As I wrote in one of my comments in yesterday's blog, February 22 was the birthday of my friend that passed away back in October, so bear with me if the timing on this blog is a little weird, or if I seem to lose focus for a moment every now and again.
As far as the NBA is concerned, this colossal Wednesday card is going to start getting teams back in the "flow" of the season. We were very cautious on Tuesday, we'll be fairly cautious today, and by Thursday or Friday, we'll be back in the swing of things, just like the players. Why bet big when even the players don't know how they're going to perform?
Sports Wagering: NBA
Washington Wizards @ Philadelphia 76ers (-8.5) with a total of 196.5;
Washington won both home games over Philly in nailbiting fashion, and Philly came back with a home win (and cover) in early January. Interestingly, Philadelphia has actually covered all 3 meetings, which makes me think this line might actually settle a tiny bit higher than the opening mark. As far as the total goes, these teams have played to 3 Overs this year, though the final score of the most recent meeting was considerably lower than the previous 2 (partially due to a lack of overtime). I can't expect a clean sweep, and I lean WASHINGTON to stay within the number in a rather ugly tilt that goes UNDER.
Chicago Bulls (-8.5) @ Toronto Raptors with a total of 199;
Toronto is playing a back-to-back tonight in a series that has been completely, positively controlled by the Bulls. Chicago has won the 2 meetings this year by 17 and 20, once at each venue. It's almost impossible for me to back the Raptors given how little energy they exert on defense and how few easy buckets they collect, but at the same time, Chicago has Miami on the docket tomorrow (on TNT), which makes this game a potential look-ahead. And considering it's the only event separating the All Star Break from that Miami game, it's also something of a sandwich affair. I hate to say it, but I lean TORONTO and if Chicago's not focused, that means less defense, so OVER.
Detroit Pistons @ Indiana Pacers (-7.5) with a total of 203;
Here we have both teams on the second half of a back-to-back, though the total is already a tad on the high side because of the large number of points these teams put up in Detroit's Overtime win just before the Break. I would argue that this line is about where it should be. Indiana was a 1.5-point road favorite in a game that, in truth, ended in a tie, and now they're favored by 6 more points. Given you have to think Indiana is considering this a revenge game, and Detroit has been less than stellar in back-to-backs, the first look has to be to Indy. Is it enough for me to call it a lean? I suppose, though Detroit is in "fight for its life" mode, and how they appear to play on Tuesday will go a long way towards whether I can trust them moving forward. Small lean to the PACERS and the OVER.
Houston Rockets @ Cleveland Cavaliers with a total of N/A;
Houston heads to Cleveland off a game in Detroit, but off the All Star Break, I don't think a back-to-back is going to be as exhausting as it might have been in the middle of January. Cleveland returns to the court after a hiatus that followed an emotional revenge win over the Lakers. Can Cleveland put together a rare 2-game win streak? I'm not that confident, but at the same time, there aren't really angles that push me in either team's direction. Cleveland is on revenge, but they're on revenge against everyone, so...itsy bitsy CLEVELAND lean on the side, and totals lean to the UNDER.
Sacramento Kings @ Orlando Magic with a total of N/A;
Orlando gets to pick over the carcass the Heat are leaving behind, and that's all you really need to know. This is definitely not a game where I'd want to back the Kings, regardless of how the game in Miami goes. We've seen time and again that teams forced to play the Heat and Magic back-to-back get bashed in one of the two games, at least. Dallas and Utah are the exceptions to the rule. There are no other scheduling quirks, no revenge angles, no situational notes to assess, so if we're just going on the notion that the Kings could be tired, I suppose that means small lean to ORLANDO, though I expect the line to be too rich for my blood, and the UNDER.
Milwaukee Bucks @ New York Knicks with a total of N/A;
The story of the night, for sure, as New York gets a chunk of Denver in uniform for the first time (most likely). How do we approach it? Well, for one, we can basically ignore any other situational or scheduling notes. Milwaukee creamed the Knicks a few months back, but that doesn't really matter. The Bucks are playing a back-to-back, but that doesn't really matter to me, either. The big issue is how the new Knicks fit into the D'Antoni system. Can they understand the movement, the tempo, and can they completely abandon defense? We know Carmelo can, since I've really yet to see him try on defense, but I'm more concerned about how the ball can STOP when it hits his hands. I'm inclined to say that we should treat the Knicks now like we did the Heat at the beginning of the year, and fade/Under-train the team until they figure it out. Lean to MILWAUKEE and the UNDER.
Memphis Grizzlies (-3) @ Minnesota Timberwolves with a total of 205;
Two more teams on back-to-back, with the Grizz coming to town from Denver (a return to sea level) and the Wolves coming home from Milwaukee. I suppose that means we should start by considering the Over and see if we can talk ourselves out of it. And honestly, a quick assessment tells me that I can't, really. The Grizzlies can play some defense when they want to, but we've also seen them get pulled into high-scoring shootouts. The loss of Rudy Gay might hurt them in that regard, since Tony Allen is a defensive-minded replacement, but if the back-to-back has any impact, it would probably be on defense. Memphis has destroyed Minnesota twice so far this year, and neither game was ever really close, but something about this one feels a little different. If Minnesota is to compete, they'll need to keep Memphis from locking down in the paint, and that means leans to MINNESOTA and the OVER.
Los Angeles Clippers @ New Orleans Hornets with a total of N/A;
I can't help but wonder if Chris Paul is seeing all the wheeling and dealing in the NBA and is getting a little misty. He hasn't looked like himself the last couple weeks, and it's either mental (not enjoying himself, perhaps missing Okafor to throw the ball to near the rim), or physical (persistent ankle injuries). We'll know soon, since his ankle should have improved over the Break, and Okafor is due back any day now. The Clippers have split 2 games with the Hornets this season, and this is the penultimate game on their 11-game road trip, ending back at "road-home" against the Lakers. Are the Clippers going to look forward to getting back to SoCal? That's about all we've got to go on, so tiny lean to NEW ORLEANS and the UNDER.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs (-7) with a total of 206;
San Antonio just seems to have the Thunder's number. And yes, that rhyme was just a byproduct of me typing without thinking ahead. In any case, the Spurs have won 5 in a row against the Thunder dating back to mid-2009, and that, to some degree, explains this line. The line also jumped a couple points because the Thunder are playing a back-to-back, so we're left to decide whether we think the Spurs dominance continues, or if the Thunder finally get their act together and overcome what has become something of a nemesis. I almost tend to think that having played last night is actually a good thing for the Thunder, since they'll have the rust off, while the Spurs might take some time to get into their sets. The older Spurs probably don't mind the time off, but something tells me this game is closer than the last few, and I lean THUNDER and just slightly to the OVER.
Utah Jazz @ Dallas Mavericks with a total of N/A;
Dallas has, not too surprisingly, won both meetings so far this year, and I can't help but think they're about to win another. I know double revenge is a pretty strong factor, and truth be told, that's probably enough to keep me off this side altogether, but with the way the Jazz are playing, backing them has to occur in only the most specific and specialized spots, kind of like how we had the home-and-home with Phoenix. It will help Utah's cause to get Raja Bell and Andrei Kirilenko back, but I'm not sure it's going to be enough if Deron Williams continues his recent shooting funk. Let's wait and see where this line comes out, though I wouldn't be surprised to see something in the 7 range given Utah's slump and Dallas's hot play. Leaning to a PASS on the side, or perhaps a tiny look at Dallas, and the UNDER.
Atlanta Hawks @ Phoenix Suns (-2.5) with a total of 200.5;
This is a pretty tough spot for Atlanta, and one that might get overlooked by some. They're not heading into altitude, but they are losing an hour on start time, and playing a team that hasn't hit the court in a week. My only concern is that Atlanta is busy getting throttled by the Lakers, and they might be a little irked (and not as tired) if the starters are only playing 25 minutes of basketball in LA. So, all I can hope is that Atlanta makes a valiant second half comeback and gives us a potential fade candidate. Phoenix played decent ball heading into the break, aside from one poor game with Sacramento, so they should be able to take care of business against a rather crummy road team. Let's have a wait-and-see approach, but for those that desperately need an early lean, it is to PHOENIX and the UNDER.
Los Angeles Lakers @ Portland Trailblazers with a total of N/A;
I'm actually a little afraid of the Lakers right now - this is a time of year when they get things together, and you know darn well LA was not happy with the way they went into the Break. Of course, in the same vein, the Lakers tend to have some issues with the Rose Garden, and LA is playing a back-to-back with some decent travel against a rested Blazer team that might be getting some key pieces back (which could be good and bad, depending on chemistry). The question is whether LA is going to want to dominate, or whether Portland wants to get a small measure of revenge from an early-November clobbering. I really want to try to find a way to back the Blazers, so I guess you could say I lean to PORTLAND and the UNDER, but the Lakers, as noted up front, scare me a little as an opponent right now.