Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year NBA RoundUp

Just 3 games, and there's no prayer I'd get this thing done tomorrow morning, so I'm putting it out ridiculously early, with as many thoughts as I can squeeze into it.

Sports Wagering

Knicks @ Hawks - Atlanta by 11.5 with a total of 204. A pretty hefty spread for a New Years game, though I'd say it's pretty safe the say the Hawks are not going to be in good spirits going into this one, and may very well be looking to take out their aggression on someone. Atlanta has already knocked off the Knicks twice this year, once by 13 and once by 7, and not surprisingly, this line falls right in between. I would prefer to back the Knicks on double revenge here, but they're coming off a truly ugly performance against the Nets, and I'm not convinced they're the type of team that can bounce back quick enough to stay close to the high-flying Hawks. Atlanta has been trading off covers and losses ATS, so it's not as though they're clobbering quite as hard as they were earlier in the year, and I do believe this number is a little bit on the high side. I lean to New York on the side. For the total, it might look a little high, given the way the Knicks have been slowing games down lately, and it might very well be a little steep, but interestingly, the Knicks game with the Nets was their first Over in the last 9 games! So it goes to show the players that if they don't play defense, they don't win games. I'm not confident that they'll get the defensive side of the ball turned around that quickly, though at the same time I think Atlanta is ripe to have a little bit of an emotional lull after the two WARS with the Cavs. I lean just slightly to the Under.

Magic @ Timberwolves - Orlando by 8.5 with a total of 205. Another hefty spread, this time for a road team that heads into Minnesota off a second-half stomping of the Bucks. Orlando trailed for a large portion of that game, then somehow managed to win by 25, as they scored over 70 points in the second half, and held the Bucks to under 40. Of course, in that one, the Magic were coming off about a week without a game - that's a slight exaggeration, but the time off left the Magic a little rusty in the first half, but their energy level really ramped up late in the game. I think this could be a very tough match-up for the Wolves, who only seem to be able to compete with the teams they can outrebound. In terms of ability to grab boards, Orlando is among the best defensive rebounding teams in the NBA because of a hefty fellow by the name of Dwight. I really don't like the Wolves chances in this one, and I think this line is pretty sizable for a reason. I rarely like huge road favorites, but I lean to Orlando in this one, since I think this time is right on the cusp of going on a beastly run, and I get the feeling the Wolves made their little push about a week ago. In terms of the total, I think we may very well see the Magic shoot over 50% and score close to 110. My concern is whether the Wolves will get up near 100. I lean slightly to the Over, but it's a weak lean, more of a tilt than a lean, really.

Kings @ Lakers - This line is OFF. For good reason, too. Tyreke Evans and Ron Artest are both probable, but this just won't be a game without Evans. We all know about Kobe's laundry list of nagging injuries (groin, finger, elbow), but he just seems to get tougher every year. More important in this match-up is that Kobe is rolling right now while the rest of his team is seeming to get less and less interested in the regular season. Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum aren't doing much of anything right now, and if it weren't for Gasol, I'm not sure how many of these games the Lakers would actually win. It took 2 overtime periods for the Lakers to knock off these Kings up in Sacramento a week ago, but the Kings are a much, much better team when they're at home, and I'm not sure that coming into LA on New Year's Day after getting beat up by a surging Sixers team at home. This play will depend largely on the line. I think that both teams will be a little groggy, so my favorite play here would be an Under, but obviously we need to see where the line opens up. I also think that grogginess favors the Lakers, since they get the easiest shots of the two teams, and Kobe is immune to, it seems, just about everything. Mike Hook and I predicted the opening line on this game -- thought 10.5, I thought 9, and he's probably right, since I think I'm giving the betting public too much credit with the lower line. We always have to remember that the Lakers are such a marquee team, that almost every line set for them is going to come at a premium, despite the fact that LA has covered just 1 of the last 5 games, and that was, of course, the game in Sacramento. Also interesting, the Lakers have played to 3 consecutive Overs, as their defense without Ron Artest has suffered markedly.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bowling for Buckets, Frame 12

We got one! Sometimes, the key is going back to the basics and just picking the single best game on the card, and yesterday, the Clippers outplayed the Blazers (more aggressive, better shot selection, but missed free throws), only to lose the game but make the cover, and that's all we care about.

Moving forward, the lesson to be learned is that we should never be afraid to make the tough call. Hell, the Sixers beat the Kings for their second straight road win, and making any sort of play on Philadelphia would have qualified for the "close your eyes and click 'submit'" award, as well.

Sports Wagering

Bulls @ Pistons - Pistons by 3.5 with a total of 183. Wow, that is a low, low total, and also, the Pistons and Bulls are being ranked as basically even, and I'm not sure I agree, at least not while Detroit continues to be shorthanded. The Bulls have looked serviceable since Tyrus Thomas returned and since Kirk Hinrich was inserted into the starting lineup, but all of those marginal performances have come at home, where the Bulls are a respectable 10-6. They are 2-11 on the road, though they played 24 outstanding minutes and 24 horrid minutes in their only recent road game in New York. I think we may see a decent game out of Chicago here -- they've been playing much better offensively, and the defense, which was already (we'll call it) "okay" has remained just that, okay. I've been extremely disappointed in the Pistons, but this team is going to have a TON of value as soon as Hamilton, Gordon, Villanueva, Bynum all get their legs back and develop some chemistry with the masking tape and cardboard players that have been holding this raft together in their absence. For now, though, I simply cannot advocate backing this team until we see them turn the corner. Unfortunately, it's tough to know when that's going to happen, and that makes backing Chicago a little scary, since Detroit could "figure it out" any day now. Also, the Pistons don't play again for 5 days, so they might either mail it in or really try to crank out a top-level performance. I think perhaps the value here might be in the total, and I get the feeling that this total is THIS low for a reason. I'm expecting a final score pretty darn close to 183, and I lean slightly to the Under, as I'm looking for a 90-86 victory for the Bulls.

Heat @ Spurs - San Antonio by 7.5 with a total of 195. Tough spot for Miami, rolling into San Antonio fresh off a loss (and failed cover) against the Hornets last night, and when teams go into these back-to-backs in New Orleans/San Antonio/Dallas/Houston or some combination thereof, you can usually get a good idea of how things are going to go by watching the first game of the two. Very, very rarely does a team somehow pull things together in between games and post a monster performance in the second game. That being said, the Heat have been trying to win with defense again, and that is certainly the only chance they've got against the extremely dangerous Spurs. San Antonio is 13-5 at home, they have won 3 straight games (covering all 3), and have achieved victory in 9 of their last 11 contests. This is a team that is getting healthy, especially Manu Ginobili, and his change from 75% to 95% strength is enough to turn San Antonio from a good team to a great one. I don't think Miami has the firepower to keep this one close, and I lean San Antonio to capitalize on the Heat's fatigue for a double-digit win. I also think that Miami suffers on defense first, and I think the Spurs break 100, but I'm just not sure how many points the Heat can put up. I believe 195 is pretty sharp on the total, so more leans to come on this one tomorrow.

Mavericks @ Rockets - Houston getting a point at home with a total of 197. This is already the 4th meeting for these teams, and we're not even in 2010. Dallas won the first two battles, shooting 55% and 65% in those two games. Houston won the 3rd game, holding Dallas to 42% shooting from the field, but still needed overtime to come away with the win. Easily the most interesting note on these games is that ALL THREE have sailed way over the total. 224, 229, 224 are the three totals we've seen so far (of course there was one OT period involved), but these are outrageously high-scoring games, especially for the half-court offense of the Mavs. And yet, here we are, presented with a 197 posted total? You guys know damn well which way I lean on that one. Oddsmakers didn't set this number 20 points lower than the previous meetings without a reason, and that reason is that Dallas is getting healthy bodies back, and they should be able to do a much better job defensively on Houston in this one than last time, and I think Houston is going to really focus on keeping the Mavs from knocking down shots at 50% or higher, so both teams should have an eye on defense first. I also like the fact that this game is basically a pick despite the Mavs being in position to win all 3 games, and settling for a 2-1 mark. I like Houston to win a real battle.

Jazz @ Thunder - Oklahoma City by 3 with a total of 198. How about those Thunder? They just keep rolling, now returning home after a short 2-games-in-2-nights road trip through Jersey and Washington. The Thunder won both of those games, covering both, and this team has now won 4 straight games SU and covered 5 in a row. This is right on that cusp, though, where a team's value is dropping precipitously, but it might be too early to fade a team on a winning streak. The Jazz are coming off a win in Minnesota, avenging two earlier losses to the Wolves, but still a game where Utah had to hold off the Timbercreatures until the bitter end. Utah is liable to be a little tired in this one, and the Thunder are really playing incredibly on the offensive end, averaging almost 108 points over those 5 covers. They are allowing around 100 ppg, as well, but when you're as white-hot as Kevin Durant has been, it almost doesn't matter how well the opponent shoots when you can just roll down the floor and jam. Here, they get a team that may be a little jet-lagged, and it takes an awful lot of energy to defend the various athletic weapons the Thunder can throw at you. I think Durant, Harden and Green have huge advantages over their 2/3 counterparts on the Jazz, but I also think that Boozer should be able to put up a pretty big game. The huge key here is whether or not Russell Westbrook can use some of his strength to slow down Deron Williams. There's certainly no stopping Deron, but even forcing him to work a little harder should be enough to secure a Thunder victory, and the fatigue factor should severely limit the Jazz's ability to crash the boards and exploit the Thunder's weakest spot, which is stopping the "stockier" big men from grabbing offensive boards. Brendan Haywood almost singlehandedly got the Wizards back into that last game. I lean to the home team. I also like the Over here, given Oklahoma's suddenly up-tempo offense and their ability to get open shots earlier in the shot-clock.

Sixers @ Clippers - Clipshow by 2.5 with a total of 196.5. I can't believe I'm saying this, but this game might actually be interesting. Both teams are coming off covers in last night's games, though the Sixers pulled off the upset win in Sacramento, and the Clippers merely didn't lose by much for a Bebe-victory, and a Clippers SU loss. Still, both of these teams are playing, probably, their best basketball of the season, and that's what makes this game so much fun. The Sixers are just destroying over the course of the game, starting slow, but flexing their bench depth in the 2nd and 4th quarters in big wins against both Portland and then Sactown. The Clippers are just starting to play better with the pieces that were already there, but still don't have the fluidity that needs to come with a good team. They outplayed Portland last night -- I watched the game -- they drove the ball harder to the rim, protected their own basket better, but just couldn't hit the big shots, and missed far too many free throws as the Blazers managed to squeeze out a home win. I'm not sure the Clippers should be getting the full home-court advantage in this one, as they are not much better in LA than on the road (in fact, they're basically the same after calculating tonight's game in there). The Clippers are 5-10-1 ATS at home, 7-8 on the road, so not great at either location, but certainly a better bet away. Philly is in almost the same boat: they are actually almost 3 points better on the road than at home, and are 2-12 ATS at home, 10-6 on the road! You want to talk about insanity, there it is right there. This is a huge opportunity for the Sixers to take some great feelings into the new year, and I believe they have the advantage not only in momentum but on the floor. The Sixers depth is better than the Clippers, Elton Brand, Sam Dalembert and Mareese Speights can do a decent job on Chris Kaman, and if Philly can slow down Eric Gordon from the perimeter, I think the Clippers are in trouble. I lean Philly, and I lean Over, as the Clippers managed to push a 202 total across against the defensive-minded Blazers, and now get a lower number against the suddenly attack-minded Sixers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bowling for Buckets, Frame 11 (What Kind of Bowling Is This?)

I feel like I could cut and paste the opening paragraph from yesterday's blog!

Another 1-1 day in the books, another day of small losses with the Free Play winning and the Paid Play losing, which is, of course the one that really hurts.

Oklahoma City came through for us again with a beating in Washington, but the Lakers, despite spending the entire day telling the media their goal was to slow the Warriors to 100 points, went ahead and let Golden State score over 110. I really liked that play with both teams on back-to-backs and the line move supporting our handicapping, but as soon as LA fell behind, they threw defense out the window and somehow won the game despite allowing the Warriors to shoot over 55% from the field!

Sports Wagering

Bucks @ Magic - Orlando by 10.5 with a total of 193. This team has not played in ages! The Magic last played on Christmas Day, so they've had all kinds of time to rest up for this one, a rather uninspiring game against the Bucks. The question is, are they TOO rested? We might very well see the Magic a little out of sync from not playing much, or we might see the tired among them rejuvenated, and maybe Dwight Howard needed a rest. I find it tough to handicap games where one team is coming off half a week without a game. The Magic are, however, coming off that Christmas Day stinker against the Celtics, where they scored but 77 points. This might be a spot where they could look to really take out some aggression on a poor road team. The Bucks have just done nothing lately to inspire confidence, having lost 3 consecutive games, 2 at home and 1 on the road, and none has been close. Milwaukee has been posting FG% numbers in the 30's far too often, and I'm just not sure this one is going to be much different. The Magic have very strong interior defense, which means more jumpshots on the road, a recipe for disaster. Amazingly, I lean to Orlando on the big spread, and I lean to the Under since I don't see the Bucks breaking 90.

Grizzlies @ Pacers - This line is OFF. Yet, we really don't need it to know what to expect. The Pacers stink without Danny Granger, and the Grizzlies have been red, red hot. I wouldn't be surprised to see Memphis as a road favorite in this contest, where the Grizz are 1-0 SU but 0-1 ATS. Still, they missed that cover against Minnesota on the road by 1.5 points, and I don't think it told us much about Memphis. In contrast, the Pacers got trounced in Chicago last night, come home on the second night of a back-to-back, and really couldn't look any worse in the eyes of bettors. Is this a situation where their value is so high that you just have to bet Indy? I don't think so. The Grizzlies have won and covered 4 of 5 games, but haven't been as successful on the road. The Pacers have lost 7 straight, and have been pretty bad both at home and on the road, so no real notes there. I have to lean to Memphis, just because of how bad the Pacers have looked, but the real value in this game might be in the Under. The Pacers are just unable to score right now, and Memphis plays, I'd say, surprisingly decent defense. Let's see where this opens because these two teams have reputations of being up-tempo clubs, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this thing open in the 190's, and the public on the Over. Time will tell, let's get a line and move from there.

Bobcats @ Raptors - Toronto by 5.5 with a total of 195. This is an interesting game, if mostly because I didn't truly remember what Toronto did in their last game before looking it up. As it turns out, the Raptors have quietly won 4 games in a row, covering in all 4, including a home-and-home sweep of the mostly-injured Pistons. Toronto is significantly better at home than they are on the road, and that is presumably why we're seeing a medium-sized spread like this one. This is a clash of two teams with monster home/road splits, where Toronto is 9.8 points better at home than on the road, and the Bobcats are almost 14 points worse on the road than at home. Charlotte just continues to lose on the road, though they have covered a few of those spreads. Is this one of those spots? It's awfully close. I do lean slightly to the home team here to win by 6 or 7, but that might just be too close to call. There just isn't much, if any, value on the Raptors, even though I believe they will win this game without a ton of stress. On the total of 195, I think we have some value on the Under. Both teams have been in a few low-scoring games, and I think Charlotte should be able to defend the Raptors relatively well, I just don't think they'll score.

Hawks @ Cavs - Cavs by 6 with a total of 193. This game is a great rebound spot for the Hawks, and I think there's some value in Atlanta on the ML. The Hawks just got burned by the Cavs AGAIN, this time on their home court, and what's more, Cleveland held the high-flying Hawks to just 10 4th-quarter points! Atlanta will not take kindly to this beating at home, and I expect them to bring every ounce of strength they've got left in tomorrow's contest. It is terribly difficult to beat the same team two times in a row in these home-and-homes, and Cleveland was definitely amped up to play this game on the road and ruin the Hawks' day. I think Cleveland actually used more energy in this game than Atlanta did, believe it or not, and if you don't trust me, go back to yesterday's blog and check out the write-up on that game. All my handicapping numbers showed Atlanta by 3 yesterday, but my gut told me the Cavs were going to dominate, and sometimes you just have to stop crunching numbers and look at a picture of Lebron James. The guy is on a mission, but on the road, the Cavs are at way less of a premium than at home, and the ATS marks show that. Cleveland is 13-6 ATS on the road, and now a perfect 5-0 as an underdog. They do not take kindly to a "+" being next to their name. Now, back home they go as a 6-point favorite, and I think this game could go down to the wire. I also think that the score could be much higher with both defenses a little tired from last night's war. I like the Hawks, and I like the Over.

Knicks @ Nets - This line is OFF. Not positive why. In any case, the Knicks hop a jet out of the snowy mess that is Detroit, Wayne County, and roll back to the eastern seaboard to tackle the hapless Nets. I expect to see the Knicks as slight favorites in this one, and I expect a decent performance out of them, though the back-to-back might be just what the doctor ordered for a Nets cover. I honestly can't believe how terrible the Nets continue to play. They are 2-29 on the season, on pace to lose 70 games, or more! Every day, every time the Nets play, we all keep looking at the team and saying, "This can't really last, can it?" Yet, here we are. Jersey has lost their last 10 games in a row, covering only 2 of those 10, and were actually favored in one of those contests. The Nets' last game was as a 5.5-point home dog to the Thunder, a team slightly better than the Knicks, so I'd wager this game opens with the Nets as a 2.5-3 point underdog. The Knicks don't have any real notable trends on back-to-backs. Yeah, they play a little worse, so maybe this line will open close to a pick because of the fatigue issue, but I think New York on the back-to-back is still stronger than a full-power Nets team. I lean New York for the road win, though we'll see about the line. I think we'll see a fairly low total, and I still lean Under, as the Knicks just keep ratcheting up their defense, and even today managed to squeeze just under the final line. Let's wait and see before we do anything crazy, but those are just a few thoughts about this contest. I really like the problems David Lee can give Brook Lopez, and I think New York has a defensive advantage at every position other than center.

Heat @ Hornets - Hornets by 1.5 with a total of 191. New Orleans returns home off a tough loss in Houston, and the Hornets inability to defend on the road continues. This team is 12-3 at home, and just a miserable 2-13 on the road. They're not terribly impressive ATS in either location, but certainly if they're going to win this one, there's a good chance they're going to cover the spread. A very interesting line, though given the Hornets are returning home on a back-to-back, and the Heat are beginning a quick 2-game, 2-night road trip through N'awleans and San Antonio. Certainly, there may be the tendency for Miami to look ahead a little bit, but I think more often than not when a decent team goes on a fast, tough road trip like this one they are inclined to come together and really put together a nice effort. Miami has won and covered 3 straight games, and 5 of 6, so they're playing good ball, and really dominant defense, and I really feel as though the value here, believe it or not, is actually with the Heat. Chris Paul and company may not have the gusto for all 4 quarters, and despite their strong home performances, I think they may be catching the Heat at the wrong team. Slight lean to Miami. In terms of the total, the Hornets just finished up a very high-scoring game with the Rockets, but amazingly, the game didn't really feature all that many shots. The Rockets just happened to can a ridiculous 12 of 23 long range jumpers, and that's 36 points right there. I think this game could stay Under.

Jazz @ Timberwolves - Jazz by 7.5 with a total of 200. Double revenge for the GOOD team? What the hell is going on here? Minnesota comes home, a fairly long flight back from San Antonio, off a 17-point loss and will try to beat the Jazz for the 3rd time this year in as many tries. This series really seems to be a matchup nightmare for the Jazz, and even after 2 games I still haven't been able to quite put my finger on WHY exactly the Wolves are able to stick it to the Jazz. In terms of matchups, Deron Williams is clearly better than any guard the Wolves can roll out there. My best guess, looking at the old numbers, is that the Wolves have had a slight rebounding advantage, but otherwise, these teams look pretty evenly matched. Hell, the Jazz have shot over 50% in both of their losses, but the Wolves shot 57% and 49%, so they've been no slouches, either. I have to think that this line is as high as it is because not only are the Wolves coming home on a back-to-back, but the Jazz are on double revenge. I find it exceedingly difficult to swallow that the Wolves will beat Utah 3 times in a month. This side is a pass for me right now, given the strange match-ups, and it is indeed a divisional game, but man...anyway, in terms of the total, the two previous games have been totals of 209 and 218, and we're seeing this one at 200? A little fishy if you ask me. If this line makes an initial move to 199, I think we might jump on the Under.

Celtics @ Suns - Suns by 1 with a total of 209. This should be a good one. The Celtics roll into the Valley of the Sun having lost back-to-back terrible games to the Clippers and Warriors. You want to talk about a team ready to release some anger? The Celtics haven't had this much value in quite some time, but the Suns are not going to be easy to slow down here. Phoenix shoots the ball so well at home, and we got a full display of that when they rained 3's down upon the Lakers in their last win. The Suns seem ripe for a slight letdown, even though the Celtics are in town, and the Celtics seem ripe for, well, playing like an underdog, nipping and snapping their way through all 48 minutes. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the Celtics have been an underdog twice, and they're 2-0. Dangerous spot to back Phoenix, but they've surprised us before. Can the Celtics get the energy up for the final game on this road trip, or will they roll over and head home with their tail between their legs. This team just doesn't feel like a tail-down club. I lean to Boston. On the total, Phoenix is going to try to go at 200 mph and Boston is going to try to go 15 mph, and I think this total is pretty close to accurate. I lean just slightly to the Under since I think Boston really works hard to dictate the tempo.

Sixers @ Kings - This line is OFF. Well, how about those darn Sixers? Off a terrible game in Utah, they stomped Portland in the second half at the Rose Garden, and now they take their traveling roadshow to Northern California to meet the Kings. I would expect to see Sacramento favored by 3-5 points in this one, and I honestly have no strong feelings either way. The Sixers are alternating between 3-4 horrid performances and 1 very good one, and I haven't found the pattern. This team is actually slightly better on the road than at home, and I would wager the good vibes they built in the second half in Portland might carry into the first quarter or first half in Sacramento, but those Kings are very, very tough at home, and the Sixers have the second part of a back-to-back with the Clippers tomorrow. The Kings are 11-5 at home, and most people remember their last 2 home losses, which came in OT to the Cavs, and 2OT to the Lakers. If you're going to beat Sacramento in Sactown, you're going to have to do it when they just forget to show up, and I don't see that being the case here. The Kings' next game is indeed with the Lakers, but that's not until Jan 1, so they have a day off between contests. I think this could be a high scoring game more than anything else, I lean to the Over.

Clippers @ Blazers - Portland by 7.5 with a total of 189. Well, LAC beat the Celtics, but that might very well be the high point of this season. Portland just lost to the Sixers in the Rose Garden is a letdown game after the emotional win over the Nuggets on Christmas. Now we see the resilience of this club. Will they bounce back after taking an off day to collect their breath, or will they continue to slide after the long win streak came to an end? Well, with a young team, I usually like to fade them coming off a long win streak. It seems to take more than one day to get the positive thoughts going again, and I think the Clippers might be able to capitalize when Portland comes out sluggish in the first half. Hell, the Blazers might wake up part way through this game, and they could still cover, but if the Clips can get any kind of a lead, that certainly feels good when you can also attach 7.5 points to that underdog lead. That being said, I'm not sure the Clippers have the firepower to shoot 57% for a game like the Sixers did. That looked like it might have been a little bit of a fluke. The Clippers remain one of the poorer teams in the NBA, and easily the best reason for considering LA in this game is because they're only 1 point worse on the road than at home. The only reason to consider Portland is because they would seem to be the better team. It's a tough call, but I lean Clippers, and I lean way, way Under. These teams seem ripe for a total in the 170's.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bowling for Buckets, Frame 10

I wasn't able to watch any of the games last night, as I was due for a prior engagement, but it looks like our Free Choice on the Suns was an easy winner for a half unit, but the Paid Play on the Blazers was a disaster. They led by 6 at halftime, and just stopped defending afterwards, a complete and utter shock. I figured if they didn't suffer a letdown from the Nuggets game that it would show up early, but this was a mind-bender, and I am willing to admit I just mis-capped that one. So, down 1.1 units on the Top Play, up 0.50 units on the Freebies, and we'll just keep rolling along, despite a week of mostly breaking even!

One thing I did notice looking at the box scores is that Jared Dudley is turning out to be the MAN in Phoenix. I thought for sure he'd cool off, but this kid is playing unconscious every single night it seems, and Phoenix management looks brilliant for stealing him from the Bobcats. He's not going in the fantasy notes section because he doesn't play enough minutes to warrant it, but his development as well as that of backup point guard Goran Dragic have been the two biggest reasons the Suns are able to win consistently despite not really adding any especially prominent pieces this offseason.

Sports Wagering

Cavaliers @ Hawks - Hawks by 2 with a total of 193.5. I have this sneaking suspicion that both of these teams win the road game. My capping doesn't come out that way, but sometimes you just get that gut sensation of what's going to happen. In any case, here comes Cleveland, on a truly colossal roll, having won and covered 4 straight games, starting with a victory in Phoenix, then wins in Sactown and LA, and at home over the Rockets in a potential letdown spot. It's not often we get to see Cleveland as a dog, but it has indeed happened a few times lately, and as an underdog the Cavs are a perfect 4-0 for big-time money line ticket-cashing, and I really see very little to make me think that won't become 5-0. I'm obviously not sold that Cleveland wins this game, but Atlanta is coming home off a 4-game road trip where they went a fairly pedestrian 2-2. They're certainly a much better team at home (almost 10 points better in final margin, in fact), but I think this team is showing some signs of slowing just a tad. I still think Atlanta is a very strong club, but Cleveland is playing inspired basketball, especially on the road, and I lean to the Cavs for an outright win. I also think this total could go up and Over, as the Hawks really push the tempo at home, and shoot the ball extremely well in their building. I'm going square beyond square here, but that's how it is, sometimes.

Thunder @ Wizards - Wizards by 2 with a total of 202.5. Two teams coming off a game the previous night. The Wizards lost in overtime in Memphis to the red-hot Grizzlies, and the Thunder dealt out a 16-point ass-kicking to the Nets. The Thunder continue to succeed at both home and on the road against low/mid-tier teams, and the Wizards continue to bounce between looking good one quarter, and looking bad the next. I think this line is pretty sharp in a lot of respects. Both teams are going to be tired, so that cancels out, and the Thunder are the better team, so after factoring in the home court, the Wizards are just barely the fave. I can't help but think the much more stressful OT loss is going to take its toll on the Wizards, who got another monster effort out of Gilbert Arenas, and again couldn't win a close game. If Washington can't win a close game, how are they going to win this one? That's the bottom line; sure, they can keep it within striking distance, but just check out the track record. The Wizards have won 10 games all season long, 3 of them by 5 points or less. The Wizards have lost 19 games, 8 by 5 points or less. That is an extremely telling stat, to go 3-8 in games decided by 5 points or less!? As a point of comparison, the Thunder are 3-4, so they're not playing in nearly as many, but they're close to a coin-flip in a close game. For my money, I'll take the better team with the points in a game that's basically a pick. I like the Thunder to keep rolling, and the Wizards to look tired. I also think this total is too high - I really like Russell Westbrook to give Arenas a harder time than did Mike Conley last night, and I think the Wizards are going to struggle to keep up.

Knicks @ Pistons - Pistons by 5.5 with a total of 188. Do my eyes deceive me? This line looks like the biggest Knicks-trap in the history of mankind. Are books truly telling me that the Knicks are 2.5 points worse than the Pistons on a neutral court? I don't buy that, not even for a second. Something is fishy here, and it smells like snapper. Just look at the numbers. The Pistons have lost 7 straight games; they have failed to cover in 7 straight games; they shot under 30% from the field in one of those games, I repeat, under THIRTY percent! Meanwhile, the Knickerbockers are 3-4 in their last 7 games, and while that doesn't sound all that good, they've been playing some tough competition, and have really upper their defensive intensity. Neither the Knicks nor their opponent have scored over 100 points in any of those 7 games, and this team is showing the ability to score and defend in the half court. Well, the Pistons have some pieces back, so they won't be afraid to play some half-court basketball, and I think this line is a trap. Let's wait and see where it moves off the opening number, but my guess would be we see the public going absolutely nuts for New York, and we'll watch, lie in the weeds, and jump when the getting's good. If this line isn't a trap, this is the greatest value I've ever seen on the Knicks. So really, if we can determine one way or the other, this game is either a Play of the Month on New York, or a one-unit wager on the Pistons to deal the trap-game blowout. I also think this total finally goes Over for the Knicks, now that the public is starting to adjust.

Pacers @ Bulls - Chicago by 5.5 with a total of 190. THIS 5.5-point home favorite line actually looks fair to me. Chicago, going back to the 17th of December, has actually looked like they give a crap, and aside from a 48-minute segment of time that started in the second half of the game with Sacramento and lasted until halftime of the game the following night in New York, the Bulls have played very well. Chicago beat the Knicks, Hawks and Hornets at home, covering the spread in all 3, and the return of Tyrus Thomas is going to drastically improve this team's defense, both on the exterior and near the bucket. This kid is an athletic freak, and truth be told, he's the only really solid high-flying type on this team, so he adds a new dimension to the offense, as well. This team is also a defense-first club, and against a lackluster team like the Pacers, I would expect a nice effort on that end, as well. The Pacers have lost 6 straight games, and they simply look unable to score without Danny Granger to help attack the rim with his athleticism, and fire from afar, too. Indiana, supposedly a fast-paced team, hasn't broken 100 points since December 16th, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them come in with a mid-80's performance again here. I lean to the home team to cover, and I lean to the Under in what should be another opportunity for the Bulls to flex a little muscle and try to salvage the the first half of this NBA season.

Hornets @ Rockets - Houston by 5 with a total of 193. The Rockets return home off a fairly unproductive road trip, losing big in both Orlando and Cleveland, and coming away with a hard-fought win in New Jersey. Make no mistake, this isn't a terribly good spot for Houston. They have played to the Under in all 3 road games, which isn't surprising, as the Rockets are 7-12 O/U on the road, 7-5 at home O/U. So, be careful before jumping on the Under here just because Houston's games have been a little lower-scoring than you may expect. The Hornets have played to 6 consecutive Unders, and if you don't think oddsmakers and bettors are going to catch on, well, wake up. I'm not saying this is the one that goes Over, but just be careful before blindly following trends. The Hornets have really worked hard to slow games down under their new head coach, and they've only broke 100 points this month was a home win (ATS loss) against the Warriors. So, let's say the Hornets do not break 100 -- what are the odds this game stays Under 193. I'd say decent, but I also think this number is fairly accurate. The difference in this game is going to be whether Houston suffers the trademark first-game-home sluggish quarter. I lean to the Hornets despite their road issues, as they are going to be well-rested, and I think they can take an early lead, and keep this game close until the end.

Timberwolves/Spurs - Spurs by 12 with a total of 198.5. That is a sizable chunk of change right there, 12 points, though the Spurs really seem to be playing good ball lately. The Spurs won both games on their recent road trip, displaying solid offense, and even more impressively, solid defense, always the key to a San Antonio surge. However, this is a pretty easy spot for the Spurs to kind of overlook their competition. They host Miami next, so that's a slightly bigger game, and I'm just curious how the Spurs handle a Minnesota team that strikes fear into one club in the NBA, the Utah Jazz. To their credit, the Wolves have won, and covered, 2 straight games, winning on the road in Jersey, and then at home over the Wizards, once again dominating the glass in both wins. That is always the key for the Wolves - can they outrebound their opponents? When they do, they're generally pretty successful, and I think this game will be a test for them. Kevin Love and Al Jefferson do a great job in the paint, but Tim Duncan is the master of getting position underneath, and I worry that he may get one of Minnesota's two big men in foul trouble. Bottom line, I think the Spurs win this game, but I'm just not sure that they can do so by 13 points. There is definitely value on the Minnesota side, but these huge spreads usually get dismissed pretty early in the day. That total looks extremely high for the Spurs, but I think we might actually see this one go up and Over, with the Wolves pushing the pace, and the Spurs a very solid home-shooting club.

Warriors @ Lakers - Lakers by 11.5 with a total of 220.5. A high-octane contest here, to say the least! You think the Warriors aren't happy to have some healthy bodies back in the mix, how about back-to-back wins over the Suns and Celtics. Those were at home, though, and the Warriors are a different bird, a poorer-shooting bird, on the road. This side is just too huge, and I'm not sure I can advocate a play on either side, given the Lakers are coming home off a loss, but with momentum on the side of the Warriors, and the Lakers biggest star battling 3 nagging injuries, and a few other Lakers battling slumps, I just have to lean to the Warriors without getting into all the details. Something to be aware of, though, is that the Lakers have owned the Warriors, going 6-3 ATS against the speedsters from the North. This side feels like a no-play. Then, check out that total. It looks awfully high, and there should be some fatigue in this one with both teams playing the night before and both teams traveling. I lean to the Under, though I often find it tough to play totals when teams like these go head to head. They have a history of Overs, slightly, but this is the lowest total these teams have had in the last 5 meetings, and that has to mean something. Oddsmakers don't make mistakes very often, not on games featuring such a high profile team as the Lakers, and hence my lean to the Under.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bowling for Buckets, Frame 9

I suppose we were due for a little bad luck, and a little bad handicapping. Last night, the Houston play was clearly the wrong one. They just had nothing left in the tank in the second half, and I mis-read the situational angle on this one. I just really felt the Cavs were in a prime letdown spot, and I was wrong. The Denver game I think we got a little unlucky. No, it didn't go to OT, and neither team blew a 35-point lead, but I just can't remember the last time a team went into the Mile High City on no rest, outshot the Nuggets by 10% from the field, and got called for less than half as many fouls, at least until the final 3 minutes of an already-decided game. Just extremely weird, and with Carmelo getting in foul trouble courtesy of mostly Josh Howard's brittle carcass and Drew Gooden, we were, well, F'd in the A.

Sports Wagering

Bucks @ Bobcats
- Charlotte by 4.5 with a total of 185. Another of those home/road team matchups, this time the Bobcats are the good home team, and the Bucks are the terrible road squad. The question in these situations always becomes "can the home team cover?" Well, I'd say there's a reasonable shot at it, though obviously nothing is a sure thing. The Bobcats are an impressive 10-4 on their home court, winning games by an average of almost 6 points, and here they face a low/mid-tier opponent, the types of teams that Charlotte knows they can collect wins against in a potential effort to stay in the playoff picture. Looking at a few of Charlotte's recent home games, going backwards through the calendar, they covered in a victory against Detroit, lost to the Jazz, and covered against New York and Denver before that. They are 9-5 ATS in Charlotte, and they do a marvelous job of forcing turnovers at home and scoring points off of them. The Bucks, 3-9 on the road (7-5 ATS), lose on the road by just 4.2 points, on average, so this team does have a knack for keeping games close, but just haven't quite hit the shots to make them a team to be reckoned with when the 4th quarter winds down. Milwaukee has covered their last 3 road games, so going against them is definitely not an easy choice, and the line on this game seems somewhat low given the home/road splits of both teams. I lean Charlotte on the side, but even the slightest opposing line movement might be enough to keep me off the Cats. The low total suggests a defensive struggle, which also likely means neither team is planning on pulling away. I think this total just barely squeezes Under that mark, but it's an eerily low number, and the value is thin at this point.

Thunder @ Nets - Nets getting 6.5 points with a total of 196. The Thunder are really rolling, and I honestly thought they'd suffer a letdown hosting the Bobcats in Oklahoma City after playing such stellar basketball on the road against the Lakers and Suns (losing a heartbreaker to Los Angeles, but beating then-undefeated-at-home Phoenix), but they didn't! Oklahoma beat Charlotte, and covered, and they've now covered 3 straight games, and 4 of 5, and man, when this team gets hot offensively, they are tough to stop. The sheer number of scoring options with both inside and outside ability (Durant, Green, Harden, Westbrook) is generally enough to give the Thunder the advantage against weaker teams, but they're starting to put some pieces together against some of the better teams, too. This is the front end of a back-to-back for the Thunder, but the back end is against the Wizards, so it's not really a look-ahead spot, and for what it's worth, this team isn't much worse on the road than they are at home. I don't think I need to go into great detail about the Nets; they covered their last game against the Rockets (a winner we were able to cash on), but they're still just not a good team, and I get the feeling they may be a tad overmatched in this one. I lean Thunder, and I lean Under, though this total looks awfully high for the Nets. They just don't score against even marginal defensive teams, and I would put the Thunder in the category of half-decent defensive clubs.

Wizards @ Grizzlies - Memphis by 6 with a total of 203. Washington is really tough to figure out these days. They beat Philadelphia at home, then won decidedly in Milwaukee, but followed that up with an egg in Minnesota, losing by 12 to the lowly T'Wolves. Based on that effort in Minnesota, I'd have to consider this game a play on the home Grizz or nothing at all. Washington plays host to Oklahoma City tomorrow, as I mentioned above, so they may be looking ahead to getting home and playing in front of the friendly crowd, or hell, with their inconsistency, the third string shooting guard might have a mortal enemy in Memphis, and he will inspire the team to play their butt off. But seriously, if you see something in the Wizards that I'm missing, please toss it out there, because this team is just all over the map. The Grizzlies have been tearing teams apart in Memphis, 10-4 ATS at home, winners of 3 straight, and covers in 4 straight home games. They have shown the ability to beat both good and bad teams at home, and a team this young just doesn't seem likely to look past anyone, especially a bad team with good players. One area of concern is that Memphis has been getting caught up in high-scoring games, breaking 100 themselves in 4 straight, and that's why we're seeing this total up over 200. I think this game has a shot of being a poor-shooting contest, with Washington potentially ending near 90 again. I'm not saying I like the Under, but I'd be careful of the Over, if nothing else.

Lakers @ Suns - This line is OFF. You can bet the Suns are going to bring everything they've got in this one, and that's where we need to start when handicapping this game. They've been embarrassed by the Lakers twice, both games in Los Angeles, and both losses by roughly 20 points, and I have to believe they will not take kindly to that fact, nor will the fans. Phoenix is also fresh off a disappointment in Golden State, losing straight up to the Warriors, a taste that the public will likely not forget this quickly, and this actually does create a little more value for the Suns. Also, Kobe Bryant is likely to play through another injury, this time a slight elbow sprain. I just can't expect the Lakers to have the energy for this one after the 2-OT game in Sacramento, the loss of Ron Artest to a concussion, and Kobe's 3 nagging injuries piling up. I think the Suns come out and really give it the old College try. They're outsized by the Lakers, and outclasses, but the Suns are a tough bird at home, and if they can successfully push the tempo, I think they have a nice shot of winning this one. I expect to see the Lakers as 1-2 point favorites on the road with a total near 210, and I lean hard to the Suns and will have more feelings on the total when we see where it ends up.

Nuggets @ Kings - This line is OFF. Presumably, we're working line-less because of Chauncey Billups, clearly a vital cog in the Nuggets offensive machine. And as evidenced last night, if Chauncey is out and Carmelo Anthony gets into foul trouble, the Nuggets are in big, big trouble. Unfortunately, I bit the bullet on that one, but, lesson learned, and on we move to this contest. The Nuggets will likely open close to a Pick, potentially a tiny favorite, and their dismal road run is to blame. Denver has lost 6 straight road games, and no Championship caliber team will ever encounter that sort of stretch when healthy. However, this team is not healthy, so I'm giving them a temporary reprieve. Still, from a handicapping standpoint, this game is a real pickle. The Nuggets are going to be irritable coming off the home loss to Dallas last night, and my greatest fear is that they will finally wake up on the road just in time to take our their aggression on the Kings. Anything more you need to know about Denver, you can pull from yesterday's extensive blog write-up on Denver-Dallas. For Sacramento, they are coming off two of the most heartbreaking losses that I can remember. They took Cleveland to OT, and got skunked 13-0 in the extra period, then they took the Lakers to 2-OT, and got outscored by a hefty chunk in that one. The only way things could get more ridiculous would be a 3-OT loss to Denver, and the odds of that happening are somewhat slim. Still, I think this team is ripe to bounce back. They showed good fortitude bouncing back from the Cavs loss, and I think they'll show good fortitude bouncing back from the Lakers loss. I lean Sacramento to keep playing good ball at home, and I think they win this game straight up, in regulation. I also think we might see a potential Under situation, since these two high-scoring teams will likely get a slightly inflated line from name alone, forgetting that without Billups the Nuggets don't play quite as fast.

Sixers @ Blazers - Portland by 7.5 with a total of 189. I can almost say right here that I won't have a play on the side in this one. Portland is suddenly surging, the Sixers remain a terrible team that actually plays slightly better on the road than at home, and it just doesn't really matter the situation, playing Philly is almost always a recipe for disaster. They are 11-18 ATS this season, and have lost and failed to cover 3 straight games, as well. I believe they are a Morrison "C" bet, as well, so we're likely to lose a full point of value, at least right up until game time. I would not be surprised to see this line make an initial move down from 7.5 on the favorite, then work its way back up as the Morrison bet barrage dwindles in the afternoon. Boy, I'll tell ya, if 'capping wasn't hard enough, they throw these crazy systems in our way, and now we have to worry about how the books are preparing for the influx of money as a result. If we happen to like the same side as the system (like we did yesterday on the Rockets loser), we have to be extra cautious not to get trapped in a bad line. If we like the other side, which I have a very tiny, microscopic lean to in this game, we might be able to snatch the play with an extra point of value! In any case, this line right now is not cheap enough for me to bite on the Blazers, but if the system plays get us down to -6 or so, I might be persuaded into making it a free play, just because we'd be getting 15-20 cents of value, and basically giving ourselves better than 50/50 odds in the long term on similar play. I just can't pass that up, especially if it's a team I like. We shall see. The total looks pretty low, but Portland has been D'ing up like you wouldn't believe. They have gone Over in 2 straight games, but oddsmakers have dropped the totals for the Blazers by a good chunk in this stretch. I lean Under, but only barely.

Celtics @ Warriors - Celtics by 6 with a total of 212.5. How about those scrappy Clippers? If you read through yesterday's blog, you saw how when all signs point to one team, that's usually a good indicator that you should pass on that game. The Celtics were such a powerhouse, and the line move climbed 2 points for them, and the Clippers were coming home off a 6-game trip and they had just lost by 30 to the Suns, and...voila! The Clippers come up with the outright, upset winner over the toughest road team in the NBA. Now, that toughest road team heads to Northern California to tackle a Warriors club coming off a win over the Suns. You just have to wonder how much the short Christmas rest actually did for this severely undermanned team, slowly getting some healthy bodies back, and trying to work them into the rotation. I'm a bit concerned the Celtics use this second half of the back-to-back to take out some aggression, but that 6-point line seems pretty low, given the disparity in skill. The Warriors were 16-point underdogs when they played in Boston back in November, and they covered by a bucket, so a 10-point home/road swing is pretty stark unless the Warriors have improved that much in the oddsmakers' eyes or the Celtics have fallen off, and I don't think either of those claims is true. This line is either too low for Boston because it's packed with value, or it's too low because oddsmakers have a stronger feeling for the Warriors than I do. Golden State plays the Lakers in LA tomorrow, so they're gearing up for a brutal 2-day stretch, and I'm not sure they've got the gusto to hang with either of those teams. Still, there's something awfully fishy about this line, and I intend to get a good, hard look at which way it moves off the opening number. The total of 212.5 should draw public action on the Over, courtesy of the Warriors 250+ point combined effort with Phoenix, but I'm taking a long look at the Under -- I just don't see Boston getting sucked into that sort of game, but hey, I've certainly been wrong before. There are a ton of games on tomorrow's card that just really need further review, which likely means the Top Play will be for 1-unit, and another freebie for a halfer.

Fantasy Advice

Tyrus Thomas - He's back, baby! Grab as fast as you can!

Kirk Hinrich - Supposedly will be playing starters' minutes with John Salmons coming off the bench. Potential to really rack up the steals, 3's, and assists.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bowling for Buckets, Frame 8

Need to be awake in less than 6 hours to get the podcast up and running, so no time tonight for clever witticisms.

We nailed our Top Play last night on the Nets, breaking open the Magical New Jersey Pinata for a unit of profit, before giving back half of it with a Free Play loss on the San Antonio-Milwaukee Under. Still, 1-1 for a profit of roughly half a unit is just fine! If we could do just that every night, we'd be up nearly 180 units in a year, so we should never underestimate a small winning day.

Sports Wagering

Pistons @ Raptors
- This line is OFF. I'm just not sure I can recommend a play on the Pistons no matter who they're playing or the spread right now, as this team is so severely undermanned, they just don't have a chance. They got beat by THIRTY by these very same Raptors in Detroit, and it is very, very difficult to beat the same team twice in rapid succession, but again, I'm just not confident that the Pistons have enough healthy bodies to compete, even in this revenge spot, and an embarrassing revenge spot, at that. I expect to see this line open up with the Raptors favored by 7 or 8, and I still lean their direction. These early Sunday games are often pretty sleepy, especially for the visitors, and with the Raptors not really looking ahead to anything of importance, they should have decent focus in this one, ready to deal out another butt-kicking. The last game between these two teams ended with a total in the 150's, so I actually think there may be some value in the Over due to the possibility of a deflated line. These early games are tough to pick, especially when we don't have a line until about 2 hours before gametime. There are simply better values out there, and I advise passing on this one.

Pacers @ Heat - Miami by 8 with a total of 194.5. Don't look now, but the Heat have quietly won 4 of 5 games, and covered all 4 of the wins, and they've done it with defense. 3 of those 4 wins have stayed Under the total, and not surprisingly, their one loss in those 5 games went Over the total. Here, Miami's defense shouldn't really be tested. The Pacers, formally a run-n-gun team, have taken their foot off the gas pedal since Danny Granger went down, and while their game last night with the Hawks did go Over the total by 5 points, they had previously been on a streak of 4 straight games going Under. I think the public ends up backing the Over in this game because of names like Dwyane Wade and the misconception that the Pacers are still fast-paced. My concern in this one is that Indiana might actually try to run a little bit, as they simply don't stand a chance in a half-court game. I think the tempo should be pretty slow, but if Indy does push it for even 2 of the 4 quarters, we could see this game shoot over the posted total. I still lean Under. In terms of the side, well, it's tough to give Indiana much credit here. They're on the second night of a back-to-back, after losing to the Hawks, at home, by 12, and they have now lost 5 straight games. They might cover, but I'm not willing to advise taking that chance, since the Heat are in perfectly fine position to win this one by double digits. No real lean on the side, maybe just slightly to the home team.

Rockets @ Cavaliers - Cleveland by 8.5 with a total of 194. Tough spot for Houston, and they really made it tougher. The Rockets got out to a quick lead against the Nets, but had to fight right until the end, prevailing over the Nets by just 5 points. They then hopped a plane and cruised into Cleveland, a little worse for their wear, and now forced to deal with Lebron and James' Court. I always find these types of spread swings interesting, though. Houston was a 9-point favorite in New Jersey, and now they're basically a 9 point underdog in Cleveland, a blistering 18-point swing. Excluding the 2 points for the back-to-back spot, is Cleveland really 16 points better than New Jersey on a neutral court? I suppose it's possible, but I can't help but think we're actually getting a little value here with the Rockets. The Cavs have been storming, blowing the doors off opposing buildings on a recently completed 3-1 road trip through 4 tough venues. Because of that, this team has next to no value, and I would say definitively to avoid betting the Cavs in this game as a result of that. If they DO cover, it's certainly not a situation that happens more than 40% of the time. Cleveland is playing in their first home game after the Christmas Day blowout of the Lakers, a prime letdown spot, especially against a Rockets team that SHOULD be tired. On the contrary, I think the Rockets were sluggish against Jersey, and I think they wake up for this one. The Shane Battier Doctrine is being invoked for this one, too. Cleveland has a home-and-home coming up with the Hawks, so they might also be looking past Houston just a bit, and for me, it's Rockets on the side, or nothing. I am slightly concerned that Houston beat Cleveland by 10 earlier this year, so there may be some slight revenge, but I also think that Houston just matches up really well with Cleveland. I think the total should stay Under, again citing the letdown spot for Cleveland and the slight fatigue for Houston leading to a slower-than-expected contest.

Spurs @ Knicks - San Antonio by 2.5 with a total of 196.5. Second verse, same as the first. The Spurs favored by a tiny margin on the road, though this time they're on the second half of a back-to-back, and fresh off a clubbing of the Bucks, shooting 58% for the great majority of the game. There is the philosophy that good vibes can carry over easier on back-to-backs, and that may be true, especially with the big win giving the Spurs' starters a little more rest, but I'm just not sure that 58% can happen two games in a row, not for a team that had previously shown almost no road aptitude for winning. I'm quite pleased the Spurs beat the pants off the Bucks, because I believe that will create more value for the Knicks in this one. I already liked New York, and now with the public likely taking a shine to the Spurs off their win against the Bucks, New York may have a greater edge. My favorite part about this match-up is that the Knicks have been playing good defense lately, and people still haven't quite caught on. They have played to 6 consecutive Unders, and neither team has broken 100 in any of those 6 games. Yet again, we see a total just a shade under 200, and it would feel as though, barring a 99-98 end to this game, someone is going to have to clear 100 points to get us to this total, and I'm not sure that happens. With the Spurs due for a poorer night, coming off the "basket looks like an olympic pool" effort in Milwaukee, and New York enjoying the half-court success, I like the Knicks, and I like the Under.

Mavericks @ Nuggets - Denver by 6.5 with a total of 207. The number one thing to consider for this game is that the Nuggets are simply lethal at home. They are 13-1 when they get to bring unsuspecting victims into the altitude, and a less-impressive-but-still-solid 9-5 ATS mark at home, too. If there's one thing you can say about this team lately, it's that they are a home/road Jekyll/Hyde case. They've won their last 6 home games, and lost their last 5 road contests. So, I just can't advise playing against Denver when they are IN Denver, as is the case here. Can they cover the 6.5, is the real question, since it seems almost inevitable they will beat any team they're not looking past. The Mavs are certainly good enough to draw Denver's attention, but a lot rests on Chauncey Billups, a bit of a question mark. Dallas is coming off a home win (ATS loss) against the Grizzlies on Saturday afternoon, and the back-to-back in altitude is never a good spot. Having the game with Memphis earlier certainly helps a little bit since they won't get into Denver in the wee hours of the morning, but it's just so tough to get the leg strength back up when oxygen is at a premium. The Mavs have been known, though, to come out strong when the stakes are high. They are 10-4 on the road this season, both SU and ATS, so Dallas has surprised a few bettors with road success, a divergence from their usual home-heavy record. I still lean Denver, though, courtesy of the altitude, but not as strongly as if the opponent wasn't such a skilled road team. I like the Under, too, given the altitude and that I think these teams get into a bit of a slugfest.

Celtics @ Clippers - This line is OFF. Not the Boston-LA matchup we want to see, but it's a game, and every game has a winner...except the MLB All Star game, I guess. In any case, this should be an interesting line, if not quite such an interesting game. Well, the initial impression I get is that the Clippers couldn't look any worse in the eyes of the public coming off that Christmas Day 31-point loss to the Suns. At the same time, the Celtics can't look much better to the public, beating Orlando in a defensive struggle without Paul Pierce. So this should be an easy winner for Boston, right? Wrong. Spreads don't work that way, and I'm extremely curious to see where oddsmakers open this line. For the Clippers, this game is their first home game since December 14th, so there is liable to be some sluggishness for the home team, but for the Celtics, there's just no way they take this game seriously, and they also have a high-octane match coming up tomorrow with the Warriors in Oakland. Not that it's a look-ahead spot, but you just know the Celtics are going to try to do away with the Clippers without using all their strength, maybe save a little for the next one, and the emotional letdown after Orlando could very well rear its ugly head. Damn, if Boston isn't a terribly tough team to fade on the road, though. The Clippers are not a good home team, and Boston is 13-1 on the road. Everything here seems to line up for Boston, and the opening line and the initial move will tell us everything we need to know about this game. I think we'll see a total in the high 180's, and I lean Under, believe it or not.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bowling for Buckets, Frame 7

What a fine Christmas Day!

Before folks in Hawaii were awake, we hit the free 1-unit play on the Under in New York-Miami, then once everyone was starting to tune in, we nailed our FIRST 2-unit selection since becoming a Pro. All in all, a day I enjoyed very much, but now it's over, and we need to put those units/dollars in our pocket and get set for today. If we lost a million bucks or won two billion yesterday, it's irrelevant now, and we've got the 26th of December to look at now.

How about that Brandon Roy, too, eh? 41 points in his return from a shoulder injury to lead the Blazers to their 4th straight win against a quality opponent. Is this team finally figuring things out? Their defense has been outstanding over this short winning streak, and it does always seem to come back to that for Portland. I'll be honest, I'd love to see them lay a nightly beatdown, but I'm not sold on them just yet

Sports Wagering

Grizzlies @ Mavericks
- Dallas by 8 with a total of 200. I think this line underestimates the Grizzlies, as Memphis has actually been playing solid basketball. They are 7-3 this month, both SU and ATS, though admittedly, the great majority of the damage Memphis has done has come at home. Still, garnering 8 points is a nice chunk. Memphis matches up pretty well with Dallas, as the Grizzlies have a slew of wing scorers, and two decent big men that can, if nothing else, compete with Dampier down low and make Nowitzki work on the defensive end. Those solid match-ups showed themselves in a 16-point beating the Grizzlies laid on the Mavs when Dallas went into Memphis as a 6-point favorite. So now, a few weeks later, Dallas is just an 8-point favorite at home, and it's clear the Grizzlies are starting to get more respect, if still maybe not quite as much as they deserve. Dallas has a contest tomorrow in Denver, which can be interpreted a few ways. For one, they know how hard it's going to be to fly into Denver late and take on the Nuggets on short rest and will try to make sure they get a win the night before...OR...they might be looking ahead slightly. No matter how you cut it, I would need a few better reasons to take Dallas before I'd consider them. I lean Memphis on the side. For the total, I find it hard to believe either of these teams will be fully sharp coming off a day of gorging and family-time, so I lean slightly to the Under.

Hawks @ Pacers - Atlanta by 7 with a total of 203. The Hawks are going to be staring down the barrel of quite a few hefty spreads going forward, home and road, and if they're to continue pounding books at their current rate (a ridiculous 20-8 ATS), they're going to need to win in blowout fashion almost every time. Here, they're laying 7 points on the road to the undermanned Pacers, coming off a 20-point loss in Denver on the second night of a back-to-back. That, unmistakably, was a bad spot for the Hawks, and the road can only get easier from the altitude issues in Denver. Interestingly, the Hawks opened the season with an 11-point home win over the Pacers, so there may be some slight revenge in Indiana here, but I just can't trust the Pacers. They are without their top dog, and while they have covered 5 of their last 8 games, they've lost 4 consecutive contests straight up, and I just don't think they can compete at the same level as the Hawks. It's another after-Christmas game, so it's tough to know exactly how teams are going to respond to the Holiday off, but my guess is that the Pacers play a decent first half, but get run down late, and the game will end pretty close to that mark of 7. I lean slightly to the public darling Hawks, but doubt I'll have a play on this one. The total is high; Indiana is not running and gunning like they did with Granger, and they might fail to break 90, so buyers beware on that Over. I lean slightly the other way, to the Under.

Rockets @ Nets - Nets collecting 9.5 points at home with a total of 196.5. Amazingly, I really like Jersey here. This number is huge for a road team, especially a Rockets squad that has consistently struggled to cover against teams with skilled big men, and that is basically all the Nets have at this point. I think we see a monster game from Brook Lopez in this one, I think Devin Harris and Aaron Brooks do their fair share of sprinting, and I think Shane Battier will shut down Chris Douglas-Roberts. Still, a home dog of almost double digits, I have to look to that dog, even if it's the Nets. I admit, it isn't easy to suggest such a play, given Jersey's 8-21 ATS record, covering just 1 of their last 8 games, but that spiraling ATS record will only continue to add value to this team, and with both clubs coming out of the Holiday break (neither played on Christmas Day), I think the Nets can take advantage of some potential ham/jet-lag on the part of the Rockets and get out to a small lead, then hang on to cover late. The total looks pretty sharp to me, since the Nets will have to score a few points to cover, but I would lean just slightly to the Under, since I cap this game to end with Houston in the high 90's and the Nets in the low 90's for a total right around 190 points. More to come on this one as we see some line movement, and while I work on building up the courage to take a shot with the Nets. By the way, Houston has a game tomorrow in Cleveland with Lebron - look-ahead spot, anyone? Hah!

Hornets @ Bulls - A pick'em in Chicago with a total of 188.5. Christmas is over so I can say "oy veh" to the Bulls. They are really a head-scratcher. A team will all kinds of talent, coming off a fantastic run last year, and even a decent start to this season, has just imploded, and the most recent tragedies are the blown 35-point lead to Sacramento (at home!), then going into New York and scoring 30-someodd points in the first half there. So over 4 quarters, the Bulls scored under 70 points. They did put together a better second half in New York, and that, believe it or not, is why I'm actually giving Chicago a second look in this one. They're still 8-6 at home even with the recent struggles, so the Bulls could potentially show up and play, and I would think we see a nice effort from Derrick Rose in this one, going against the best point guard in the NBA, Chris Paul. Will that be enough? I'm not so sure, given the way the rest of the Bulls have been competing (with the possible exception of Joakim Noah), but I think Chicago will at least put some effort out there. The Hornets come to town off two straight ATS losses, but they have won 3 of 4 games straight up, so they may be at a slight betting premium courtesy of Chris Paul's return from injury. I lean slightly to the Bulls, since the Hornets are garbage on the road, just 2-11 this year away from home. Also, take a look at that total; it's down in the 180's, which tells me oddsmakers are finally starting to adjust to the Hornets lower-scoring games under their new head coach, and the Bulls, well, just can't score. I still lean Under, and when we find out where the public is going with this one, that lean might very well get stronger.

Wizards @ Wolves - This line is OFF. Let's use this one as a testing ground. First, taking a look at Washington, the Wizards have actually been playing much better, and it comes back to Gilbert Arenas. People have forgotten that before this kid missed much of the last few seasons, he was one of the most electric, dangerous scorers in the entire NBA, and it's starting to look like Agent Zero is getting his legs back. Of course, just when he was starting to dominate, he had to leave the last game with a bruise, and apparently unloaded firearms were recently discovered in his locker. These distractions definitely concern me. Still, Washington SHOULD be better than they've been, so keeping an eye on this team for value is the way we should operate. I think this game opens as close to a Pick, with the Wolves coming off a road win over the Nets, and the Wizards coming off a road win over Milwaukee. I lean Washington, but let's wait and see the line on the side. I think we'll see a relatively high total, and I still lean Over, as both of these teams are scoring the ball better, and the Wizards only recent Under came in the second half of a back-to-back when they got positively run out of the building down in Phoenix.

Bobcats @ Thunder - Oklahoma City by 5.5 with a total of 188.5. Charlotte puts their awful road record on display in a trip to the surprisingly tough confines of the Thunder. I'm not sure I can make a strong argument to take the Bobcats, but I can sort of try. Charlotte is a disastrous 1-12 on the road, and while they have covered a few road spreads (8-5 ATS), I believe you are playing with a bit of fire to constantly take a team that is going to lose SU, but barely cover. Those are coin-flips to me, and a 50/50 proposition will eventually lose you money. The Bobcats are coming off a home beatdown of the injury-plagued Pistons, and have actually covered 5 of 6, but this feels like a rough spot for them, coming off a Christmas Day off and having to travel. I suppose we'll see how they handle this type of situation, and truth be told, this game is a tough one to take either side. I can't in good conscience say the Bobcats are going to play well on the road, and I can't in good conscience say the Thunder won't have a bit of a letdown after playing the Lakers and Suns extremely tough on the road, and coming away with a 1-1 record in those two games. The "value" is with Charlotte, but man oh man. I GUESS I lean to Charlotte, and slightly to the Under, since the Bobcats aren't going to be winning an offensive battle with the Thunder.

Spurs @ Bucks - Spurs by 2 with a total of 193.5. Tell me this line doesn't look too easy for San Antonio? Still, I'm not sure a Spurs/Bucks game is going to be set up for a trap, but tiny home dogs like this are often letdown spots for road teams. So, then we look to the situational spot for San Antonio. They play tomorrow in New York, which isn't really a look-ahead spot, but the back-to-back scenario might be in the back of the Spurs mind, and Popovich may have to play his older guys a little less in the first game to keep them fresh for the latter half. Also, we know all about the Spurs' road woes; they're 12-5 at home, just 3-6 on the road, and yes, that's something of an imbalance of games, so the Spurs are due for some tough road games. If this was that long road trip, I would be more hesitant to fade them, since teams usually find a way to bond on long road trips, but this is just a 2-gamer, and I think the Spurs might look past both games because they can. I lean to Milwaukee, who continues to impress at home, and have some value because they got whooped by the Wizards in the game before Thanksgiving. I'm not sold on either team, so don't get me wrong in the confidence on this one, but the Bucks have been covering (6-2 ATS) games lately, and I think we have some value fading the public, likely backing the superstars in this one. I also like the Under, as with a full compliment of players, the Bucks are settling back into a half-court style of game, and the Spurs can't shoot to save their lives on the road.

Sixers @ Jazz - Utah by 8 with a total of 205. I look at this matchup, and I see a few reasons to like the Sixers, believe it or not. First, the Jazz return home in this game from a 5-game road trip through the East, so there is definitely going to be a road-trip hangover, as well as a Christmas hangover. Second, the Jazz are coming off one of the ugliest games I can remember, an 80-70 loss at the hands of the Miami Heat. Third, the Sixers are one of the rare teams in the NBA that is actually better on the road, and by almost 2 points, amazingly. Philadelphia is bad, make no mistake, and the 7-21 record on the season is a fairly reasonable indicator of that; but we're a gambling site, and we care about handicapping this team for this game on this day, and a few numbers jump out. Philly has basically the same record at home as on the road (off by just one outcome -- 4-10 vs. 3-11), and as mentioned above, this doesn't appear to be a fluke. Because of this strange home/road split anomaly, this team is a great home fade and a perfect road back. They are 2-12 ATS at home, 9-5 on the road! I simply cannot advocate backing the Jazz in this letdown spot, facing a team that should probably be getting fewer points from the Jazz in Utah than they would in Philly. The total also looks too high to me, with the Christmas layoff playing a role in this outcome, as well.

Lakers @ Kings - Lakers by 6 with a total of 207. I'd almost tell folks to look at the money line in this one, except that the damn Lakers had to go and get blown the hell out of their own building by Cleveland last night. I was really, really hoping to see the Lakers beat the Cavs, and cruise into Sacramento riding high, and instead they head North embarrassed and irritated; not a good combination for those of us looking to fade Kobe Bryant. I still think the Kings are the value play here, as the Lakers almost always (at least when the Kings were even marginally talented, which they were not the last 2 years) have trouble in Sacramento, and in Portland. Those have historically been the places where the Lakers have to really work to get it done, and here we see the exact same line as the Cavs' game in Sacramento. Yes, the Cavs won that game, and covered, but it took an absurd 13-0 OT skunking to somehow ruin the night for Kings-backers such as myself. I know sometimes it's tough to go back to the well, but this may be one of those times. The Kings, despite the OT meltdown to Cleveland, are still one of the most dangerous home teams that folks still aren't talking about. Hell, the Kings are 10-4 at home, 9-5 ATS! This team is skilled, and in the absence of Kevin Martin, Tyreke Evans has stepped up and shown that not only is he in the running for Rookie of the Year, he's also a born leader, and I expect Sacramento to be amped up for this one. My biggest fear as a Lakers fan is that they will forget about the defense that got them to where they are just because they lost one game, and I think Sacramento scores the ball at will, and I think this game has a great chance to go Over.

Suns @ Warriors - Warriors getting 3 at home to the oddly well-rested Suns with a total of 234. You are absolutely seeing that number correctly: two-hundred and thirty-four total points. I advocate a play on NEITHER the Over nor the Under. This game has the potential to hit 260, but it might very well show both teams getting tired and end at 225. I really could not come up with a consistent value for the total no matter how many ways I looked at this game. The Warriors are certainly the lesser team, but the concern here is that the spread is awfully low for a Suns team coming off a drubbing of the lowly Clippers, and clearly playing with an extra purpose after suffering back-to-back home losses to Cleveland and Oklahoma City. I fear the Suns right now, flat out. They're still just 8-9 on the road, which does leave me a bit confounded on picking a side in this one, and the total may be a tad inflated because of the two teams involved. Phoenix also has a date with the Lakers, this time in Phoenix, on Monday. Meanwhile, the Warriors have lost 7 straight games, covering just 1, the most recent game in New Orleans, and it looks like the short bench and is starting to come into play. The starters look gassed by the 3rd quarter for the boys from Oakland, and this game in particular is going to really test their energy level. The Warriors host the Celtics next, but when you're a team this bad, you're not really in a position to "look ahead" to anybody besides the team you're about to play. My concern with leaning Phoenix is that the side looks too easy, and my concern with leaning to the Under is that it looks too easy, as well. More to come on this one, but you can see my ultra-weak leans on this game that might feature 2 stoppages of the action, 4 foul shots, and 250 points.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bowling for Buckets, Frame 6

I don't ask for much for the Holidays, and perhaps this was Santa's way of putting a little lump of coal in this little Hanukah-celebrator's stocking, but couldn't the Sacramento Kings score ONE point in overtime? Sheesh! Wednesdays might become my new Festivus Day of Rest, because they have just not been kind to me. Fridays, however, as we're looking ahead here, have been just fine and dandy.

Anyway, was a fun day of basketball, highlighted by J.R. Smith knocking down TEN 3's in the Nuggets rout of the Atlanta Hawks -- you want to talk about the definition of an explosive NBA player, that is your guy. If he has really calmed down and turned his life around following the tragic DUI-related death of his close friend, Smith could really be a huge piece for the Nuggets late in the season, and a prize on the free agent market when that situation presents itself. What can I say, though, I'm a sucker for a guy getting his life straightened out. It's what makes me wonder what might have been with Chris Henry, and celebrate the triumphant return of Ricky Williams.

Oh, and California Golden Bears, you have disappointed me once again. I didn't bet on you - I knew better with the way you've treated me ever since Aaron Rodgers left for the NFL. I know Cal is all about class and making the kids actually get an education and all that stuff that makes me proud, but after that clunker, the "Tedford's teams do quite well in bowl games" line has run its course. Win a big game next year WHEN IT COUNTS!

Sports Wagering

Heat @ Knicks
- Knicks by 1 with a total of 199.5. Christmas Day action gets under way with the less thrilling noon game in the Big Apple, with the suddenly decent Knicks favored by just a single point to the Heat. The Knicks are coming off a crazy cover against the Bulls, blowing a 22-point halftime lead before managing to shoot 4 free throws in the last 3 seconds to push their lead back up to 7 points for the cover. The Heat, meanwhile, are coming off one of the ugliest games I've tracked all season in a 80-70 win over the Jazz, a game that Utah clearly wanted nothing to do with. This is a tough spot to handicap, since both teams are coming off a cover, and it's important to see how the public reacts. My guess is that we'll continue to see the public enjoy the splendors of Dwyane Wade, and I think this line might very well flip sides. These Christmas games have lines out nice and early, and I think the public money should have a greater-than-usual impact on the line move. In terms of the side, the Knicks have rattled off 8 wins in December after just 3 wins the rest of the early season, and they're 4-2 as a home favorite (3-3 ATS), so not much to pull away there. I believe there will be very little home court advantage in this one; it's an early game, fans usually won't be as rambunctious at noon as they are in the evening, and I think the Knicks lose some of their home court edge. The Heat are also just as good on the road as they are at home, so I expect them to bring a solid performance. Just like I expect the public to do, I lean to the Heat. The total of 199.5 feels outrageously high with Miami coming off this 150-point disaster with Utah, but even with this Under, Miami has gone Over the posted total in 6 of 8. The Knicks have gone Under in 5 straight, and because I think this line is reliant on New York dictating a hyperactive tempo, I think the Under has some value, though I'm not happy the Heat played such a low-scoring game with Utah - that is going to drive some other bettors to the Under, and probably move this line accordingly.

Celtics @ Magic - Orlando by 2 with a total of 193. Boston gets their revenge...maybe. The Celtics as a road underdog is an interesting scenario that we haven't seen (and won't see) much of this year. They're 1-0 SU and ATS as a road underdog this year, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see that move to 2-0. There isn't really "value" in this game, per say, given that both of these teams are among the elite, and are probably among the top 2 or 3 in terms of marquee status. The public usually sides with the Celtics, and they may very well do so again. Boston has been the great destructor on the road this year, 12-1 SU to this point, and even though they're just 7-6 ATS on the road, a SU win in this game is an ATS win, by default. Orlando continues to be solid, as well, at 21-7 on the season, 11-2 at home, but they really haven't been covering much lately. Orlando is 2-4-2 in their last 8 games, playing a little sluggish before dunking on the tired Rockets in their last game. They'll certainly be awake for a game with Boston, and they have been playing the Celtics tough. I expect Boston to play their asses off in this one, and I expect a close game decided in the last 4 minutes. 5 of the last 7 games in this series have gone Under the total, and I think the misconception about this Christmas game is that someone is going to outscore the other, but these two teams almost always end up in slow, playoff type struggles. I think the best play on this game is on the Under, but I lean to the Celts, as well.

Cavaliers @ Lakers - Lakers by 4 with a total of 195. I might very well piss myself waiting for this game to get going. How can you not be excited by this action? How can you really handicap the madness, too? Fact of the matter is, the Lakers are the better, deeper team, with a young big man named Bynum that is going to be all amped up to play against the real Diesel, and I think he's going to be the X-factor in this game. Lebron is probably the toughest man to guard on the floor, Kobe is going to score like crazy, Mo Williams has a clear advantage over Derek Fisher, but Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Bynum should really help limit the Cavs easy buckets. Let's be honest here, J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao don't stand a chance against the Lakers frontcourt. Situationally, though, you know the Cavs aren't going anywhere, and that's why I think Bynum could be the difference. He can get make Shaq work at both ends of the floor, and he can protect the rim with Gasol from everyone except Lebron. His length should be an outstanding tool, and the Lakers have been winning lately without Bynum playing very well. His resurgence in this game, inspired by playing against one of his idols, Shaq, will be just what the Lakers need to pick up a 7 point win. I also think this game stays Under the total - no way the Cavs try to force the tempo, or they'll get slaughtered. Cleveland is going to try to keep this thing as a possession game, and with the giant, powerful Lakers playing stout defense this year, I don't think they'll be all that opposed to a slower game.

Clippers @ Suns - Suns by 9.5 with a total of 210.5. This is a pretty bad spot for the Clippers, coming to town following the Suns losing at home to both the Cavs and the Thunder. I just don't think the Clips have the firepower to keep up, not when Phoenix is going to be gunning for a win with all of their might. Phoenix fell to 10-2 at home after the loss to Oklahoma City, but they are still a force to be reckoned with in their own building. The Thunder had the pieces to play with Phoenix -- left open, Kevin Durant is a machine, and Jeff Green, James Harden and Russell Westbrook are all ultra-athletic and just the type of players that give the Suns fits. I wrote in the blog entry that the Thunder are going to switch on defense constantly, which is precisely what gives the Suns trouble, since they rely on Steve Nash running pick and roll situations on almost every play that isn't a fast break. When the defense can just toss another 6'4" monster on Steve, and move another 6'6" forward onto Amare Stoudemire, it really forces the Suns to work extra hard to get an open shot, and have less energy for defense. More than anything else, all those switches usually lead to offensive rebounds for the Suns (when a tiny guard gets stuck on a big man), but with the Thunder and their seemingly endless supply of wingmen, they were able to continue boxing out and limited the Suns to just 8 offensive rebounds. Now, in this game, the Clippers don't have that luxury. If Baron Davis gets caught on Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash can run circles around the likes of Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby; if Nash kicks to Jason Richardson and the Clippers run a man at him, the basket is likely to be left mostly unguarded. I think we see Phoenix shoot over 50% in this game, more than good enough for a win, and I think they cover if but barely. Probably not a strong enough to lean to make it a play, but I do like that Phoenix is coming off a pair of losses and might not be such a darling. That total, by the way, is awfully high considering the way the Clippers score -- they average just 95 ppg, but let's see how this line moves before taking a stand, we might see some run n' gun out of LAC.

Nuggets @ Blazers - This line is OFF, and the people of Portland are throwing themselves off of ledges in disgust. I hate to say it, because I'm not usually the type to call for someone's head, but the lead Athletic Trainer in Portland may want to consider stepping down. I don't know if he's not feeding his guys their requisite portions of matzah ball soup, but both of the Blazers centers are down for the count, Brandon Roy's shoulder is in a bad way, Travis Outlaw is still out, and the injuries have just piled and piled. Give the Blazers credit, though, they battled, and won the last 3 games of a grueling road trip, including the 4th game in 5 nights in San Antonio, the day after winning in Dallas. I don't like that they have a day to think about this one, though, since the loss of half their roster might have time to sink in. I am a bit afraid to make a play in this game, given that we may see Portland rally around some youngsters and win with defense for a few nights, but the total will likely intrigue me, as the Nuggets' high-fly act might push the number up a few notches, and we might be able to get some value on the Under. In fact, without knowing the number, I can already say I like the idea of an Under. Portland knows that without all their pieces that have zero chance of winning a shoot-out with Denver, so every possession in this one is going to be excruciating, and if Portland can keep the total possessions in the 60's or 70's, that would be optimal, relying on a lot of isolation plays with Aldridge to get some buckets. It's going to be a tough game, but I think we'll get some value with the Blazers and Under, and we can certainly discuss this one more as the time approaches. It is, after all, the night game, and it's not even Christmas Eve on the West Coast yet, as I type this!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bowling for Buckets, Frame 5

It took a little bit, but a good day was on the horizon. It's weird sometimes, that feeling you get. Monday, when I was passing out from exhaustion, and typing about how delirious I was, I said that I really felt good looking at Tuesday's card, and sure enough, the paid play on the Thunder was a winner, the free play on the Knicks was a winner, the podcast play of the day on BYU was a winner, and the Prop of the Day on Russell Westbrook was a supremely easy winner. Now, setting myself to proving it wasn't a flash in the pan in a cold streak, but instead, a sign that I'm settling back in after a few post-Pro transitional speed bumps.

My "water cooler" note for the day is that I think it's time the league cut bait with Nick Collison. His line last night: 1 point, 1 rebound, 6 fouls in 12 minutes. Shawn Bradley, anyone?

Getting a nice, early start on tomorrow's 10-game NBA card, as Pacific time basically precludes me from writing the blog in the morning. Of course, I can also stay up to watch the end of every game, which is a rare and unique pleasure that I have missed like crazy over the past year in the Mitton.

Sports Wagering

Rockets @ Magic - Magic by 8.5 with a total of 200.5. Look at all those points the Rockets are getting, and I'll tell you the reason why in two words: Dwight Howard. The Rockets do not guard big men well, at all, as Luis Scola is the team's best big, and he's not a back to the basket type of guy. This is one of the hugest swings you'll see in spreads all season long, I would think. The Rockets were 8.5 favorites to the Clippers at home in a 9-point win, and now 8.5 point dogs here, a swing of 17 points! Are the Magic 11 points better than the Clippers on a neutral court? I don't think so, which means either we're getting a monster value with Houston here, or we're trying to get decoyed into buying the Rockets and the points. I am a tad concerned that the Magic have a Christmas game lined up with the Celtics in Orlando, so they may be tempted to look ahead, and that makes this line seem large, but with the Rockets having to travel a fair distance off what turned out to be a pretty tough game with the Clippers, they will be more tired than usual, and looking forward to getting a few days off before a date with the Nets. I lean slightly to the Magic, since I think this line is this high for a reason, and I lean to the Under since I don't see Houston playing a good game, and Orlando has been getting caught in some slower games of late.

Wolves @ Nets - Nets by 3 with a total of 199.5. Well, if this isn't a stinkbomb in the making. The two worst teams in the NBA finally get to meet, and I only hope it doesn't tear a hole in the fabric of space and time. New Jersey is also a favorite for only the 3rd time all season long. They have a serious advantage in this one, though, as Minnesota had to finish up getting shellacked by the Hawks late Central time, then had to fly east into what may still be rather unpleasant weather, and face the Nets an hour earlier than they're used to. Still, how can you really make an argument for either team? The Nets are 2-26 this year, 8-20 ATS, and losers of 3 straight, both SU and ATS. The Wolves are 5-24, 14-15 ATS, and are 3-9 this month SU. That being said, the Wolves have covered a fair share of games in December, managing to keep a lot of their losses reasonable, and actually beat a hot Sacramento team back on the 18th. I'll be very curious to see where this line goes and which side the public takes, though given the track record, I simply have to lean to Minnesota, despite the fatigue. I also think this total looks extremely high, and even though I think the public will bet the Under, I lean that way as well.

Raptors @ Pistons - This line is OFF, and Pistons games might just stay off until someone gets healthy. In the meantime, they are just so horribly outmanned and outgunned that they make it awfully tough to consider a wager on Detroit. Of course, that being said, Toronto is a bad, bad road team, and their complete lack of defense might be just what the doctor ordered. The Pistons lost and failed to cover in Charlotte, so this is indeed the second half of a back-to-back, but I don't think there's much farther the Pistons can fall. They just need healthy bodies now, and they're not getting any. The Pistons have lost SU and ATS in, now, 5 straight games, so there is certainly some value with Detroit, and I would not be at all surprised to see early money come in on Detroit. The Raptors have won, and covered, 2 straight games, but those have been home contests against the Nets, and against the Hornets on Sunday morning, which creates some additional value with the Pistons. This is also a home-and-home, and if indeed Toronto plays Detroit tough in this one, we might see a letdown in the next one, though we'll deal with that if/when we have to. I expect to see this game as close to a pick, with a total in the mid-190's.

Jazz @ Heat - The Heat by 2 with a total of 200.5. The Heat come into this one off a very surprising 7-point less at the hands of the Trailblazers, in Miami. The Heat had actually pretty decent basketball the previous two games, but just didn't bring any defensive intensity as the Trailblazers shot 51% for the game, and covered the dog line by quite a sum. The Jazz come to Miami after losing a good game with the Magic on Monday, losing by just 5 points as an 8-point dog. Amazingly, the Jazz have actually covered in 3 of their 4 games on this road trip so far, but this one has a weird feeling about it. Utah getting just 2 points in their final game before a short Christmas layoff, and you just don't know how particular teams are going to respond to the prospect of a few days of rest. Jerry Sloan is easily one of the finest coaches of all time, so my guess is that he'll get his guys ready to go, and given Miami's sloppy defense in the game against Portland, I just don't see how the Heat are really going to slow down the Jazz, unless Utah slows themselves down. The Heat play on Christmas Day against the Knicks, so they're in less of an emotional letdown spot, and they have a little value coming off that loss to the Blazers, but when Miami's defense goes back, everything goes bad. I lean to the Jazz to win this game outright, and I lean to the Over, since that last game could very well be a sign of things to come with this Heat D breaking down for a more extended stretch than just one game.

Warriors @ Hornets - Hornets by 9 with a total of 212. This number feels really, really high, but then, the Warriors seem to have completely run out of steam, their better players already looking forward to the All-Star break. This is what happens when you run your top 3 or 4 guys for 46-48 minutes every game - they get tired. Golden State is on the second half of a back-to-back, so the line has been adjusted the requisite 2 points, or so, and the Warriors also cruise into town off a SU and ATS loss to the surging Grizzlies. I have zero faith in the Warriors on the road, and I have to believe this line is this high precisely because the Warriors are in a tailspin of fatigue and apathy. I hate to lean to a favorite of this magnitude, but I do, as I really like what Chris Paul's been doing since his return from injury, and his teammates have begun to make shots. Hence, they win games at home, and are 10-3 in N'awleans. Can they win by 10? I'm not sure, and when all is said and done, the likelihood I have a play on this side is somewhat slim, but I do lean Hornets at first glance. The total looks way too high for a Hornets team that has been slowing things down and running their offense through CP3, and a Warriors team that just can't keep the tempo up for all 48 minutes, not when they're this shorthanded and jelly of leg, and losers of 6 straight (0-5-1 ATS).

Wizards @ Bucks - Milwaukee by 7 with a total of 198.5. This seems like too many points, flat out, and my concern is that I'm overlooking something obvious. The Wizards had a monster 4th quarter to knock off the Sixers, and indeed there is some travel for this one after a tough struggle the night before, but 7 points is just a ton for two teams where neither is all that good. My guess is that the Bucks are getting more than 3 points for home court, then the additional 2 for facing the Wizards on a back-to-back, so that these teams are within 1 point of each other on a neutral court. My feelings are that the back-to-back is being overemphasized, and that the Bucks team defense is slightly overrated right now, as well. The Bucks have been playing some low-scoring, poor FG-shooting contests, and as a result have played to 3 straight Unders. Is this the one where they finally get into a shoot-out, because you just know one is coming. Michael Redd isn't going to stay cold forever. I lean Washington on the side, and just a teeny, tiny bit to the Under, since I'm not sure the Wizards have the gusto to maintain a 100-point pace on the back-to-back, and the Bucks will be fine with a slower game.

Blazers @ Spurs - San Antonio by 8.5 with a total of 187.5. Another game with one team on a back-to-back and the other camped out waiting for them. The Blazers come into San Antonio fresh off a hard-fought road win over the Mavs, who did indeed have Dirk Nowitzki back. The Blazers slowed the game to a snail pace, and it worked like a charm, as the Mavs managed just 81 points, failing to get the Jason Kidd trademark easy buckets, and forcing the Mavs into a half-court only situation. Sure, Dirk is fine in the half-court (10/13 shooting), but his team went 21-for-67, not good enough by any stretch. Portland is starting to lock down a bit on defense again, and that's when they're most dangerous, going 5-1-1 ATS in their last 7 games, but this is a tricky spot. Not only are the Blazers on a back-to-back, but this is also their 4th game in 5 nights on a road trip, and they host the Nuggets on Christmas, a tough, tough stretch for Portland that just doesn't get any easier. Give Nate McMillan and co. credit, though; they've used this as a bonding experience, and they've played solid basketball on this trip. Still, I can't back a team in this sleepy of a spot -- it's San Antonio or nothing on the side, and the total should be pretty low in this one, as well.

Hawks @ Nuggets - This line is OFF. The Hawks come to town off a clubbing of the Minnesota Timberwolves, looking to try to make a statement in the altitude, but it's rarely easy, especially on a back-to-back. The other side of this coin is that the Nuggets really have looked pretty poor of late, losing in both New Orleans and Memphis, and not really playing with any sort of purpose. I don't know if Chauncey being out/less-than-100% is having this type of effect, or if Denver just thinks they can coast this regular season, but I'm not sure they're worth betting on until they show they're ready to play hard for all 48 minutes again. They have covered just 1 of their last 7 games, and if we're getting a reasonable number of points with the Hawks, we might be inclined to take it, since I think we'll see Denver overrated because of home court, altitude, and the Hawks being on the back-to-back. Let's wait and see how this line opens and moves, since it has the potential to be a very fun one with, perhaps, fewer points than people expect.

Thunder @ Suns - Suns by 8.5 with a total of 208.5. The first thing I notice here is that the Thunder are coming off a tough cover against the Lakers, and that the total looks ridiculously low for a Suns game with anyone, let alone a team with scorers like the Thunder. That total looks like it's trying to sucker me into the Over, and I'll be quite curious to see how the public bets this one, because I'd be willing to bet a small sum that they come in on the Over; hell, with the way the Thunder-Lakers game went, the public on the Over is almost a certainty. In any case, the Suns suffered their first home loss of the season to the Cavs on Monday, so they'll likely be looking to bounce back and get some revenge, and the pooped out Thunder might be just the ticket. It's really amazing how many 8.5-point favorites we're seeing, and most of them are rested home teams taking on road teams on the second half of a back-to-back. We really need to be careful with these games, because the Suns is the obvious play, but it looks that easy for a reason; it isn't. Maybe look at the total instead, and take a peek at the Under, since the Thunder know they're not going to win a shootout, and I expect to see Russell Westbrook do a better-than-average job staying at least near Steve Nash, and the Thunder's athleticism should allow them to switch on defense. Time will tell!

Cavs @ Kings - Cleveland by 6 with a total of 202.5. Make no mistake, the Kings are flying high, fresh off a 35-point comeback against the hapless Chicago Bulls. The Cavs are feeling pretty good about themselves, too, dealing the Phoenix Suns their first home loss of the season, so neither of these teams is really the value play. Of course, you have to look at the home dog, first and foremost, with Cleveland potentially gearing up for their Christmas Day game with the Lakers. Sacramento actually plays the Lakers next, too, but they get them the day after the Cavs, and they host LA. We'll cover that game soon enough, since I can almost guarantee the Kings will have some value on the ML. Anyway, back to the game at hand. I like the Kings' positive momentum coming off that huge comeback, but I do think they might have some trouble with fatigue. Emotional comebacks like that don't usually carry you full another entire game, and I'm concerned that we might see one very good half from Sactown, and one very bad one. As for the Cavs, they might give us a similar effort of 24 solid minutes, which makes me wonder if indeed they can cover those 6 points on the road. I think the Under's got a nice shot if Cleveland can impose some sort of tempo on the Kings, who should find scoring a bit more difficult than when they faced the Bulls.
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