At first glance the Chicago Bulls captured an impressive victory last night, announcing their presence in the Eastern Conference as a contender to make it to the Finals… That is until one looks at the box score or catches a few highlights and notices some pretty significant names missing. Lebron James sat out his second consecutive game nursing a sore ankle. Even more troubling for Heat fans was the sight of Chris Bosh hobbling off the court in the third quarter.
The “Big Three” of the “Heatles” had been reduced to the Dwayne Wade show. We’ve seen that show for the past three seasons in Miami, and we all know how well that worked out for them.
The positive takeaway for the Heat is that despite the injuries and absences, they still only lost by three points, 99-96, on the road, against a team that could very likely be their second round opponent in the Playoffs. Assuming LeBron and Co. are back at full strength, the outcome will likely be much different.
Today’s a light slate in the NBA, perhaps deferring the the tv juggernaut that is the NFL playoffs, with only two games scheduled. We have them both covered for you here with today’s picks.
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Los Angeles Lakers -5.5 @ Los Angeles Clippers (Total: 196.5)
Blake Griffin mania is sweeping the nation by storm, and for good reason. The rookie season that had to wait an extra year because of injury (and perhaps the Clipper curse) has proved to be well worth the wait. Heading into today’s game Griffin has recorded twenty five consecutive double-doubles, good enough for the most in the Clippers storied history. OK, that was a little swipe at the Clips – but to illustrate better how remarkable his accomplishment is, that streak is also good enough for the fifth longest in the history of the NBA.
Griffin will have his work cut out for him tonight when the Lakers and Clippers share the arena this afternoon. The Lakers are long and athletic with the most quality size of any team in the league. He is going to have to contend with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol – two seven footers with 12 fouls to spend to keep Griffin from getting to the rim for one of his becoming-famous thundering dunks.
The Clippers will be up for the game, seeing it as a chance to knock off the big-brother they share the arena with. Tonight is technically a home game for them, but the Lakers are still playing in their own barn (and the travel wasn’t too rough either.
The Lakers have been beating opponents by an average of more than 18 points during their current win streak. With that in mind, doesn’t 5.5 seem absurdly small to give to one of the worst teams in the NBA??
I love the Lakers this afternoon covering the 5.5 with relative ease.
Denver Nuggets @ San Antonio Spurs -7.5 (Total: 211.5)
Despite all the distractions in Denver and the seemingly never ending trade rumors, the Nuggets have not only managed to keep it together, they are actually playing some of their best ball of the season. Over their three most recent victories that have throttled their opponents by an average margin of 30 points.
However none of those teams were the San Antonio Spurs, possessors of the best record in the NBA, and darn near unbeatable at home. The Spurs have had the Nuggets number the past few seasons; even more impressive when you look back and see a Denver team that was much better overall than this year’s distracted and aging team.
The Spurs play the kind of defense that makes life tough for volume scorers like Carmello Anthony. What I mean by “volume” is someone who takes a lot of shots to get their points. That plays precisely into San Antonio’s hands. They aren’t going to dazzle you with blocks and steals leading to run-out highlight reel dunks. Instead they play a very disciplined style of defensive basketball predicated on making sure their opponent never gets a clean look at the basket. It’s worked over the past few seasons with Carmello Anthony. He’s averaged just over 20ppg against the Spurs, his lowest output versus any team in the league.
San Antonio has the best points for/against ratio in the NBA, winning by an average of nearly eight points per game. They can score in bunches, but despite their offensive efficiency, still guard their opponent night in and night out.
The Spurs edge Denver in nearly every team statistical category; they shoot a higher percentage, hold opponents to a lower percentage, block more shots, more steals, dish out more assists. In all facets of the game they are clearly better than Denver.
Add in the fact that the Nuggets have to be running on fumes and they have won three straight games, playing with the emotion and chip on their shoulder that the constant hounding over trade rumors provides. I look for the honeymoon to end tonight, and for the Spurs to bury the Nuggets early and not let up.