A Sunday featuring two marquee matchups on national television certainly didn’t disappoint. In the glamour game, the league’s two most recent champs squared off as Boston and Los Angeles renewed one of the greatest rivalries in professional sports. True to most of this season’s form one team looked their age while the other looked like rejuvenated champs.
Boston handled their business in the Staples Center, led by 32 points from Paul Pierce who always seems to bring his best when he gets the opportunity to return home to Los Angeles. His Celtics cruised to a 109-96 win despite a 41 point effort from Kobe Bryant. The Lakers better find a solution to what’s been ailing them quickly or they could find themselves sliding out their coveted #2 seed in the West and in a world of hurt.
One of the teams they’d be wise to hold home court advantage over is the young Oklahoma City Thunder, who gave the champs a true first round scare last year, pushing them to a tightly contested six game series before a Pau Gasol buzzer-beater sent them home for the Summer.
The Thunder hosted the Heat in the day’s most exciting game. Kevin Durant hit a tough bucket to put them up by one late, but Eddie House’s clutch 3-pointer – which led to House dusting off Sam Cassell’s famous…er, dance – put the Heat ahead for good with 22 seconds remaining.
The most interesting take away from the game was some rare trash talk from Durant afterwards, referring to Chris Bosh as “fake tough.” It was out of character, but showed a little “real tough” from the soft spoken young superstar. The Thunder are maturing in more way than just their play and feel like a squad dialed in with the potential to do some real damage in the playoffs.
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Today’s Free NBA Picks
Milwaukee Bucks @ Los Angeles Clippers -3.5 (Total: 189)
The Clippers have played fantastic over the past month and half and have officially become the team that won’t make the Playoffs that the rest of the league will be relieved they don’t have to face in the first round. After digging an enormous 5-21 hole, they have been outstanding since; posting a 13-7 mark over their last 20 games.
The Clips have been ever better against the number in that span, covering in 14 of 20. Tonight they get a very favorable home matchup against the road-weary Milwaukee Bucks who are just 8-16 this season away from home.
Brandon Jennings return to the lineup has been a nice boost for the Bucks, who have won three straight since his return. Meanwhile the Clippers seemingly devastating loss of leading scorer Eric Gordon has been somewhat mitigated by the outstanding play of Randy Foye in his increased minutes. Foye has averaged 18.7 points in his three starts, only five points off the average production from Gordon. If he can continue to produce at around 18-19 a game, the remainder of his teammates can pick up the slight scoring differential and weather the storm until Gordon returns.
All in all, tonight’s matchup favors the Clippers who have won 9 of 10 at home against the Bucks; and many of those wins came with a dramatically worse team then the one they are sending on the floor in 2011. I like the Clips to continue their stellar play at home to capture the win, as well as cover the four point spread.
PICK: Los Angeles Clippers -3.5 (-101) @ 5Dimes.com <- $520 sign up bonus
Orlando Magic -2 @ Memphis Grizzlies (Total: 198.5)
The Grizzlies have been somewhat of a mercurial team this season, winning games in which no one gave a chance and then tempering any enthusiasm building by squandering games against some of the league’s worst opponents. However lately they appear to finally be developing some long-awaited consistency, winning six of seven at home, including wins over some of the Western Conference elite in Oklahoma City, Utah, Dallas and the Lakers.
The Magic certainly fall into that same “elite” category; hence the -1.5 for the Magic despite playing a good ballclub in their home gym. The Magic rely mainly on their prolific offense, but more like the “Rland Magic” in Memphis; their “O” hasn’t made the trip with them to Memphis. The Grizz have won five of six from Orlando at home, holding the high-flying Magic to just 89.6 points per contest.
The Grizzlies match-up well with Orlando. They have size and scoring in the post with Marc Gasol and the underrated Zack Randolf, who has played well against Dwight Howard, going for 23 and 19 in their last meeting. Memphis also has good quickness at the point with Michael Conley, who is a very similar player to Jameer Nelson in every facet of his game. The X-factor is Rudy Gay being able to match the production the Magic get from their stable of wing players, which he has certainly been able to do lately, averaging 20.1 points on a respectable 47.2% from the floor.
The Grizzlies are an impressive 10-6 in January and have an opportunity to move to over .500 for the first-time this season. I think they’ll take advantage of the chance and will grab yet another impressive home win to add to their burgeoning collection.
PICK: Memphis Grizzlies +2 (-110) @ SportsInteraction.com <- $250 free on 1st deposit