Finding the good spots at this time of the season is most important as so many of the top players make it clear that they are not looking to ramp up their pace and gel together until after the All-Star Break. No one will openly say it, but it has been implied many times in the past and this season is unlikely to be any different as players hope to maintain their healthy early and really kick on towards the Play Offs in February and March.
You then get the slight lull as players rest for the Play Offs before the big run to the Championship.
Monday 14th December
The Toronto Raptors messed me about in each of the last two picks I made by failing to cover by a single point before then blowing out the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to some late baskets.
It happens, but hopefully those things go my way this week to get this month back into the positive side of the coin.
Orlando Magic @ Brooklyn Nets Pick: You have to respect the Brooklyn Nets for recovering from a really poor start to the season and start becoming a lot more competitive in their games. This is a team that has gone 5-2 straight up in their last seven games at home and now face an Orlando Magic team that is fresh of a blow out at home by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It was a real eye-opening experience for Orlando who come back out on the road where they have thrived so far this season. The Magic are a surprise contender for Play Off spots in the Eastern Conference at this early stage of the season, but they have lost three of their last four games which has just slowed a bandwagon that had begun to roll.
Brooklyn have won the last four games in the series, but I am expecting a real response from Orlando who were embarrassed in their last game. They will know the Nets are going to be very competitive, as they have generally been at home but Orlando are 7-1 against the spread when facing a team with a losing record and playing on the road.
This is likely to be a close game, but I like the fact that Brooklyn are just 3-7 against the spread when set as a home underdog of three points or less and I will back Orlando to win and cover this spread.
Houston Rockets @ Denver Nuggets Pick: It does look like the Houston Rockets have turned a corner on their season after a really poor start which cost Kevin McHale his Head Coach job. They have a chance to move above 0.500 and also a chance to earn some revenge over the Denver Nuggets who have already beaten Houston twice this season.
Both of those games have come over a month ago and Houston are much improved since. Houston have won seven of their last nine games and I am not worried about their spot because revenge has to be on these players minds after being beaten twice already by the Nuggets.
It is never easy playing in the altitude of Denver, but Houston had won twice in a row here before the loss last month. This is a Nuggets team that also needed overtime and a big recovery to snap a five game losing run at home and who are just 3-8 against the spread at home.
Houston are 20-13 against the spread as the road favourite being given six points or fewer over the last couple of years and Denver are 1-3 against the spread as the home underdog of that many points this season. With revenge on their minds, I like the Rockets to win this one on the road and cover the spread.
Tuesday 15th December
The Houston Rockets somehow fell apart in the second half to lose for the third time in a row to the Denver Nuggets this season. That meant the picks went 1-1 on Monday after Orlando blew out the Brooklyn Nets on the road.
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Boston Celtics Pick: This might not be the same level of rivalry as it was during LeBron James' first time as a Cleveland Cavalier, but not a lot of love is lost between his team and the Boston Celtics. The teams meet for the first time since the Play Offs last season and Kevin Love in particularly will be keen to put on a show.
That is because Love accused the Celtics of deliberately hurting him during that series, an injury that meant his Play Off run was ended in the First Round. He hasn't been at his best in recent games, but Love can certainly pick things up quickly and I imagine he has circled this game as soon as the schedule came out.
LeBron James should be an able supporter against a tough and scrappy Celtics team that pushed Golden State to Overtime last week before eventually being beaten. Boston showed their character by then winning a road game in Charlotte the next night and this is far from a straight-forward game for Cleveland.
Both teams are expected to make the Play Offs this season and both have winning records against the spread when hosting/visiting teams with winning records. I do think Cleveland are the better team Defensively though and that might prove to be the difference maker in the game and the Cavaliers have won three of their last four visits to the TD Garden.
Milwaukee Bucks @ LA Lakers Pick: The Milwaukee Bucks became the one in twenty-four and one when they finally snapped the Golden State Warriors unbeaten start to the season. The team have had a few days to think about that success before beginning this Western Conference road trip and they have to think they can back up that win as they begin at the LA Lakers.
It looks like being a tough final season for Kobe Bryant in a Lakers uniform as the team simply doesn't have the depth nor the quality to challenge for anything other than a lottery pick. Bryant's own skills have been sapped and he can no longer carry teams on his back and the Lakers have now lost six in a row and barely been competitive in those games.
Playing a tough Defensive team like Milwaukee is difficult, although I would be concerned by the spread simply because of the scoring problems the Bucks have. However, they are 6-1 against the spread when favoured by six points or fewer on the road while the Lakers are 14-16 against the spread when given that many points as the home favourite.
Add in the fact that the Lakers are allowing over 114 points per game in their last five games and are 1-3 against the spread when facing a team with a losing record at home and I do like Milwaukee's chances in this one. Underlining the feeling is the Bucks' 7-3-1 record against the spread in their last eleven games at the LA Lakers and I will take the road team to back up a huge win by covering the spread on Tuesday.
Wednesday 16th December
The Milwaukee Bucks had enough time to recover from upsetting the Golden State Warriors, or so I thought. I was really surprised by their 'effort' in losing to the LA Lakers as I really thought the emotion from that victory would have perhaps been removed by the days of rest they had, but I couldn't have been more wrong as they were blown out.
It wasn't the case for the Cleveland Cavaliers who recovered from a poor shooting display from outside the arc in the first half. They were much better in the second to pull away from the Boston Celtics and earn an easy road win.
Miami Heat @ Brooklyn Nets Pick: The Miami Heat have been struggling to find their consistency at this relatively early stage of the season, but they remain a real contender in the Eastern Conference. If you were to pick a team to challenge for dominance in this Conference against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a healthy Miami team might just have enough talent at both ends of the court to do that.
That isn't to say they are always the best road favourite to back in the NBA as the team have gone just 16-18 against the spread over the last couple of years when favoured by six points or fewer on their travels. Miami snapped a two game losing run on the road by winning in Atlanta last time out, but that was under a different dynamic as a fairly big road underdog so the circumstances are different as they head to the Brooklyn Nets.
The home team will be looking to bounce back from a blow out defeat here to the Orlando Magic which has dropped them to 2-3 on their six game home-stand. Brooklyn have been competitive at times, but twice they have lost heavily here although they are 5-3 against the spread when given up to six points as the home underdog.
Miami are still trying to find their Offensive groove at times, especially on the road, but Defensively they have looked good. That might be a difference maker in this contest for them although the Heat are just 1-2 against the spread on the road when facing a team with a losing record.
However, Miami are 14-6 against the spread in their last twenty visits to the Barclays Center and that includes two wins here last season. Both of those were as the underdog, but I think the Heat have enough to cover here as the favourite this time around.
Minnesota Timberwolves @ New York Knicks Pick: The Minnesota Timberwolves were embarrassed with their performance on Tuesday night which saw the Denver Nuggets beat them despite being on a back to back. Now the Timberwolves are out on a back to back as they visit the well rested New York Knicks, but I think they can make the points count and keep this one close.
Another home loss for Minnesota means they are 1-7 in their last eight games straight up and now face a Knicks team who had a confidence boosting win over the Portland Trail Blazers to end a sequence of four consecutive losses.
However, the Knicks have been a little hit or miss at Madison Square Garden all season as they have struggled to put things together Offensively on a consistent basis. That might change if the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to allow teams to shoot as they have been during their poor run of losses, but this is a team that has played better on the road and I expect some changes to be made to the starting five to give them a better balance on Wednesday.
As a Knicks fan it is hard to oppose a team I want to see win... However, they are just 13-16 against the spread over the last couple of years when favoured by six or fewer points at home and are just 3-5 against the spread when facing a team with a losing record here. Minnesota have enjoyed recent visits to The Garden where they are 7-2 against the spread in their last nine, and they have covered here as the underdog three straight times.
I'll back the Timberwolves to keep this close, even if they perhaps fall short.
Memphis Grizzlies @ Chicago Bulls Pick: The Chicago Bulls can be a very frustrating team to back, especially when they are set as a fairly healthy home favourite. While they have gone 10-6 against the spread when favoured by three points or fewer at home, the Bulls are just 26-41 against the spread when that number moves above three points.
So the extra half point tonight is a concern, but I do think Chicago can take care of the Memphis Grizzlies who are going through something of an identity change. Instead of the usual grind it out approach with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol dominating the paint, Memphis have perhaps realised the future of the NBA is playing a smaller line up to start games.
That has seen Randolph moved to the bench and the likes of Jeff Green and Mario Chalmers having a bigger influence on what they want to do Offensively. Memphis have played well in the last couple of games since that change, while the Chicago Bulls made a similar move in the off-season when moving Joakim Noah to the bench.
Chicago have been inconsistent behind that change as Derrick Rose tries to get back to the level he had a few years ago, albeit he is now through two major knee injuries. Rose might not be able to fully get back to his best, but the Bulls have some real talent and should be feeling good behind a three game winning run.
The Bulls have been better Defensively at home and have performed better when playing teams with winning records in front of their own fans. You can't ignore the success Memphis have had here in recent years, but both teams have changed the way they approach games since their last meeting and I think Chicago are perhaps ahead of the development curve in that regards and can win and cover on Wednesday evening.
Thursday 17th December
It was a good day for the NBA Picks on Wednesday as they went 2-0-1 thanks to Minnesota's big comeback against the New York Knicks. It might have been even better if the Timberwolves had hit one of the two shots they got at the buzzer, but I will take the push after the team were down by 20 points at half time.
Miami had to ride out a big comeback to cover in their game at Brooklyn and Chicago beat Memphis fairly easily to bring the week totals up and also turn around this month. However, there is still work to do to complete that turnaround with four more days left in this weekly thread.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Cleveland Cavaliers Pick: Whenever LeBron James takes on the Oklahoma City Thunder led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it is going to be a game that garners national attention. This one is no different even if both teams look to be a step behind the Golden State Warrior, although a couple of injuries to that team might have these two amongst the favourites to win it all.
Both Cleveland and Oklahoma City can't complain about their form going into this game- Cleveland have won three in a row after snapping a three game losing run, while Oklahoma City have won six in a row following a two game losing run.
There are some other similarities- both have been relying on strong Defensive efforts to spark what they do on the other side of the court. Oklahoma City have improved on that front and also managed to rest their starters in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night to ensure they are fresh for this game.
It is going to be tight with the Thunder having two top scoring threats and the Cavaliers looking to lock down Defensively and get the ball out in transition to their play-makers. Home court could be key here as Cleveland have been stronger Offensively in front of their fans, while I can't ignore the fact that Oklahoma City are 1-5 against the spread when playing on the road against a winning team.
Oklahoma City are also just 15-21 against the spread when set as the road underdog being given six points or fewer and they are 1-3 against the spread when playing back to back games this season. Tiredness shouldn't be an excuse as the starters received additional rest on Wednesday, but they are also 1-4 against the spread against Cleveland. I think LeBron and company find a way to cover this number in what is a big game for the Cavaliers and I believe they use home court to get the job done.
Friday 18th December
How strange was that Cleveland-Oklahoma City game on Thursday? Jason Day's wife was wiped out by LeBron James, but thankfully is doing well, while the game itself was so streaky.
There was an 18-0 run one way and then a 15-0 run the other and it was back and forth until the middle of the fourth quarter when Cleveland took control. Even then the Thunder had two chances to tie with the seconds ticking down as they trailed by three points.
I must buy Steven Adams a beer some time- trailing by three and with less than a second left on the clock, Adams decided to foul LeBron James who made a free throw which helped Cleveland cover by a single point!
New York Knicks @ Philadelphia 76ers Pick: The New York Knicks are on the road back to 0.500 and they can't afford to drop a game against the lowly and struggling Philadelphia 76ers. However, the one concern for me in backing the Knicks to win is they have a very big game against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday and I do wonder if the focus is fully on this game.
The Knicks are not really good enough to overlook any team in the NBA, even someone as bad as the Philadelphia 76ers. Doing that will win they lose this game straight up and the lack of focus in the second half of their win over the Minnesota Timberwolves saw the Knicks blow a 20 point lead and hang on at the end.
That makes this number a bit of a difficult one to get a grip on, but the 76ers have looked terrible of late and I am not sure they don't perhaps look ahead to a game at the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves. The last six losses suffered by the 76ers have not been competitive for the most part, but they might be able to at least make this one closer.
I don't think the 76ers are blown out and they might even be leading after three quarters, but the Knicks have found some scoring through Carmelo Anthony and Arron Afflalo to cover Kristaps Porzingis' hitting a rookie wall. The Knicks are 9-3 against the spread in their twelve games in Philadelphia.
LA Clippers @ San Antonio Spurs Pick: The San Antonio Spurs might quietly be the most in-form team in the NBA as they continue to not just win games, but pulverise opponents at the same time. However they can't exactly say they have had the most testing of opponents in recent games and the LA Clippers will certainly give the Spurs an acid test as to how they are competing.
Games between these top Western Conference rivals can strike a mental blow for them in the Play Offs, even this far out before they begin. This is a chance for both teams to show they can challenge the Golden State Warriors in the West and I think both San Antonio and the LA Clippers will want to put on a show.
Defensively the edge has to be given to the Spurs, although the Clippers will have no fear travelling here after winning a Game 7 in the First Round of the Play Offs last April. However, I have to like the way the Spurs are going about their business at the moment and the Clippers problems to defend the right way on the road could be their downfall in this one.
I am expecting a fun game, one where both teams have their hot patches, but I think the Spurs want to prove something. San Antonio are 4-2 against the spread at home when playing a team with a winning record this season and I think they will have enough on both ends of the court to cover what does look like a big number on first glance.
Detroit Pistons @ Chicago Bulls Pick: The Chicago Bulls came through for me earlier in the week when they beat the Memphis Grizzlies by a comfortable margin at home, but this could be much different. The Bulls are not always the best home favourite to back and they meet a rested Detroit Pistons team that could be looking for a statement win.
The Pistons have been up and down all season because of their Defensive struggles, an area which Chicago will look to exploit. However they have to make sure they stay in the moment and not look ahead to the game at Madison Square Garden which takes place on Saturday.
I really can this game developing into something of a shoot-out between two teams that have been better on the Offensive side of the court. The Chicago Defensive unit is definitely better than the one the Pistons will send to the court, but I think Detroit might be more focused for this one.
Detroit are 5-1 against the spread in their last six games in Chicago and I will take the points here and look for the Pistons to keep this close.
Saturday 19th December
It was a very good Friday night for the picks as I continued to get a favourable bit of luck on my side. In all honesty, the Detroit Pistons deserved at least a cover in their eventual win over the Chicago Bulls having seen so many missed chances at the end of the previous three periods before the fourth overtime win.
I was more fortunate with the San Antonio Spurs who secured two late free throws to win their game by eight points and ensure the sweep for the day.
It has turned around December in a similar fashion that happened in November, but there are still two weeks to go in the month and I am hoping to keep the momentum driving forward.
LA Lakers @ Oklahoma City Thunder Pick: An up and down loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers snapped Oklahoma City's six game winning run, but they will be big favourites to get another winning streak begun today. They look far superior to the LA Lakers who are their visitors on Saturday and I think the Thunder can cover a big number.
There are still some Defensive improvements needed by the Thunder if they are going to challenge the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. Offensively Oklahoma City can match up with any team in the NBA as both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are amongst the best in the Association, but also with a solid supporting cast.
It will be that scoring power that should spark the Thunder against the Lakers as the Kobe Bryant retirement tour rolls into town. This isn't the Lakers that Bryant fans would recognise from his younger days and they have suffered three defeats in their last four games by at least twenty points per game.
A young team is finding its feet and Bryant isn't capable of huge scoring outputs on a nightly basis. He has been in good form recently, but the lack of support should mean Oklahoma City put the hammer down on them.
The Lakers are 0-4 against the spread in their last four visits to Oklahoma City while they are now 5-11 against the spread when set as a road underdog of 12.5 points or higher. I look for the Thunder to find a couple of big runs and win this easily and cover a big spread at the same time.
Chicago Bulls @ New York Knicks Pick: The Chicago Bulls were involved in a rare four overtime game in the NBA on Friday and now have to face a back to back game at the New York Knicks. The Bulls are still favoured right now, but the money is coming in on the Knicks with fans expecting fatigue to be a big problem as the likes of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol all putting huge minutes in the loss to Detroit.
Even though the Knicks were also in action, their starters will have been given extended rest as they blew out the Philadelphia 76ers on the road.
So the Knicks as the underdog should be an easy pick right? I am not so sure about that and I actually think the Bulls can bounce back and win this one.
The last two times a NBA game ended up in fourth overtime has actually seen the losing team playing a back to back and both times they covered the spread! Both teams do have winning records on back to back games this season, but the Knicks are just 5-10 against the spread when set as the home underdog of three points or fewer too.
Chicago blew out New York three times last season and they remain the better team. Of course fatigue is potentially an issue in this one, but I think the Chicago Bulls bounce back in the way they would be expected and win this one.
MY PICKS: 14/12 Orlando Magic - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
14/12 Houston Rockets - 4 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
15/12 Cleveland Cavaliers - 1 Point @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
15/12 Milwaukee Bucks - 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
16/12 Miami Heat - 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
16/12 Minnesota Timberwolves + 5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
16/12 Chicago Bulls - 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
17/12 Cleveland Cavaliers - 3 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
18/12 New York Knicks - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
18/12 San Antonio Spurs - 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
18/12 Detroit Pistons + 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
19/12 Oklahoma City Thunder - 15.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
19/12 Chicago Bulls - 1 Point @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
December 7-13 Final: 2-4, - 2.14 Units
November Final: 27-22-1, + 2.69 Units
October Final: 5-4, + 0.57 Units
Season 2016: 32-26-1, + 3.26 Units