NBA Picks and Predictions for January 1st 2011

First off, Happy New Year’s wishes to all the fellow hoops fans out there. For the general sports fan, it doesn’t get too much better than Jan 1st. Bowl games, college hoops, and even an outdoor hockey game; it certainly makes for a bevy of viewing options. Not to be outdone, David Stern has a full slate of NBA games on tap, including a dynamite matchup in San Antonio when Kevin Durant and the Thunder come to town. Here’s today’s Free NBA picks:

Oklahoma City @ San Antonio -6.5 (Total: 204)

San Antonio enters the game on an eleven game home winning streak and possessing the best record in the league at a blistering 28-4. Considerable attention gets paid to the rather noticeable decline of Tim Duncan’s productivity, and the numbers, 13.4 ppg on just 29 minutes a night, represent a sizeable decline. Garnering surprisingly less publicity is the four other Spurs averaging double figures and the fringe MVP candidacy of the resurgent Manu Ginobili.

In short, the Spurs have adapted their identity and revitalized their roster without missing a beat. That’s bad news for the rest of the NBA.

Oklahoma City comes in on the second day of road back-to-backs. The line would normally be around 4.5-5. The extra point or two reflect the potential fatigue factor. Oklahoma City is a young and energetic ballclub, but even young superstars fell the lulls of a grinding NBA schedule and travel. Tonight has the makings of a double-digit Spurs win on their home floor, where they are 18-2 on the season.

The Spurs boast one of the NBA’s largest points for/against ratios in the league at +8.3. OKC’s is surprisingly small for a team with a.676 winning percentage.

What this indicates is that when the Thunder come up short, they tend to lose by a more sizeable margin; in fact of their eleven losses on the season only a 3-point loss to the Suns and a 1-point loss to Houstonwere by fewer than eight points. Their average margin in defeats is just over 12ppg.

The Spurs are really clicking. Look for George Hill to make Kevin Durant work on offense to get his points. They will struggle finding a defensive answer for Russell Westbrook, but in the end the Spurs balance and fresh legs will be too much for the Thunder

PICK: San Antonio Spurs -6.5

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New Jersey Nets @ Minnesota Timberwolves -5 (Total: 204)

On paper, there isn’t too much to be excited about when New Jersey visits Minnesota tonight, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good opportunity to profit from the game. Like many young struggling teams, offense isn’t really the issue. Both these teams are among the worst in the league in defending the opposition.

Minnesota’s record is poor, but they have found themselves a pair of players to build around in Kevin Love and Michael Beasley. Beasley has to be the mid-season favorite for Most Improved Player. After languishing in Miami under the weight of expectations he has flourished with the change of scenery, averaging 22.2 ppg and grabbing over 6 boards a night.

If Beasley isn’t the league’s MIP, he might have teammate Kevin Love to blame. Love exploded onto the scene with his rare 30/30 game last month. He leads the league with 15.5 rebounds per game and is also pouring in 20.2 ppg. Do you know what you call a 20/15 guy on a winning team? That’s right, MVP. Love has been that good thus far.

Meanwhile, despite the struggles in New Jersey for first year coach Avery Johnson, it’s hard to argue they aren’t drastically improved. The Nets flirted with NBA infamy last season, needing until April to win their 10th game. This year the playoffs might be a distant fantasy, but the Nets nine wins before the calendar flipped is a definite sign of growth.

The Nets, however, have yet to take the second sizeable step in growth as a team; the ability to win on the road, dropping 15 of 18 away from the friendly confines of New Jersey. Brooke Lopez has been solid, and on a better team his 19/7 from the center position would merit All-Star consideration. However with Devin Harris likely out for tonight’s contest, Lopez isn’t going to have a lot of help this evening. A bad road team with a banged up point guard? The smart money’s on the T’Wolves tonight.

PICK: Minnesota -5

Chris Scheeren / Author

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