The Play Offs are six weeks away and the trade deadline has passed, while the All-Star weekend is a memory now. Those events usually signify the start of the Play Off run and teams will be jockeying for position in the top eight of each Conference.
One other element of this time of the year is there are always some teams that decide to play out the rest of the season half-heartedly. Teams will look to give themselves a best shot at getting a top draft pick once they realise the Play Offs are beyond them and that is another factor to take into consideration.
Indiana Pacers @ Toronto Raptors Pick: The Indiana Pacers came close to rallying from a big deficit in the final quarter of their defeat to the LA Clippers, but I can see them getting back to winning ways in this one.
Roy Hibbert is well rested and will join the team in Canada after being suspended yesterday and there were definite signs that Danny Granger is beginning to feel himself on the court. On the other hand, Toronto have lost their last couple of games following a bright start since trading for Rudy Gay and they have looked a team far too reliant on Gay and DeMar DeRozan.
It is weird that 2 of Indiana's 6 home losses have come against the Raptors, but the Pacers have won 3 in a row in Toronto and the Raptors haven't been a great small dog so far this season.
Houston Rockets @ Orlando Magic Pick: This looks a really tough game for the Orlando Magic who could just be the worst team in the NBA. Orlando are going to be short-handed again for this game with JJ Redick traded away and the likes of Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu all missing for this one.
It won't help that they are playing a Houston team that can push the ball at a really high tempo and could gas the remaining players on the Orlando roster. The Magic have also lost their last 4 home games by double digits and they are just not the same team that beat Houston earlier this season to extend their run to 5 wins in the series.
New York Knicks @ Washington Wizards Pick: The New York Knicks look to have righted a few wrongs in recent games and are back to trying to chase down the Miami Heat at the top of the Eastern Conference. They will also look to reignite their dominance of the Washington Wizards after losing here a month ago.
My concern is that the Knicks could potentially be looking beyond this game to their big Sunday clash with the Miami Heat, but I feel they are playing better than Washington at the moment. John Wall is in a bit of a slump for the home team and the Knicks could just be too strong this time around against one of the toughest underdogs in the NBA.
Atlanta Hawks @ Phoenix Suns Pick: The Phoenix Suns have won their last two games, both in overtime, and they are fresh off a really surprising win at San Antonio. There is every chance they could be a little flat in this home game against an Eastern Conference team and that could spell defeat for the Suns here.
Phoenix are out of contention in the Play Offs and host an Atlanta Hawks team that has won 4 in a row and 6 of their last 7 games. Atlanta kept their roster together before the trade deadline and while they are not likely to be NBA Champions, the Hawks will certainly be a Play Off team that could cause some problems.
The Hawks have won 5 straight road games and they may just be able to take advantage of a flat Phoenix team in this one.
Brooklyn Nets @ Chicago Bulls Pick: The Brooklyn Nets put in a lacklustre effort in their loss to the Dallas Mavericks at home last night, but that was a game against a Western Conference opponent and they could have been looking ahead to this game in Chicago.
The Bulls look set to be a little short-handed for this game and just haven't played that well in recent games and the Nets are certainly capable of keeping this game close at the very least. They have already played a couple of close games earlier this season and I think the Nets are getting a couple of points too many in my opinion.
Toronto Raptors @ Milwaukee Bucks Pick: Milwaukee are trying to hold off the likes of Toronto in the race for the Eastern Conference Play Offs and they can put some real distance between the teams if they can win their 9th in a row in the series.
The Bucks are also 8-2 against the spread in the last 10 of the series and they have won a couple of big games to get back on the right path in the last few days. I also feel that the Raptors have just hit the buffers after a very good start with Rudy Gay in the line up after the trade with Memphis.
Miami Heat @ New York Knicks Pick: The New York Knicks have beaten the Miami Heat in both meetings this season and have taken 3 of the last 4 games in the series, but the Heat are playing very close to the top of their game right now and this is a tough test for the Knicks.
Miami have won 13 in a row to open up a big lead in the Eastern Conference, but this game will mean more than just extending that lead. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have loved playing in the Garden and I think the Heat are going to look for a statement win. The Knicks have won 3 in a row ahead of this game, but they haven't been playing as well over the last couple of weeks as the Heat and I like Miami to get a measure of revenge after earlier defeats this season.
Atlanta Hawks @ LA Lakers Pick: The LA Lakers have a chance to get back to 0.500 for the first time since December, and they are also very much back in the Western Conference Play Off picture thanks to the struggles of the likes of the Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets at the bottom of the seedings.
The Lakers have dominated Atlanta at home in recent games in the series, and Kobe Bryant is playing like he was at the start of the season and pouring in the points. Atlanta have been playing well with all the uncertainty about their roster being put back until the off-season, but the Hawks have struggled at the Staples Center and I think the Lakers are going to be a little too good for them.
Charlotte Bobcats @ Portland Trail Blazers Pick: The Portland Trail Blazers can't afford to lose games like this if they have serious ambitions of getting involved in the Western Conference Play Off picture. The Trail Blazers have been very strong at home in recent games and they have been able to score plenty of points at home.
The Bobcats will be returning home after this game and they have suffered 3 successive blow-out losses on their recent Western road trip. They have struggled at the Rose Garden and I can see Portland rolling them over in this one.
Toronto Raptors @ Golden State Warriors Pick: Another team that will be glad to be getting home this week are the Golden State Warriors who have struggled on a recent road trip. At home it has been a different story for the Warriors as they look to establish their position in the Western Conference Play Offs.
They should be able to continue their dominance of the Toronto Raptors who have struggled the last week or so since Rudy Gay has been struggling with back spasms. Golden State have scored a lot of points and it is going to be tough for the Raptors to keep up.
LA Lakers @ Oklahoma City Thunder Pick: The Oklahoma City Thunder are the best team in the Western Conference and will remain focused on knocking off the LA Lakers after seeing the latter get back into Play Off contention.
The Thunder have the athleticism and speed to cause plenty of problems for the Lakers and they have won 5 in a row against the Lakers at home. After losing in the Staples Center at the end of January, I expect Oklahoma City to be fired up and push the Lakers back under the 0.500 mark.
Denver Nuggets @ Sacramento Kings Pick: Denver are looking to get into the top four of the Western Conference and at least give themselves the First Round of the Play Offs with home court advantage considering their dominance in Colorado. They have dominated the Kings and can win this game despite struggling on the road all season.
Sacramento have proved tough to beat at home, but they don't match up well with Denver and I think the Nuggets cover before turning their attention to a big game against the LA Clippers on Thursday.
Brooklyn Nets @ Charlotte Bobcats Pick: The Brooklyn Nets need to pick up their game if they are going to have any success in the next couple of weeks with a number of road games to come. Facing the Charlotte Bobcats who have lost 7 straight by 22 points per game should give the Nets every chance to do so.
The Bobcats will also been short-handed for this game and have struggled against the Nets in the recent games in the series. I expect Brooklyn to respond to PJ Carlesimo changing his line up a little and look for the Nets to pull away late.
LA Lakers @ New Orleans Hornets Pick: Yesterday I picked the Oklahoma City to be too strong for the LA Lakers, but this is arguably a bigger game for them if they are to make it into the Western Conference Play Offs. The Lakers can try handling the better teams in the post-season, but dropping games to the likes of the Hornets will almost certainly see them miss out on the Play Offs.
The Hornets don't match up well with the Lakers and even though the Lakers have been bad in back to back situations, I think they'll be able to pick up an important W in this one.
Atlanta Hawks @ Boston Celtics Pick: I like Boston to make it 9 in a row at home tonight with the way they have been playing since Rajon Rondo was injured for the season. Atlanta have struggled a little in recent games and this is an important game for the Celtics as they look to finish with the Number 4 seed in the Eastern Conference at the least.
Boston have also been pretty dominant against Atlanta at home and I like them to cover tonight.
Philadelphia 76ers @ Miami Heat Pick: You don't really want to play the Miami Heat when you are complaining about tiredness and 'needing a rest' but that is the backdrop to Philadelphia's visit to South Beach.
Miami go for 17 straight in this one and will likely be more focused after just about coming through against Orlando and I think they pose big problems for Philadelphia in this one. It is a big spread, but the Heat can cover if they stay committed throughout the 48 minutes.
Toronto Raptors @ LA Lakers Pick: The LA Lakers just about kept their nerve to beat the New Orleans Hornets in their last game, coming back from 25 down and also going on a 20-0 run in the final six minutes to win the game.
The Lakers have dominated games at the Staples Center against Toronto and they have won 4 straight here, while it is possible they catch the Raptors looking ahead to returning home following a 4 game road trip at Western Conference teams. I expect it will be close for a while, but like the Lakers to pull away late to win and cover.
Indiana Pacers @ Miami Heat Pick: While LeBron James is playing down the significance of this game, I think there is little doubt that the Heat are focused on winning this game in style to make a statement to the rest of the Eastern Conference that they are not ready to give up their crown.
I think the absence of Danny Granger will be felt more on the road than it has in the two home wins for the Pacers over the Heat and I like Miami to put up a big win in this one.
Detroit Pistons @ LA Clippers Pick: There are a lot of trends favouring the LA Clippers in this one, including Detroit's horrible record as a double-digit underdog this season and I think the couple of days rest for the Clippers will have them focused to cover the spread in this one.
The Clippers are 9-1 against the spread on two days rest this season and I think they can take advantage of a short-handed Detroit team with the Clippers bench providing the spark to put them away in this one.
Brooklyn Nets @ Philadelphia 76ers Pick: I really like the Brooklyn Nets in this spot as Philadelphia could be looking ahead to their next game with the Miami Heat now there is little chance they make it into the Play Offs.
A couple of trends really stick out too: the 76ers are a terrible 4-11 against the spread in the second of back to back nights play, while they are 6-10 against the spread when playing a team with a 0.500 record at home. Brooklyn are also 9-3 against the spread when playing on the road at sub 0.500 teams and I think they win and cover in this one.
Denver Nuggets @ Phoenix Suns Pick: Denver are the hottest team in the NBA, outside of the Miami Heat, and they are fully focused on getting into the top four into the Western Conference. They should be too good for the Suns and will be focused after a 10 point loss here in their last visit.
I liked the Nuggets to win by double-digits here on current form and will add them to the staking plan.
LA Lakers @ Orlando Magic Pick: This is the return of Dwight Howard to his former home for the first time since he forced his trade out of Orlando and the thinking is that the Orlando Magic will play hard and beat the Lakers.
While I think the Magic play hard, it is a much changed roster from even a season ago and only one player on their team tonight would have played with Howard, so that should tell you how much things have changed here. I expect the fans to be boisterous and intimidating, but the Lakers are playing with their Play Off faces on at the moment and I like them to win and cover.
Miami Heat @ Philadelphia 76ers Pick: The Miami Heat have dominated the Philadelphia 76ers in recent games in the regular season and the Heat have also comfortably handled them twice during their 19 game winning run.
The spread looks a touch low against the Heat who have won by an average of 11.5 points per game during their run and have beaten Philadelphia by at least 9 points in both games this season.
Utah Jazz @ Oklahoma City Thunder Pick: The Utah Jazz are short-handed for this game and are playing a motivated Oklahoma City Thunder team that will be looking to bounce back from their defeat to the San Antonio Spurs.
The Thunder have been very good as the big favourite this season, and I can see the Jazz focusing on returning home at the weekend and perhaps taking a bit of a blow out loss in this one.
Minnesota Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets Pick: There isn't a lot to say about this one except Houston are very good at home and Minnesota have struggled on the road and are going to be short-handed yet again with injuries destroying any semblance of a season.
The Timberwolves have also been a bad double-digit underdog, going 0-6 against the spread in that role this season. Houston need to keep winning and won't take the Wolves lightly after going 1-4 against them in recent games and I think the Rockets win big.
Chicago Bulls @ Golden State Warriors Pick: The Chicago Bulls have a number of Offensive weapons out of action and could be looking forward to returning home after more road struggles. They have lost 5 in a row on the road, scoring just 81.4 points per game, while they have lost 11 of 13 here in Oakland.
Golden State need to keep winning to earn their place in the Western Conference Play Offs and their home form will dictate if they reach that stage- with recent dominance of the Bulls and the way they have been playing themselves, I like the Warriors to cover.
Miami Heat @ Toronto Raptors Pick: The Miami Heat continue winning and winning and I expect they will continue that run here before heading to Boston tomorrow night.
The Heat have been dominant when heading to Canada to take on the Raptors and I expect more of the same here as they cover the spread.
Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets Pick: Houston have been very dominant in the recent games between these teams, including winning all 3 games this season. I think they can go on and cover in this one as they have matched up well with Golden State and I do think home court will prove to be the difference.
The Rockets are 8-1 against the spread in their last 9 home games against the Warriors and I am expecting a better effort throughout the game, unlike that first half performance against Minnesota on Friday night. Houston should be able to score enough points here to see off the Warriors.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Dallas Mavericks Pick: The Dallas Mavericks are closing all the time to the Western Conference Play Off places, but this could be too much of a challenge for them against the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder have won all 3 games against Dallas this season and will be focused for this game between rivals. The first two games were close, but the third was a blow out and I think the Thunder have too much depth for the Mavericks to cope with. Add to that the fact that the Thunder are 4-0 straight up and 3-1 against the spread in their recent games here in Dallas and I like OKC to cover tonight.
One concern is that they have big Western Conference games coming up against the likes of Denver and Memphis, but the rivalry should keep them locked in for this game.
Portland Trail Blazers @ Philadelphia 76ers Pick: The Philadelphia 76ers may be out of Play Off contention, but they have been playing hard in recent games and I think they see off the Portland Trail Blazers who have struggled on the road all season.
Philadelphia are off back to back tough performances against the leading two teams in the Eastern Conference, so I am a little concerned they could be flat for this one. However, Doug Collins has been talking up his teams efforts and I feel they will put in the energy for this home game and can win the game and cover.
Brooklyn Nets @ Detroit Pistons Pick: Brooklyn were beaten comfortably by the Atlanta Hawks last night, but I think they can recover to win their third game against Detroit this season. The players were not overly disheartened with their loss to the Hawks and said they were glad they can get back on the court as soon as the next day to right the wrongs of the loss.
The Nets have every chance of finishing as high as the Number 2 seed in the East, but also know they could drop as low as 8 depending on their run to end the season. However, they have been strong when playing teams with losing records, going 9-4 against the spread on the road and I like Brooklyn to cover in this one.
Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics Pick: There is no love lost between these teams as both put long streaks on the line- Miami are going for number 23 straight in the regular season, while Boston haven't been beaten at home for a while. For me, Miami are playing at too high a level to be slowed down enough by the Celtics and I think they can right the stat of never winning here in the regular season since LeBron James signed to play on South Beach.
I have a lot of respect for the Boston team that have rallied together in the absence of Rajon Rondo, but the Heat are playing at a really high level and I expect the streak to continue.
Denver Nuggets @ Chicago Bulls Pick: My biggest concern is that the Denver Nuggets are facing the Oklahoma City Thunder tomorrow and may not be fully invested in this game, although to earn a top four seed in the Western Conference means Denver can't really drop any game.
They are facing a short-handed Chicago team that did wallop Golden State on Friday night, but one that may not be able to handle the speed and depth that Denver can provide. The Bulls are only 4-11 against the spread when playing a team with a winning record at home this season and Denver have the momentum of being on the second longest winning streak that is active at the moment.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Atlanta Hawks Pick: I know the Hawks laid an egg against Dallas in their last game, but I think they could have been caught looking ahead to this one and I like their chances to put a big W in the column.
Both teams are in the mix, fighting for position in the Eastern Conference, and Atlanta have been the stronger team in recent games. Monta Ellis is going to be a little banged up for the Bucks and I think the Hawks cover.
Brooklyn Nets @ Dallas Mavericks Pick: Dallas are the more desperate team and arguably playing their best basketball of the season right now. While Brooklyn have been successful on the road, I think the Mavericks are going to be a little too good for them in this game.
Dallas are putting in full attention to every game they play and have pushed San Antonio and Oklahoma City hard enough to think they can do enough to see off the Nets at home.
Detroit Pistons @ Miami Heat Pick: This is a big spread for the Heat to cover, but the Pistons have looked bad the last couple of weeks as injuries take their toll. I expect Miami to be a lot more focused than they have begun their last two games and I think they can pull away from Detroit, although any lumbering beginning will kill the cover before the game is really gotten going.
Memphis Grizzlies @ New Orleans Hornets Pick: This looks a big letdown spot for the Memphis Grizzlies after their last second win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but they just can't afford to drop any Conference games if they are to finish in the top four in the Western Conference.
The New Orleans Hornets are no pushovers, despite their poor record, but I expect stifling defence to guide the Grizzlies to the win and cover.
Got three picks today, but haven't got the time to put down reasons for them so you can find them in the 'My Picks' thread with the relevant date.
MY PICKS: 01/03 Indiana Pacers - 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
01/03 Houston Rockets - 8.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
01/03 New York Knicks - 2.5 Points @ 1.92 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
01/03 Atlanta Hawks - 4 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
02/03 Brooklyn Nets + 5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
02/03 Milwaukee Bucks - 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
03/03 Miami Heat - 4.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
03/03 Atlanta Hawks -5.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
04/03 Portland Trail Blazers - 13.5 Points @ 2.05 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
04/03 Golden State Warriors - 6 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
05/03 Oklahoma City Thunder - 8.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
05/03 Denver Nuggets - 5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
06/03 Brooklyn Nets - 9 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
06/03 LA Lakers - 2 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
08/03 Boston Celtics - 4 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
08/03 Miami Heat - 12.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
08/03 LA Lakers - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
10/03 Miami Heat - 6.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
10/03 LA Clippers - 14 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
11/03 Brooklyn Nets - 6 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
11/03 Denver Nuggets - 9 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
12/03 LA Lakers - 8 Points @ 1.92 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
13/03 Miami Heat - 8.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
13/03 Oklahoma City Thunder - 13 Points @ 1.92 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
15/03 Houston Rockets - 14 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
15/03 Golden State Warriors - 4.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
17/03 Miami Heat - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
17/03 Houston Rockets - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
17/03 Oklahoma City Thunder - 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
18/03 Philadelphia 76ers - 1 Point @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
18/03 Brooklyn Nets - 4 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
18/03 Miami Heat - 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
18/03 Denver Nuggets - 3.5 Points @ 1.92 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
20/03 Atlanta Hawks - 6 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
20/03 Dallas Mavericks - 4.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
22/03 Miami Heat - 15.5 Points @ 1.92 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
22/03 Memphis Grizzlies - 6 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
29/03 New York Knicks - 14 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
29/03 Oklahoma City Thunder - 8 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
29/03 Denver Nuggets - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
March Update: 20-16-1, + 3.08 Units
February Final: 6-3, + 2.61 Units
January Final: 5-14, - 9.31 Units
Season 2013: 41-32-2, + 10.52 Units
Season 2012: 79-53-1, + 27.48 Units