NBA Picks and Predictions for February 22nd

There are few things in professional sports more automatic than the hometown star winning the MVP in the NBA All-Star Game. Alas, true to form, Kobe Bryant thrilled the Los Angeles crowd with 37 points and 14 rebounds en route to his NBA record-tying fourth All-Star Game MVP Award.

Now if only that success would spill over in the start of the second half of the season, perhaps people in LA could stop their recently-induced panic. The Lakers headed into the break on a three game losing streak that included an absolutely humiliating and inexcusable loss to the pathetic Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Spurs on the other hand might be losing a few games down the stretch. By design. Such is the luxury of having a ten game lead for the one-seed in the Western Conference with less than thirty games to play. Expect Coach Pop to play if smart and safe, and steal as much rest as possible over the final two months of the regular season for his aging stars Timmy Duncan and Manu Ginobili, as well as fragile point guard Tony Parker.

OK, back to regular season hoops, and back to some regular season winners.

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Today’s Free NBA Picks:

Boston Celtics -5 @ Golden State Warriors (Total: 198)

Luckily for the Celtics, nearly half of their team didn’t need to fly cross country for this matchup, seeing as Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo were comfortably in Los Angeles for All-Star Weekend festivities. The rest, though the four did play some in the game, comes at exactly the right time because the Celtics are in a dog-fight the last two months of the season; not only with the Heat but with the now-healthy Chicago Bulls who are a dangerous sleeper at just three games back.

Golden State has proven to be a dangerous foe at home, winning three in a row and eight of their last nine in the Bay Area. The wins weren’t over cupcakes either; Utah, New Orleans, OK City, Denver, Chicago – that’s quite an impressive haul for a team well out of the playoff picture.

Tonight they are getting a full five at home against a Boston team with four players with a All-Star hangover. Boston is a better team, but I like the youthful energy the Warriors can throw at the Celtics. Plus, Golden State can score in bunches, and do it from every perimeter spot, somewhat neutralizing the defensive dominance of Rajon Rondo at the point. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are going to have to work a lot harder than they want to chasing around Steph Curry, Dorrell Wright, Monte Ellis and company.

Gimme the Warriors in a surprise at home.

Free Pick: Golden State Warriors +5 (-115) @ Bodog.com <– $1000 first deposit bonus (click to get it)

Atlanta Hawks @ Los Angeles Lakers (Total: 190)

We keep hearing about how the Lakers are a veteran team that will turn it on once it really matters. If that’s true, we should expect to see a championship-caliber effort tonight, because it is starting to matter. Think of the All-Star break as the final bell signifying the beginning of the stretch run. It’s time for the Lakers to kick it into gear.

For Atlanta, it has been a quiet first half for a team that is on pace with the much more heralded Magic and not too far off the scent of the Bulls; heck the Celtics and Heat for that matter.

History has not been kind for the Hawks when travelling out to the Staples Center (at least when the opponent is the Lakers). They split the season series last year, but the Hawks have lost the past four season in LA – by an average of 15.3 points per game.

I don’t expect the Lakers to be sleepwalking through Tuesday night’s visit. That doesn’t bode well for the Hawks. Los Angeles matches up very well position by position with Atlanta. Atlanta’s best scorer is a small forward, ergo defended by Ron Artest. The Hawks have a good point guard in Mike Bibby, but one who’s game is more cerebral than quicks at this point in his career. Exactly the type of point guard the Derek Fischer/Steve Blake combo can keep in front of them.

That’s been the recipe for most of the season for the Lakers. Quick point guards equal trouble, everyone else, not so much.

Free Pick: Los Angeles Lakers -7 (-110) @ Bodog.com <– Get up to $1000 on sign up for free!

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Chris Scheeren / Author