Respect is certainly due to the Portland Trailblazers. I faded them last night on the road on the immediate heels of a triple-overtime thriller, trusting the age-old axiom in the NBA of appropriate wariness of tired teams. However, they answered the bell with fury, absolutely ripping the Pelicans apart on their homecourt and rolling to a huge win that could have been 40+ if they kept their foot on the gas pedal.
Meanwhile, the ever-wonderful West showed off yet another shiny title contender last night as the Mavericks looked pretty darn good in Rajon Rondo’s debut, making a relatively seamless transition to the captain chair of the best offense in the NBA. There are eight likely playoff teams in the West, and I’d challenge you to concretely saw any of them can’t win the whole stinkin’ thing: Golden State, Memphis, Houston, Portland, Dallas, Clippers, Spurs and Thunder. This tournament is going to be ridiculous. It makes the notion that the Celtics are in playoff position in the East kind of funny…
The nice thing about this lopsided balance of power is that there is a NBA Finals-worthy level game nearly every single night. Bad for overall competitive balance, but great for fans who want to watch a thrilled every time they turn on the television. And good news – we have just that level of game for today’s free pick…
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Today’s Free Pick:
Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers -4
Unless they do abolish the conferences, someone from the East needs to be in the Finals, so today’s game seems as reasonable a NBA Finals preview as any. Yes, the Cavs are struggling to find themselves but come April, it isn’t a stretch to see them blowing past Toronto, Washington, Chicago or Atlanta.
But as of today, this thing in Cleveland just doesn’t look quite right. That poses some real challenges when hosting the most smothering, physical defensive team in the NBA. Expect Kyrie to have his hands full with Conley and Kevin Love to find post up opportunities limited with Z-Bo and Gasol. However, the absence of Tony Allen, who has the ability to pester and be physical with LeBron more than most wings, to be a big loss. That leaves Courtney Lee and Nick Calathes and a crew of undersized, outmanned matchups.
The BIG problem for Memphis today is that Allen is unavailable and Z-Bo is now questionable with several reports saying he will be sat with a sore knee.
The Cavs have won seven of their last eight home games, but the stat that troubles me is their 3-8 record when they fail to score 100 points. That is indicative of a team that still relies on its offense to win. Memphis was allowing a league-low 94.0 ppg prior to the triple-overtime game against the Spurs (which seems a little unfair). The Cavs are just 7-7 against winning teams and 2-4 against the Western Conference – but again, today’s team isn’t the full-strength Grizz.
I would Memphis’s defense to travel tonight and to get the job done on the road IF THEY WERE healthy. But they aren’t. They are severely banged up and fatigued. They’ve played a ton of minutes this week and are playing at limited strength this afternoon. I think you get a very motivated Cavs team who will benefit from the absence of Tony Allen. Look for LeBron to put his team on his back today and get their first really good win of the season; it’s a much-needed one for his Cavs, not just their record but their psyche