Because I loved the rant so damn much, I'm taking a page out of the Greg Shaker handbook and eliminating the Promo section ALMOST entirely.
I know the Promo stuff is minimal compared to the over 2,500 games I've previewed in the last year, but no one wants to hear about my weekly package when I'm coming off a losing week. Thus, barring a monster run, these blogs are going to be all business, no frills. Of course, if we rattle off 10 straight, I might mention it.
The other change is that, because it is often difficult for me to be home to write the "Recap" section at 1a.m., when most Pacific games end, that section is going to be eliminated, too.
Basically, the blog is going back to how it started -- thoughts from the dark recesses of my mind, and then game breakdowns. Personally, I'm looking forward to these little changes, as they'll save me time in the short and long term, and I can talk more about the subtle nuances of the NBA without constantly thinking about presentation. Booya.
As far as today is concerned - I'm thinking ALL DAY LIVE CHAT to celebrate MLK Jr...who's with me?
Sports Wagering: NBA
Utah Jazz (-5) @ Washington Wizards with a total of 199.5;
The first of 3 games at 1pm, this game is the ultimate fetish for people that enjoy team names near the end of the alphabet. These two clubs are similar in "first letter" only, though, as Utah heads into Washington on a 3-game win streak, powered largely by (and I know some might call me nuts for this) Raja Bell and C.J. Miles. A couple of role players have stepped up to drain a ton of shots for Utah, and the Jazz have been able to get out to better starts (because of Raja), and are getting stronger 2nd-quarter bench play (because of Miles). Utah still doesn't play much in the way of defense, but they're so difficult to guard they can overcome that enough to get wins on the road. Washington remains a full predictable young team - 11-8 at home, 0-19 on the road. With no particularly interesting scheduling or situational notes outside of the early start time, you have to go on the assumption that Utah will score 100 points, and the bet becomes whether Washington can get near the century mark, too. I'm inclined to think UTAH is in better shape with the early start (since they rely on execution, not pure talent), and the UNDER, also because of the start.
Phoenix Suns @ New York Knicks (-6) with a total of 223.5;
Another early game, this one a rematch of a game in Phoenix just a shade over a week ago. In that one, as many of you likely recall, the Knicks took the Suns out behind the shed and delivered a sound beating. Interestingly, though, the Knicks' domination wasn't all about offensive execution. In fact, I'd argue that the rebound disparity was the bigger issue, with New York outrebounding Phoenix 65-42. That is unacceptable, especially against a Knicks team that really isn't all that big and strong. I expect better energy from Phoenix in this rematch. Phoenix shot just 42% in that game, as well, so I wouldn't be surprised to see slightly better effort from the field, as well. Maybe the biggest indicator is that the total in Phoenix was set at 220, and the game went Under, yet oddsmakers had the audacity to bring this one out a couple buckets higher. The high total and revenge make me think two things -PHOENIX makes New York work this time around, and with both teams scoring, this could approach 240, if the start time doesn't rust 'em up.
Chicago Bulls @ Memphis Grizzlies with a total of N/A;
Don't look now, but Memphis, at 19-21, is just a game and a half out of the playoffs in the West, and with Denver most likely losing Carmelo at some point, and Portland playing patch-work basketball, Memphis does have an opening (or two) into the playoffs, if they play well enough. And to their credit, after a pair of subpar road performances, the Grizzlies seem to be getting things back in order. And it's easy to forget that just a week ago, Memphis was one of the hottest teams in the West, beating the Lakers, Thunder and Jazz in a row. The big note on this entire game, though, is that both teams are wildly different at home versus on the road. Memphis is 12-6 at home and 7-15 on the road, while Chicago is a devastating 18-3 at home, and just 9-10 on the road. I wouldn't be surprised to see Chicago come out near a pick, courtesy of their win over Miami, and though they did play a strong game against Indiana before that, Chicago's road play still isn't impressing me. Also, it appears Carlos Boozer will sit this one out, so that'll move the line back a point or two. As far as Chicago, they just seem to know the Pacers, and I don't think they have that same familiarity with Memphis, a stronger, faster opponent. Until the Bulls beat a truly good team on the road, I'm not behind them in spots like this. I lean MEMPHIS on the side, and Chicago's road defense leaves something to be desires, so I'm glancing at the OVER.
Charlotte Bobcats @ Philadelphia 76ers (-5) with a total of 191;
Is this a revenge game? Maybe a little. It's certainly an odd start time, at 2pm. Charlotte got slapped around in Philadelphia on December 4, but that was before the team changed its style of play, so I wonder if they're even thinking about that game, or if they're more focused on improving themselves. Either way, the one thing we know for sure is that lines have finally caught up with Philadelphia. For almost 2 months, Philadelphia seemed to get about 2 points better every week, and the line couldn't adjust fast enough. Now the Sixers have leveled off a bit, the line kept moving, and I'm of the belief that Philadelphis is now fade material. The Sixers seem to be losing a little of their edge on defense, giving up 112 to Detroit (in OT), 111 to Indiana, and 95 to the offensively challenged Bucks. That's a big reason they're 0-3 ATS in those games. Charlotte is a tough team, if nothing else, but the one monster factor that will likely keep me off this game is that these two teams play again on the 20th, just 3 days from now. Let's see how this one goes, and react accordingly. PASS on the side, total lean to the OVER.
Toronto Raptors @ New Orleans Hornets (-8.5) with a total of 195.5;
Into the afternoon we go, for those on PST. This game is a tale of two teams that can each do one thing relatively well. The Raptors are a decent offensive team, carrying an array of guys that can each create his own shot (Bargnani, Barbosa, Calderon come to mind). Unfortunately, none of those guys can defend a junior varsity athlete, and with Reggie Evans out, Toronto is constantly at a disadvantage on the glass. New Orleans plays tremendous team defense, but is a very slow, plodding offensive unit. They rebound better than some, worse than others, though I'd definitely give the Hornets the "power" edge over a finesse team like the Raptors. I will give Toronto credit, though - they tend to keep games somewhat close, winning or losing, since the team is predicated on trading buckets. New Orleans plays close games mostly because they just want to limit possessions. Which of these factors plays the biggest role? Well, New Orleans' last 8 wins have come by less than double digits. Some trends are more than just random stats packed together, and New Orleans' ability to get into slugfests means that every point is going to be tough to come across. In a rather odd combo, I believe TORONTO keeps it within reach and the total stays LOW.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Houston Rockets (-4) with a total of 195;
Another 3pm contest, and one that, at first glance, sure looks like a nice opportunity for Houston, but let's make sure. The Rockets are starting to ramp up their offense again after a slow post-Christmas stretch that took them into the New Year. They have, now, won 2 of 4, which doesn't sound all that impressive, but those 4 games have been against some of the League's finest. When Houston makes shots, they can beat almost anyone, but they can be pretty inconsistent. Milwaukee, on the other end of the spectrum, can't score to save their lives, but remain one of the most consistent teams in the NBA because of solid defense, and zero tolerance by the coach for anything less than max effort. My problem with Milwaukee is that, despite the effort, they just aren't winning games. They don't have the weapons to compete with most teams, and now that Houston has 3 guards, and Rick Adelman can go to whichever ones are hottest, they would appear to be a little more reliable. Houston is also on revenge from a loss in Milwaukee on December 10, where they were a 4-point underdog. Since then, Houston has gotten healthier, Milwaukee has lost Jennings, so this line, to me, is a little too low. Lean to the ROCKETS and the UNDER, but barely on that total.
Indiana Pacers @ Los Angeles Clippers (-4.5) with a total of 198;
This line seems to have been yanked off the board after opening at the above numbers, and one has to think the line uncertainty is largely due to the Clippers scuffle with the Lakers and possible suspensions for players. That sounds like a pretty good reason to dodge this game, but what do I know? It's a relatively early affair, at 12:30 in Los Angeles, so you can expect both teams to be a little sleepy, and if LA is without any of its top guys, they may be a bit flat. The Clippers are coming off a huge game with the Lakers, too, another potential letdown spot. That doesn't necessarily make me like Indiana, though, since the Pacers played a terrible game against Chicago, and are set to open up a 4 game west coast road trip with this one. We may see some tired legs, so I'm inclined to think that the total is probably a more workable number than the side. I don't mean to "go Butterworth" on this one, but player personnel late-breaking news games are just not ones I like to bet, and you can all save yourself a ton of strife by just letting these pass you by, too. PASS ALL AROUND.
Dallas Mavericks (-4) @ Detroit Pistons with a total of 191;
This game starts at the same time as the above Clippers contest, but at 3:30 local, sleepiness shouldn't be much of an issue. The Mavs have their savior back, but after being ejected in his first game since returning, we still don't really know how much Dirk has in the tank. Without getting too much into the individual teams' recent play (Dallas has been a disaster without Dirk, Detroit has won 2 straight against weak competition), the reason I want nothing to do with this game either is that BOTH teams are playing a look-ahead game. Detroit heads to Boston to do battle with those darn Celtics, and Dallas heads home to host the Lakers. And yet, each team has a reason to care about this one. Detroit is hovering just outside the Playoffs in the East, somehow, and Dallas desperately wants some positive momentum, and to get off their current 5-game skid. Each team has one glaring Pro, each team has one glaring Con. What do we do? PASS on the side, that's for sure. And Detroit's been playing some strikingly high-scoring games, so I'd take a peek at the OVER.
Sacramento Kings @ Atlanta Hawks (-9.5) with a total of 201;
I hate backing a team laying 9.5 points, especially when that team isn't playing a ton of defense, but Sacramento is not in a particularly enviable scheduling spot. This is the final game of a long road trip for the Kings, one that has seen them travel to Toronto, Washington, Boston, New York, Detroit, and now to the South. That's a ton of travel for a team that has been able to hang in there in 4 of the previous 5 games, but failed to cover one of the two spots on this trip you might mark as a fatigue game. Of course, they covered on the 4th-in-5 game, so what do we know about scheduling? In any case, Atlanta had its road winning streak snapped by a hot-shooting Houston team, so I wonder if that doesn't remind the Hawks that they won those other games with defense and team basketball. To me, this game ends in a blowout about 35% of the time, a close game about 35% of the time, and somewhere between 8 and 12 the other 30%. With that in mind, I can't help but look at the HAWKS to squeak by the spread, and to play some defense and keep it UNDER.
New Jersey Nets @ Golden State Warriors (-7.5) with a total of 206;
New Jersey could, in my estimation, get run right out of the building. They've been able to keep most of the games on their current 4-game road trip close, losing in OT to the Suns, and falling by mostly respectable numbers to the Lakers and Blazers, but with their 4th road game in 6 days here this afternoon, and then a cross-country flight to host Utah and start a 5-game homestand. Meanwhile, the Warriors are up to their old tricks, putting up monster offensive numbers at home, and coming off an impressive win over the red-hot Clippers. Maybe people don't realize how truly solid that game was. The Warriors were outrebounded by 20 in LA, and despite losing the rebound battle again at home, they hit their free throws, made their long range shots, and beat one of the League's scarier teams (the Clips, I know it sounds crazy) by 10. Jersey is in a sluggish spot, Golden State is happy to be hosting some home games for once, and happy to be mostly healthy for the first time since the season's opening weeks. WARRIORS should take this one by 9-to-12 points, and I think that total is about where it should be.
Orlando Magic @ Boston Celtics with a total of N/A;
Yes, we had fun games all day, but TV networks had a few aces up their sleeves with these late tilts. This game starts a evening/late-evening double-header that should give us some real enjoyment. We'll get to the other. As far as these two teams, we're looking at a game where Boston may very well get Kevin Garnett back, and might want to atone for a Christmas Day dud in Orlando. The Magic got their precious playoff revenge in that game (we cashed on that notion), but now this is a completely different Orlando team, and one that, in my estimation, hasn't been playing all that well, at least not the last week. Yes, the recordbooks will show that they beat Minnesota by 9, but that was a 3-point game with 15 seconds left, and Minnesota managed to foul their way right out of a cover. Orlando backers might not realize how that game ended, and if Minnesota doesn't foul, down 7 points with 4 seconds left, and Orlando doesn't flyswat away a Minnesota layup as the game expired, Orlando would have dropped 3 straight ATS. Boston, meanwhile, continues to shoot over 50% from the field in a fantastic display of offensive cohesion. The problem lately has been that without KG, the defense is suffering. He's the glue, and if he's back, even if he's limited, I think Boston should win this game, and cover a short number - plus, Orlando finishes a 5-game road trip tonight, so despite their best efforts, I think we see some slight fatigue. Lean to CELTICS and the UNDER.
Minnesota Timberwolves @ Portland Trailblazers with a total of N/A;
Trying to find a reason to care about this game in between Magic-Celtics and Lakers-Thunder is pretty tough, I know, but perhaps we can find some reason for optimism if we dig deep enough. Maybe not, but we might as well leave no stone unturned. Can we play a revenge card? I'm not sure, to be quite frank. Portland has indeed won both contests with the Wolves, but the teams are 1-1 ATS against each other, and Minnesota is likely without the team's top offensive weapon, Michael Beasley. Portland, somehow, keeps finding ways to win at home, and at 2-19 on the road, Minnesota isn't exactly breeding confidence. Blech, screw "no stone left unturned," this game is a disaster. PASS on the side, UNDER lean on the total.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Los Angeles Lakers (-5) with a total of 203;
Blogite "TK" pointed it out yesterday, this is the season's final playoff revenge game, and anyone who knows my style knows I don't pass up on these opportunities unless there has been some significant player turnover, as we saw with Miami and Cleveland. When it comes to matchups, the Lakers have a pretty significant size advantage, but put simply, Kevin Durant has been completely unstoppable lately, and Russell Westbrook is a runaway freight train. There isn't a player on the Lakers that can even come close to guarding Westbrook in the half or open court, and if Durant heats up, Oklahoma isn't going away. The key is going to be whether the Thunder can stop the Lakers a few big times down the stretch. If that takes place, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Thunder win the game outright, but I strongly feel that this game comes down to the final 30 seconds. I'd take 5 points in that spot just about every time. Strong lean to OKLAHOMA and small lean to the OVER.