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Weekend Football Picks 2017 (January 12-15)

Teams in the top two Divisions of English Football have been concentrating on the domestic Cups over the last week, but the return of League...

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Australian Open Tennis Day 4 Picks 2017 (January 19th)

The headlines in the United Kingdom were stolen by Dan Evans on Day 3 of the Australian Open as he beat former US Open Champion Marin Cilic to move through to the Third Round. This is the third Grand Slam in a row that Evans has achieved that milestone and he has to be given all the credit in the world for managing that.

Now he faces a home hope in Bernard Tomic, a player he has beaten in a Grand Slam before, and Evans may feel he has plenty more left in the tank for this week.

Remember, Evans had match point against Stan Wawrinka at the US Open back in September and that would have prevented the Swiss player from adding to his previous successes at the Grand Slam level. That makes Evans dangerous going forward even if his game is far from one that you would expect to be featured in the latter stages of a Grand Slam event.

Most of the top names outside of Cilic avoided a big upset, although Nick Kyrgios will gain some more unwanted attention with yet another mental collapse in a big tournament. I am a Kyrgios fan, I think he is good for tennis, but I do think the young Australian needs to work out what he wants from the sport.

Does he want to be someone who will become very rich playing the game but never receiving the acclaim of the fans nor the accolades of winning Grand Slam titles? Or does he want to win the big titles and secure a legacy?

He isn't quite at a crossroads in his career, but Kyrgios has to start deciding which way he wants his career to go. I am always drawn to the charismatic players on the Tour (big fan of Marat Safin) or those who wear their heart on their sleeves (David Nalbandian) so I am always going to want Kyrgios to do well... I just hope he decides that is what he wants too and can then reach the clear potential he has to get to the very top of the men's game.

It has been a couple of frustrating days for the picks from the Australian Open which have had chances, but players have not been finishing the job.

I am still not sure how Jeremy Chardy did not win a set in his loss to Kei Nishikori having had a break lead in set two and set three, while John Isner went 1/13 in break points over the first four sets and still had a chance to cover. However he was broken at 4-2 in the fourth set when serving out would have covered and he took the absolute punishment of being knocked out of the tournament by Mischa Zverev in a long final set.

Those two matches alone being flipped the other way would have mean a winning record, but instead I had to take a narrow loss for the second day in a row. Hopefully that luck evens itself out in the coming days beginning with Day 4.

Gilles Simon - 7.5 games v Rogerio Dutra Silva: It might have been expected that young American Jared Donaldson would have been the one facing Gilles Simon in the Second Round on Thursday, but fitness let him down in the very hot conditions in Melbourne on Tuesday. That meant Rogerio Dutra Silva found enough to come back from 2-0 down in sets to win a five setter and surprisingly making it through to this Round.

Dutra Silva is going to have to raise his game significantly if he is going to get the better of the veteran Simon, although I will admit that I don't find it easy to back the Frenchman with a lot of confidence.

My problem for Simon is that his serve is far from a strength even when he faces some of the weaker players on the Tour and that should mean Dutra Silva has some opportunities to get to break point and keep himself in the match. However I do think Simon's returning ability will keep the pressure on Dutra Silva and Simon is unlikely to fold through injury and stamina concerns like Donaldson did.

It should be noted that Donaldson had won the first two sets against Dutra Silva 6-3, 6-0 and looked more than good enough to cover the 6.5 game handicap. The fact that Simon is only given a game more to cover looks wrong to me even if Simon beat Dutra Silva by a seven game margin at the French Open last season.

That came on the clay which is Dutra Silva's favourite surface, and the Brazilian doesn't spend a lot of time on the hard courts. He has had some solid wins over the last three weeks on the surface, but Simon might be a little too savvy on the surface and can extract enough mistakes to come through with a 75, 64, 62 win.

Milos Raonic win 3-1 v Gilles Muller: The head to head between Milos Raonic and Gilles Muller reads 0-2 to the player from Luxembourg, but the last time these players met was five years ago. Since then you can be sure that Raonic is a considerably improved player on the Tour and he is a big favourite to win this match.

I can't argue with that as Raonic is considered one of the outsiders to win the Australian Open and he did reach the Semi Final here last season which suggests the courts are to his liking. The Canadian has a big serve and that should put Muller under some pressure, but the flip side of the coin is he is playing against a dangerous lefty who is in form.

Muller won the title in Sydney last week and that will have given him plenty of confidence while the serve is a huge weapon especially against a returner who is as limited as Raonic. Tie-breakers have to be play and Muller is certainly playing well enough to take a set, although the layers are giving nothing away with the price on that.

I do think Muller is capable of taking a set, but Raonic should be a little too strong at key moments in this one. The most likely result in the match does look to be Raonic coming through in four sets and I will have a small interest in him doing that in this dangerous Second Round match.

David Goffin win 3-1 v Radek Stepanek: I was close to being tempted by the game handicap for this one in favour of David Goffin who should be winning matches like this fairly comfortably at this stage of his career. That is no disrespect to Radek Stepanek, but the Czech player's best days are behind him and it does feel like he has lost half a step around the court.

That can make all the difference for a player who wants to come into the net where possible and pressure opponents into passing him where Stepanek is very comfortable. Stepanek has played well here to come through the Qualifiers and enter the main draw, but he hasn't played an opponent to the level that Goffin can bring.

In saying that, Goffin has to work hard for his points and that means he is always vulnerable to a sloppy set or two as was highlighted when pushed into a deciding set in the First Round. That did come against a big serving opponent Reilly Opelka and this is a match with a different feel for Goffin with a lot more rallies and a chance to make plenty of balls back in play.

Winning in straight sets at the Grand Slams has not been a common occurrence for Goffin whose serve can let him down at some critical points in a match. Only 5/17 of his last 22 Grand Slam matches have ended in a straight sets win for Goffin and Stepanek is certainly capable of making a few plays at the net to take a set. However I don't think he has enough to do more than that and I will back Goffin to win this one in four.

Dominic Thiem win 3-1 v Jordan Thompson: This is another player that I thought could have been capable of covering a relatively high handicap, but Dominic Thiem is still trying to maintain consistency over the course of these best of five set matches. While he is very good at times, he can have lapses of concentration which give opponents a chance to get back into matches against him.

It will take more than a slight lapse to allow Jordan Thompson to win this match after he took advantage of Joao Sousa struggling in the conditions to come back from 2-0 down in sets in the First Round. Thompson has had some solid performances in preparation for the Australian Open, but this is a big step up for him against a player like Thiem who will be expected to challenge for a top 10 spot in the World Rankings for a second season in a row.

Thompson will have all the support from the stands which can help him stay in this one mentally and he had some solid runs at the Challenger level to think he can put his tennis together for long enough to take a set in this one. However over the course of two and a half hours, I expect Thiem's quality will wear down the Australian and I would be surprised if Thompson can win more than a set in this one.

It took Thiem four sets to come through the First Round and I think he will need the same number of sets to see off Thompson and move through the Third Round.

Dominika Cibulkova - 5.5 games v Su-Wei Hsieh: There are 85 places in the World Rankings between these players and I would expect Dominika Cibulkova to display her higher Ranking on the scoreboard at the end of this one.

You have to respect Su-Wei Hsieh having won a title at the back end of 2016, but that came at a lower level than she will be facing in this one. She is also going up against the WTA Finals Champion even if Cibulkova has yet to show her best tennis in the opening weeks of the 2017 season.

There should be break points for players in this one with neither possessing the strongest of serves, but the majority of those have to be expected to be won by Cibulkova. She is the stronger player in the match and the experience of playing at a much higher level consistently than Hsieh has to show up at some point.

I won't be that surprised if the first set is a tight and competitive affair before Cibulkova takes complete control of the match in the second set. All in all it should lead to the top ten player winning and covering this number.

Alize Cornet - 3.5 games v Maria Sakkari: There were plenty of positives for Alize Cornet from the opening tournament she played in the 2017 season and she will be looking to take that into a solid run at the Australian Open. Cornet reached the Final in Brisbane playing some pretty good tennis, although she did have a tougher than expected test in the First Round.

The Frenchwoman will understand she needs to be better if she is going to beat young Maria Sakkari whose most memorable moment on the Tour so far is taking a set off of Venus Williams at Wimbledon. Sakkari was a comfortable First Round winner here and she won three pretty impressive matches when Qualifying for the main draw in Sydney last week which shows the kind of talent the Greek player has.

However she is still searching for the consistency that could see Sakkari massively improve on her current Number 94 World Ranking, but Cornet has to prepare for the best her opponent can offer. Anything else or a loss of focus from Cornet could see her taken into a dogfight and the upset would be on.

The form in Brisbane showed Cornet has a little more focus opening 2017 and I think she can continue that here. She will have to weather some big hitting from Sakkari but I don't believe Cornet will be overawed and instead will be looking to set up some big counter hitting using whatever pace she is given. It wouldn't be the biggest surprise if this does go into a deciding set, but I would expect Cornet to just have worn down Sakkari by that point and pull away for the cover.

Serena Williams - 5.5 games v Lucie Safarova: By all accounts Lucie Safarova should be out of the Australian Open Singles tournament having had to save nine match points in the First Round. That might make her dangerous now she has nothing to lose and playing with the house money, but Safarova will have to be a lot better to beat Serena Williams who was in magnificent form two days ago.

There were some doubts about Serena Williams heading into the tournament, but her performance in beating Belinda Bencic was arguably the best in the women's draw and she will have hardened as the favourite. Bencic was a challenge, but she has had a few injury issues which have seen her slip down the World Rankings and Safarova is another who has struggled for form in recent months.

The lefty serve is a dangerous weapon though and Safarova has used that to give Serena some problems in the past, but her current state of mind may make that difficult to do in this one. I also think there would have been some mental and physical energy taken out of Safarova in her win over Yanina Wickmayer two days ago and another slow start will be punished by the American former World Number 1.

If Safarova brings her best to the court she will be a threat for Serena Williams to deal with, but I think she will do well just to stay in the match. I expect Serena to earn enough break points to secure at least three or four of those and I think that will be enough to help her past Safarova with a 63, 62 win in this Second Round match.

MY PICKS: Gilles Simon - 7.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Milos Raonic Win 3-1 in Sets @ 3.75 William Hill (1 Unit)
David Goffin Win 3-1 in Sets @ 3.80 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Dominic Thiem Win 3-1 in Sets @ 3.80 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Dominika Cibulkova - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Alize Cornet - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 William Hill (2 Units)
Serena Williams - 5.5 Games @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 12-15, - 7.42 Units (54 Units Staked, - 13.74% Yield)

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Australian Open Tennis Day 3 Picks 2017 (January 18th)

After a solid start to the Australian Open, I have to admit that Day 2 proved to be a lot more frustrating. Joao Sousa losing a 2-0 lead in sets to fall down in five sets against Jordan Thompson hurt, while Mikhail Youzhny retiring at a set and a break down meant that was a voided pick.

There were some poor picks mixed in too which is more a knock on myself, but hopefully things can get back into a positive position by the end of Day 3 as we move into the Second Round.

The weather looks like it will have cooled down significantly from Tuesday which should make it easier for the players heading out for their Second Round matches.

Due to a really busy day today, the majority of my picks will be in the 'MY PICKS' section below.

Jeremy Chardy + 2.5 sets v Kei Nishikori: It was a really difficult First Round match for Kei Nishikori, but I think he needs to take some of the blame for having to go into a fifth set before moving through to the Second Round. Andrey Kuznetsov can be really tough to stop once he builds momentum, but Nishikori had the match under control in the fourth set tie-breaker and let it slip before winning comfortably in the fifth.

He will need to raise his game a little bit when facing Jeremy Chardy who only had to play a few games before progressing to the Second Round. The Frenchman had a decent serve, although it does have to be said that Chardy can really struggle when facing the best players on the Tour.

I do think Chardy is good enough to at least put things together for one set and I was a little surprised to note the layers like Nishikori in straight sets here. The Nishikori serve is one that won't overly dominate so Chardy will have a chance to get on the front foot in rallies and he is capable of playing strong enough tennis for enough time to take a set from Nishikori.

It would be a surprise if he can do more than that, but Chardy needs to serve well if he is going to have any more success than that. The key is likely to be a tie-breaker in this one and Chardy will have his chances in this one so I will take the head start on the sets and look for at least one to be taken by the Frenchman.

John Isner - 2.5 games v Mischa Zverev: It is younger brother Alexander who is getting all of the attention, but that might have inspired Mischa Zverev to put in the hard yards that have helped him get back into the top 50 of the World Rankings. He had a relatively comfortable match up in the First Round against an out of form Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, but the challenge rises a number of levels when going up against John Isner.

Now I will say that I think Isner might be on the downward slope of his career with the serve working, but not as effectively as it once did, and Isner's movement perhaps being exposed. The big man is not like Ivo Karlovic in that he doesn't get to the net after every point and make life very difficult for opponents, but I still think Isner is good enough in a match like this one.

His serve is likely to put Zverev under immense pressure and the German has a tendency to throw in a really poor service game which could be very costly in a match like this one. He is a lefty which makes him dangerous as his best shots will naturally go into the weaker Isner backhand, but the American has managed to get enough balls back in play to force Zverev to self-destruct in previous matches.

This will be a close match dominated by the server. Ultimately I think Isner is going to just do enough to pressure Zverev mentally to see him crack and help the American move into the Third Round with a solid win behind him.

Tomas Berdych - 5.5 games v Ryan Harrison: You have to respect the way in which Ryan Harrison has pulled himself back into the top 100 of the World Rankings although he remains an emotional player. That isn't always productive to playing good tennis and Harrison will have to be in control of himself if he is looking for a Second Round upset against Tomas Berdych on Wednesday.

I do think Harrison has the serve and the power to stay with Berdych at times in this match and he could be dangerous if the Czech player is not quite at the races. Berdych was the beneficiary of a retirement in the First Round which means he has avoided being out in the heat like Harrison did, although the latter was a straight sets winner and should be ready to go in this one too.

A strong serving display from Harrison will give him a chance of the upset because Berdych has had some problems looking after his own serve in recent months. I think that is partly down to age as he might just be beginning to wear down and rallying from the baseline over and over again can be difficult.

However I think Berdych can have enough success behind his serve to put himself in a strong position in this one and I can see him wearing down Harrison over three or four sets. I expect two sets to be highly competitive, but Harrison might find himself a little frustrated that he isn't in a stronger position and can start to struggle to stay with Berdych. It wouldn't surprise me if Berdych is able to come through with a 63, 46, 64, 62 kind of win in this one and I will back him to cover this handicap.

Dudi Sela - 3.5 games v Lukas Lacko: This Second Round match features Dudi Sela and Lukas Lacko and you can't underestimate how important the 6-1 head to head in favour of the Israeli player is in this one. Sela has won the last five matches between these players which suggests he is very comfortable with the match up and he has won the last 10 sets competed between them.

Lacko has come through the Qualifiers at the Australian Open which makes him dangerous, but he also needed five sets to win his First Round match. In the taxing conditions, Lacko could be a little tired in this one in what is likely to be a match with long, drawn out rallies.

The head to head is important, but Sela also has the confidence of winning a title prior to the Australian Open and reaching the Semi Final in Chennai which suggests he is in very good form. He had an impressive First Round win over Marcel Granollers and Sela should be comfortable with what he sees coming from the other side of the court.

His serve is a little bit of a weak point which might mean Lacko having some chances of his own, but I can see Sela being a little too strong over a couple of hours on the court and winning this one 63, 36, 63, 64.

Roger Federer - 8.5 games v Noah Rubin: After six months off the Tour, Roger Federer has to be pleased that he has received the draw he has over the first two Rounds of the Australian Open. The standard of opposition is expected to increase tenfold in the Third Round where Tomas Berdych is expected to be the opponent, but Federer will head out to the Rod Laver Arena focused on Noah Rubin.

The young American came through a five set match in the First Round having already won three Qualifiers, but Rubin is yet to really make a big impact on the Tour. Rubin won't ever be able to make a bigger one than knocking off Roger Federer in a Grand Slam tournament, but he has yet to show he is capable of producing that level of tennis he will need.

Rubin has a smart game, but all of the power is going to come from the Roger Federer side of the court and he should dominate most of the rallies. I expect Federer to look after his serve even more impressively than he did in the First Round for the majority of the match with Jurgen Melzer and I very much expect Federer to earn a huge number of break points.

It might take him a little time to adjust to what Rubin is bringing to the court, but Federer is a smart player who can work out any problems. From there I would expect the Swiss superstar to exert his quality on the match and I like him to come through with a 64, 62, 63 win and a place in the Third Round.

MY PICKS: Jeremy Chardy + 2.5 Sets @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
John Isner - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Dudi Sela - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 8.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Victor Troicki - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Stan Wawrinka - 4.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Andy Murray - 9.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Venus Williams - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)
Ying-Ying Duan - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Eugenie Bouchard - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Monica Puig - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 6-8, - 3.94 Units (28 Units Staked, - 14.07% Yield)

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (January 17-18)

This week has been reserved for the FA Cup Third Round Replays ahead of the Fourth Round which is going to be played in the final weekend of January.

It has been a difficult month for the picks as I feel every time I have taken a step forward I have followed with two steps back and that is frustrating to say the least.

I expect better from the picks, but I do think I have not had a lot of fortune on my side either and hopefully that can be turned around in the remainder of the month.

I would suggest looking out for team news for these Cup Replays this week with managers around the country likely to make changes with League matters taking the focus away, but the draw for the Fourth Round might have encouraged some changes in thinking. For example I would expect a stronger Liverpool side than the one that draw with Plymouth Argyle at home ten days ago as they have a very good chance of reaching the Fifth Round of the FA Cup with a victory at Home Park.

Wimbledon v Sutton United Pick: The Fourth Round draw for the FA Cup has been made and the winner will earn the right to host Leeds United in ten days time. After the criticisms of not seeing this tie selected for television viewing, more is on the line in the Replay with the decision already made that either Wimbledon or Sutton United will actually be hosting Leeds United in front of the live cameras.

That does increase the pressure on the teams taking to the field, but I don't think the players should be focusing on that. If you're in the Wimbledon dressing room you have to feel confident that your quality will eventually tell, while Sutton United might make the short trip to Kingston Upon Thames with a 'nothing to lose' attitude.

The initial tie was actually a good one and it is a surprise it ended goalless with the chances that were created. It might be a little different in this one with an opening goal likely to create a free, attacking game with both teams capable of exposing the other if they push too far forward.

Wimbledon have a significant edge being back at home where they have scored at least two goals in 7 of their last 8 games. The lack of clean sheets will make Sutton United feel they can play their part in this one too even if their own away form has been far from impressive of late.

Being back on a normal surface compared with the artificial one Sutton United use should also make the difference in quality between Wimbledon and their visitors a little more obvious too. I don't expect Sutton United to roll over but instead try their best to stay with Wimbledon and I think they might play a part, but backing the over 2.5 goals option looks the call with Wimbledon having a chance to clear this number themselves.

Barnsley v Blackpool Pick: I thought Barnsley had enough in the locker to beat Blackpool in the initial tie at Bloomfield Road and I am not going to change my mind when they host the League Two side in the Replay at Oakwell.

There are suggestions the home side will make some changes, but they have scored at least twice in their last four games here and that makes Barnsley a pretty big favourite to progress. Those goals are in stark contrast to Blackpool who have managed just a single goal in their last 5 games in all competitions and who are languishing in mid-table in League Two.

Blackpool have to be respected because they are unbeaten in 5 away games in a row and they have kept 4 clean sheets in succession in those games on their travels. However this is a significantly stronger test against a Barnsley team who have been scoring plenty of goals in the Championship and I do think the draw in the FA Cup has given The Tykes a chance for a deep run in the Cup this season.

Barnsley beat Blackpool 4-2 in League One last season and the teams have moved in different directions since then and I will back them to move past Blackpool in this one.

Fleetwood Town v Bristol City Pick: With the way things are going for Fleetwood Town and Bristol City in their respective Leagues this season, there is every chance they could be swapping positions in the Championship and League One at the end of the season. There is a lot of football to be played before that, but it highlights my surprise that Bristol City are as strong a favourite to win at Highbury Stadium as they are.

There are only 10 League positions between Fleetwood Town and Bristol City and recent form suggests there is an upset in the making in this Third Round Replay. Fleetwood Town have been playing really well at home where they have won 8 of their last 10 games and Bristol City have lost 5 in a row on their travels.

It sounds like Lee Johnson will also be resting some key players for the huge League game with Nottingham Forest this weekend as Bristol City try and arrest a really damaging slide down the Championship table. There is a Fourth Round tie away at a Premier League club on the line, but Johnson would rather focus on getting things right in the League.

For Fleetwood Town the chance to play away from home at a Premier League club could be a real bonus financially and I expect they will want to keep their positive momentum behind them. The home form makes it hard to overlook Fleetwood Town as the underdog and I will back them with the start on the Asian Handicap to at least force extra time in this one.

Crystal Palace v Bolton Wanderers Pick: Sam Allardyce has seen the size of the task at hand as Crystal Palace manager despite this being a squad that has felt like it has been underachieving this season. Any expected quick turnaround in form has not materialised for Crystal Palace who were crushed 3-0 at West Ham United on Saturday which has left them in a precarious position in the Premier League table.

There will be changes made for this FA Cup Third Round Replay by the home team, but Allardyce has to feel this gives his team a chance for a confidence boosting win. They rode their luck at times to come away from Bolton Wanderers with a chance to get things right in the Replay, and the League One club won't head to Selhurst Park with any inferiority complex.

Goals have been much harder to come by away from home for Bolton Wanderers, but they have nothing to lose here and a host lacking confidence with changes made could be vulnerable. However I do think Crystal Palace will create chances of their own and this could be a lively encounter despite the goalless draw in the initial tie.

Anyone who saw that game will recognise there were enough chances for an early breakthrough which would have changed the whole feel of that game at The Macron Stadium. An early strike in this one will certainly produce an open game and I do think there can be chances created at both ends of the field in this Replay.

It does feel like a game that may end with a 2-1 scoreline either way and I will back at least three goals to be shared out at odds against.

Lincoln City v Ipswich Town Pick: The television cameras have pitched up at Sincil Bank with the belief that there could be an FA Cup upset on the cards, but it all depends on whether Lincoln City believe they have missed their chance from the initial tie at Portman Road that they led 1-2 into the last few minutes.

With the home form as it is and Lincoln City leading the Conference, you have to think the belief will still be there and Ipswich Town have not won an FA Cup tie since the Third Round in 2010. That has to be a concern for those backing the Championship side, although at odds against I am sure they will have their supporters.

I just think Ipswich Town will make changes to their starting eleven and that could make them vulnerable especially when you look at the amount of goals their first choice defence have been conceding. Ipswich Town have conceded at least twice in 6 of their last 7 games which includes in each of their last 4 away games.

However they have been scoring goals too and Lincoln City have conceded in their last 3 here including twice to League One Oldham Athletic in the Second Round.

I expect both teams to have their chances in this one and I think there will be goals and backing at least three to be shared out looks the call. Both teams can play a part and neither will want to go to extra time so look for an attacking game with chances at both ends in this one and the goals to follow.

Plymouth Argyle v Liverpool PickJurgen Klopp faced some criticism for the team he selected in the initial Third Round tie against Plymouth Argyle, but Liverpool had control of the game and slightly better fortune in the final third would have led to a win. They are expected to start a stronger eleven in this game at Home Park even though Liverpool have an early Premier League game this weekend, and I do expect Liverpool to go through to the Fourth Round.

Plymouth Argyle are in a different position than ten days ago too as they won't be looking to defend deep and in numbers in front of their own fans. I imagine they begin like that, but this feels like it will develop into a more open game and that should favour Liverpool.

Playing at Home Park will be a test as it is whenever a Premier League club go down to a lower League club in the Cup, but Liverpool have won at the likes of Burton Albion and Derby County already this season. The team picked for this one might not be as strong as the ones that started those games, but there should be enough quality on the field for Liverpool to win this one with room to spare.

It won't be easy and Liverpool will likely have to weather some difficult moments, but they can win this one by a couple of goals as they punish Plymouth Argyle on the counter attack to finish the job.

Southampton v Norwich City Pick: It looks like this Third Round Replay means more to the Premier League team than it does to the one from the Championship despite the prize of facing Arsenal being on the line this Wednesday. It looks like the Cup competitions are Southampton's best chances of making this a memorable season, while Norwich City are trying desperately to make up ground in the Championship.

I wouldn't be surprised if there are changes made by both clubs, but Norwich City might have less familiar names in the starting line up. While those have something to prove and could raise their game, Southampton should prove to be too strong on the evening and move through.

I do think Southampton can win this one with a comfortable margin if they are able to be a little more clinical than the last time they played here against Liverpool. The home side created plenty of opportunities on that day and they could catch Norwich City out if the away team have to push forward to get back into this game.

This should be something Southampton can manage when you consider the amount of goals Norwich City have conceded away from home and I will back the home team to cover the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Wimbledon-Sutton United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Barnsley @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Fleetwood Town + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet365 (2 Units)
Crystal Palace-Bolton Wanderers Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Lincoln City-Ipswich Town Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Southampton - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet365 (2 Units)

January Update11-21-1, - 19.86 Units (66 Units Staked, - 30.09% Yield)

December Final38-40, - 7.93 Units (153 Units Staked, - 5.18% Yield)
November Final40-38-3, + 5.76 Units (159 Units Staked, + 3.62% Yield)
October Final29-41-2, - 21.23 Units (139 Units Staked, - 15.27% Yield)
September Final43-28-1, + 35.17 Units (133 Units Staked, + 26.44% Yield)
August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)
Season 2016/17180-185-8, + 2.77 Units (708 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)

Season 2015/16133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield

Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Monday, 16 January 2017

Australian Open Tennis Day 2 Picks 2017 (January 17th)

It looks like the temperature is ramping up at Melbourne Park after a really hot day on Monday is likely to be surpassed on Tuesday.

That is going to play havoc as the 'x' factor that can't really be determined as to how players will react to the weather. At this time of the season there is always the likelihood of more upsets in the early Rounds of this Grand Slam with players only just settling into the 2017 season and some playing their first competitive match since October.

A few Seeds have already exited the tournament after Day 1, but the biggest names out of the tournament have come in the women's tournament. Simona Halep will be the headline player who is out, but two other top 20 Seeds also exited on a busy day at the Australian Open.

I am disappointed by the Daria Kasatkina defeat to Shuai Peng as I did think this was a tournament in which Kasatkina could really announce herself on the circuit to most fans. It does open things up at the top of the draw for Angelique Kerber, who had to come through in three sets, especially with Garbine Muguruza struggling with an injury in this Quarter of the draw.

The Day 1 Picks ended up 4-3 for me on Monday which is a solid enough start to the tournament, but it could have been a little better with slightly more fortune on my side. However I can't complain too much and a positive return is always something to be happy about and hopefully it is something I can build upon on Day 2.

The First Round is going to completed in some tough conditions on Tuesday and some of those players out there have to be thinking they will want to get through their matches as soon as possible to save some energy for the rest of the tournament. It is important to not rush things though and it should be another fun day as I look to avoid the upsets that are likely to be sprinkled around the tournament.

For anyone who is yet to read my preview of the tournament, you can find that here.

Daniil Medvedev - 4.5 games v Ernesto Escobedo: Two 20 year old ATP players will be looking to move into the Second Round of a Grand Slam tournament and believe this is a good opportunity to do so when they face one another on Tuesday. Ernesto Escobedo has reached the Second Round at the US Open in September, the first Grand Slam event he has played at this level, but Daniil Medvedev comes into this match considerably higher in the World Rankings.

While Medvedev did reach the Quarter Final of the Junior Australian Open and Junior French Open, the young Russian is making his debut in a Grand Slam event at this level having failed to come through the Qualifiers at Wimbledon and the US Open. However he has reached a career high World Ranking this week after reaching the Chennai Final to open this season.

That should give Medvedev some confidence and he was serving well in Chennai, while every time I have seen Escobedo play he does have a few issues in that department. Escobedo has come through the Qualifiers at the Australian Open and did the same in Brisbane which suggests he is getting some confidence at this level but this is another step up in the quality of opponent the American is facing.

Escobedo has had a habit of saving a number of break points whenever I have seen him, but I think Medvedev can use the confidence of the run in Chennai to give himself the edge in this one. It will likely to see both players have to fight the nerves at times with what is at stake, but I think Medvedev can come through with a 63, 36, 63, 64 win.

Joao Sousa - 1.5 sets v Jordan Thompson: There will be plenty of support for Jordan Thompson in his home Grand Slam as he bids to avenge a 2015 loss to Joao Sousa at the Australian Open. Thompson played well in Brisbane where he had a big win over David Ferrer to his name, but this is going to be a tough test for him against Sousa who reached the Final in Auckland.

That will give Sousa some confidence after a step back in 2016, but he has very little to defend in terms of World Ranking points over the next few weeks and could see the Number 37 World Ranking quickly improve. However one of the rare successes in the early part of 2016 was reaching the Third Round of the Australian Open and he did play well in the Grand Slams for the most part last season.

His best records in the Slams have come on the hard courts and Sousa is going to present a big challenge for Thompson who has had some difficulties protecting the second serve. His opponent in this one will try and wear down Thompson by getting plenty of balls back in play and it is up to the young Australian to overcome any nerves and play some fearless tennis if he is going to earn the upset.

Sousa also has an underrated service game against players of this level and I think he will be able to protect his serve for long enough to build pressure on Thompson. I do think Sousa is going to have a little too much on the day and can win this one in three or four sets as Thompson doesn't quite have the consistency to stay with Sousa.

Marcos Baghdatis - 1.5 sets v Mikhail Youzhny: It is Mikhail Youzhny who leads the head to head with Marcos Baghdatis 4-3, but it was Baghdatis who won their most recent match on the indoor hard courts in 2015. While there are some doubts about the Baghdatis fitness going into the Australian Open, this is a tournament in which Baghdatis receives fantastic support from the stands and I think that fires him up enough to win this match.

These two veterans should give the fans an enjoyable match to watch with some great shot making still within their grasp and the capabilities of putting together some strong sets of tennis. However that consistency that helped Baghdatis and Youzhny both have some memorable runs on the Tour are no longer with them these days which makes them vulnerable when playing the better players on the Tour.

Serving well is going to be very important to both men in this First Round match when you think of the conditions that are expected in Melbourne Park on Tuesday. The more running and tension in holding serve, the more likely that player will break down and I do think Baghdatis has a slight edge in that department.

The ankle issue that saw Baghdatis pull out in Doha is a concern, but he looked decent enough in Auckland and was serving well until running into Joao Sousa in the Semi Final. Youzhny did show some solid form in Chennai in his sole tournament ahead of the Australian Open and I do think he can play a real part in this one, but ultimately I think Baghdatis might be a little too strong.

This is a slightly dangerous pick with the way Youzhny can seem to raise his level for one or two sets, but I think Baghdatis can weather the storm with the support from his vocal fans and come through in three or four sets.

Feliciano Lopez - 1.5 games v Fabio Fognini: There has to be some concern about Feliciano Lopez' fitness heading into the Australian Open after pulling out in Auckland, but he has entered both the Singles and Doubles tournament here. That suggests his withdrawal in Auckland was more a precautionary measure, but the veteran Spaniard should be ready to go at Melbourne Park in this First Round match.

He faces the enigmatic Fabio Fognini who has personal things on the mind as he is getting ready to become a father for the first time. The Italian lost his only match played in preparation for the Australian Open and he has twice before come up short against Lopez in Grand Slam events including last year at Wimbledon when he blew a 2-0 lead in sets.

You do have to think the conditions could work to Lopez' favour in this match too with his ability to get to the net and shorten points a benefit in the heat. It takes away some of the pressures of holding serve and Lopez has a big first serve which should be able to fly a little more in the heat and take away some of the reaction time for Fognini.

On the other hand, Fognini is going to have to work much harder to look after serve and that can take a toll as you mentally and physically toil in the warm conditions that are much hotter than it has been in recent days. Fognini can sometimes be his own worst enemy and Lopez should be able to take advantage of any mistakes made by the Italian as well as being able to exert some pressure with deep slices and following those by forcing Fognini to make a number of difficult passes.

I did consider backing Lopez to win in three or four sets at what looks a huge price but Fognini can make a nuisance of himself in these best of five set matches and I think Lopez can win and cover the games. Fognini might take players into deep waters in the best of five, but he is just as culpable of losing a set or two by wide margins which should mean Lopez can cover this number even if it does head into a fifth set.

Fernando Verdasco + 7.5 games v Novak Djokovic: This is the type of awkward First Round match that screams out 'upset' and that would only have been underlined by the fact that Novak Djokovic needed to save five match points to beat Fernando Verdasco in Doha two weeks ago. Now they play one another again at the Australian Open and the question for Verdasco is whether he can produce enough of the top tennis he did in Doha to hurt Djokovic here.

It is going to be very difficult for Verdasco to maintain the type of level he produced in Doha for a best of five set match, but the veteran Spaniard is capable on his day. However I just don't think there will be enough in the tank for Verdasco to win the match, although I do think there could be a chance he keeps this one very competitive and can make use of the games he is being given.

They did play one another at the Australian Open in 2015 and it was Djokovic who came through with a standard straight sets win, but he would not have covered this number in that victory. You can never discount the fact that Verdasco might have a mental obstacle to overcome and could simply fall apart in this match with his style of play always on the edge and potentially producing a lot of errors very quickly.

I just think Verdasco can make use of Novak Djokovic not quite being up to full speed over the last few months and it is possible the Spaniard is capable of taking at least a set in this one. The Djokovic serve will give Verdasco the chance to go on the attack and if he is finding his groove, Verdasco could certainly make this a competitive match.

It might not look so good by the end of the Evening Session, but Verdasco getting this number of games looks enough for the underdog to stay within the number.

Johanna Konta - 5.5 games v Kirsten Flipkens: The British Number 1 comes into the Australian Open in much stronger form this season than she did last season when reaching the Semi Final. Now Johanna Konta is considered a threat to actually win the tournament when her run came as a surprise twelve months ago and the question is whether she can deal with the new pressures she may be feeling.

If the performance in Sydney is anything to go by, Konta is more than capable of dealing with an additional pressure and she could go very deep in this tournament. There is the small matter of Serena Williams who could be in the way before the Quarter Final, but Konta can't overlook any match and has to take it day by day.

She should be too good all around for Kirsten Flipkens in this First Round match with Konta holding a distinct advantage when it comes to the serve and the power in the rallies. Flipkens can be awkward and change the variation of her shots as well as the rhythm by attacking the net, but Konta should be able to keep her on the back foot for much of the match.

I think that will see Konta wear down Flipkens in this match and I expect her to create enough break points to secure a fairly comfortable win. I will look for Konta to come through with a 64, 62 kind of win and move through to the Second Round while covering this number of games.

Sam Stosur - 1.5 games v Heather Watson: It is common knowledge that Sam Stosur has a poor record at her home Grand Slam and there isn't a lot of time for her to reverse that as the veteran player is on the decline. She did reach the Semi Final at the French Open last season, but she has gone 9-14 on the Tour since that success and Stosur has a difficult First Round match here.

She faces Heather Watson, who I consider to be massively over-rated in the United Kingdom with a couple of stand out performances hiding the facts that those are the exception rather than the rule for Watson. She has been overtaken by Johanna Konta in Britain and maybe that will ease some pressure on Watson who might have been carrying too much pressure before the emergence of Konta.

The Watson Grand Slam record is incredibly poor having not been beyond the Third Round of any of those tournaments, while she has been beaten three times in a row in the First Round here. Watson has also shown that she can struggle in the conditions that we are likely to see in Melbourne on Tuesday and Stosur's experience of that should hold her in good stead.

Stosur's serve has not been working as well as it should be over her 9-14 run on the Tour, but she was close to beating Garbine Muguruza when they met in Brisbane a couple of months ago. The home favourite has only been beaten four times in the First Round at the Australian Open in fifteen previous experiences and I think she can do enough to get past Watson in this one.

It is possible that Watson will have a few breaks of serve in this one, but her own serve can be attacked and I think Stosur will grind her down in a 46, 64, 64 win.

Ana Konjuh - 1.5 games v Kristina Mladenovic: At one point it looked like Kristina Mladenovic may have the tools to reach the top of the women's game but I think there is a lot more chance of a deep Doubles run than a Singles one. Mladenovic did reach the Semi Final of one event and a couple of Finals over the 2016 season, but there were plenty of early losses scattered in too.

Perhaps returning to the Grand Slam level will be an inspiration with Mladenovic saving some of her best Singles tennis for these events. She has only suffered one First Round exit in the last two seasons, but Mladenovic could have hoped for a much better draw than facing Ana Konjuh who so much is expected from.

Konjuh is a player on the rise on the WTA Tour and reached the Final in Auckland a couple of weeks ago on a surface which is supposed to match what we will see in Melbourne. She had three decent wins there before being upset by Lauren Davis in the Final, but that will have given Konjuh the confidence to take into the Australian Open after reaching the Quarter Final at the US Open a few months ago.

She has the power to match what Mladenovic will bring to the court and I also think the Frenchwoman can be guilty of perhaps throwing in the towel mentally which I don't expect to see from Konjuh. The superior form on the Singles Tour over the last few months has to make Konjuh believe she can overcome this challenge and move through to the Second Round and I think she will win a tough match 46, 64, 63 as Mladenovic perhaps falls away in the hot conditions.

MY PICKS: Daniil Medvedev - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Joao Sousa - 1.5 Sets @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Marcos Baghdatis - 1.5 Sets @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Feliciano Lopez - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco + 7.5 Games @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Johanna Konta - 5.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Sam Stosur - 1.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Ana Konjuh - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 4-3, + 2.78 Units (14 Units Staked, + 19.86% Yield)

NBA Picks January 2017 (January 16-22)

It is Martin Luther King Day in the United States on Monday which means a national holiday and the NBA games being played throughout the day.

I didn't make any picks over the last weekend because I didn't really have the research time I would like to devote and it would have been less prepared than normal.

The month is in a winning position, but I want to kick on with some consistency this week and really get things moving in a positive direction.

Monday 16th January
Atlanta Hawks @ New York Knicks Pick: The New York Knicks are on the bring of being completely destroyed as they continue slipping off the pace in the Eastern Conference. This is a franchise that will always receive far more media attention than a team with a losing record should be getting, but a big market also means big demands from the fans and the Knicks are falling far short of those at the moment.

Phil Jackson was supposed to be overseeing a turn around for the Knicks, but his two and a half years in the job have been inconsistent to say the least. No one has been impressed with the Head Coaching appointments under Jackson who looks to blame everyone but himself for the mess the Knicks keep finding themselves in.

Kristaps Porzingis will be a big miss on Monday as he battles an injury, while we are only seven days removed from Derrick Rose walking out on the team and almost calling time on his Knicks career. Now we've had a piece in the media that suggests Carmelo Anthony could waive his 'no trade' clause and this might be the closest we have come to seeing Anthony get ready to leave Gotham.

It all doesn't bode well for the Knicks who host the Atlanta Hawks in the Garden on Monday and who are facing a team that looks to be building momentum. Atlanta were supposed to be big trade players with some of their veteran pieces expected to be moved on, but they have won eight of their last nine games and look to be in a much better place mentally than the Knicks.

The Hawks look to be matching up well with the Knicks and have used strong Defensive performances to spark their winning run. I would expect Atlanta to win the battles on the board and I do think they can snap their 0-4 run against the spread in the last four against the New York Knicks. Atlanta look to be in a positive state of mind heading to Madison Square Garden and I will back them to cover the points in this one.

Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks Pick: The Philadelphia 76ers will have to have a special second half of the season if they are serious about getting into the Play Offs and everything is possible when you Trust The Process. Joel Embiid is still on a minutes restriction and isn't playing in back to backs, but he will be returning to the starting line up after missing the 76ers loss at the Washington Wizards on Saturday.

That loss snapped a three game winning run for the 76ers, but it is clear this is a team that is playing with more confidence than arguably at any time over the last four seasons. The 76ers had been very competitive before the 16 point loss to Washington, but having their star player back in the line up should mean they are much more competitive when they head to The Bradley Center.

It won't be an easy game for the 76ers as they face a young and hungry Milwaukee Bucks team who look like a Play Off team in the making in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks have been a little inconsistent over the last couple of weeks, but that is not a big surprise when you think of the youthfulness of this squad and the usual ups and downs young players will have.

The Bucks are capable of covering this number when you think how well they have been playing Offensively, but I think the 76ers keep this close because of the Defensive problems the home team have been having. They did cover this number in a win over the Miami Heat last week, but Milwaukee are just 1-2 against the spread as the favourite of 7 points or higher this season and this Philadelphia team have been playing much better than the Heat in recent games.

Philadelphia are just 1-4 against the spread in their last five games in Milwaukee, but I think the 76ers can make this number of points count and stay within it.

Charlotte Hornets @ Boston Celtics Pick: The Boston Celtics are not only expected to be an Eastern Conference Play Off team, but they are expected to be in a position to perhaps host at least two Play Off series. There are suggestions that the Celtics may even make a big trade to put themselves in a position to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

They are facing a Charlotte Hornets team who have been sliding in the Eastern Conference and have been knocked out of the top eight in the East this past weekend. The Hornets have lost six of their last seven games and are close to dropping below 0.500 for the first time this season, while Charlotte also conclude a road trip on Monday in which they have lost four in a row.

A close loss to the Detroit Pistons in the first of those hurt Charlotte, but they have since been beaten comfortably at San Antonio, Houston and Philadelphia and this is a big test for a team who have lost confidence. There have been struggles on the Offensive side of the ball and that has led to some holes Defensively which has seen Charlotte allow at least 102 points in their last seven games.

Defensive performances have been something of an issue for Boston in recent games too, but they are doing enough on the other side of the court to win six of their last seven games. Barring a fourth quarter collapse at the Toronto Raptors, Boston would have been riding a long winning run into this game and they will also likely have a boost with Avery Bradley returning to the roster with his superior Defensive skills.

The Celtics are 18-6 against the spread as a favourite of fewer than 8 points this season and Charlotte are 3-5 against the spread as an underdog of fewer than that number. It has to be noted that Charlotte have a very strong recent record when visiting Boston, but they are 1-6 against the spread in the last seven in this series and I like the home Celtics to win and cover in this one.

Tuesday 17th January
Only a real sloppy opening to the fourth quarter prevented the Atlanta Hawks from making it a 3-0 day, but I am always happy with a winning start to the week. I am looking to keep that going on Tuesday.

Toronto Raptors @ Brooklyn Nets Pick: The Toronto Raptors are only a couple of games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference and they do look the closest challenges to prevent the Cavs from making it three Finals appearances in a row. There are some suggestions that the Raptors will hit the trade market to improve, but the chemistry in the current roster is very good and one they may not want to mess around with too much.

The Raptors head off on a three game road trip at three teams with losing records in the Eastern Conference beginning with this tilt at the Barclays Center against the Brooklyn Nets who have the worst record in the NBA. It has been really tough for the Nets who have lost ten in a row and will be favourites to finish with the worst record in the NBA this season as they have continued to struggle at both ends of the court.

The Nets have given up at least 101 points in each of those ten losses and it is made worse by the fact they have not broken triple digits themselves in six of those games. That includes being blown out by the Toronto Raptors in Canada last week and I think it will be difficult for Brooklyn to narrow that gap on Tuesday.

My one concern has to be that Toronto head to Philadelphia for a game on Wednesday night and might be overlooking the poor Nets. The 76ers might have a losing record, but they are a team in form so Toronto could be gearing up for that challenge. However I think the Raptors should have too much Offensively for Brooklyn in this one and I expect Toronto to find a way to move away from the Nets over the course of 48 minutes.

Toronto are 5-1 against the spread as a double digit favourite this season and I will look for them to cover a big number on the road.

Houston Rockets @ Miami Heat Pick: The Miami Heat could decide to make some big moves in the trade market to get them ready for a better 2017/18 season as this one is looking a write off by each passing week. Only the Brooklyn Nets have a weaker record than the Miami Heat in the NBA this season although the Heat do play a lot of their next few games at home to try and improve.

Things might get a little more comfortable for the Heat going forward, but the Houston Rockets come into town as one of the better teams in the NBA. After a couple of setbacks, Houston blew out the Brooklyn Nets last time out and they will look to conclude this mini road trip at the weakest teams in the Eastern Conference with another win before returning home.

The Heat are off a six game road trip where they went 1-5 and they have now lost ten of their last eleven games as the Play Off picture moves into the horizon. This is a difficult test for Miami against a hot shooting Houston Rockets team who have been strong from the three point range and that could be a the key in helping them get over this number.

Houston have been very strong when visiting teams with losing records as they are 9-3 against the spread in that spot this season while the Miami Heat are 3-7 against the spread when hosting a team with a winning record.

You can't argue that this is a big number to cover when you think Miami have been good enough Defensively to challenge teams and they do have a good record when given 7 plus points as an underdog. The Heat are 8-4 against the spread in that spot, but I think Houston will have too much firepower for them and they can improve their 6-2 record against the spread in the last eight in this series.

Denver Nuggets @ LA Lakers Pick: The Denver Nuggets visited London last week and blew out the Indiana Pacers and followed that up with an impressive win over the Orlando Magic on Martin Luther King Day. There are still some questions to answer Defensively, but Denver have been very strong on the other side of the court and will feel they can keep the winning run going when they visit the LA Lakers.

The Nuggets might be catching the Lakers at the right time with the latter on a four game losing run and having some problems at both ends of the court. In that run, the Lakers have given up at least 102 points in each game, but they have yet to reach triple digits as some of the younger players on the roster have hit a wall.

It is possible that the Lakers get back on track Offensively against this Denver team who have allowed 118 points per game in their last five games and allowed teams to shoot 50% from the field. However Denver will feel confident in a shoot out with the points they have been producing Offensively and they are facing a Lakers Defense that has allowed almost 49% from the field over their last five games.

Denver have a strong 6-0 record against the spread in their last six visits to the Lakers and that overrides my concern that they have gone 0-5 against the spread in their last five in the second half of a back to back. They did play early on Monday which means more time to prepare for this game and I think the Nuggets are playing well enough to take the points as the underdog.

This will be a close game because of the way the Nuggets have played on the Defensive side of the court, but I like them with the small number of points.

Wednesday 18th January
I have to admit I was a little frustrated to see the Toronto Raptors decide to rest Kyle Lowry for the first time this season on Tuesday which meant they actually went off as 8 point favourites rather than the 11.5 point favourites they were earlier in the day. So technically the Raptors covered, but missed out for me as they were 10 point winners which meant a 1-2 day.

You have to be careful of this time of the season as teams are more likely to give players a rest with one eye on the post-season already, but it is a haphazard task.

Memphis Grizzlies @ Washington Wizards Pick: A strong home record has sparked the Washington Wizards who have moved up to Number 5 in the Eastern Conference. Only the two NBA Finalists from last season have more home wins to this point than the Wizards who have won twelve in a row in this Arena and looking to make it lucky number thirteen when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

There is plenty of confidence coursing through the roster in Washington who have won five of their last six games as they look to make a return to the Play Offs having missed out last season. A lot of the success has come thanks to Bradley Beal and John Wall and what they have been able to do on the Offensive side of the court and Washington have responded by scoring at least 100 points in seven straight games.

However don't sleep on what Scott Brooks has instilled on the Defensive side of the court and the Wizards are going to need to make stops against the Grizzlies if they want their winning run to continue. Memphis have been a little more up and down in recent games with some big wins followed by some disappointing losses but they are a dangerous team who Defend against the three point shot very effectively and also are big enough to challenge most teams in the rebounding category.

That is an area where Washington have excelled too and could be part of the reason why the Wizards are able to extend their 7-4 record against the spread when hosting a team with a winning record. Washington also have gone 9-5 against the spread when favoured by fewer than 5 points this season and I think they can win this game with their home court building an aura for visitors to overcome.

Memphis don't have a great recent record here anyway, finishing 1-4 against the spread in their last five visits to Washington, and I think they might give up a little too much Defensively to stay with the home team. I will back the Wizards to continue their strong form at home and cover.

Portland Trail Blazers @ Charlotte Hornets Pick: A poor run of form has seen the Charlotte Hornets not only slip under 0.500 for the first time this season, but they have also fallen out of the top eight places in the Eastern Conference. The same happened to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference on Tuesday as their inconsistent results continue to see the team flounder seven games below 0.500.

A return home might be a benefit for the Hornets who lost all five games on a road trip, although losing seven of eight overall has to have dented some of the confidence. Head Coach Steve Clifford has urged the team to perform better on the Defensive side of the court as he feels Charlotte have gotten away from that aspect of their game which has sparked the rest of the team.

That is going to be tested by the Portland Trail Blazers who have been strong Offensively which isn't a surprise with CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard in the back court, but their own Defensive issues have been clear to all. The Trail Blazers have been up and down on that aspect of their game but will feel they can at least challenge the Charlotte Hornets off a long road trip and use their own Offensive power to keep the pressure on their hosts.

It is important for the Portland Trail Blazers to stay with Charlotte early in this one having fallen into a hole in the first quarter against the Washington Wizards last time out. They should be able to score enough points to remain competitive and Portland do have a 10-4 record against the spread in their last fourteen games against Charlotte.

Portland have been playing the boards well in recent games and I think they can make use of the points being given to them in this game.

New York Knicks @ Boston Celtics Pick: There is a lot of unrest behind the closed doors at Madison Square Garden as the New York Knicks have slipped down the Eastern Conference. Problems have only intensified with news that Carmelo Anthony may be unhappy with Phil Jackson and rumours swirl that the Knicks may be ready to ask their superstar to waive his 'no trade' clause.

Things could have unravelled on the court, but the Knicks have at least shown signs of fight in recent games with their dominance on the glass enabling them to stay in games. However they have failed to get over the line and put a run of wins together and that means New York head to their rivals Boston off the pace in the Eastern Conference Play Off picture.

The Knicks could have Kristaps Porzingis back in the line up having missed a few games with injury and they have been decent Offensively in recent games with Derrick Rose looking more like his old self. However they need to finish and that won't be easy against the Boston Celtics who are still chasing the Number 2 Seed in the Eastern Conference and potentially adding to their roster in the coming weeks.

Boston have a closer in Isaiah Thomas who has come up big in the fourth quarter to help Boston win seven of their last eight games and they will be confident they can do enough to keep their wins going. Avery Bradley is back to give them more Defensive security having just had some difficulty making stops at times, but this is a Knicks team who can score points when all their scorers are out on the court.

With that in mind, this does look like a lot of points for the Boston Celtics to cover even against a rival who they would love to embarrass. The Celtics have gone 3-1 against the spread in their last four home games against the New York Knicks, but Boston are 0-4 against the spread when favoured by 8 or more points this season. It isn't to say the Knicks have thrived as a big underdog, but they can score enough points to stay with Boston in this one and I will take the underdog on the road.

MY PICKS: 16/01 Atlanta Hawks - 3 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
16/01 Philadelphia 76ers + 7 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
16/01 Boston Celtics - 5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
17/01 Toronto Raptors - 11.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
17/01 Houston Rockets - 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
17/01 Denver Nuggets + 1.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
18/01 Washington Wizards - 3 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
18/01 Portland Trail Blazers + 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
18/01 New York Knicks + 8.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

January 16-23 Update: 3-3, - 0.23 Units
January 9-15 Final6-6, - 0.54 Units
January 2-8 Final4-3, + 0.68 Units

January Update10-9, + 0.14 Units
December Final19-23, - 5.51 Units
November Final24-25-1, - 2.92 Units
October Final8-9, - 1.72 Units

Season 201732-34-1, - 4.64 Units

Final Season 2016150-143-7, - 5.37 Units
Final Season 2015109-108-5, - 6.91 Units
Final Season 201458-72-1, - 16.86 Units
Final Season 2013105-93-3, + 10.49 Units
Final Season 201279-53-1, + 27.48 Units