was the best way to get his attention and motivate him. He did have his best game as a Cavalier immediately following the message.

Still, I don’t think Jordan would have ever taken this course of action and I hope LeBron chooses a more private course himself in the future. While comparing these two will never end, one area I think Jordan clearly has an advantage is his assassin’s attitude and ability to lead others.

Take note LeBron.

Latest Odds to Win the 2015 NBA Title

Kerr
Kerr
Steve Kerr has done a wonderful job with the Warriors but can he get them to the NBA Finals?

It’s really amazing how things can change over the course of a season in the National Basketball Association. Injuries, coaching changes and just getting hot at the right time can all play a part in the rise and/or fall of fortunes of these teams.

Odds to win 2015 NBA Championship

Golden State Warriors 7/2

Cleveland Cavaliers 15/4

San Antonio Spurs 7/1

Atlanta Hawks 15/2

Chicago Bulls 17/2

Among these top five favorites, I honestly can’t say there’s a sure thing here. We’ve seen the Cavaliers bounce back from a losing streak and right into a nice long winning streak which stands at 11 heading into last night. The Atlanta Hawks just had a 19-game winning streak and had all five starters named “player of the week.”

The Bulls will go only as far as Derrick Rose’s health can take them and the Spurs will have to be healthy as well in order to repeat. Obviously Golden State is the favorite because they are undeniably the best team in the league right now. What worries me is the amount of three-point shots they rely on each night. Will that come back to haunt them in the playoffs when teams start to pick up the defense?

Dallas Mavericks 12/1

Los Angeles Clippers 12/1

Memphis Grizzlies 12/1

Oklahoma City Thunder 16/1

Houston Rockets 18/1

Toronto Raptors 20/1

When you look at the group above, I think the team that stands out is Oklahoma City. I say that because they are one team of this group with two guys that can carry a team for certain periods of time. That said, the Thunder are still on the outside looking in on the playoffs right now.

I can’t see Houston being a legitimate threat if Dwight Howard keeps battling health issues and I’m not sure how serious to take the Clippers. They obviously have loads of talent, but can they make it out of the difficult Western Conference? Dallas is a team that makes me think a little too. Don’t be surprised to see them hanging tough in the end.

Aldridge
The hopes of the Blazers rest on the health of LaMarcus Aldridge.

Portland Trailblazers 25/1

Washington Wizards 28/1

Miami Heat 100/1

Detroit Pistons 150/1

Milwaukee Bucks 150/1

I really liked what Detroit was doing until guard Brandon Jennings went down with a torn achilles. They had been playing extremely well in the wake of releasing Josh Smith but now they are likely looking at a lottery position again unless they can get needed help at guard.

Portland’s fate will ride with LaMarcus Aldridge and his hand. If he can play through the pain and prove to be as effective as always then they have a shot with he and Damian Lillard. Washington will be a really interesting team to watch. They’ve lost seven of ten and their last five games so perhaps the shine on them is wearing off.

New Orleans Pelicans 150/1

Phoenix Suns 150/1

If one player could get his team to the NBA Finals it’s Anthony Davis who has been outstanding in 2014-2015. This will definitely not be his year, but if the Pelicans get some pieces around him then look out in the future.

Boston Celtics 500/1

Brooklyn Nets 500/1

Charlotte Hornets 500/1

Indiana Pacers 500/1

Remember when the Indiana Pacers were on the verge of knocking off the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference? Ya, things have changed that much in Indianapolis. They’ll be more looking for a lucky bouncing ping pong ball come summertime.

Sacramento Kings 1000/1

Utah Jazz 1000/1

Denver Nuggets 2000/1

Orlando Magic 2000/1

Sometimes the sports books in Vegas are just trying to be nice. This is the case here as none of these teams has chance in Hades of winning the NBA Title. The Kings, Jazz and Nuggets would need miracles at this point just to get into the playoffs.

Who I Like?

Atlanta, Golden State, Memphis and Cleveland.

NBA Favorites on Tap as I Get Back in the Basketball Swing

LeBron Love
LeBron Love
LeBron James and Kevin Love have to stay healthy if the Cavs are to live up their preseason billing.

I’m going to do my very best to get back in the swing of the action on the hardwood today because it feels like forever since I’ve discussed it. Rather than jump back in with lines for tonight’s action, I’m going to give you the latest odds on who wins the National Basketball Association title. Odds provided by our friends at Bovada.

Cleveland Cavaliers 4/1

Golden State Warriors 5/1

The Cavs are still the darlings of Las Vegas despite injuries to LeBron James and a less than 100% Kevin Love. Currently, Cleveland is sitting in the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference and they trail Conference leader Atlanta by 12 games. I don’t see the Cavs getting the one seed and you shouldn’t either.

The Warriors are sitting in the catbird seat in the West three and a half ahead of Portland. They’ve nine of their last ten games and have lost just once in 19 games at home. Retaining the top spot will not be easy because the Western Conference is still where the powerful teams reside but I expect the Warriors to be in this for the long haul barring injuries.

Popovich
Will Popovich be able to rest his vets and keep the Spurs in the upper half of the Western Conference?

San Antonio Spurs 13/2

Atlanta Hawks 7/1

The defending champion Spurs are in the seventh spot right now eight games behind the Warriors. They’ve won eight of ten and are just five and a half games out of the second spot held by the Blazers. In usual Gregg Popovich form, he’s making sure the veterans are getting the right amount of rest. My concern for them though is will it matter? The West is so good and young that I’m not sure a repeat is in the cards.

Atlanta is far and away the best team in the Eastern Conference and they sit five games ahead of second seeded Washington. They’ve won 13-straight games and are beating teams by an average of almost seven points per game. The one major concern with the Hawks is that their opponents in the East are a far cry from the talent level out west. That said, all the Hawks need to do is get to the NBA Finals where anything can happen.

Dallas Mavericks 15/2

Chicago Bulls 8/1

Dallas is tied with rival Houston for the fourth/fifth spot in the West. They’ve won seven of ten including their last two in a row. The trade for Rajon Rondo has certainly paid dividends and his presence will be crucial down the stretch.

The Bulls have lost two straight and have won just four of their last ten games. Still, their comfortably in the fourth spot four and a half games ahead of the Cavaliers. My honest question for you if you like the Bulls here is what can you expect from Derrick Rose?

Oklahoma City Thunder 10/1

OKC is currently sitting in the ninth spot and out of the playoffs if the season ended today. The season doesn’t end today however and that’s good news for the Thunder. They’ve won three straight and six of their last ten so perhaps this team is starting to come together for a second half stretch run behind a healthier Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Longer Shots I like

Washington Wizards 25/1 – With the Cavaliers struggling, perhaps they get by the Hawks and into the NBA Finals.

New Orleans Pelicans 200/1 – Right now, the Pelicans are four games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference and when you have a player like Anthony Davis, why can’t the Pelicans make a run?

 

Not All Odds Makers See Cavaliers as the Favorite

The odds on favorite to become the Eastern Conference champions in the NBA next season are the Cleveland Cavaliers thanks to their acquisition of the league’s top player LeBron James.

Odds makers like Bovada and sportsbook.com have the Chicago Bulls just behind the Cavaliers in the Easter Conference race.

However, not all odds makers feel the same way about the chances of the Cavaliers. One odds makers has said that the odds currently reflect how the betting by the public is going, as well as how odds makers such as topbet and betonline anticipate how public bettors will bet.

The price on Cleveland started shrinking as soon as there was a hint that LeBron might return to the Cavaliers after he opted out of his contract with Miami.

As soon as his move was made official, Cleveland vaulted to the top of the futures list with odds makers.

However, not all bookmakers believe the Cavaliers should be at the top, not yet anyway. One odds maker said if Cleveland is not able to pull off the trade to bring Kevin Love to the team, then they likely will not win the title this season.

Going forward, the Cavaliers have loads of talent and will be a force in the like, but when LeBron first arrived in Miami, they did not win a title his first season.

Some odds makers say that Chicago has the better opportunity to enjoy instant success. Chicago added power forward Pau Gasol to their lineup and if Derrick Rose is able to return to top form, they will be better this coming season than the Cavaliers will be.

However, since the public is behind the Cavaliers, then odds makers must make that distinction. If Cleveland acquires Love the scales would be tilted immediately in favor of Cleveland and shorten their odds even further.

However, until the trade is made, some odds makers believe the Eastern Conference favorite should now be Chicago, while the West has a handful of teams that could hold down that spot.

Out West the San Antonio Spurs re-signed their own free agents and will bring back almost the exact same roster that won the 2014 NBA Title.

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers have added talent to their rosters, and will once again give the Spurs a run for their money in the West.

2014-15 NBA TITLE ODDS

SAN ANTONIO SPURS 7 to 2
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS 7 to 2
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 9 to 2
CHICAGO BULLS 7 to 1
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS 8 to 1
INDIANA PACERS 15 to 1
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS 20 to 1
HOUSTON ROCKETS 20 to 1
MIAMI HEAT 25 to 1
WASHINGTON WIZARDS 30 to 1

LeBron’s Return to Cleveland Wrecks Havoc on Sports Books

LeBron
LeBron
Looks like the Cavaliers can put the banner back up.

I was fully prepared this morning to pull out my best Judge Smails impersonation regarding LeBron James. Smails of course was portrayed in the movie ‘Caddyshack’ by the late, great Ted Knight. Among many of his classic lines was one near the end where he looks at Danny and says, “Well…. We’re waiting!”

LeBron thankfully made that phrase unnecessary when he chose to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. We are all grateful for his decision because it saves us from more useless drivel from ESPN and sports talk radio in general about where he was going to go.

What I want to discuss today isn’t about where LeBron has gone but rather how his decision has completely changed the way we are betting on potential NBA champions.

Here’s what we need to consider.

Cleveland went from as much as a 60-1 shot two months ago to all the way down to 3-1 yesterday following LeBron’s announcement. MGM Grand in Las Vegas moved the Cavs to 7-2 which makes them co-favorites with the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. Two other sports books in Nevada moved the Cavaliers to 9-2.

According to numerous outlets, money actually started moving towards Cleveland in the hours after James opted for free agency. While the money was relatively small, MGM claims it did have one bet at $1,000 on the Cavs at 40-1. This was obviously prior to James’ most recent announcement.

There are some things you need to keep in mind before you settle on the Cavs however.

Anthony
The destination of Carmelo Anthony will likely alter odds for several teams.

It looks a though Chris Bosh has returned to the Miami Heat (more on their odds in a second) and that Dwyane Wade is likely to do the same. There are reports this morning that center Pau Gasol could be headed to Chicago and the destination for Carmelo Anthony remains unknown.

These are important moves that have been made and will be made because should Wade, Gasol and Anthony all remain in the Eastern Conference then I expect that will alter the Cavs odds a bit.

As for the Miami Heat, The Las Vegas Superbook has dropped them all the way down to 100-1. Again, I expect their odds to change as well as free agency now moves forward at a faster clip. One of the early reports that followed the James’ return to Cleveland was that Carmelo Anthony was strongly considering going to Miami.

My gut feeling is that this won’t happen. ‘Melo will not want the pressure of following up LeBron’s act on South Beach because nothing short of a championship will satisfy fans in Miami. If there still are fans in Miami that is…

Essentially, the waves are still rippling from LeBron’s choice and the waters won’t settle until the other big name free agents finally decide where they are going as well. Should Anthony chose Chicago, which remains a strong possibility, their odds will change significantly.

Let’s not forget that Anthony could choose to go to the Los Angeles Lakers. Their odds would also be affected as well although it’s doubtful they would alter the odds for the Cavaliers.

You will need to decide when and if you are going to put money on LeBron and the Cavs to win an NBA Title but it doesn’t have to be right this minute. Make sure you also consider his teammates and talent around him. That talent could still change because of rumors about the Cavs trying to land Kevin Love via trade with Minnesota.

I don’t think that’s going to happen but you have to keep it in mind for the next couple of weeks or so.

 

James Return to Cleveland Moves NBA Futures Board

LeBron James announced on Friday he was returning to Cleveland after four seasons in Miami. It did not take long for odds makers to make adjustments on the NBA futures placing the Cavaliers at or near the top depending upon what bookmaker you looked at.

Online odds makers Bovada and sportsbook.com quickly reacted by changing the odds for Cleveland to 3 to 1, giving the Cavaliers the shortest price of all futures for the NBA championship.

When topbet and betonline first opened the NBA Futures only hours after the San Antonio Spurs had won the NBA title, the Cavaliers opened at 30 to 1.

When rumors started that James could possibly return to Cleveland, the Cavaliers started this week at 12 to 1, but late in the week it was 6 to 1 and ultimately lowered on Friday afternoon to 3 to 1.

As high as the Cavs rose, the Miami Heat cooled off and plummeted. Miami was adjusted to 100 to 1 on the announcement, while books had both the Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder at 4 to 1.

After a short while, a number of books moved Cleveland to 4 to 1 with the Spurs. The books also adjusted Oklahoma City to 9 to 2.

The books received a great deal of action on Cleveland when the club was at 30 to 1 as well as when it drifted down to 12 to 1.

Some sites left San Antonio and Oklahoma City at 4 to 1, where they were prior to the announcement. They made Cleveland just 9 to 2.

The Heat has very little chance of winning the title without James in the lineup. It does look as though they will re-sign Chris Bosh which would likely help keep them where they are now on the futures chart.

One sports casino did not offer any futures on the NBA for the 2014-15 season just because of the doubt on where James would play.

The casino preferred not to become exposed while the basketball world waited to find out where the sport’s best player would end up playing.

A number of bookmakers have Cleveland close to even money to win the NBA Eastern Conference. However, others are remaining cautious to see where Carmelo Anthony ends up playing and if Kevin Love is traded.

The Chicago Bulls number could get shorter if they are able to sign Pau Gasol and or Carmelo Anthony to free agent contracts.

James had seven very successful seasons with Cleveland and the likelihood of the Cavaliers going deep into the postseason in 2014-15 is very high.

In his first time in Cleveland, he was immature and finding his way in the NBA. Now, James is a two-time NBA champion and looks to add to that back home in Cleveland.

We Are All Witnesses… To This Nonsense

Camp
Camp
LeBron just held his basketball camp in Vegas and now heads to Brazil. The world awaits his decision.

There’s a good chance some of you had that t-shirt. Heck, some of you might still have it whether you’re willing to admit it or not is another subject. The t-shirt in question was Nike’s massive marketing attempt to make LeBron James into Michael Jordan as well as they possibly could. It wasn’t just on t-shirts though as it was also on billboards and banners that were several stories high.

That was five years ago and then some when LeBron James was leading his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals.

What we all ultimately became witnesses of was ‘The Decision’ which led to James taking his talents to Miami. This left Cavalier fans in tears as they burned their number 23 James jerseys. Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert even penned a letter that went public which sounded a lot like the type of letter a scorned lover would write.

My how times can change…

LeBron James now has four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and two championships. Not three, not four, not five… He has two. Regardless of how many titles James has won, he now carries more power than any NBA superstar since Jordan and perhaps even more considering the age we live where social media and the 24/7 news cycle dominates our lives.

So powerful is James is that even Carmelo Anthony is waiting to see where he goes before he makes a decision on his own future. Same can be said for Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade as well. Basically, the big name free agents aren’t making any decisions until James does.

A lot of people want to lay blame at the feet of James for this waiting game and worse yet, this media and social media firestorm but that isn’t fair. We would all be doing the same thing in our careers if presented with similar options. It was reported last week that if the NBA’s salary cap didn’t exist, James would be worth as much as $50 million per season.

Cusack
I keep picturing Cavs' fans like this outside LeBron's house in Ohio.

James has every right to seek out the max contract he is entitled to and for us to whine about it is wrong. It shows a lack of understanding of the situation.

What we do have every right to be annoyed with is the attention paid to this entire situation. To say social media is enthralled with James’ ‘next decision’ would be like saying the Great Wall of China is a nice little divider. I would be willing to bet that you can’t go on your Twitter timeline and not see a tweet regarding the Lebron decision withing the first couple of swipes of your thumb.

Common sentiment among media members who follow this stuff is that James has narrowed his choice to either Cleveland or Miami. Cavaliers’ fans are so certain James is returning home that they’ve brought out their jerseys in droves. These are the jerseys that weren’t  burned I guess. Cavs’ fans have even gone so far as to surround James’ Cleveland Area home in an effort to… I guess I really don’t know what they’re doing.

According to the latest itinerary, James has been in Las Vegas attending his basketball camp and is scheduled to attend the World Cup Final on Sunday in Brazil. There are two groups of people who stand to be most affected by James’ choice; the bandwagon fans in Miami and the Cleveland fans who are so certain he is coming back that they are buying tickets like crazy.

The nonsense will end but only when James is ready for it to end. Let’s just keep the lighters away from the Cavaliers’ fans.

 

 

The ‘Decision’ Take Two

LeBron
LeBron
LeBron James' decision could ultimately hinge on what Dwyane Wade does as well.

Almost a full week before he was required to, LeBron James announced yesterday that he was opting out of his current contract with the Miami Heat. This choice makes James a free agent and the topic has now dominated the airwaves as speculation ramps up as to where he will go. What we we need to recognize first is that there is a very good chance that James doesn’t go anywhere.

His decision could be a move to get both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to opt out as well. The goal here would be to sign for less, create more cap space and then go out and get more talent. James wants assurances from Pat Riley and the ownership of the Heat that they are are willing to do this. Becoming a free agent allows him to go elsewhere if he feels they aren’t doing that.

Four years ago, James committed one of the worst faux pas’ in the history of public relations when he announced he was “taking his talents to South Beach.” I’m pretty confident that we won’t see a similar type of ESPN production when James does come to a decision but then again who knows?

So where will LeBron go? Here are some possible destinations.

Why Miami? – James will return for the reasons I mentioned above. There has been some discussion that should the ‘big three’ take less money that Carmelo Anthony would do the same and join them. I don’t see this happening, but Miami could add some more shooting and more production at the point.

Why Not Miami? – Who’s to say James isn’t ready for a new challenge? Perhaps he wants to go somewhere that he can win but also do so without fellow hall of famers around him.

Irving
Could LeBron go back to Cleveland and join All-Star pint guard Kyrie Irving there?

Why Cleveland? – What a story it would be to have him return to the place that he scorned four years ago. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN points out though, this won’t be an emotional decision because the first time around wasn’t an emotional decision. The Cavs have an excellent point guard in Kyrie Irving and the number on pick in tomorrow night’s draft. They also have the possibility of making a deal or two to bring aboard a top notch free agent.

Why Not Cleveland? – I have to believe there is still an open wound that exists between Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert and LeBron. It was very ugly when James left and a lot of bridges were burned so I just don’t know that this is best decision for James both for personal and professional reasons.

Why Chicago? The Bulls would have a tremendous roster in place which would be very enticing for James. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and company could be a great fit for James and with the Bulls moving everything downtown now, James could live right in the city.

Why Not Chicago? – Two words; Michael Jordan

The Field – I cannot see LeBron James going to a team in the Western Conference. It is by far a more demanding and more competitive conference. That would significantly reduce his opportunities to win titles.

I honestly think that he will return to Miami but the other thought I had was could there be a sleeper team? A team that could perhaps bring aboard Anthony as well could be in play.

At this point, I think there are a number of strong possibilities and those will change as LeBron speaks with people and you can bet, he’ll be speaking with all kinds of people too.

 

Sunday NBA Quick Picks: Feb. 24

With around 25 games remaining in the regular season, the playoff pressure is beginning to ramp up for some NBA squads, while others (ahem, the Heat) are starting to show their dominance. We’ll see all of that and more on display today as the Association has a juicy nine-game slate for us to sink our teeth into. Here are our quick picks for eight of the nine games in the NBA today.

Los Angeles Lakers +3 at Dallas Mavericks -3

It’s no secret. The Lakers have been the biggest disappointment of 2012-2013, but they are playing better lately. They’ve won seven of their last 10 games, including the last two. The teams have split the season series so far, going 1-1 against one another, but with the Mavs at home and also playing well (three-game win streak). I like Dallas to take this one, covering -3.

Golden State Warriors -1.5 at Minnesota Timberwolves +1.5

The Warriors hit a rough patch in recent weeks, but they are starting to get back on track, as they’ve won their last two games. Meanwhile, the T-Wolves continue to struggle without their star Kevin Love. Take the Warriors to cover -1.5 and win on the road today.

Sacramento Kings +6 at New Orleans Hornets -6

Considering the Hornets have been worse at home than on the road and considering both teams are on losing streaks entering tonight’s game and each have the exact same record, this one is a toss-up. For that reason, take the Kings to cover +6.

Cleveland Cavaliers +13 at Miami Heat -13

With the Heat playing their finest basketball of the season, they are getting a huge spread against the struggling Cavaliers. The Heat have won 10 straight and there’s no question they should defeat the Cavs on their home floor, but I just hate these huge spreads. All the Cavs need to do is play halfway decent and they will cover this spread, even on the road. The Heat will win, but it’s safer to take Cleveland to cover +13.

San Antonio Spurs -9.5 at Phoenix Suns +9.5

The Spurs are also getting a large spread and will be on the road today, where they have only been half as strong – 22-11 compared to 22-2 at home. The Suns are certainly struggling as losers of eight of their last 10, but they should be able to cover +9.5 today in the loss.

Boston Celtics +2 at Portland Trail Blazers -2

Despite dropping their last seven games, the Blazers are getting two points at home against a Celtics team that has played well recently, winning seven of their last 10 games. Even though the Celtics have been atrocious on the road, I can’t go against the recent trend here. Portland will break out of its funk, but no tonight. Go Boston to cover +2 in the win.

Chicago Bulls +9 at Oklahoma City Thunder -9

Both teams have struggled a bit recently, but the Thunder are getting nice odds to win at home, where they are 24-4 this season. There’s little doubt that they will do it, but Chicago is too good defensively to get blown away, even by the Thunder. Take Chicago to cover +9 in the loss.

Philadelphia 76ers +10.5 at New York Knicks -10.5

Both teams are coming into this game on four-game losing streaks, so it’s hard to imagine liking the Knicks by more than a few points against anyone right now. Play this one safe and take the Sixers to cover +10.5 on the road.