What a fine way to start Sunday, an easy blowout Paid Play victory with the Raptors demolishing the sluggish, disinterested Mavericks. That game went just as expected, with Toronto flexing some home court muscle, and Dallas wishing it wan't a morning game, and looking ahead to their game with the Celtics (see below).
That win moves us to 4-0 on Paid Plays since Thursday, and combined with the 3-1 Free Premium run, we are 7-1 on all Premium Plays over that same stretch. Maybe even nicer is that the last 3 games have been fairly easy covers, with the Jazz covering by 8, the Clippers by 7, and now the Raptors by ~20.
As we move into today's games, please do take a moment to note the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most influential men in modern history. And with that, let's celebrate with some NBA.
Pistons @ Knicks - This line is OFF. That's a darn shame, because this game has some fun capping angles. For one, the last time these teams played was, well, Saturday, and we all know how tough it is for two evenly matched teams to play each other in two straight games. The ol' home-and-home. The Pistons narrowly nipped the Knicks in Detroit 94-90, but I'm feeling rather confident that the Knicks will deliver Detroit their just desserts. The question, obviously, is what line we see. Detroit was just a 1-point favorite at the closing line in Motown, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the Knicks as a 4-5 point favorite here at home, where they're starting to play better. The Knicks are starting a 5-game homestand, so it is a point of slight concern that they might be suffering from a little settling-in syndrome, but I think the revenge factor should counterbalance that sluggishness. I realize both teams have won one of the meetings this year, but this revenge is just about trying to split this home-and-home. Obviously, the larger issue in this one is that the Pistons bottomed out in Chicago, and have won 3 straight games since then, and are building confidence. The impending return of Ben Gordon should give them a little more firepower, too, something they desperately need if they're going to win away from home. Despite all this, and the fact that New York has lost 4 of 5 games, I still lean Knicks - I just don't believe they let Detroit sweep a home-and-home, since the relative skill level of the two teams is too close. I also think we'll learn more about the total based on what the oddsmakers set. Both games have gone Under so far this year, despite both totals being set between 193 and 195. If we see a total over 195, I'd lean Over; otherwise, we can reassess upon release.
Blazers @ Wizards - This line is OFF, too. I would guess it's because of Brandon Roy and his injured hamstring. Here's my take on this injury situation -- if Roy plays, this game is likely a pass. If he doesn't, I might take Washington. The Blazers cleaned Orlando's clock with Roy out, as Martell Webster stepped up in a big way, but these bench players are not accustomed to shouldering that kind of load, especially on the road, and I'd be extremely hesitant about backing the Blazers when some of that injury-news adrenaline wears off. Portland hits the road here for 4 games with the Eastern Conference (Morrison plays to fade?), off a 3-2 homestand that ended with 2 straight wins. This team is still banged up, though they're slowly getting guys back, and I almost wonder if all the injuries have forced Andre Miller to "play nice", which should improve the team in the long term. Washington is coming off an impressive 10-point over the Kings, who continue to just stink on the road, but Washington impressed me with this one. They were returning home off that 2OT loss in Chicago, but mustered the energy for a much-needed confidence-boosting win, and that's why I think Washington has some value here. I generally like backing a team on the 2nd game of a "long" (4+ game) homestand, as the players seem to settle into their surroundings in that 2nd game. I lean Washington, but let's make sure we'd be getting any value at all here before doing anything with it. The Wizards have been playing a ton of Unders, Portland has been playing a ton of Overs, this total is going to be difficult to decipher.
Kings @ Bobcats - Charlotte by 6 with a total of 196.5. This one "looks" like a no-brainer, which is exactly what makes me pause. Charlotte is beating the pants off just about anyone that comes to their building, winning all 4 games on their current 6-game homestand, and covering the last 3 by a combined 46 points. Needless to say, they're rolling. The Kings are doing just the opposite, losing both games on their current 6-game road trip, and they haven't shown much to make me think they're about to snap out of it. Charlotte is undoubtedly going to be the strong public choice here, but given that there are no revenge angles, and given that Charlotte doesn't have a look-ahead spot, I'm just not sure how Charlotte loses this game. So the question is whether the Bobcats can cover. I'm inclined to think they can, though again, I'm surprised this line isn't higher. Also worth noting is that the Kings have played, get this, 7 consecutive Unders. This number seems pretty high for the Bobcats, in particular. Charlotte has been scoring at will at home, and that's why I wouldn't immediately jump on the Under, but we know they don't want to get into a track meet, and a defensive game should lead to an easy Charlotte win, cover and an Under - now we just have to hope Charlotte can control the tempo. But given that Sacramento scores 8 points less on the road, and allows 1 point less, that's a strong Under indicator right there, and not surprisingly, the Kings are 11-9 O/U at home versus 7-11 O/U on the road.
Thunder @ Hawks - Atlanta by 6 with a total of 195.5. This doesn't seem like many points for the Hawks to be laying, and it seems like the Thunder are really starting to get some respect, and as a result, this is an incredibly difficult game to cap. The Hawks are coming off that miracle win over the Suns, but how do they follow up that performance? Do they squeeze by another opponent, do they use that as a springboard, or does it have zero impact? And what of the Thunder -- coming off an easy win over the Heat at home, and 2 straight covers (and 3 of 4 covers), do they continue to play solid basketball on the road, or is Atlanta the building that gives them trouble? Well, looking back, and I realize numbers from last year aren't hugely relevant, but the Thunder have covered most of their games with the Hawks in recent history. The Hawks have won many of them, but these teams tend to play close games, and games close to the spread. Last year, these teams played to a push in their first meeting, and the Thunder covered the second game by half a point. Both games were low scoring. I'm inclined to lean to the road team getting the points just because I like how Oklahoma is playing never-quit basketball, but I'd lean to the Under more than the side. Man, this is just not a game I feel confident about, flat out. Let's move on.
Bucks @ Rockets - Houston by 6.5 with a total of 197.5. Another game where I feel like the road team is getting fewer points than I'd expect. When I see the oddsmakers seemingly baiting people into liking the home team, I immediately look at the road club and see if I can convince myself my lean is wrong. Here, the Bucks conclude a painful 6-game road trip around the Western Conference, winning just their game in Golden State thus far (1-4 SU, 2-3 ATS). The Bucks are coming off a 17-point loss in Utah on the back end of a difficult altitude back-to-back, so you have to think the public has a poor perception of this team coming off that one, and you also have to think the Bucks stand a MUCH better chance of playing good ball against the Rockets. The ultimate key to this game is Andrew Bogut. Houston tends to struggle with opposing 7-footers due to their lack of size, and this is one of those teams, the Bucks, that matches up pretty well with the Rockets. Milwaukee has skilled guards and a skilled center, but not much in between besides a handful of "6th-man"-type wingmen (Delfino, Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute, etc.), nullifying Houston's strong defensive wing players. On the Rockets side, this is a team that is struggling, but doing so quietly. They've covered just 1 of their last 7 games, but have been able to squeeze out home wins in there over the Knicks and the Wolves, and I wonder if we can't get a bit of a jump on the public by fading the Rockets for one more game. I also like the Over, as the real problem for Houston has been a porous defense that has allowed 4 of 5 opponents to break 100. The Bucks are not a great offensive team, but if they can exploit the size advantage down low, I think Bogut can have a nice game. Still, relying on the center can slow the game down, so this total is a bit of a conundrum.
Sixers @ Timberwolves - Philly by 1.5 with a total of 205.5. This is another tough game to cap because neither team is truly the value play. Allow me to elaborate. The Wolves return home off a 4-game road trip; they lost all 4 games, but went 2-2 ATS, as this team has a tendency to do. Hell, the Wolves are 8-33 SU, but 20-21 ATS, so that just goes to show how often they've been able to lose by "not that much." Still, that first game home is never an easy one, and looking back at the Wolves schedule, the only other time this team came home off a road trip of 3 or more games, they got absolutely creamed by the Clippers. It's a lot to ask of the Wolves to cover, just getting 1.5 points, when they've won just 1 of their last 10 games. Still, isn't this just the exact time when the Wolves explode out for a monster win? Minnesota is coming off a 25-point loss in Memphis, so this team won't ever look much worse to bettors. I just don't know if that's enough, given all the situational angles that do not favor them. The Sixers, by the way, are playing their best ball of the season. They've won 3 of 4, covering all 3 wins, and they've held 3 straight opponents to 93-points or less. Samuel Dalembert, surprisingly, has been great (our prayers go out to Haiti, as a side note), and Philly is starting to play with a little confidence. We should also remember this team is actually stronger on the road than at home. Philly is 6-13 at home SU (4-15 ATS), and 7-13 SU on the road (13-7 ATS), so whatever points the home team is getting here is probably about double what they should be getting against the Sixers. I simply have to lean to Philly, despite how obvious it looks, and I like the Under, with Philly's recent strong defense, and Minnesota likely to be a little sluggish in their first game home, as noted above.
Nets @ Clippers - This line is OFF. Chris Kaman is the reason for our lack of line. I made something of a pact a few days back not to make the Nets a Paid Play at any point down the line, and I don't think this game is going to make me break that promise. The Nets are just so horrible, I can't even wrap my mind around it. They are 3-36 SU on the season, but have been so unbearably bad, they're just 13-26 ATS! Usually, you can get decent value betting on the teams that the public hates, but the Nets just aren't that club. They have not shown a good bounceback ability, even off some of their biggest losses on the season - in fact, they have shown almost no pattern whatsoever, outside of just being awful. The Clippers, on the other hand, are coming off an excellent performance, but came up just a point short of beating the vastly superior Cavaliers. My concern is the obvious one - coming off that disappointing loss to a marquee opponent, will the Clippers give a rat's ass about the Nets? Amazingly, I'm inclined to believe they will - this team knows they need whatever wins they can get, as they scratch and claw their way back near the edges of the playoff picture. The Clippers are probably still smarting a bit from that blowout loss to the Lakers, and without the win over the Cavs, I believe they'll still play like they have something to prove at home. I lean square again on this game, I like the home team. I also like the Over, since the Clips seem to shoot the ball exceedingly well at home, and don't defend with much confidence. If Kaman plays, that will be an added bonus.
Spurs @ Hornets - Spurs by a point with a total of 190.5. I'll lay it out right at the beginning here, I like the Hornets. For one, New Orleans is a VERY strong home team, posting an impressive 15-3 SU home record (10-8 ATS). The issue hasn't been winning at home, it has been covering the spreads of 6 or more. Here, we don't have that problem. The Spurs carry a 1-point price tag, and I still think this older team is a little tired. This is their 5th game in 7 nights, and since they've begun to fatigue, there's been an obvious trend to the ATS loss and the Under. The Spurs have been held to 76 and 86 points the last two games, both games staying well beneath the posted totals. The Hornets have been playing some higher-scoring games, but they'll need the Spurs' help if they're going to reach 190.5, so I'm leaning Under. A few more pieces of information on why I like the Hornets -- first, revenge. The Spurs beat the Hornets by 17 in San Antonio, and New Orleans, who has historically been very good against the Spurs AT HOME, should have some added motivation to pick up a win over a tired, old team. Also, this being a divisional rivalry, I think the Hornets will want to go after the leaders. San Antonio heads home after this game, so they may be looking ahead to their own beds, and getting some quality rest. Overall, strong feelings for the Hornets, mild feelings towards the Under.
Bulls @ Warriors - A Pick 'em with a total of 218.5. Another somewhat difficult game to cap, given the circumstances. The Warriors areso outrageously undermanned that they actually had to take a technical foul in their last contest with the Bucks because a player fouled out, and they were left with only 4 viable men. How on earth are we to expect this team to compete when they can't foul, they can't substitute, and they were already among the League's middling teams, so it's not like the 5 main characters in this story can get the job done. This is a revenge game for Golden State, but at the same time, can they really play with the Bulls, or anyone for that matter, for all 48 minutes. I'm inclined to think this game goes a great deal like the Warriors' last one -- they come out of the gates strong, try to build a lead while they have some energy, then slowly watch it dwindle as fatigue sets in, and the inability to play any real defense (because there are no substitutes if a guy gets in foul trouble) takes its toll. Based on this alone, I'm inclined to lean towards the road team, just because the Bulls are surging, they've won 4 straight, and the Warriors have lost 3 in a row. I think the most interesting number on this game is the total, though, as the contest between these two teams earlier this year ended 96-91 in favor of Chicago, landing a good 27 points beneath the set mark, and yet here, the posted total, despite the Warriors shorthanded roster, is 4 points HIGHER. I lean Over, and I lean to the Bulls at full strength, starting the 7-game monster road trip with a win.
Suns @ Grizzlies - Memphis by 2 with a total of 225. Boy, could the Suns look much worse? This is another spot where I'm concerned at how easy this line looks for the Grizzlies, but am I giving the public too much credit? Obviously, the general public has loved Phoenix for a few years, and in most cases, they'll back Phoenix blind, but the Suns haven't won but one road game in the last 50 days, and now they head into Memphis fresh off getting butchered by the Bobcats, a game they lost by 26, and were at some points down more than that. It just looks way too easy to back the Grizz. Do we not think Phoenix is going to bring some measure of malice into this one? The Grizzlies beat the piss out of them in Phoenix only a few short weeks ago, a 25-point road win for Memphis, and a true embarrassment for Phoenix. There's just no way the Suns, who have been nothing short of pathetic, are going to come into Memphis and just roll over. I can't say it's going to be a popular choice, but I think Phoenix brings the heat in this one. The Grizzlies have won 3 straight, and they've been beating good teams, so I expect folks to jump on them with reckless abandon. I lean Suns, and I shudder when I say it. On the total, games between these two teams have been obscenely high scoring, and I happen to think this one is marked fairly accurately. Both previous encounters have ended in the 230's, but this one is in Memphis for the first time, where I believe both teams shoot a slightly lower percentage, and where I believe the Grizzlies slow the tempo just enough to keep the game in the low-220's.
Mavs @ Celtics - This line is OFF. Now we get to find out if Dallas's look-ahead spot yesterday in Toronto was worth all the stinking in Canada. Hey, I'm not complaining, we got a very easy winner with the Raptors, but it was clear Dallas's heart was not in that game -- the early game time, the MLK Day showdown with the Garnett-less Celtics, the recent run of poor defense; whatever it was, Dallas looked terrible. I'm inclined to believe they do a decent job of bouncing back, but how decent is the question. Boston has destroyed the Mavericks over the last 3 years, which can be interpreted 2 ways -- either the Celtics have the Mavs' number, or Dallas is going to be looking for 3 years' worth of revenge. I feel like I shouldn't trust Dallas, but those have been the exact times they've stepped up and played a huge game. Still, watching the Mavs-Raptors game from start to finish showed me that Dallas isn't defending well, and they appear to be lacking in the scoring department. Dirk Nowitzki carried them as far as he could, but it just wasn't even close to enough, as the Raptors shot over 50% from the field for most of the game. Dallas has allowed over 100 points in 4 of the last 5 games, and 98 in the other one, which, to me, makes this game look like a potential Over opportunity. Boston has had 3 days to rest after losing to Chicago at home, and I expect them to show off their energy, and get to the foul line repeatedly. I like the Celtics just by a bit, and I think the Over is in play, but don't be fooled by screwy bet% numbers, because, as our good pal Guevones told us, there are a handful of Morrison plays on the table today, and we need to be very careful when interpreting line moves.
Magic @ Lakers - Lakers by 6.5 with a total of 201.5. You want to talk about a revenge spot? How about getting to go after the team that beat you in the Finals last year. The Magic are coming off a disappointing performance in Portland, but there as almost zero chance they weren't waiting patiently for a chance to get back at the Lakers. We are going to get the Magic's best in this one, and I love taking the dog here. I especially love that the Lakers are coming off a furious beating of the Clippers, a 40-point drubbing that makes the Lakeshow look, for lack of a better expression, like the best in the League. And hell, they might very well be the best again, but it's all about motivation here, and the Magic have a ton. They want to show they made offseason improvements, they guys that were there last year want to show they deserved to win a championship, and they want to do it in LA. The Lakers, on the other hand, just want to win on National TV, but they know they're the best, and as Marco always says, "No team is as good as their best performance." The Lakers aren't going to make every shot and win by 40 again. On the contrary, if the Lakers win, I think it will be a late surge, and I highly doubt it's by over 6 points. I actually like the fact that Orlando lost their last game, too, as I think we're getting an extra point because of each team's performance in their last contest. In terms of the total, I think we'll see this one go Under - I'm expecting a playoff atmosphere style game, with tight defense, and conservative referee activity.