Utah Jazz @ Denver Nuggets Free Basketball Picks & Preview: Utah and Denver is another good game on Friday Night. The Nuggets have to make a decision on their star player real soon, to trade him or hope to work something out after the deadline. They’ve been playing well of late, and with the Lakers faltering a bit, it’s possible that they may see a small crease in the armor of the Western-elite. The Jazz have that same vision – and this battle of the next-best in the West might be a little precursor of what’s to come.
Deron Williams isn’t a sure thing for this game, listed as questionable, and he hasn’t played since the 26th of January because of a sprained wrist (or hyper-extended, or whatever). He’s a very important cog to this team, the best player and the leader as a distributor and scorer. Andrei Kirelenko is doubtful, and like the listing insists, he probably won’t play. Mehmet Okur is out with back issues, again. The Jazz are hurting. But if Williams plays, they have a chance – still, the Nuggets are very tough at home, and they’ve been good of late.
If Deron Williams doesn’t play, I’d be interested to see what the spread is. Earl Watson isn’t a bad back-up point guard, but I still think Denver would handle the Jazz if D-Will doesn’t play. There’s no spread, as I write this article, but I’d take Denver giving up anything less than 9. But check before you bet, to see what the info is on the Jazz and their injured trio.
Utah Jazz @ Denver Nuggets (ESPN) (2/4)
I finished last week’s NBA playoffs at 8-3 after I split Sunday’s playoff action. The Spurs got swept and while I ended up being wrong about that game, I couldn’t be happier about my failure. Steve Nash got his eye smashed shut and the guy still came out in the 4th and ran the Spurs’ show right out of their own gym. A couple real questionable plays late had the Spurs with a chance, but Steve shut them down at every turn. As for the Celtics, well, they did what I thought they’d do, and I was right about LeBron, he didn’t come out and blow up the spot like he did in Game 3. He can’t do that every game. Rajon Rondo was filthy for Boston, he dropped a triple double and was grabbing rebounds like he was Wilt Chamberlain. Crazy. Here’s my thoughts on Monday’s games…
Orlando Magic (-6) @ Atlanta Hawks (5-10: 8:00 PM ET – TNT): I could go into great detail about the infinite wall the Hawks are trying to climb. I could dig into the terrible match-up problems that the Magic give them. I could even talk about how Joe Johnson told Atlanta that he doesn’t care if the fans show up. But screw all that stuff. The Magic are just going to beat the pee out of Atlanta to finish up the series.
LA Lakers (+2.5) @ Utah Jazz (5-10: 10:30 PM ET – TNT): Utah had a win last time out, and it’s really amazing how the Lakers can just play well enough to win like they have been. But this is Game 4, and LA can close it out now and make sure they get as much time off as Phoenix. Utah is outmatched down low, and that, again, will be the difference in this one.
Yesterday, in games I didn’t pick, the Suns ran the Spurs into the ground and ended up winning by 8. In Cleveland, the Cavaliers didn’t play like the best team in basketball, as the Boston Celtics won by 18 big points on the road. It will be interesting to see if the Spurs can keep up with the Suns, as they’ve struggled throughout the season with run and gun type, high scoring offenses. In that Cavs/Celtics series I’m interested to see if LeBron comes out with that same swagger he brought to Chicago in Round 1. If not, it could be upset city… Here’s my take on Tuesday’s games.
Atlanta Hawks @ Orlando Magic (-9) (5-4: 8:00 PM ET – TNT): The Hawks just don’t match up well with the Magic. I would say that Atlanta would have a better chance against Cleveland or Boston – but they just don’t have the size or attacking style to give the Magic trouble. I think Al Horford is solid, but he’s not going to put Dwight in foul trouble – that’s just not his game – and Howard has owned Atlanta, especially this year. Orlando has double digit wins thrice against Atlanta this season – and the Hawks are bad on the road. Anything else? Joe Johnson has a foot out the door… Sweet, got it, Magic by 17.
Utah Jazz @ LA Lakers (-5.5) (5-4: 10:30 PM ET – TNT): The Jazz fought hard in Game 1, and LA proved that they don’t have an answer for Deron Williams. But they don’t need to have an answer for them. Utah has the worst defense left in the playoffs, and the Lakers can get stops down the stretch. That will make all the different. I would think LA comes out with a little more push in Game 2 after nearly letting Game 1 slip away. The Jazz have a fighters’ chance, but without the bigs to defend Pau, Bynum, and Odom – I don’t see them connecting too often, especially on the road.
Round 2 is already underway as the Cleveland Cavaliers ousted the Boston Celtics on Saturday Night, despite an 11 point deficit at the half. LeBron was big time, going for 35 points in the opening game of what should be a great series. But after Boston played a perfect first half, and Cleveland took it by 8 anyway, it will be interesting to see how far the Celtics can push the Cavs. And despite another Round 2 game getting underway on Sunday (Jazz @ Lakers) there’s still a first round match-up yet to be decided – and I’ll give my prediction on that right now.
Milwaukee Bucks (+9.5) @ Atlanta Hawks: I think Milwaukee’s chances are slim, and getting this far has been impressive all by itself – especially when you consider their most consistent player, and big man, Andrew Bogut, has been out for the entire series. I think the Hawks have finally woken up and they should win at home in Game 7. However, 9.5 points seems like an awful lot considering the way the Bucks have played Atlanta all series long. Milwaukee is tough, and tough +9.5 points seems like a solid chance to take.
Utah Jazz @ LA Lakers (-7): Where Okur’s absence didn’t hurt the Jazz much against Denver, it will kill them against the Lakers bigs. Tell me who is going to guard Bynum and Gasol? Boozer and Fesenko? Sounds like a good match-up… psshhh… I don’t like the Lakers, not one bit, and honestly, Kobe is one of the easier guys to like on that team – if that tells you anything. But they are good, damn good, and the Jazz just don’t have the bigs, or the defense to play with LA. If they had Andrei Kirilenko playing, and Mehmet Okur healthy – then maybe, just maybe – but with both those awkwardly tall white guys out, seems like the Jazz will have their struggles in LA.
I picked up a 2-1 record yesterday, properly calling the Bulls’ upset of the Cavaliers and predicting the Suns dismantling of the Portland Trail Blazers. Where I missed was with the Lakers’ losing to the Thunder. Oklahoma made some huge plays down the stretch. Durant (8 for 24) struggled from the floor, but late in the game he hit some huge shots, and hit 12 of 13 free throws (something LeBron James couldn’t do for the Cavs) to help the Thunder do exactly what I hoped they’d do. But Friday has a different card, three more Game 3′s. The Celtics are up 2-0 and a couple wins away from sweeping the Heat – and it doesn’t look good for Miami. The other two games, both Western Conference tilts, are tied at 1 a piece as the underdog has taken home court advantage from the favorite in both series.
Boston Celtics (+4) @ Miami Heat (4-23: 7:00 PM ET – ESPN): Momentum is a fickle beast, and she’s wearing a Celtics uniform. That’s good enough for me, as I’ll take the better team, as an underdog, with Mo in the starting line-up, coming off the bench, and in the stands.
Dallas Mavericks (+3) @ San Antonio Spurs (4-23: 9:30 PM ET – ESPN): I don’t know if Richard Jefferson can handle the task of winning games for the Spurs. I don’t know if his game (now) is consistent enough to be there night in and night out. His awesome game, and the Mavericks poor performance, are two things that I don’t expect in San Antonio. I’ll take the road dogs in this one, too.
Denver Nuggets (+2) @ Utah Jazz (4-23: 10:30 PM ET – ESPN): I know that the Jazz got the best of the Nuggets in Game 2, and Denver wasn’t the best team down the stretch, but Denver is without one of their better players, Mehmet Okur, and that’s going to hurt them. He’s unheralded, but he spreads the floor for Boozer at the post while allowing for his guards to attack the basket. I don’t think they’ll be able to continue their inspired play, and the Nuggets will eventually get the best of them – sooner rather than later.
Looking for some playoff positioning? Looking for a team that needs a win to guarantee they’re in? Wednesday is the last regular season night in the NBA, and there’s plenty of action to pay attention to. Here are my favorite games heading in. Some of the games don’t have lines out yet – so I’ve listed the difference I expect – that should help with lines.
San Antonio Spurs @ Dallas Mavericks (OFF) (4-14: 8:00 PM ET): The Spurs could move into the 6 spot if they win and Portland loses – that would be an advantage because it would mean they don’t have to play either the Lakers or the Mavs in the 1st Round. Both teams have played good basketball down the stretch, and the Spurs are 8-2, as good as anyone in the West over their last 10 games. But I think Dallas wins, and I think they win by 6. The Mavericks are the better team, and I think the Spurs will rest some of their old men in hopes of rejuvenation heading into the playoffs. Without Timmy and Manu, no way the Spurs win.
Memphis Grizzlies @ Oklahoma Thunder (OFF) (4-14: 8:00 PM ET – ESPN): The Thunder have nothing to play for, but I’m not sure that gives them a disadvantage. The Grizzlies are playing for a .500 record in a year everyone thought they’d be a bottom feeder, and I know they would like to be a .500 team. But Kevin Durrant will be in fine form, locking up his scoring title – and the Thunder will be trying to put a tough finish to the season behind them and gain some momentum headed into the playoffs this weekend. I’ll give them the nod – I think the Thunder win by 7.
Chicago Bulls @ Charlotte Bobcats (+2) (4-14: 8:00 PM ET) I know the Bulls are hot coming into the final game, and they certainly have some momentum. What else? The Bobcats don’t have much to play for – they are almost surely in as the 7-seed. That being said, I think Charlotte comes out to beat the Bulls, and I think they do. Chicago has played well, and they need this to get in, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they freeze up a little – and a Larry Brown coached team isn’t going to give you anything for free.
Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz (OFF) (4-14: 10:30 PM ET – ESPN): After beating the snot out of the Nuggets on Tuesday Night, the Suns have assured themselves home court advantage in Round 1 of the playoffs. The Jazz would fall from 3rd to 5th if the Suns won in Utah while the Suns would then move up to the 3 spot, and Denver would be gifted home court as the 4-seed. The bottom line is that Utah plays too well at home and Phoenix just had to beat the Nuggets last night. The 2nd game of a back to back should make the difference here, as the Jazz win by 7 or 8.
Alright, the NCAA tournament is over and (puke) Duke is the Champion. I’ll live with it. What it really means is that College Basketball is out until late next fall and Major League Baseball is in. A few times a week, similar to my NBA picks, I’ll drop some baseball advice for the gambling folk. Here are my sports picks for Thursday, April 6th.
Oklahoma Thunder (+5.5) @ Utah Jazz (4-6: 7:00 PM ET): This game is huge for both teams as the Jazz currently sit in a tie for 2nd while the Thunder are 1.5 games back from the Jazz, and just a game and a half ahead of Portland, the current 8-seed. A loss for either team could end up costing them home court advantage in the playoffs – like I said, this one is big. The Jazz are very tough at home, but the Thunder play plenty of close games, have one of the most unstoppable scorers in the game, and most importantly have won 3 games in a row against Utah – they go for the season sweep tomorrow. They might not get the sweep, but I’m thinking they do – either way, I’m going for the cover.
New York Yankees @ Boston Red Sox (-140) (4-6: 7:10 PM ET) (Burnett vs. Lester): A.J. Burnett and Jon Lester get a chance to do their dirty work in Boston on Tuesday Night – only it’s likely that Burnett’s work will be dirtier than Jon’s, and not in a good way. Lester had an ERA of 4.43 against the Yankees last season, about one run above his average. He was 1-1 in 4 starts against New York. However, Lester was also a whole run better at home than he was on the road – so things are starting to even out. He allowed just 5 home runs in Boston’s hitter friendly park compared to 15 away from home – another thing going good for the Sox. That should help shut down the power bats in the Yankees lineup. Burnett had an 8.85 ERA in 4 starts against the Red Sox, going 0-2 last season. He allowed more than a run more per game on the road than at home, and he pitched just 20 innings in his 4 appearances against the Red Sox, plus it’s early, so that Yankee bullpen should be tested today. Burnett’s struggles against the Red Sox teamed with Boston’s early season dominance of the Yankees makes tomorrows game a pretty good bet on the Red Sox to win.
The Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers go at it tonight on ESPN, representing two of the best teams in basketball. The Hawks have stepped up against just about every top opponent this season, aside from Cleveland. The Utah Jazz are climbing positions in the West, and they are looking for a 2-seed. A win over the Lake-show would bring that closer to a reality and give them a nice confidence boost moving forward, but can they win on the road in L.A.?
Atlanta Hawks @ Cleveland Cavaliers (-5.5) (4-2: 8:00 PM ET – ESPN): It’s hard for me to go against the curve here, so I’m not going to. The Hawks have been ousted by the Cavs 8 straight times headed into Friday’s double header on ESPN. 8 in a row. How man times in those 8 games have the Hawks and Cavs been seperated by fewer than 5 points? Once. March 1st of 2009 – more than a year ago. There are numbers that mean nothing, and there are trends to pay attention too. I’d say 8 in a row is something to look at. I’ll take the Cavs at home.
Utah Jazz @ LA Lakers (-4.5) (4-2: 10:30 PM ET): The Jazz have won 8 of their last 10 games and they’ve been solid during the second half of the season, climbing all the way to home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But in their last 20 games they’ve only beaten two teams with winning records, Boston and Phoenix. The Lakers have won 4 of the last 5 against Utah. The Lakers have been playing pretty ugly basketball of late, but I think they turn it around on Friday Night. I like them to cover at home.
There are a couple games that really interest me tonight – one is for the intriguing match-up between Eastern and Western powers, and the other is the amount of assists that will be passed out of the hands of Deron Williams tonight when the Jazz host the Golden State Warriors. Oh yeah, and the D-Leaguers teaming up with Steph Curry to put some highlights together is always entertaining. Here’s my take…
LA Lakers (+1) @ Atlanta Hawks (3-31: 7:00 PM ET): The entire LA crew is healthy again, and Pau Gasol will end up doing work against the Hawks front line. Tell me whom in Atlanta is going to guard Pau? If “nobody” was your answer than you’re on to something. Atlanta is a very good team, no doubt about it, but even with Bynum out, the Lakers are a really tough match-up for the Hawks. They’ve won 3 of their last 4 against the Hawks, and with people starting to question if the Lakers’ recent 1-2 three game stretch is any indication of their upcoming struggles, I have a feeling that the Lake-show will be out to prove something. I’ll take them in a double digit win.
Golden State Warriors (+13) @ Utah Jazz (3-31: 7:00 PM ET – ESPN): About this time last season, Deron Williams busted out 20 assists as Utah ousted in the Warriors. This year he’s averaging around 12-13 dimes per game against Golden State. I think he goes for about 15-20 tonight as Utah gets a win over Golden State. But the Warriors have played well lately with their D-Leaguers playing huge. I think they give Utah a run tonight and continue their hot run against the spread to cover despite a likely big game by the Jazz stars.
LA Lakers (-4) @ Miami Heat (3-4: 8:00 PM ET – TNT): The bottom line here is that I don’t think the Heat are very good. I know they can play well from time to time, and they have one of the best players in the NBA, and probably the most underrated star in the league in Dwayne Wade. But the Lakers have Kobe Bryant and an All-Star cast. Andrew Bynum is a very good young center, Pau Gasol is probably one of the best all-around centers in the league, Ron Artest is a defensive force, and he can be very good offensively as well, and Lamar Odom does all the things the Lakers’ offense and defense needs him to do. And they have dynamic players coming off the bench that would probably start or play major minutes for the Heat.
When you add that to the fact that Miami has lost 4 of the last 5 games and their only win came at home against the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers look like an even better bet. LA hasn’t been good ATS this season, sitting at 26-32-3, but there’s a lot to like about them here – they’ve won 3 of their last 4 on the road, and they are coming off a blowout of the Pacers where they got plenty of rest. I’ll take the Lake-show in Miami.
Utah Jazz (+1.5) @ Phoenix Suns (3-4: 10:30 PM ET – TNT): The Phoenix Suns have been playing solid basketball of late, and most of that has to do with Amare Stoudemire waking up one day and deciding that he was going to try. Not to long ago, he was averaging about 20 and 8 per game – which is unbelievable poor for a 6’10 player with all the skills and explosiveness you could ever want, in and offense that is tailored to his style. Please, David Lee is putting up better numbers in the same kind of offense on a team without nearly as many good players. But Amare has 14 rebounds in 3 of his last 10 games. He has at least 8 in all but 2, and double digits 6 times. He has turned into more of a shot blocker of late, and he’s shooting the ball really well while scoring 30 or more 4 times in those 10 games, 41 once, and at least 19 in each game. He’s beginning to play like a guy that is trying to win.
But all that being said, the Jazz are still the better team. They’ve struggled on the road lately, sure, and they are historically a bad road team, but they won 4 straight on the road in mid-February, and against some teams playing some pretty good basketball. They are just coming off a loss to the Clippers, and at Sacramento – but Utah will be up to play against the Suns, and Deron Williams should be huge in this one. He’s what you’d call a “match-up nightmare” for Steve Nash. Utah wins this one.