Friday, October 30, 2009

Bull Market

No sense bemoaning our inability to pull the trigger on a Bulls play that would have been an easy winner, there are far too many games coming up tonight to get distracted by the past. The more important job at hand is to take something away from the short slate of NBA games last night.

For one, the Bulls looked excellent. Tyrus Thomas was extremely active, especially on the defensive end, picking up 3 blocks to go along with a respectable pairing of points and rebounds. If he continues to give maximum effort the way he did last night, Thomas will remain a fixture in the Bulls' rotation, and as mentioned in the preseason, he could turn out to be a monster for both Chicago and for fantasy owners.

Kirk Hinrich looked solid, as well, playing alongside Derrick Rose for long stretches, and putting forth a consistent effort at either PG or SG, depending on who he was defending. Obviously, Chicago was amped for their home opener, but the Bulls were able to corral their emotions enough to make shots and defend without fouling. True, the Spurs were in a classic let-down spot, but with their blowout win the night before over the Hornets, you'd figure the stars would have some energy left. Richard Jefferson was a no-show, Ginobili still doesn't have his sea-legs, and Duncan was forced to carry the team. He was very good, but not enough on the road.

The Nuggets look very, very tough. They took down Utah in a hotly contested game at home on Wednesday, flew to Portland, and held strong against one of the best home teams in the NBA. If the first two games of the season are any indication, look for Denver to be in the mix as one of the top 2 or 3 teams in the West.

Sports Wagering

Bucks/Sixers - We finally get our first look at the Bucks, and not a moment too soon. One of the most underrated teams heading into the season, they play on the road with a total set at 195, and underdogs by 7.5. The Sixers looked all out of whack in their opener, and in classic 76er fashion, are probably going to continue to flounder until all the offensive pieces learn how to work together. Perhaps more disappointing was the Sixer defensive effort, giving up 120 to the Magic in their opener. Still, Philly is a loaded squad, and Milwaukee is a different opponent that Orlando. The Bucks aren't going to hit 16 threes, and they aren't 8 or 9 players deep. I think the oddsmakers have this line right on the money, both the total and the side. If I absolutely had to choose, I'd take the dog and the under, since Milwaukee will have some game-one-road-jitters, and Philly is an offensive mess in the early season.

Knicks/Bobcats - Charlotte couldn't play much worse than they did in their opener, not only posting one of the lowest point-totals in NBA opener history, but losing me an important Top Play wager in the process. Charlotte kept it close for a half, but was outscored 20-2 to open the 3rd quarter, and never got back in the game. Raymond Felton was the only player pulling his weight, and then got his head smashed against the floor near the end of the first half; the Bobcats went to pieces without him. The Knicks weren't much better in their inaugural contest, with Miami letting them hang around for a few minutes, then taking care of business in the second half. As of now, we're seeing a line of Charlotte -2.5, with a total of 195.5. Once again, I think oddsmakers are already getting better after just one game, but with Charlotte's extremely slow pace counterbalancing the Knicks' attempt at breakneck, this game should squeeze under the total, with the fave covering by a hair.

Wizards/Hawks - How 'bout them Wizards? Totally outplayed the Mavericks back on Tuesday for a sweet road win. Arenas looked motivated, and factored in on almost half of the Wizards points. That being said, the Mavs are notoriously slow starters, and oddsmakers know that. Tonight, Atlanta is favored by 7, with a total of 203 - this poses an interesting predicament. Atlanta was involved in an extremely high-scoring game with Indiana two nights ago on their home floor. This seemed to indicate that Atlanta was willing to let their opponent dictate the pace, since the Pacers are the up-tempo club of those two. Tonight, will we see Washington turn this into a higher scoring game, or will we see the Hawks impose their athletic, defensive will on the game? Depending on your answer to that question, you've got your play for the total. Personally, I feel Washington will take a small step back after the strong performance in Dallas, and we'll see a total JUST under 203. I'd take Washington to cover, though.

Bulls/Celtics - The Celtics are huge favorites of 11.5 with a total of 187. These numbers almost beg you to take the Bulls and the Under, which is why I'd recommend considering just the opposite. The Celtics look downright angry this year, smothering their opponents defensively, and thus far, knocking down a lot of open threes. Rasheed Wallace has his laser-radar turned on, as well. The Bulls got a colossal win at home last night against the Spurs, playing with a ton of emotion, and now have to head to Boston for a matchup with the Celts. This does not bode well for Bulls-fans. Chicago's only chance of winning this game is to run the score up, since a slow, grinder favors Boston by a landslide. Expect Chicago to push the ball at every opportunity, and expect their defense to suffer as a result. The easy buckets will add up, and we'll see Boston push 100 points. Keep an eye on the line -- if Chicago gets 12 or 13 points, play Bulls. If the line comes down, consider a play on Boston. Where it currently sits, I'd pass.

Thunder/Pistons - Pistons by 5.5 with a total of 193. Both teams beat down on crummy competition in their openers, but the difference was that Detroit did it on the road. This should actually be a good game. I don't think Detroit has the firepower to pull away from Oklahoma City, but I do think they have the resources and experience to win the game. Both teams realize that the only way to succeed is to play some defense, and I think this game is going to come down to which team can hit a few outside shots. I think the Thunder have a great chance to cover with points, and I think the total has a fine shot of staying under. All we keep hearing out of Detroit is that the new head coach wants to see a tough mentality, and with the addition of Ben Gordon in particular, the Pistons will be relying heavily on extremely slow-developing plays from their starting 5.

Heat/Pacers - Pacers favored by a point with a very high total of 210. The Pacers are just going to shoot the moment they get the ball, so this total is quite reachable, and barring a late 4th quarter collapse, this should be a good game. The Heat aren't going to be running away from anyone on the road, and I fully expect the Pacers to take this game, and cover. In terms of the total, 210 is begging me to take the under, but I'm not a fan. I think this one goes up and down, and let's be clear, when no one is guarded, anyone can score. I think Pacers win this one 108-105, just barely clearing the bar.

Kings/Hornets - I'd say it's pretty clear who oddsmakers think is the worst team in the NBA. Two days after the Hornets got shellacked by the Spurs, they're laying 11.5 points to the Sacramento Kings. With a total set at 198.5, folks seem to think the Kings' porous defense will let the Hornets jump out to a sizable lead and prevail by 12. But let's think this through -- what's the least the LOSING team can score to fall by 12 and still cover 198.5? The Kings would need to get to 94 points (94+106=200), to lose by 12 and still eclipse the total. So, can a team that got thoroughly shut down by the Thunder put up 94 on the Hornets? It's certainly possible, since New Orleans looked awful in their opener, and with multiple injuries and 6 new bodies, this team has zero chemistry on both ends of the floor. This is another confusing matchup, but with the way both teams looked just a couple days ago, I find it hard to believe anyone can win this game by 12. I'd take the dog and with the Kings forcing the tempo, I'd look long and hard at the over.

Raptors/Grizzlies - This is interesting. After Detroit laid a serious ass-whoopin' on the Grizz in their opener, Memphis is still only getting 4 points in this one (after getting just 2 against Detroit). Do oddsmakers really think the Raptors, who beat the Cavs in their home-opener, are just 2 points better than the Pistons? I doubt it. This line is getting extremely heavy action on Toronto, and we'll see one of two things happen here -- either books react to the early money on Toronto and move the line to 5 or 6, or the line holds, and we take an extended look at the Grizzlies. The total in this game is 195, which seems awfully low for a high-octane team like Toronto. The expectations seem to be that the Raptors will put forth a stinker of a performance in this one, and in the words of Lee Corso, "shot their wad" a couple nights ago.

Cavs/Wolves - The Cavs have a target on their back this season for the first time, and so far, they've been blasted twice. The total in this one is at 187.5 with the Cavs favored by 11.5, and the general consensus is that Cleveland is going to take out some aggression on the T'Wolves. Early bettors like the Cavs and the under, and I'm inclined to think they may be right. Still, that's a ton of points to give up on the road. Is Minnesota THAT bad? Maybe. They don't match up well with Cleveland, either. The teams with the best chance to take down the Cavs are the teams that can drag Shaq away from the basket. Al Jefferson is a big, strong kid that plays in the post, and despite his prowess, his style of game does not set up well to exploit the Cavs lack of speed at the center position. This game could get ugly.

Magic/Nets - 199.5 and the Magic favored by 9.5 -- Orlando is getting a TON of respect early this year, and they haven't really done anything to suggest they don't deserve it, raining in outside shots against the Sixers in their 16-point season-opening clobbering. I feel this line is pretty fair, given the Nets stink somethin' fierce. New Jersey built a commanding lead in Minnesota in their first game, then proceeded to melt down in the 4th quarter. This team has a good point guard in Devin Harris, and a solid center named Brook Lopez, but between the 1 and the 5, the Nets are either young, bad, or both. Winning by 10 on the road isn't easy, but if any team can do it right now, it's Orlando. Still, this line is too big to be wrong. I'd avoid the side, and play the Over.

Clippers/Jazz - After a heart-wrenching defeat at the hands of the Suns, the Clippers have to leave Staples Center for the first time (though technically the opener was a Lakers home game), and head to one of the most difficult road venues in the NBA. Despite the unfortunate Blake Griffin injury, the Clippers looked half-decent in their last game, shaking off some poor play in the opener to stay competitive with the high-flying Suns. That's probably the only thing keeping this line in single digits, with the Jazz favored by 9.5 and a total of 202.5. The Clippers are basically a team without an identity, so you'd figure they'll play a fairly high-scoring game with the Jazz. Utah's defense leaves a lot to be desired, but they sure can drop the points. I would avoid this side, though I'd lean Utah to cover, and the over.

Suns/Warriors - Defense? Yello? Not there? Oh well, I'll come back later. No, I guess we can look at it. 227 total and Phoenix by 8. Simply put, the Warriors don't have the firepower to keep up for 48 minutes, but good lord if this game doesn't make your hair stand on end, you need to leave. I don't know if I could watch this game with a wager on it, but as a recommendation, I'd say play the fave and ignore the total. A note, before we move on: Stephen Curry looked excellent in his NBA debut. If the Warriors can unload Stephen Jackson, they could be a fun team to watch. In the interim, they're a collective wet diaper.

Mavs/Lakers - The line is Lakers -8.5 with a total of 204.5. Honestly, the Lakers ARE 8.5 points better than the Mavs, especially at Staples Center. That being said, will the Lakers actually play hard for 48 minutes and cover? That's the real question here. The Lakers have had issues getting up by double digits, then taking their foot off the gas pedal, and I see no reason why that won't happen again. Pau Gasol is expected to return tonight, so they should have no trouble knocking off the Mavs, but much like the game with the Clippers, I think the margin of victory will shrink throughout the early parts of the second half, and the Lakers will indeed win by some value between 7 and 11. Early action is on the Lakers and the Over, but I'm a fan of the opposite for the reasons above. I think the Lakers relax, Phil Jackson continues to give the youngsters additional playing time to make sure the old guys don't get pooped out early in the season, and the Lakers win this one 104-97 or thereabouts.

Fantasy Sports

Only two games yesterday, but I still feel that a fantasy nod must be given to the likes of Tyrus Thomas. He didn't blow the roof off the building, but netting 13 points, 6 boards and 3 blocks in 26 minutes is awfully impressive. His teammate Luol Deng, in game one of a bounceback year, had a great game with 17 points and 9 rebounds. The Bulls will have a rougher go tonight in Boston, but there may be some viable fantasy options on this team, yet.

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