Odds to Win the 2014/2015 NBA Rookie of the Year

Jabari Parker will be the focus of the Bucks and that may help his Rookie of the Year chances.

With the National Basketball Association’s Draft complete, our friends at Bovada have graciously provided us with their odds on what rookies have the best chance of winning the Rookie of the Year Award.

My goal is to give you my thoughts on who I like, who I don’t and why. With NBA Free Agency pending, I recognize that could impact the play of these young men so bear that in mind as I proceed. Let’s break’em down.

Will Higgins get enough looks in Cleveland to become the Rookie of the Year?

Andrew Wiggins 13/2 – Wiggins was the number one overall pick in the draft last Thursday night by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The top pick is typically picked to be the favorite to win the award because in most scenarios, he ends up being the best player on the team immediately. Already in Cleveland is Kyrie Irving and until Higgins proves otherwise, Irving will be the best player for the Cavs.

Of course should the wild rumor about LeBron James returning to the Cavs happen then Higgins becomes number three. Can he win the award? Absolutely, but I think a RoY winner needs to be a guy that scores and creates night after night highlights and I’m not sure Higgins will have the opportunities his competitors will.

Jabari Parker 3/1 – Parker heads to Milwaukee and could find himself in the opposite position of Wiggins in that he may be ‘the man’ right away. We could argue that Parker has a much bigger responsibility in front of him. The franchise in Milwaukee is desperate for a winner. Yes, Cleveland needs a winner too, but they were at least respectable in recent years.

The other very recent factor on whether I like Parker to win the RoY Award or not is his head coach. There has been lots of discussion about Milwaukee getting Brooklyn Head Coach Jason Kidd in a trade. Regardless of whether Kidd is the coach or not, I think Parker has an excellent chance to win because more will be expected of him.

Julius Randle 9/1 – I really like Randle especially heading to Los Angeles where he is going to be around not only Kobe Bryant but lots of championship trophies as well. My question for Randle is where will his best fit be? Is he better suited as a three or a four in the NBA? Much of that will be answered depending upon what the Lakers do in free agency.

Because Randle has a really nice, balanced game, I think he has good shot at winning.

Dante Exum 10/1 – If you’re looking for a wild-card, here he is. Exum is an Australian point guard who is extremely talented but is he proven? He has played internationally, but how will that translate to the NBA? Either way, I think Utah is getting a very good player here from what I’ve seen.

Marcus Smart 12/1 – Here’s another guy I like because of his length and all-around game. Smart plays fantastic defense and is aggressive offensively. I’m curious to see if the Celtics keep Rajon Rondo with Smart on the roster.

Shabazz Napier 12/1 – Napier willed the UConn Huskies to the national title in April and now he will get a chance to play the point for Miami. There are lots of people who think he could be the type of catalyst the Heat needs to take the pressure off LeBron should he return. I don’t see Napier winning the RoY Award but I think he’ll have a very good rookie campaign.

Who Wins? – Obviously there is much that will go down between now and the start of the season, but right now I think Parker, Exum and Smart are your guys simply because I think they have the best opportunities to score and be the main focus of their teams.


Must-Win for the Heat in Game Four?

Kawhi Leonard was a beast in game three but can he follow that up in game four?

If you follow trends, then all you need to know is that in the era of the ‘big three’ in Miami, they have won 13 straight games following a loss.  Last year in this same situation, the Heat followed a blowout loss to San Antonio with a big win of their own. Therefore, I really don’t need to go any further here do I?

Of course I do especially after I was dead wrong about game three. While I thought Kawhi Leonard was due for a big game I still thought the Heat would be happy to be home and would get the win. Such is life in the betting community.

On to game four…

San Antonio at Miami (-5), Spurs lead 2-1 – Sometimes there are few answers to seemingly easy questions. That must have been how Heat coach Erik Spoelstra must have felt during the first half of game three. While watching the Spurs shot 76%, Spoelstra knew his team had to play better defense but it wasn’t that bad.

I expect Chris Bosh to bounce back and have big game tonight.

The Spurs were just flat-out draining everything whether the Heat were playing solid defense on them or not. A closer look at game three though reveals some things were just not happening for the Heat that should have been. Chris Bosh was a non-factor while Mario Chalmers continues to struggle with his shooting and overall game.

As poorly as Miami played, they had the Spurs ‘ lead cut to seven in the fourth quarter and a victory would have been one of the great all-time comebacks in NBA Finals’ history. The Heat have to hang their hat on that because there’s no way they’ll play that poorly tonight.

We must give credit where it is due and that means crediting Gregg Popovich and the adjustments he made. It certainly helps when Kawhi Leonard is aggressive at both ends of the floor and hits for a career high in points. His defense on LeBron James may have been just as important though as he gave James little space with which to operate.

Popovich also started Boris Diaw in place of Tiago Splitter and that move paid big dividends as the Spurs’ were much more successful on the offensive end of the court with Diaw in the game. How Spoelstra counters this will be one of the keys for tonight.

It would be very easy for me to just settle on trends that clearly favor Miami. Twice the Heat and the ‘big three’ have faced 2-1 deficits and in both cases they went on to win the series. I’m not just going to rely on trends though because there is no way LeBron is going to follow up a very pedestrian game with another one.

I expect James to go for at least 30 points tonight but I also expect five or more assists and several of those will go to Chris Bosh who has to be more of a factor and he will be. This isn’t to say the Spurs can’t win this game because they most certainly can but this really is a must-win for Miami. If they go down 3-1, they would be facing a situation where they’d have to win three straight including two in San Antonio.

I like Miami to cover tonight and I also like the OVER which currently sits at 197.

Keep an eye on… San Antonio is 3-7 against the spread in its last 10 games on the road… Miami is 4-1 straight up in its last 5 games when playing at home against San Antonio… San Antonio is 4-1 straight up in its last five games… The total has gone UNDER in 17 of Miami’s last 23 games when playing at home against San Antonio.

Game Three Up Tonight in the NBA Finals

Parker and LeBron
Parker and LeBron
With LeBron James guarding Tony Parker, the Spurs will need to adjust things offensively.

To no one’s surprise the Miami Heat evened the NBA Finals with San Antonio at one game apiece. Only the 1990’s Chicago Bulls and the great Boston Celtics’ teams of the 1960’s have gone more NBA Playoff games without losing back-to-back games. Despite the loss, the Spurs actually played pretty well but they are still not getting consistency from certain players to make the difference.

Game three is tonight on South Beach and teams that win game three in a series tied at one go on to win about 80% of the time. That said, San Antonio followed this script last season but still lost. Will San Antonio follow the same plan? Lets find out.

San Antonio at Miami (-4.5), Series tied 1-1 – According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and numerous other sources, LeBron James was seething in the hours following game one. According to Windhorst, James got very little sleep and it wasn’t due to the cramps he suffered from the day prior. Apparently James was incensed that people would question his toughness and physical stamina after he was forced to leave the game in which the Spurs went on to win.

It was that type of motivation in mind that left me with no other path but to believe that James would come out roaring in game two. I was only kind of right as James scored just two points in the opening stanza. He would however go on to score 35 total and assisted on the key basket to clinch the game.

With the issues of game one now in the past, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has work to do. First and foremost he has to address the team’s offensive gameplan since LeBron guarded Tony Parker in a very calculated move to disrupt the San Antonio offense. Popovich should be able re-position guys on the floor and force LeBron back down but they may only work if the Spurs are hitting open outside shots.

The Spurs could use more consistency from Kawhi Leonard at both ends of the court.

Coming off of game one, there were a couple of areas that I thought the Heat needed to address. They were outscored 34-20 in bench points in game one and I thought that needed to change. It changed alright but for the worse as the Spurs bench outscored Miami 37-12. While I still feel this is a factor in the series it obviously wasn’t in game two.

Points in the paint was another area the Heat had to change and in this case they did. Miami outscored the Spurs 44-34 and ultimately that was the difference in the game.

To this point, Popovich is getting good performances from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker but he needs more from guys like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. They combined for 18 points in game two but are not consistently threats. That has to change.

The Spurs need to stop shooting themselves in the foot at the free throw line. They were just 12 of 20 for a horrid 60% and hitting just three more of those gives them a 2-0 lead.

A lot of things point to a Spurs win tonight but I’m not going there. I think the starters for Miami will score enough and the bench will provide just enough in the way of rebounding and a few points here and there. Until Duncan and some other Spurs show themselves in the fourth quarter my confidence in them is waning. Take Miami to cover and I love the OVER here which is set at 198.

Keep an eye on… San Antonio is 10-4 straight up in its last 14 games… Miami is 13-4 straight up in its last 17 games… San Antonio is 2-7 against the spread in its last nine games on the road… The total has gone OVER in seven of Miami’s last eight games at home.

Heat Look to Even Things Up Tonight in Texas

Chris 'Birdman' Andersen has to contribute more to even the bench discrepancy against the Spurs.

I would really like to do my best to focus on the basketball rather than LeBron James’ cramping problems but that will be hard to avoid because his absence made a significant difference in the outcome of game one. That said, every player on the floor had to deal with the 90 degree conditions so using that as an excuse will not fly with me.

Hopefully game two is less dramatic in terms of anything other than basketball. Let’s discuss it…

Miami at San Antonio (-4.5), Spurs Lead 1-0 – I’m throwing this out there right now; I fully expect LeBron James to have a monster game tonight in game two. The consistently negative attention, social media mockery and overall questioning of his mental and physical toughness will motivate him to a huge performance. Whether that will lead the Heat to a victory or not is uncertain, but I like him having a big night.

I look for LeBron to have a monster game tonight in game two.

Two interesting stats that came out of the Spurs’ game one victory were points in the paint and fast break points. San Antonio outscored the Heat 48-36 in the paint which isn’t totally shocking but the fact they also outscored Miami in fast break points, 20-19, was a little more unexpected. The Heat is not used to losing the stat but the Spurs tend to get back on defense as well as any team.

One particular area where the Spurs were expected to dominate and did was in bench scoring. San Antonio outscored Miami 34-20 in bench points and with the Spurs being the deeper team this isn’t surprising. Guys like Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen and Shane Battier need to assist Ray Allen who was the only bench player in double-figures in game one. The Heat needs to find more scoring and rebounding in game two.

Another area I would look for the Heat to address is getting to the free throw line more often. In game one, they took just 11 free throws, making nine and that just isn’t going to do it. When this type of thing happened in the Eastern Conference Finals, the following game always saw Miami get to the free throw line much more often.

The rule of thumb in the NBA Playoffs is that the home team is going to get the bulk of the 50-50 calls and that’s held pretty true so far in these playoffs. That said, officials also reward teams that are aggressive and I have every expectation that will be the Heat tonight.

If you’re looking for the one stat that will force your hand in wagering today than look no further than this one; during the era of the big three, the Heat is 5-0 following game one losses in the playoffs. Consider also that teams in the NBA that take 2-0 leads in the NBA Finals go on to win 90% of the time.

The over/under tonight is 199 and I like the over with Miami needing a big performance being the motivating factor. I also like Miami getting the points. Remember also that the NBA Finals no longer has the 2-3-2 format so game five will be back in San Antonio. The change could be a significant factor in this series.

Keep an eye on… Miami is 2-4 against the spread in its last six games when playing San Antonio… San Antonio is 10-3 straight up in its last 13 games… Miami is 3-16 straight up in its last 19 games when playing on the road against San Antonio… The total has gone OVER in four of San Antonio’s last five games when playing at home against Miami.

Miami Looks for Clincher at Home Tonight in South Beach

James and Wade
James and Wade
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are unbeaten in clinching games at home in Miami.

Here is what is going to give tonight in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals; Miami is 9-0 at home in series clinching games during the days of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Meanwhile the Pacers are 3-0 in road elimination games so far in this year’s playoffs.

Which way do I see this game going tonight? Read on…

Indiana at Miami (-7), Heat Leads Series 3-2 – If you noticed the somewhat laid-back attitude of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the postgame press conference it was likely due to the fact that James had his worst playoff game as a professional yet the Heat still had a chance to defeat the Pacers on their homecourt.

James scored just seven points and played only 22 minutes as he spent much of the in foul trouble. His Miami teams are 0-9 when he scores under 15 points so we shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome.

It was obvious to me that the officiating changed drastically from game four to game five. Of James’ five fouls I would say only one was a legitimate foul. The rest were highly questionable. The “noise” among NBA fans in these situations always banks on conspiracy.

The league obviously wants the Heat in the finals for overwhelmingly logical reasons. This theory is blown out the window if Chris Bosh’s three-pointer connects or does it? Miami would have still gone to the Finals which make the television people happier than pig in slop.

Paul George has to keep shooting if his Pacers are to have a chance.

All the loss to Indiana does in the league’s eyes is delay the inevitable. If that’s the way one thinks anyway…Besides the struggles of James, the other story was Paul George who followed his coach’s advice and stayed “green.” George was 15 for 28 for 37 points in game five and essentially willed his team to victory with clutch shots. He has to continue doing this if they are to have any chance at making the comeback in this series.

Roy Hibbert is far too inconsistent to rely on and scoring from anyone else is not steady either. George just needs to keep shooting or in the words of George Costanza, “be a chucker.”

The Heat have to be confident coming home after playing as poorly as they possibly could have yet they nearly won the game. It’s almost the closest thing to a sure thing to pencil in 25 points, seven boards and five assists for James if not more. I expect Wade to be better and don’t be surprised if ‘Birdman’ Andersen returns following a two-game absence.

As you know, I’ve been pretty awful in this series. Each time I think one thing the other happens and yet I’m not giving up. The numbers just don’t add up to anything positive for Indiana. The Heat just don’t lose games in this situation and they aren’t going to this evening either. The trends point to the OVER and I really like Miami to cover as well.

The Heat will enjoy a little extra rest time as the Spurs and Thunder duke it out in the Western Conference.

Keep an eye on… Indiana is 8-17 against the spread in their last 25 games on the road… Miami is 5-0 straight up in its’ last five games at home… Indiana is 2-4 in its’ last six games against Miami… The total has gone OVER in six of Miami’s last seven games at home… The O/U tonight is 183.

Spurs and Heat Look to Advance to the Conference Finals

Nicolas Batum had the type of performance in game four the Blazers have needed.

Normally in this spot I’m lamenting yet another poor choice in the world of sports gambling but not today! I felt really confident about Miami winning game four and I said that LeBron James was due for a breakout performance.

What we got was exactly that as Miami rode the 49-point game from James on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in the series and effectively put it away. I can’t tell you exactly how I felt that James was ready for a big night other than he just seemed ‘due.’

What I won’t mention in this spot is the fact that I completely missed on San Antonio who I was sure would wrap things up against Portland on Monday night. That didn’t happen but you didn’t hear it from me…. On to the games.

LeBron had 49 points but Chris Bosh hit the key shot to give Miami a 3-1 lead.

Brooklyn (+7) at Miami, Heat Leads 3-1 – While LeBron James tied his career playoff high with 49 points, it was a three-point shot by Chris Bosh that was ultimately the difference in the 102-96 win over the Nets. That’s no dis on James who assisted on the clutch shot but you have to give Bosh credit for draining the tough three from the corner.

Should Brooklyn go on to lose the series, they will look back on this one as the one that got away. The Nets were able to limit the Heat to just seven fast break points while beating them 44-42 in points in the paint. They also led in points off turnovers by a margin of 15-13.  The place where Brooklyn can really point to is shooting where they hit on just 43% of their shots and only 22% from three-point land.

The Nets will really need to improve in both of those areas if they are going to extend this series any further. I expect the Heat to close out this series in Miami tonight but a better performance from Dwyane Wade would help that cause. He was not god down the stretch on Monday.

Take Nets getting the seven points but I like Miami to advance.

Portland (+8) at San Antonio, Spurs Lead 3-1 – The good news for the Portland Trail Blazers is that they were able to stave off elimination on Monday night. The bad news is that the Spurs were able to rest both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as neither played saw action in the fourth quarter. That might not sound like a big deal but at this point in the season, any rest that veterans can get is welcomed.

San Antonio was outscored 62-44 in the paint but one could argue that wasn’t the real issue. The Spurs also shot just 16% from three-point range on 3 of 18 shooting and then were nearly just as abysmal from the charity stripe going 11 of 19 for 57%. The irony there is that the Spurs were a perfect 25 of 25 from the foul line in game three.

Both Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge had very solid games on Monday but they received the type of help they’ve been looking for all series. Nicolas Batum had a double-double for the Blazers with 14 pints and 14 boards while Will Barton pumped in 17 off the bench.

In order for Portland to get this series back to Rip City for a game six, that type of balance will be necessary. For the Spurs, they had unusually poor games from several guys and I can’t see that happening again. While I expect the Blazers to put up a fight, take the Spurs to win and move on. I will even take them to cover in this game.

Three Different Scenarios Tonight in the NBA

I expect LeBron and D-Wade to sweep the Bobcats tonight in Charlotte.

When you look at odds and lines on a daily basis like I do there are bound to be times when things just don’t go well. Saturday night’s games were a prime example of that as I went just 1-3. Oh sure, I could quit, hang up the keyboard and walk away but the challenge of actually being right is too much to pass up.

Tonight’s games feature three different situations; the Miami Heat are looking to close out the Bobcats, the Pacers and Hawks look for a game five win and in Dallas, the top seeded Spurs are looking to avoid a 3-1 hole.

Let’s get to the games.

Miami (-6.5) at Charlotte, Heat Lead Series 3-0 – Whether LeBron James stared down Michael Jordan during Saturday’s game three win is a topic for another day, but what was clear was that the Heat made a statement to the Bobcats; we are by no means going to let you in this series.

Playoff experience the Bobcats do not have and it was evident towards the end of the half on Saturday when they just couldn’t take care of the ball during a sequence when Miami was turning it on. I have to think that the Heat are taking some solace in the fact that the Pacers and Bulls are struggling right now to advance to the next round.

With that in mind, the Heat would like to finish off Charlotte as soon as possible in order to get the rest they need. I anticipate a strong early effort from Charlotte but I love Miami to cover and get the sweep.

The Pacers pulled out game four despite another poor showing from Roy Hibbert.

Atlanta (+7) at Indiana, Series Tied 2-2 – The back and forth continued this past weekend as the teams split in Atlanta leaving the series tied at two games apiece. Many wondered if Frank Vogel would sit all-star Roy Hibbert but he did not. In a little less than 25 minutes of action, Hibbert finished with six points and three rebounds.

While Indiana proved that they could win without much of an effort from their big man, the question remains as whether they can win the series in the same manner. The Hawks continue to spread the floor to limit Hibbert’s defensive presence but Atlanta really didn’t do themselves any favors down the stretch in game four either.

The Hawks turned the ball over and suffered from poor shot selection before the Pacers’ David West ultimately put the dagger in. Whether the pattern of wins and losses continues in game five I cannot say but I feel very confident taking the Hawks and seven points.

San Antonio (-4) at Dallas, Mavericks Lead 2-1 – If you ask most casual NBA fans about Vince Carter they’d probably say something like, “he had a nice career.” The reminder that Carter sent about his current status resonate like a bomb going off as he hit an off-balance three-pointer to beat the San Antonio Spurs.

The eighth seed Mavericks now hold a surprising 2-1 lead over the Spurs and this lead has been accomplished in large part without a dominant Dirk Nowitzki. Carter and Monta Ellis have been the key players so far in the series for Dallas.

If you asked most experts they’d tell you that Rick Carlisle has outcoached Gregg Popovich to this point in the series. Everything Carlisle does seems to work while Pop’s moves haven’t panned out quite as well.

Tony Parker knocked down 17 points in the first half of game three and then scored nothing in the second half. That cannot and will not happen in game four in my opinion. While I expect another close game, I like the Spurs to cover and even the series.


Four More NBA Series Get Underway Today

Duncan Nowitzki
Duncan Nowitzki
The two future Hall of Famers battle in the playoffs for potentially the final time.

On Friday, I laid out the match-ups for the other four game ones and gave you my prediction for those series. Today I’m doing the same with the other four playoff contests that get going.

Dallas (+9.5) at San Antonio – The Spurs and Mavericks are two veteran-laden teams but the similarities pretty much stop there. San Antonio has owned the Mavs this season winning all four of the face-offs by an average of 11.5 points. While the Spurs have been a fantastic franchise under Gregg Popovich, there has to be a little bit of an edge to this team this year.

They really should have put away the Heat last year in the NBA Finals but faltered. The year prior, they jumped to a 2-0 lead over Oklahoma City before being blitzed in four straight games. I believe the Spurs are ready to put those type of things to bed and I expect them to come out strong today in game one.

Dallas will make their runs but in the end I like the Spurs to cover in this one.

Series Prediction: Spurs in Four

If the Bobcats are to have any chance, Jefferson must play out of his mind.

Charlotte (+10) at Miami – Where do we even start in this one? The Heat have won all four games they played against the Bobcats during the regular season and have beaten them in fifteen straight games overall. So dominant have the Heat been that their average margin of victory is 10.5 and that includes a one-point win.

We really should take a second to celebrate the success of the Bobcats this season. Yes, the Eastern Conference was pretty bad this year but they still did what they had to do to earn a spot in the postseason. Next year they will go back to their original name of ‘Hornets.’

We can surmise all we want to as to whether or not Miami looked at the Eastern Conference Playoff landscape and decided that being the two-seed was better than being the one, but we’ll never really know. Either way, look for LeBron and company to win the opener but I’m taking the Bobcats to and the points.

Washington (+4.5) at Chicago – The Wizards took two of three from the Bulls during the regular season with both wins coming in early and mid-January. The Bulls’ victory came just last week. When you enter the NBA Playoffs the first thing you have to look for is defense and the Bulls clearly have the edge here.

This is a team that has certainly learned how to win without Derick Rose and to a lesser extent, without the traded Luol Deng as well. I do not believe however, this will be an easy task for Chicago. I expect a great game and series from John Wall who has matured a great deal and plays smarter and better than last year.

That said, I like Chicago to ride their rowdy home crowd’s enthusiasm to victory even giving the points.

Series Prediction: Bulls in Six

Portland (+5) at Houston – The Rockets took three of four from the Blazers this season by an average of 11 points per win. While I’m not ready to anoint the Rockets the champions for this year like any analysts are, I do believe they should be taken quite seriously.

Portland has struggled to regain the form they had earlier in the season when they were far and away one of the best teams in the league. The consistency at both ends of the floor just hasn’t been there and they’ll need to find it quickly if they expect to get through the playoffs let alone this series.

The tandem of James Harden and Dwight Howard will be tough to beat but if LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are on top of their game it’s possible. I just think over the long haul the Rockets will prevail. I like them giving the points today as well.

Series Prediction: Rockets in Six

Big Numbers Tonight in the NBA

LeBron and the Heat host the Nets as they try to keep their lead over Indiana in the East.

The National Basketball Association is nearing the end of its’ 2013-2014 regular season and although we’d love to see great match-ups that just isn’t the case tonight. That doesn’t mean of course that we can’t bet on the games though right? Let’s get to it!

Brooklyn at Miami – The Nets have qualified for the playoffs and with six games remaining look to be locked in to the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. They have a 2.5 game lead over current sixth seed Washington and they’re 3.5 games behind current fourth seed Chicago. Although Brooklyn can’t afford to look past potential first round playoff opponent Chicago, their likely second round foe would be the very Heat they play tonight.

Miami has taken advantage of the recent slide by Indiana to take over the top seed in the East. That said, the Heat still have one game remaining with the Pacers so the top seed isn’t guaranteed just yet. Miami has won seven of their last ten games while the Nets have done the exact same.

Dwight Howard heads back to LA for what we can all assume will be an interesting affair.

Houston (-11) at LA Lakers – The Rockets look pretty well locked into the fourth seed in the NBA’s Western Conference which means they’ll more than likely be facing the Portland Trail Blazers. Winners of two straight and seven of their last ten games, the Rockets have cooled a bit since their recent hot streak but they are still playing well.

On the other hand we have the train wreck that is the Los Angeles Lakers. They’ve lost four straight and seven of their last ten and have just a game lead over Utah in the “race” for the basement in the Western Conference. The once powerful Lakers are 10 games below .500 at home in Staples Center while the visiting Rockets are three games over .500 on the road.

The only question here is by how much the Rockets will win by. There’s also the question of how often Dwight Howard gets booed but that’s another story. When you have a team that is normally very good in serious trouble you take advantage of that and I believe the Rockets will. Take them to cover even giving the 11 points.

Dallas (-7.5) at Utah – From the above section, you already know the Utah Jazz are the worst team in the West but that doesn’t mean they won’t give some effort. For their part, Dallas has won four straight and six of ten and this current run couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Mavericks are one half game up on current eighth seed Phoenix and are one and a half games up on Memphis who is currently on the outside looking in. In what can only be a stroke of scheduling genius, the Mavs will host Phoenix and then finish the season in Memphis for their last two games. That makes games like tonight’s in Salt Lake City that much more important.

While I expect the young Jazz to play hard, I expect great effort from the Mavs as well who are fighting for their playoff lives. Take the Mavs to cover in this game.

Oklahoma City (-8) at Sacramento – With six games remaining, the Thunder trail the top seeded Spurs by 4.5 games so we can put that to bed. Oklahoma City would be better suited to pay attention to the team below them. The LA Clippers are just a game behind the Thunder for the second seed and wouldn’t you know it? The Thunder will travel to LA to take on the Clippers on Wednesday.

The lowly Kings have lost two in a row and six of their last ten games. With a record of 16-22 at home, Sacramento will be entertaining a very good road team in OKC. The Thunder are 23-14 away from home and I see them adding one to the win total tonight. Take the Thunder to cover in Sac-town.

Good Match-Up Between Memphis and Toronto Plus Other NBA Picks

Tim Duncan and the red-hot Spurs host the Lakers tonight in San Antonio.

Over the course of an 82 game season, there are any number of storylines that surround the National Basketball Association. With less than 20 games remaining, the stop story now focuses on who can make the playoffs and who can solidify their playoff positions.

The four games I’ve selected tonight deal with both of those scenarios and offer spreads from even to as much as one team entering a game on the road as an 18-point favorite. Enough of my yaking, let’s get to it.

LA Lakers (+17.5) at San Antonio – The Spurs stayed hot on Wednesday night with a solid win over slumping Portland. It was their eighth straight victory and ninth in their last ten games. Depending upon the outcome of the Thunder’s game last night, they’ll have either a half game lead or game and a half lead over Oklahoma City for the Western Conference top spot.

Ironically, the Lakers were the opponent for the Thunder last night. Regardless of how they did, they’ll come to San Antonio with tired legs and little to play for. The Lakers have announced that Kobe Bryant will be shut down for the season and speculation is ramping up about the future of Mike D’Antoni as the head coach.

I love the Spurs here to cover.

LeBron has become kind of ordinary following his 61 point outburst two weeks ago.

Denver (+10) at Miami – Miami enters this one coming off a loss to the Brooklyn Nets on their home court. Miami is now 0-3 against the surging Nets this season.  Miami has won just six of their last ten and a small dip in performance couldn’t have come at a worse time.

One seed Indiana is struggling big time and the Heat could have been taking advantage by winning some games. Should the Pacers be able to hold off Miami for the top spot in the East, this is the stretch that will come back to haunt Miami.

The Nuggets come to South Beach off a win Wednesday night in Orlando. It was just their third win in their last ten games. Being ten games out of the final playoff spot in the West with 18 games to play doesn’t bode well for Denver.

I look for Miami to get back on track a bit tonight and I expect them to cover.

Memphis (EVEN) at Toronto – These two teams are currently playoff-bound as they hook up in Canada. The Grizzlies have played well for a good stretch now and because of that they are the current seventh seed in the West.

Both the Raptors and the Griz have won seven of their last ten games with Memphis having won their last four in a row. While the Raptors would have to really screw things up to miss the playoffs, their more important concern right now might be hanging on to the Atlantic Division lead.

With Brooklyn playing better and better, the Raptors have just a three game lead over the Nets. Memphis can relate because right now it’s them, Dallas and Phoenix essentially fighting for just two spots.

Indiana (-16) at Philadelphia – You thought I would give up on the Sixers? No way! Losers of 18 straight games now, Philadelphia hosts the Indiana Pacers who have stumbled of late and might be primed for an upset.

Well, that’s how you have to think if you’re the Sixers I guess. One of the bigger issues plaguing the Pacers during their recent 6-4 stretch is poor defense. This game should provide them the perfect opportunity to get that back on track. At the very least they can feel good about themselves I suppose.