Most sports fans will have a watchful eye on the NFL Playoffs today and tonight, but NBA Hoops fans will have more than a few reasons to check in tonight as a full slate of quality games unfolds.
This is a fun time of year in the NBA. Over the month before the All-Star game things really start to take shape, the “haves” and “have nots” diverge, and save for a few occasional battles for the final few playoff slots, we have a pretty good idea who’s getting in and who isn’t.
It’s also when the trade rumors start to fly full force as top teams look to acquire that one missing piece to get them over the top and teams that have faded from the playoff picture begin to attempt to move stars nearing the end of their contracts in attempt to get something in return before the star walks during free agency. No team will have their name mentioned in as many scenarios as the Denver Nuggets, thanks in large part to the Day’s of Our Lives Carmello Anthony soap opera that gets more interesting by the day.
The latest rumor has Anthony, along with Chauncey Billips and Rip Hamilton, heading to the New Jersey Nets. With Denver’s recent efforts, including back-to-back blowout losses to the Clippers and Kings, it’s becoming apparent that Denver is not a serious threat to contend with the Lakers, Mavs or Spurs come playoff time. Don’t be the least bit surprised if Anthony is moved before the All Star break. Given how soft the current #7 and #8 seeds are in the East, the Nets could actually still be in decent playoff position, even at 10-26…
It’s going to start getting real interesting the next few weeks with the trade rumors amplifying.
On to Today’s (January 8th)Free NBA Picks:
Indiana Pacers @ Atlanta Hawks -7 (Total: 191.5)
The Pacers looked to be sending the San Antonio Spurs to a season-long three game skid, and pick up an impressive win in the process before a 26-12 4th quarter derailed their hopes and sunk them to a heart breaking 90-87 loss. Immediately after the hard loss they boarded a plane and jetted down to Atlanta to play the Hawks just 20 hours later.
To make matters worse, the Hawks have had the Pacers number, beating them in eight straight dating back to the 2007-2008 season. Indy started strong this season, surprising a lot of experts with how well the team was playing. Darren Collison quickly took to running the team, and Roy Hibbert’s substantial development gave them a legitimate inside presence on both sides of the floor.
After jumping out to a 9-7 start, highlighted by wins over both the Lakers and the Heat, the Pacers have quickly lost steam. They have gone just 5-12 since without a single win away from the friendly confines of Conseco Fieldhouse. Their last trip to Atlanta was just a few weeks ago, a 97-83 loss, and it wasn’t on the back end of consecutive games.
Atlanta is the prototypical four or five seed; the put up a decent record and rarely falter in games they should win. Of their 14 losses only four are against non-playoff teams. Plus, the Hawks are playing well and are well rested, having two off days after their 3-game (all wins) road trip.
I like the Hawks comfortably tonight, with very little concern laying seven.
Boston Celtics @ Chicago Bulls -2 (Total: 188)
This is the marquee matchup tonight, with two of the top teams in the East squaring off in Chicago. Coming into the season, most of the attention focused on the Heat, Celtics and Magic as the three contenders in the West. The fourth team was debatable as to who, and IF anyone else belonged in the grouping. Tonight will be a nice test to find out – plus it doesn’t get much better than watching Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo square off.
Both teams played last night, Chicago losing at Philadelphia 105-99 and Boston trouncing Toronto at home 122-102. Both teams travelled for tonight’s game, so the fatigue factor is pretty much a wash (though the argument could be made that Boston has a little more age in their legs and a little less gas in the tank.) Oddly, Chicago has been excellent on the back end of back-to-backs, winning six of their last seven.
Statistically you can’t have a much more even matchup; both teams average 99.5 points per game. Both teams allow an opponent FG% of 47%, and both teams have been nearly perfect at home (16-2 for Boston, 15-3 for Chicago).
Looking beyond the stats, I like Chicago to come out extremely focused tonight. They will have an energized crowd, excited to see them taking on an elite team after a fourteen game stretch that featured on two playoff teams. The recent loses to Phily and New Jersey are cause for concern, but to me indicate a team that frankly got a little bored. They won’t be tonight. I like the Bulls at home laying the 2.