Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fridays Are For Letdowns

Yes, folks, we definitely saw the ugliest 4th quarter of, maybe, any game all season long, and damnit, I couldn't be happier. After a 56-point first quarter, the Lakers and Celtics combined for 44 points in each of the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and then came the beautiful sound...

*CLANK*

A 28-point 4th quarter turned a potential nailbiter into an easy winner on the Under, and moved us to a robust 4-1 since the All Star Break, only dropping the Knicks' meltdown on Wednesday, while nailing every other play.

I told you guys we'd get some good luck (and some nice value plays) from my engagement this week, so let's cash in before we hit the weekend!

Sports Wagering

Nuggets @ Wizards - Denver by 7 with a total of 208.5. I can tell you right now, this might look like a tap-in, but please do tread cautiously. The Nuggets are coming off a wild overtime win over the Cavaliers, as Carmelo Anthony drained a contested 19-footer with 1.1 left on the clock, and the Nuggets swept the season series from the Cavs, showing once again just how well the Nuggets play against the League's best. But what about how they play against the League's dregs? The Wizards are made up of scrap heap players, and this is a game where everyone, and I mean everyone is going to be looking for a reason to put their life savings on this Nuggets game. Folks are going to be convincing themselves left and right that if the Nuggets can snap the Cavaliers' monster win-streak, surely they can dismantle the Wizards. Well, I wouldn't be so quick to jump to conclusions. Obviously, I'm not going to come out here and tell you to play Washington; can anyone really find a GOOD reason to put money ON the Wizards? Not really. But at the same time, I wouldn't be surprised to see some of Washington's lesser guys, someone like an Andray Blatche, a Randy Foye to potentially step up and have a monster game. The entire basketball community is laughing at Washington right now, and wouldn't they love nothing more than to throw a wrench into the Nuggets' plans? I lean Wizards. I also fear the Nuggets completely forgetting to try on defense, and this one could go Over by the 3rd quarter if the Wizards try to run and get some easy looks at all.

Cavaliers @ Bobcats - Cleveland by 4 with a total of 191.5. I would not be surprised to see Charlotte wake back up for this one. Obviously, the huge concern here is that Lebron takes out some sick aggression on the Bobcats. Still, the Cavs had a monster 13-game winning streak snapped last night, at home, by the Nuggets, so the question we have to ask, and really the only pertinent query is "will the Cavs bounce back on this back-to-back, or will they suffer a 1-game letdown off the huge TNT loss and end of a win streak?" If we can answer that question, we have a play. I suppose my concern with this one is that Charlotte actually came into Cleveland and beat the Cavs back on January 3rd, so I'm not sure if there's any revenge factor involved. I would actually downplay revenge, since extremely good teams like the Cavs have more important things to do than concern themselves with an individual win over a fringe competitor like the Bobcats. I would tend to think that Cleveland does not play a very good game here, but with the way the Bobcats have been playing (0-4 ATS last 4), can we really trust them to come up with a big performance? Clearly, the value is with the Bobcats, so I do lean in their direction, but this is by no means a play, and needs a goodly sum of confirmation of any kind to even find its way into strong lean territory. I'm also somewhat surprised at how low this total is, given how fast the Cavs have been playing lately. I'm inclined to think oddsmakers have a good feel for how the Bobcats are going to play this one, so I'll follow that and keep an eye on the move.

Spurs @ Sixers - San Antonio by 3 with a total of 192.5. This is an interesting game, if only because both teams pose a laundry list of angles, and we have to try to pull off some sort of balancing act. For the Spurs, they are an older team that came out of the All Star Break with a very strong first half, but faded late, and just did barely hang on to beat the Pacers by 3. They've won 2 straight, and 3 of 4, but they're not beating the bad teams by a wide margin (except the flailing Clippers 2 weeks back), and the value with San Antonio really seems to be when they play against the more marquee opponents, when they're getting points or laying very few at home. Still, you can tell the effort is there -- they're trying to surge, and keep a decent seed in the hotly contested West. On the other side, the Sixers came out of the Break with a true sulfur-bomb of a first game, getting blown the heck out, at home, by the visiting Miami Heat. The 105-78 loss puts this one very close to the category of "team coming off blowout home loss." It's certainly not an immediate play, but looking at the Sixers body of work going into the All Star Break, they were definitely playing better, and just haven't seemed focused in their final game before the layoff, and now their first game out of it. If ever there were an opportunity to round back into shape, this would be that time. They have the line value, and if you want to mention the only previous meeting, the Spurs beat the Sixers way back in late November. I don't think that has any real bearing on this game, but San Antonio continues to play middling basketball on the road, and generally doesn't shoot well late in the game. I lean Philly on the side, and I like the Under on the total, and the Spurs just don't score on the road. Still, this total is likely pretty sharp, so go easy there.

Bucks @ Pistons - A Pick with a total of 189.5. Wow, two teams coming off just dismal performances. Does either have any value, whatsoever? Or really, does either have a value edge on the other, is a better question. Milwaukee is coming off a truly embarrassing 28-point home loss at the hands of the Rockets, and they just never really got it together coming out of the All Star break. Detroit had a nice win over Minnesota out of the Break, but followed that up by getting waxed in Orlando the next night. So they, too, are coming off a big loss, and I have to believe the public isn't thrilled with either team right now. Still, Detroit picked up an outright win in Milwaukee early last week, so the Bucks have revenge on their side. My concern here is that the line has been preadjusted for that revenge. It's not as though books are going to need to deflate the line to get money on Milwaukee -- this is a battle of a Bucks team that was playing pretty well before the Break, and a Pistons team that has been getting too much credit all year for no real reason (evidenced by their 22-28 ATS record). This is a tough one. Is Detroit actually going to wake up? They're healthier now than they've been all year, so are they the value play? I almost hate to admit it, but yes, I believe Detroit deserves the slight lean, just based on the fact that they're the true value. Yikes, it just makes me sick to even think it. I also like the Under -- no one is getting out and running with these two teams.

Mavericks @ Magic - Orlando by 6 with a total of 201. The Mavericks might have woken up...might being the key word, of course. In what was really the Mavs' first GOOD game since the 50-point win in New York back on January 24th, Dallas held Phoenix to just 97 points, and picked up a win and a cover at long last. And their reward? Fly to Florida and tackle one of the best in the East. Is the Dallas win a sign of things to come? Are Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler making an immediate impact with their new team? Well, Caron Butler played nice defense; didn't really crush on the offensive end, but he'll be a nice addition over the fragile Josh Howard. In the middle, Haywood was, well, awesome. He picked up 5 blocks on the high-flying Suns, and came 1 rebound short of a double-double. Needless to say, Erick Dampier can kiss playing time goodbye if Haywood continues like that. Having someone with skill and the desire to win patrolling the paint is going to make a huge difference for the Mavs; now we just have to see if Rick Carlisle can work the new bodies into the greater schemes. I still think this might be the time to think about hopping back on the Mavericks bandwagon. They had been AWFUL for so long that to actually see them playing defense was a great sign of ATS wins around the corner. The Magic have been no slouches, either, though. They dominated Detroit in their first game off the Break, and have gone 11-3 SU in their last 14 (but just 7-6-1 ATS). So, the Magic have been winning, but they haven't been killing teams, at least not before Detroit waddled into town. I also like that Orlando has a date with Cleveland on Sunday, and this could, despite the relative marqueeness of the Mavs, be a look-ahead spot. I like the Mavs to potentially win this one outright, and I like the Over -- the Magic have been trying to run a little more, and I think they squeeze both teams just over 100.

Pacers @ Hornets - New Orleans by 4.5 with a total of 204. Sometimes a game comes along where a man just has no real idea what's going to happen, and at least right now, roughly 22 hours before gametime, I can honestly say I don't know what to expect here. That could mean two things, though. Perhaps oddsmakers don't really know what to expect, either, and this line is beatable. Perhaps others have a better feel for the Pacers right now and really have a strong lean on how they're going to perform. For my money, though, this is a game where I just don't like the way it stacks up. The Pacers are off a home game against the Spurs where they woke up late, but couldn't quite get all the way back in a narrow loss. The Hornets got rolled by a better Utah team when they just seemed to run out of gas. It looks like the All Star Break hurt New Orleans, as they were pushing the tempo and Darren Collison was really playing incredible ball, and I just wonder if they can continue to push the ball and get enough of those easy buckets to compete with better teams. That being said, this is a different type of game, where the Hornets are probably better served forcing the Pacers into a more structured type of game. Indiana has been the pits on the road, and New Orleans can't cover at home. This is just ugly all over. No leans.

Bulls @ Wolves - Chicago by 2.5 with a total of 204.5. This is a revenge game for Minnesota, but let's try to see if it matters. I really liked the way the Wolves were playing going into the Break, but coming out, they've been awful. After getting steamrolled in Detroit, Minnesota hit up another winnable game and got creamed late by the Wizards. Now, clearly, the home game will make a sizable difference, as Minnesota is 16-11 ATS at home, and a perfect 6-0 when they're a tiny dog at home, so this is a nice spot for them. Chicago is coming off back-to-back wins over the Knicks, one of them dominant, the other (in New York) featuring a very strong second half. You just have to like the defense Chicago played against the Knicks, locking down in every sense of the word. I just wonder if there might not be a small letdown after that second game, which was, extremely chippy and somewhat unfriendly. I must admit, I'm a little afraid to recommend anything involving the Wolves with the way it appears that they've regressed again, and Chicago is playing solid basketball right now, covering 4 of their last 5 games. Still, this line feels very, very low, and that might be the strongest indicator of all that oddsmakers are expecting a close game. And where the Knicks don't really have the big men to compete with Chicago's suffocating defense, the Wolves can use Jefferson and Love to get buckets inside when Chicago's outstanding perimeter defense ratchets up the intensity. I lean Wolves on the side, and I can't help but think this one might sneak Over the posted total, as Minnesota loves to push the pace.

Raptors @ Nets - This line is OFF. Chris Bosh is expected to miss this game, which is somewhat disconcerting, if just because we might be looking at an "Injured Star Theory" play. However, that tends to work better when the team missing the key component is going against an opposition that gets the adrenaline going. Do the Nets get your blood pumping? Not mine, that's for sure, even though they've been a very nice ATS wager over the last couple weeks. Quietly, Jersey has rattled off an 8-2-1 ATS streak, including back-to-back covers coming out of the All Star Break. Honestly, this might be a spot where we would be in good shape just putting a half unit on the Nets every day until the public catches up to their actual value. That could be another 2-3 weeks, considering how awful the Nets are, and as we all know, the worse a team is, the longer it takes the public to figure out how they're playing. Honestly, the only thing keeping me off the Nets right now is that Bosh is out, and I just don't know who the Raptors are going to turn to, and who is going to get it done for them. Hedo Turkoglu would be the next suspect, I guess, but he just hasn't looked comfortable all year with Toronto. I know I normally never say to bet against the team with the Superstar getting hurt, but I just don't see the other guys in Toronto getting excited about this game. Slight lean to the Nets, and slight lean to the Over, since I think folks still haven't quite caught on to the fact that Jersey can score now.

Heat @ Grizzlies - This line is OFF. This could be fun, and it could be hideous. Time will tell. Miami comes to town on a 4-game winning streak, including 3 completely dominant performances, and then one squeaker in New Jersey. Now, they get to face an inconsistent Grizzlies club, on the road, and try to see if that defense can shut another team down. I mean, we're talking about some ridiculous numbers for Miami's defense. Over this 4-game winning streak, Miami has held their opponents to 66, 76, 78 and 84 points, in that order. I suppose the only fear there is that the numbers has slowly been climbing. The Grizzlies would appear to be ripe to break 90, and then you just have to stop and wonder if Miami can score enough to keep up. This is a clear letdown spot for the Heat, with a game in Dallas looming tomorrow, and the Grizzlies got a HUGE win in Toronto, in overtime, just what the doctor ordered for that team circling the drain. Memphis had lost 5 straight, and I can't help but think that big win might have been the shot of adrenaline they've needed so badly. My concern with backing the Grizz is two-fold. One, they beat Miami by 28 in Florida back in December, a game that I'm sure the Heat remember pretty vividly, considering how they got embarrassed at home. And two, Memphis had a big win over the Lakers 2 weeks ago to snap a 2-game losing streak, and they followed THAT big win up with 5 losses. Still, slight lean to Memphis, and slight lean to the Under, since I think both teams are game for a grudge-match.

Hawks @ Suns - Phoenix by 3.5 with a total of 212.5. This should be a fun one. The Suns come home off what has become something of a rare road loss, at the hands of the might-be-ending-their-struggles Dallas Mavericks. The Hawks, meanwhile, continue a 4-game road trip that began with an easy 18-point win over the Clippers, and continues through Golden State and Utah. Looking ahead, we should definitely look for some value in their upcoming games, but let's see what we can find in this one. The Hawks have been bouncing between 2-3 very good games, and 2-3 very bad ones. It makes them both extremely predictable, but also extremely volatile, as a good call on the Hawks can result in a no-sweat winner, and a bad call on the Hawks can mean you've thrown in the towel by halftime. Which will this game be? I have to admit, I'm a little concerned about the letdown in Phoenix now that the trade deadline has come and gone. Will Amare regress, or will he play his best basketball all season? There are a ton of unanswered questions that this game will go a long way in answering, and that's a huge reason why I feel watching this game might be the best bet. However, that solution doesn't work for everyone, so based on Atlanta's 1-point win in Georgia, and the Hawks potential fallback after the easy win over the Clippers, I lean Suns on the side. I also think that if the Suns are indeed dictating the tempo, you have to at least take a peek at the Over, but I'm not completely sold on either total play.

Jazz @ Warriors - Utah by 6 with a total of 218.5. Can anyone really bet against Utah right now? I mean, I know that's absolutely the squarest way possible to start this write-up, but think about it. Utah has a day off before heading to Portland, so it's not like this is a look-ahead spot, and they're coming off a nice win in New Orleans, so it's not really a letdown spot either. It's not the end of a road trip, and they're not on short rest. Basically, this line is set to get split money, and it likely will, but while the value might be on the Golden State side, I just don't trust that the Warriors can throw a hit parade like the one they launched against the Kings. Utah is better defensively, and more importantly, they're betting offensively, meaning Golden State is going to have to inbound the ball, and that, in effect, slows them down. I'll tell you what's also amazing is that these two teams haven't played yet this season. That, to me, means a PASS, and we can get a ton of value the next time they meet, or potentially the meeting after that one. I think the red hot play of the Jazz butting heads with the value of the Warriors is enough to keep me off the side, but I suppose if I had to pick, I'd lean to the squareness, the Jazz. On the total, Utah has been flexing some defensive muscle lately, and honestly, I don't know where it came from, but I like the Under, especially off that Warriors 130-point effort.

Celtics @ Blazers - This line is OFF. This is a game I'm going to be watching very closely, or a line I'll be watching I suppose. The Celtics are coming off a high-intensity game with the Lakers on TNT, a hideous 4th quarter that got us a winner on the Under, and a game that started (and ended) extra late, courtesy of the Cavs-Nuggets early game going into overtime, and now the Celts have to try to get fired back up for this game in Portland? We saw Boston on something of a look-ahead in Sacramento the game BEFORE playing the Lakers, only winning that game because Sactown missed 6 free throws down the stretch, and now we have to try to determine if they're going to suffer a similar letdown the day after. Before we get too carried away, though, the Celtics did cover their game after playing the Lakers a few weeks back, going into Washington and playing a lockdown 4th quarter to get the cover, despite losing for most of that game. Still, with the way Boston played early against the Lakers, you almost get the feeling they "shot their wad" early, and despite getting the win, this team looked tired. Their jumpshots went cold, clanking off every corner of the rim, and only collecting points on a Kendrick Perkins tip-slam. Portland is going to get Marcus Camby for this game (he's listed as questionable, but if he has his goods from LA, he should play), and Brandon Roy might return, as well. This is a monster fanfare game in Portland, and the Blazers are a great team in highly publicized games. Portland lost to Boston 4 weeks ago on the road, so this is a revenge game, and I look forward to seeing where this line opens. I lean Portland, no lean on the total until we learn more about Brandon Roy.

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