Charles Barkley summed up the Denver Nuggets first half performance absolutely perfectly last night. “You can’t fake effort.” Down double digits at halftime to the worst team in the NBA (Sacramento) one night after losing to the lowly Clippers by 20, it was pretty painfully obvious you were watching a talented team just sort of…going through the motions; little true effort but even less heart. In layman’s terms; they just mailed it in.
Statistical analysis is great, but sometimes knowing the personality of a team can provide an equally important edge in positing outcomes. It may be a coach cliché, but sometimes the game comes down to who wants it more.
Tonight’s picks feature two dominant favorites from the East in “should-win” games, so we will be looking at the nuts and bolts whether or not they can cover fairly sizeable spreads tonight against lesser teams.
OK, on to Today’s (Jan 7th) Free NBA Picks:
Miami Heat -7 @ Milwaukee Bucks (Total: 183)
The Heat are on fire, winners of 17 of 18, and tearing through the league like most of us expected them to from Day One. More impressively, they have won 12 straight games on the road. To put that in proper context, if they can stay winless through this upcoming five game road swing they would return home tied for the longest consecutive road win streak in NBA history (1971-72 Lakers). It took Wade, LeBron and Bosh about a month to gel, but now that they have it is hard to objectively say any team in the NBA is better than the Heat.
Tonight they travel to Milwaukee to face the somewhat disappointing Bucks (13-20). Last year Milwaukee captured trendy up-and-comer status as the league took notice of their young talent and evolving All-Star center and began to “Fear the Deer.” This year, as is often the case with surprising upstart teams, they seem to have taken a considerable step backwards. The more important question is why?
Looking at the numbers, there is one glaring weakness; this team can’t shoot. Their FG% is dismal, and their two primary ballhandlers and perimeter scorers both shoot less than 40% from the floor. Ouch. To ratchet up the pain even more tonight, Brandon Jennings is expected to be out of the lineup for a sixth consecutive game.
The real kicker? Miami is the best defensive team in the league by opponent FG% (42.3%). The Heat are beginning to enter “ignore all rules” territory; ignore second games on back-to-backs, ignore being on the road, etc. They just win, and win convincingly. Tonight will be more of the same. I like the heat laying the 7.
PICK: Miami -7
Houston Rockets +9.5 @ Orlando Magic (Total: 206)
Next to the Heat, Orlando is the hottest team in the East, riding in to tonight’s contest on an eight-game winning streak. The Rockets are slumping and playing pretty poorly, losing 4 of 5 the past two weeks. It seems simple then to go with the home team in a romp.
However, I’m going to opposite direction. Orlando is actually a pretty decent matchup for the Rockets, as long as they can keep the tempo at a high pace. Orlando is not averse to getting up and down the floor, so it is entirely possible to see a game in the 210-220 range. The Rockets have guards, led by Kevin Martin’s 23.2 points a night, that can score in bunches and put points on the board with Orlando. Center Luis Scola is the kind of crafty, inside-outside, pump fake, creative offensive big man that can make Dwight Howard work and move him around on the defensive end, creating second chance points and wider driving lanes.
The Magic are clearly a better team, however the 9.5 point spread is a favorable line for a tricky matchup. I like the Rockets with the points.
PICK: Houston +9.5