Things got moving in a better direction last week (won 5 straight in NBA leading into Sunday, Celtics and Suns pending), and after seeing team after team blow a lead in the final 90 seconds two weeks back, those late leads began translating into winners...as expected. Simply put, it's easier to win a game if you're ahead as time is running out. That's my Maddenism for the day.
The big news out of the NBA over the weekend is the firing of Jim O'Brien as coach of the Indiana Pacers, a move that has been long overdue. O'Brien has a rich history of abandoning plans without giving them a chance to succeed, and, in my mind, I picture Jim O'Brien at Pacers practices paying homage to Rick Moranis in Spaceballs:
"KEEP FIRING, ASSHOLES!"
Why play defense, when you can just bomb threes and cross your fingers?
Otherwise, rumbling into a new week, trying to make time to plan for a cross-country move and a wedding, and looking to see if maybe the rules of gravity can change briefly to create an hour or two extra in an Earth day. It's just a good thing the NBA only has 30 teams...
Sports Wagering: NBA
Denver Nuggets @ New Jersey Nets with a total of N/A;
It seems somewhat likely that this line is on a delay because Denver is set to play a Sunday early evening game in Philadelphia, though I suppose an injury may have slipped past my view. Denver has (and we'll see if it continues) made a directed effort to shed the tag "bad road team" on this very road trip, and it's not a bad time to make that call, since Denver got to play Washington, Detroit, Philadelphia, and now Jersey, 4 very winnable games for a good Western Conference team. I don't think we're learning much new about the Nuggets, though it does prove they're still good enough to beat relatively poor teams at sea level. Of course, if there's a game Denver might lose on the road, this would be the one. It's the final game of the 4-games-in-6-nights road trip, and they head home to host a division rival (Blazers) on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Jersey continues to be a disaster on the road, but they've been playing significantly better at home, and I'm not sure anyone is noticing. I expect the Nuggets to open near a 4-point favorite, maybe a tiny bit less because of the back-to-back, and at that number, I think JERSEY can stick it out with a total that stays UNDER.
Toronto Raptors @ Indiana Pacers (-8) with a total of 208;
Do we get the coaching change bump in basketball like we did in the NFL? I'm not really sure anything changes for Indiana. Maybe Jim O'Brien was stifling Roy Hibbert in some way, but then, I don't know what went on behind closed doors. This is a very winnable game for the Pacers, and we saw them wipe the floor with a weak road team in Jersey, and then get smashed by the Bulls yet again. Who knows what to expect from Indy, at this point? The Raptors are a total mess, too, and while one team most certainly has to win this game, asking a slumping team to cover 8 to 9 points is a lot. Keeping this writeup brief - this game comes down to whether you believe new Coach Vogel will motivate his guys into a short win streak. I personally don't know, but coaching changes usually do something, either good or bad. We'll take a shot with good and lean to INDIANA and the OVER.
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Miami Heat (-17.5) with a total of 202.5;
This could very well be the Cavaliers last chance to get a win in the month of January, though as I write this, they gear up to try their wimpy little hands against the Magic. Frankly, it's unlikely that the Cavs will win either of these two games, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them cover one of the two. There's still some residual LeBronimosity lingering in Cleveland, especially as the season winds its way down one of the deepest, sludge-filled toilets in a humid Cleveland-area truck stop bathroom, and I wonder if that little tinge of hate doesn't get Cleveland a narrow cover. It's tough to win by 18 when Miami just finished up a huge win on the road in Oklahoma, and after this game heads to Orlando for a divisional showdown. Sandwiches for the Heat, anger for the Cavs, I think CLEVELAND weasels out a cover in a game that stays UNDER the total by a bucket.
Orlando Magic (-2) @ Memphis Grizzlies with a total of 198.5;
I might be willing to chalk this one up as a possible revenge game, though Memphis will find themselves looking at a pretty different Orlando team. Still, Memphis did lose by 17 in an horrifically low-scoring effort down in Florida back in mid-November, and they can definitely play some basketball, especially at home. Memphis has, somewhat quietly, crept back up to the .500 mark on the season, winning 5 of their last 6, but those 6 games have been against largely bad teams, and this will be a true test. Maybe more importantly, Orlando, like Miami above, has a bit of a showdown coming up in a couple of days. Orlando does have 2 days off between games, so the look-ahead should be a little less severe than, say, a team on back-to-back, but they are playing in a little fatigue spot here, with a little look-ahead, against a team with a little revenge. Catching a theme? Little lean to MEMPHIS, and little lean to the UNDER.
Washington Wizards @ Dallas Mavericks with a total of N/A;
Who knows? I mean, really. Washington is now starting to get a little hot under the collar, and Nick Young suggested that perhaps inconsistent play-calling is responsible for their road woes. I made a pact with myself not to bet on a team in turmoil, and though I suspect most of that ire will subside between games, and a good deal of it can be chalked up to just general frustration, if Washington is upset, truly upset, I can't back them. They're likely to be a nice value on the road for the rest of the season, since we're seeing lines continually inflated on this team that just can't get it done away from home, and they'll probably cover 1 of the final 2 games on this road trip, but I don't have strong feelings against Dallas, and that would be the only way I could get on board with the Wiz. PASS on the side, totals lean to the OVER, since the Wiz have played to 4 straight Overs, and Dallas, to 3.
Charlotte Bobcats @ Utah Jazz with a total of N/A;
This is another of those weird spots where the HOME team is the one flying into altitude on a back-to-back. And, interestingly, the Bobcats, who we backed successfully in Phoenix and Golden State, and faded successfully in Los Angeles, are actually playing a "never surrender" brand of basketball that should be just perfect against a struggling team fighting fatigue. Deron Williams' health throws a bit of a wrench into the plan, since his return could mean that he's the only Jazz player with a full complement of fuel in the tank, and his absence could mean that the other guys try to play above themselves. Simply put, though, I like that Charlotte's only recent loss came in one of the most devastating of fatigue spots, and I like that Charlotte is going to fight for 48 minutes, even if they're pooped out. They could win this game. Lean to CHARLOTTE and the UNDER.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Los Angeles Clippers (-3.5) with a total of 188.5;
I'm a little concerned that the Clippers don't really have the full spark without Eric Gordon. It leaves them without a guy that can truly create a shot off the dribble (and make it). Baron Davis can create plays, but he can't finish like he used to, and with the Bucks superior team defense, they might just force Davis to beat them. I wonder what we'll get from Griffin. He had a nice first half against Charlotte, but the Bobcats large bodies in the paint seemed to slow him down considerably in the second half. Luckily, the Clippers didn't need him against an exhausted Charlotte club, but playing against a rested Bucks team that is getting Jennings back into the mix is going to be a different type of challenge. The problems for Milwaukee continue to be on offense, and I'm not sure that Ersan Ilyasova can keep Griffin off the glass like Boris Diaw (much bulkier) could. The Clippers should win this game and keep playing well at home, but something tells me it's closer than most expect. CLIPPERS cover by free throws and the game stays UNDER.