There’s something brewing in the air this weekend and it doesn’t bode well for the big guys. Yesterday ranked teams toppled like dominos are favorite after favorite not only failed to cover, they los t outright. Same thing in the NFL as both underdogs are advancing to the Divisional Playoffs, including the much maligned Seahawks. It was a happy day for anyone who took the moneyline on Seattle’s improbable ouster of the reigning Superbowl Champs.
Will this recent run of upset-mania creep into the Association as well? It certainly hasn’t yet in the East. Boston may have dropped one yesterday (a no-shame road loss to Chicago), but it seems like forever since either of the Florida Superpowers have faltered. The Heat enter on an eight-game run, perhaps more impressively 20-1 with 13 straight road wins. The Magic have won 10 straight and have been simply blowing teams out the door since the big trade.
Out west, I’m not sure the recent shake-up can be attributed to upset fever. More likely, it’s been “injury and tough road schedule” fever that has beset pace setters San Antonio and Dallas the past week. As for the Lakers? Your guess is as good as Phil’s…
On to Today’s (January 9th) Free Picks:
Minnesota Timberwolves @ San Antonio Spurs -12 (Total: 210.5)
The Spurs aging legs finally looked the part over the past week as a brutal road trip seems to have finally caught up with them. Their back-to-back losses in New York and Boston were understandable; the subsequent 3-point miracle comeback in Indy salvaged what could have been a disastrous road trip. Now they return home for a game they should be able to sleepwalk through.
Perhaps that’s exactly why I like the young Timberpups to jump up and give the Spurs a heck of a fight tonight. The record may not reflect it, but Minnesota has actually been playing pretty good basketball the last month. In their last ten losses, only one was by more than double-digits, and five of them came against sure-fire playoff teams.
Kevin Love and Michael Beasley would be All-Stars on a team with a winning record. Heck, Kevin Love would be an MVP candidate on a team with a winning record. The talent, slowly but surely, is beginning to accumulate in Minnesota.
Their weakness is on the defensive end, as is the case with many young teams, giving up an average of 108.5 points per game. That’s a ton. The Spurs on the other hand, have one of the stingiest defenses in the league, allowing only 97.6, but more importantly, averaging a +8 scoring margin.
The tempo should be rather quick, and I think that benefits a young and rested T’Wolve squad. I think San Antonio gets the win, but 12 points is a lot to lay, especially to a hungry young team who has been giving the league’s best teams close games.
PICK: Minnesota +12
New York Knicks @ Los Angeles Lakers -6.5 (Total: 212)
This is the marquee matchup tonight, and it should be played at a blistering pace. Two of the highest scoring teams in the league bring even more zip to this glamour matchup.
The Knicks have been good against the number as well, going 8-4 A.T.S. while the Lakers have been consistent in the underachievement, a dismal 1-8 over the last three weeks.
My concern with the Knicks, as I have mentioned before, is their penchant to play really well against average teams and really average against really good teams. With the exception of their home pounding of the Spurs earlier this week, they have struggled against elite teams. Miami twice, Boston, Orlando; all losses.
It’s a long flight out to the West coast. The discrepancy isn’t quite as dramatic a differentiator as it is in the NFL where teams rarely win when travelling to the opposite coast, but it does have an impact. New York is not an exceptional road team to begin with. The Lakers are not a bad home team. Losses simply ring louder on the rare occasion the defending champs sustain one, like the 19-point hammering Memphis delivered in LA last week.
Taking that anomaly out of the picture, and you can look a long way and not find more than one or two other eye-raising home losses. Los Angeles is a veteran team and the two-time defending champs. They know that the regular season is just that; regular. Some nights it is just on cruise control. But not during the glamour games. Like tonight.
I like the Lakers to play a complete game tonight, on both ends of the floor, and to handle the jet-lagged Knicks with some comfort.
PICK: Los Angeles Lakers -6.5