NBA Picks and Predictions for December 31st

The NBA will be ringing in the new year with a full slate of games both this afternoon and evening. However, with yesterday being a light schedule no team is facing the backend of a back-to-back. Perhaps a little rest will be welcomed by the weary as injuries are starting to stack up around the league. Kevin Garnett joined the hobbled, and is expected to miss up to two weeks with a sprained ankle.

It’s going to be increasingly more important to check the injury blotter when analyzing point spreads over the next few months.

There are no “marquee” matchups on par with last night’s stacked doubleheader on TNT, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of quality contests to go around. With many of the games tipping in the afternoon, today’s breakdowns will focus on a pair of evening tip-offs.

NBA Betting Picks for New Years Eve

Toronto Raptors @ Houston Rockets -9 (Total: 212)

Toronto travels to Houston fresh off a surprising road win at Dallas. The Mavs were playing without Dirk Nowitzki, but it is still an impressive effort for an even more depleted Raptor squad that was missing five regular contributors. Given the health status of the Raptor roster, they should be pretty pleased to have stolen one win on this trip. Tonight’s contest has all the tell-tale signs for a real disaster for Toronto.

Tonight marks the final game of a week-long road trip, a trip which Andrea Bargnani, Reggie Evans and Peja Stojakavich did not join the team for. Three other players; Sonny Weems, Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless are listed a “questionable.” Finally, Amir Johnson and Leondro Barbosa are listed as “game-time decisions.” Add it all up and it is easy to see the Raptors getting down early and capitulating.

The good news for Raptor fans? If you own a good replica jersey you could likely log eight to ten minutes tonight coming off the bench.

On the other bench, the Houston Rockets are really starting to play good basketball after a rocky start. Sure, Yao is gone (likely for good) but they have plenty of talent to make up for the loss and might actually be a better ballclub playing at the tempo their new-look lineup allows for.

Kevin Martin and Luis Scola have been fantastic, averaging a combined 43.5 ppg. Led by this prolific duo and a balanced bench of consistent role players like Shane Battier, Chase Budinger and Brad Miller ensure the Rockets are never lacking for energy. Their overall record is 15-16, however they are 10-4 in the month of December.

They have struggled a bit against the league’s elite teams, but when playing non-playoff teams nearly every win has been by double digits. I don’t see tonight being any exception

PICK: Houston Rockets -9

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Atlanta Hawks @ Oklahoma City -5 (Total: 196)

Consider the Hawks the “anti-Rockets.” While Houston started slow and is just now clicking and playing high caliber basketball, the Hawks flew out to a 6-0 start. Since then, they have barely played .500 ball (15-13). The Hawks do have a winning record on the road overall, but have dropped five of their last six road contests, including unimpressive losses to Detroit and New Jersey.

Some of the trends and numbers favor Oklahoma City, but the Hawks personnel matches up well with Oklahoma City. Atlanta has tremendous offensive balance with six players averaging in double figures. This negates one of the Thunder’s strengths; the ability of Thabo Sefalosha to make life miserable for the opposing team’s primary wing scorer. Against Atlanta there is less of an impetus to contain any one specific player as compared to most teams in the league.

The Thunder play an up tempo, high-energy game and Atlanta, while more comfortable in the half court set, is not adverse to getting up and down the court and letting their athletes make plays. Both teams have been very erratic this season. They’ve each taken losses against lesser teams on several occasions, both at home and on the road, so take either side of the five point line at your own peril.

Your best bet to cash in a winner tonight is to take the over 196. OKC averages over 106 points per game while the Hawks average close to 99. Add it together and you are comfortably ahead of the 196 pace with two balanced, rested and healthy teams taking the floor tonight in Oklahoma City.

PICK: OVER 196

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Chris Scheeren / Author