Thursday’s are usually a pretty light schedule in the NBA, as the evening is dominated by TNT’s Doubleheader. While that affords less games to choose from, at least the games are usually excellent matchups.
Tonight that’s half true… The fist half of the doubleheader features the always exciting Oklahoma Thunder visiting Dallas to square off against the Mavericks. The back half is not as glamorous, Denver @ Sacramento, but it does provide a rare glimpse to catch young talents Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins play on national television. Personally, I’m looking forward to catching Omri Caspi play. He may not be a star but his game is unique and exciting; think Manu Ginobli on speed…
A quick caveat before moving on to tonight’s picks. At the time of writing, Dirk Nowitzki is still listed as “questionable” and will likely be a game-time decision. All the rumor and rumbling leans towards Dirk being OUT, but it has not been officially ruled so.
OK, on to today’s Free NBA Picks:
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Dallas Mavericks –OFF– (Total:)
The Mavericks have struggled mightily to score without Nowitzki, averaging just 88.8 points per game. The offensive slide is to be expected, but the surprising thing is their defense has been poor as well. Dirk has never been noted as an outstanding defender, but if ever an absence could validate an MVP candidacy, this has been it. The Mavs went from one of the best teams in the NBA to a complete mess.
Oklahoma is young, athletic, quick, long and deep. So why on Earth do they not play better defense? Thabo Sefalosha and Serge Ibaka are defenders first, and excellent ones at that. Durant is a 6’10’’ lean, explosive athlete with quickness and a 7’7’’ wingspan and Russell Westbrook is the best athlete playing point guard currently in the NBA (perhaps John Wall or Derek Rose could argue for that as well…)
Despite all that, the Thunder has given up 102.7 points per game over their past seven games and are allowing teams to shoot nearly 50% from the floor. Not a good statistic to take with you into Dallas.
The Mavs may be battered, but for some reason they simply own the Thunder. They have already beaten them twice in OKC, and nine of their last ten overall. Tonight’s line is still hanging in the balance as Vegas waits for word on Dirk, and I like Dallas even without Dirk. I imagine it would be close to a pick-em without him, possibly even getting a point or two, in which case, take it. Obviously if he PLAYS this line will ower to around -4,-5 and is still a very good value play.
Denver Nuggets @ Sacramento Kings +4.5 (Total: 209)
Denver is one of those teams that are really easy to overlook. They’ve probably peaked and are on the down side of a window that was close, but never really that close to the Lakers. Daily drama surrounds star player Carmello Anthony as rumors of where and when he will be dealt continue to proliferate.
Chauncey Billups turns 50 in a few weeks. Ok, that last one isn’t true, but doesn’t it feel like he has been playing a really, really long time?
As easy as it is to dismiss the Nuggets as an elite team, they are still 20-14 and right in the thick of things in the middle of the playoff pack in the top-heavy Western Conference.
Sacramento will not be confused with any of the NBA’s elite, though they are beginning to assemble some young talent to build around. The Kings are 7-25 on the season, primarily because they play pretty lax defense. They are near the bottom of the league in scoring margin, points allowed per game, opponent FG%, and just about any other defensive metric that can be concocted.
Denver is better, but if ever Sacramento was going to jump up and snag a quality win, it’s tonight. The Nuggets come to town on the back end of a back-to-back that saw them drop last night’s contest to the lowly Clippers, 106-93. Tired legs and a lack of motivation are a pretty lethal combination in an NBA regular season that most players admittedly muddle through at times. I think tonight is one of those times for George Karl’s crew. I’ll take Sacramento and the 4.5