We took an NBA loss last night as the Blazers and Celtics fell way under the point total, but the bigger loss was the Blazers – not just losing a home game to the struggling Celtics, but losing franchise big man LaMarcus Aldridge for the next 6-8 weeks with thumb surgery. Obviously, had the Aldridge news been released prior to my column things would have been much different; my perception and of course the line, but the larger issue for Portland is how they tread water in the interim. The All Star Break will give them a merciful respite, but they are still looking at about 20 games without L.A. They saw themselves lose four games on the Warriors and allowed nearly every Western competitor to gain at least two games on them during a recent 5-5 streak. It is quite possible the Blazers flounder near or below .500 for the next twenty games. They could find themselves in seventh or eighth position (or, gasp, fending off the Thunder to even make the tourney) in the blink of an eye…
It’s a good Friday slate of NBA action, so let’s move on to today’s free pick.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks -4
The Thunder have been electric their last four games. They are fresh off a buzzer-beating overtime win in Washington. They blasted the Warriors to hand them just their sixth loss halfway through the season, and they have won four straight games.
And as impressive as that week is, nothing compares to the brilliance that the Atlanta Hawks are rolling out every single night. They have won 14 straight games, and have covered EVERY GAME in 2015. No exaggeration. EVERY SINGLE GAME. They are winning and they are systematically taking teams apart. They have five guys averaging in double figures. They share the ball brilliantly. They defend well, they space the floor, they have good size and interior toughness with Al Horford and Paul Milsap. Jeff Teague is going to be an All-Star and Kyle Korver is flirting with the most efficient season of shooting in the history of the NBA, daring to become the first person to go 50/50/90 shooting from the floor, behind the arc, and foul line. They are a breathtaking example of team basketball in perfect fluidity, and as much as I like the Thunder, how can you bet against Atlanta right now?
If you had done nothing more than bet only on Hawks games in 2015, you would be doubling your bankroll nightly. At some point this free ATM will close, but I’ll ride it at least one more night, as four points is a pretty reasonable laydown for a team that has covered by four points or more in nine of their last ten wins. OKC is playing pretty good ball, but let’s not get carried away and say the Washington offensive performance was pretty; it was a lot of missed shots from their two stars but a tenacious toughness down the stretch to come back against a less balanced team. I don’t think Atlanta lets them hang around that close tonight.