I had a weird thought today before writing my column; thank goodness for David Stern…
What precipitated such unprompted praise for the NBA’s long standing overlord? The Seattle Seahawks. Next Saturday the Seattle Seahawks, the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9) will HOST the 12-4 defending Super Bowl Champions in the first round of the playoffs. There are a lot of “firsts” associated with this game; the first time a team hosted a playoff game with five fewer wins than their opponent, the first time the local market ran an opinion poll and more people would have preferred the Seahawks missed the playoffs to move up a few spots in the draft. It’s become quite a farce and frankly a little awkward for the NFL.
The NBA faced a similar scenario a few years back, with teams ostensibly tanking games late in order to slide down to the #6 spot and play the weakest of the three division winners rather than be #4 or #5 and face the top non-division winning team. Quick on his feet and responsive as always, the Commish put a quick stop to that by tweaking the system to make it more equitable.
The simple change, or more importantly the league’s willingness to change, made the playoffs and the competitive spirit of the league better, so without delay they got it done.
Like I said, thank you Commissioner Stern.
On To Today’s (January 4th) Free NBA Picks:
San Antonio Spurs -5 @ New York Knicks (Total: 208)
New York became the darlings of the media during their recent nine game win streak as people tripped over themselves declaring the Knicks as “back” and proclaiming the Garden “alive once again.” Then a funny thing happened; the schedule got more difficult and the Knicks have gone 3-5 since.
Don’t get me wrong, the Knicks are a good team. But the Spurs are a great one, and there is a clear difference.
New York will have to adjust to the two to three week absence of Danilo Gallinari, who is a huge part of their offense and the main reason defenses are unable to clog the middle and collapse of Amar’e Stoudemire. The Spurs are a tough team to try and “figure out” a new offensive rhythm against.
San Antonio leads the NBA is point margin per game at 8.8. The Knicks, despite their solid record are nearly even in that statistic (0.9ppg). This is a common stat for second-tier teams in the NBA. It means you blow out the bad teams and have difficulty beating the best.
I like the Spurs laying the 5 on the road tonight to get the comfortable win in New York.
PICK: San Antonio -5
Milwaukee Bucks @ Miami Heat -9 (Total: 183.5)
I know. I’m breaking the cardinal rule of NBA wagering, stay away from heavy favorites on the back end of a back-to-back. I would agree with that in all normal scenarios. However, the Miami Heat are not a normal team.
Since starting the season a disappointing 9-8, the Heat have ripped off 18 of 19. Anyone contending that this team is not become special very quickly is simply a hater. You don’t have tp be a Heat fan, but wager against them at your own peril. The Heat aren’t just winning every game, they are winning every game without having to kick it into overdrive too often.
Take last night for example. Lebron throws in 38, grabs six boards and dishes out five assists. Wade chips in 31, 11 and 4. They accounted for nearly 75% of their team’s offense in a 96-82 win at Charlotte. And they did it logging just 36 and 30 minutes respectively.
Don’t sweat the fatigue factor in tonight’s contest. Not only are the Heat immensely better than the Bucks, they are also a terrible matchup for Milwaukee; a team that generates most of its offense from a smallish point guard (Brandon Jennings) and a trigger-happy swing man (John Salmons). Both are shooting under 40% on the season, which is abysmal. Now take that and throw them on the road against two of the best on-the-ball perimeter defenders on the planet. It could be ugly.
The Heat will at some point lose again this season, but it sure won’t be tonight.
PICK: Miami -9