That also signifies a turning point for teams in the NBA as they begin to put things together for the Play Offs which begin in a couple of months. The chemistry of teams are determined now as teams build to that moment, while the trade deadline also fast approaches.
I was just about to have this post published when I read the news that my New York Knicks have decided to fire Derek Fisher in the middle of his second season as Head Coach. It came out of left field after Fisher came through a difficult first season and the Knicks have been playing ahead of my own expectations and perhaps most fans' expectations.
That hasn't been the case for James Dolan and Phil Jackson when the statement was released that they are 'falling short of expectations', something I think is down to the fact that the Knicks have overachieved earlier on in the season. Now they are 1-9 in their last ten games and dropping out of the Eastern Conference picture, I think Fisher has been a victim of his own surprising success earlier in the season.
Do I think this is the right move? No, I actually think Fisher was doing well and this was going to be a big Free Agency summer for the team to get back into contention next season. I didn't expect the Knicks to make the Play Offs this time around, but I will say the early season form was exciting. However, that shouldn't have shifted expectations to the extreme of seeing Fisher fired.
Perhaps the Knicks have sensed that Luke Walton is interested in taking a permanent Head Coaching spot after performing very well for the Golden State Warriors in relief of Steve Kerr to open this season. It was Walton who was Coaching the team to their record winning run to open the season and I am guessing the Knicks make a run at him having missed out on Steve Kerr eighteen months ago.
Once again though, it is tough times being a New York Knicks fan with uncertainty surrounding the direction the franchise is taking.
It was a good opening week of February for the picks, although I was a little disappointed to go 1-3 over the last couple of days to take away some of the early success.
Orlando Magic fans must be hoping that I spend more time backing against their team too- here is a wonderful stat for you:
The Magic are 3-15 in their last eighteen games as they have fallen off the Eastern Conference Play Off hunt... However, I have backed against them twice during that run and the Magic have won two of their three games when I have done that!! Incredible...
Monday 8th February
The Sunday picks went 1-1 after the Orlando Magic knocked down a buzzer beater to knock off the Atlanta Hawks at home, but the Denver Nuggets won outright as the underdog in New York.
That ended the first week of February in a decent position and I will be looking to build on that in this short week which culminates in the All-Star Game on Valentines Day.
Next week is also a short week with the NBA out of action from Friday 12th February until Thursday 18th February, but I hope to build on last week to ensure another winning month is put in the books.
Denver Nuggets @ Brooklyn Nets Pick: The Denver Nuggets held off the New York Knicks on Sunday to keep their chances of making the Play Offs alive in the Western Conference. They can't afford to drop a loss to one of the worst teams in the NBA when they visit the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, although this is a unique position for the Nuggets to be in.
For the first time this season, the Nuggets go into a game as the road favourite and I do wonder if that changes their mindset even a little. It has actually been a rare position for Denver over the last couple of seasons, although I am encouraged by their 10-6 record against the spread in that spot in that time frame.
Add in the fact that Denver are 5-0 against the spread as the road favourite of 3 points or fewer over the last couple of seasons and they are 7-4 against the spread in back to back games this season and I like them to cover in this game.
Brooklyn have struggled with seven losses in eight games and they have been having a hard time Defensively. Some of their bigger name players could potentially be moving on at the trade deadline but the Nets do have a solid 7-2 record against the spread in the last nine against Denver.
Even with that in mind, Denver have a strong road record against teams with losing records this season and I think they make it two out of two in the boroughs of Gotham on back to back nights.
Portland Trail Blazers @ Memphis Grizzlies Pick: On Saturday the Portland Trail Blazers surprised me with a convincing win over the Houston Rockets on the road. The Trail Blazers proved they can be a Play Off contender by beating a team with a winning record which has been an issue for them this season, but now they have to do that again on the road at the Memphis Grizzlies.
For a team that is 30-21 on the season, the Memphis Grizzlies have been an inconsistent team as they have struggled with a new identity. The grinding style has been replaced with more pace, but that has also seen the Grizzlies begin to struggle on the Defensive side of the court.
This might be a small window for success for Memphis as Mike Conley looks certain to test Free Agency, but they have stuck together even if a five game winning run was ended with a defeat to the Dallas Mavericks. I think the Grizzlies are still a better team that the Trail Blazers who are just 1-5-1 against the spread in their last seven games here.
Memphis have a solid 9-6 record against the spread when favoured by 6 points or fewer at home and Marc Gasol is expected to play despite having a leg injury. Despite the win in Houston, Portland are just 3-7 against the spread on the road against a team with a winning record and I like the Grizzlies to cover this number.
Tuesday 9th February
That was a brutal day on Monday with a buzzer beater three pointer costing the chance for one pick to at least push, while the other was defeated in Overtime.
Not a good start to what is a short week, but looking for Tuesday to turn that back around with a little more luck at crunch time.
Washington Wizards @ New York Knicks Pick: The big news at the start of this week was the move the New York Knicks made in firing Derek Fisher as Head Coach. That was a surprise even though the Knicks had lost nine of their last ten games to fall out of the Eastern Conference Play Off picture and it has been tasked to Kurt Rambis to turn the season around.
This is the last game the Knicks play until after the All-Star Game and I do wonder how the players are feeling with Fisher out of the picture. There is no suggestion that Fisher had a falling out with his players, but he wasn't extracting the full potential from them according to Phil Jackson and James Dolan and so the move was made, although Rambis looks nothing more than an interim hire.
The Knicks are having big problems at both ends of the floor, but they are taking on a Washington Wizards team that has been underachieving all season. Many expected Washington to make a push in the Eastern Conference after a successful post-season last year, but the Wizards are struggling to even make the Number 8 Seed this time around.
Washington have lost six of their last eight games, but they have gone 5-0 against the spread when playing a team with a losing record on the road. They will be looking for revenge over the Knicks having seen their seven game winning run in the series ended earlier this season, although my one concern is that Washington have not performed as a small road underdog.
However, I do like the Wizards with the points in this one as I think they have enough Offense to see off New York in what is likely to be a game that goes down to the wire.
Boston Celtics @ Milwaukee Bucks Pick: The Boston Celtics might have wished the All-Star Game was already passed as they continue to be the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have won nine of their last ten games to move into the Number 3 Seed in the Eastern Conference, and they have beaten the likes of Chicago at home and Cleveland on the road in that run.
Now they get a chance to face the inconsistent Milwaukee Bucks whose youth has seen them struggle to close out games. After reaching the Play Offs last season, missing out this time around will be a big blow for the development of this team.
Milwaukee have lost seven of their last eight games, including five in a row heading into this one, but some of those have been really close and highlights the inexperience in the rotation. The Bucks have also struggled against Boston in recent games in the series as they have gone 0-4 against the spread at home and 1-5 against the spread in the last six overall.
You can't ignore the fact that Boston haven't been a great road favourite to back, especially when when favoured by between 3.5 points and 6 points, and Milwaukee being a strong home underdog. Even with that in mind, Boston have played this head to head so well in recent games that I expect them to cover a rare big number on their travels in this one.
Utah Jazz @ Dallas Mavericks Pick: Two teams chasing Play Off spots in the Western Conference meet in this game as the Utah Jazz put their six game winning run on the line against the Dallas Mavericks. That is an impressive run from Utah, although only one of those games has been on the road and that against the awful Phoenix Suns.
This is a much different test for the Jazz who have lost their last ten visits to the Dallas Mavericks including back in November. Utah are still dealing with a few injuries which is shortening their rotations, while Dallas might be feeling a lot better after going through Overtime to snap their three game losing run last time out against the Memphis Grizzlies.
It is a game that Utah will feel they have every chance of winning if they maintain their recent Defensive performances. That is a possibility with Dallas sometimes getting bogged down Offensively having failed to surpass 91 points in their last four home games, but the Mavericks will feel their own Defensive schemes can help them through this game.
Being a small road underdog is not a position the Utah Jazz have enjoyed this season, going 1-4 against the spread in that spot, while Dallas have been a strong home favourite. I can't imagine this game is anything but another battle for these two teams, but I am looking for Dallas to extend their 6-1-1 record against the spread in their last eight games against Utah.
Wednesday 10th February
I wonder if my luck is going to be any worse than the last couple of days. After being burned by a Joe Johnson three pointer on Monday, the Dallas Mavericks blew a healthy nine point lead going into the fourth quarter by allowing a Rodney Hood three pointer to tie the game with one second left.
They are then beaten in Overtime by a buzzer beater from Gordon Hayward who had basically stunk all night, except he hit his final four shots from the field.
Add in the calamitous way Boston lost having tied the game with a second left on the clock and it has really felt like if not for bad luck I would have no luck at all.
It happens sometimes and I did have some real fortune last week, but it is a disappointment when the late shots seem to go down against you.
Charlotte Hornets @ Indiana Pacers Pick: When it comes down to separating those teams who make the Eastern Conference Play Offs and those who don't, the tie-breakers like this one could have a huge impact. The Eastern Conference looks to be far more loaded than it has for many years and it hasn't been often that a 0.500 team at this stage of the season would not be in the top eight places.
That is where the Charlotte Hornets find themselves, but they are only two games behind their hosts the Indiana Pacers thanks to a run of four wins from their last six games. Charlotte would love to get above 0.500 going into the All-Star break, but that certainly isn't going to be easy against this Pacers team who have come out of a stumble to win five of seven games.
One of the keys for the Hornets has been an improved play at the Defensive end of the court which has coincided with the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ahead of schedule. With Al Jefferson soon to return too, Charlotte have to be feeling positive about their chances of making the post-season.
I have to have a lot of respect for the way Indiana have played as the home favourite this season, particularly when favoured by 6 points or fewer as they have gone 10-2 against the spread in those games. However, Charlotte have been a solid road underdog, have a 7-4 record against the spread in road games at teams with winning records and also are 4-1-1 against the spread in their last six against Indiana.
If the Hornets can maintain the way they are performing Defensively, they have the talented Offensive playmakers to keep this within the number at the least.
Sacramento Kings @ Philadelphia 76ers Pick: It looked like George Karl would be fired ahead of this game as Head Coach of the Sacramento Kings, but he is barely clinging onto his job. The disarray here has been nothing short of embarrassing for the Kings again and losing eight of their last nine games is going to take its toll on the players.
DeMarcus Cousins is the star, but he has yet to really get on the same page as Karl, while Rajon Rondo was critical of some of the other players for not coming to an optional shootaround. Add in other players being annoyed with the lack of Defensive schemes being put into games, resulting in the Kings giving up at least 120 points in three consecutive games, and it seems a matter of time before big changes are made in Sacramento.
To be fair to the Kings, most of their losses have come against the better teams, but a loss to the Brooklyn Nets when allowing a staggering 128 points stung last week. Now they get to face another poor team in the Philadelphia 76ers, but one that is working very hard to improve and whose own Head Coach is being praised for getting what he can out of a young core of players.
An overtime loss to the LA Clippers will have hurt Philadelphia on Monday, but it showed again they are willing to compete. The 76ers haven't been a great home underdog to back, but Sacramento are just 1-3 against the spread as the road favourite this season and their off court issues have transferred onto the court.
That makes them a difficult team to back with any confidence and I actually think the Kings are being asked to cover too many points. The players will want to get into the All-Star break and hope for changes at the Coaching level and I am not sure they will be fully focused on the 76ers. I'll take the points and look for another competitive showing from Philadelphia in this one.
Toronto Raptors @ Minnesota Timberwolves Pick: The Toronto Raptors have a chance to go into the All-Star Game with the most wins in franchise history at the 'half way' point of the season. That was a record they set last season and goes to show why so many are expecting this team to perhaps be the biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
The Number 1 Seed is very much in their sights too as the Raptors try and win their fourth road game in a row. The win in Portland last week is looking more and more impressive as the Trail Blazers continue their own hot form and the Toronto Raptors are healthy favourites to win here in Minnesota.
That is because the Timberwolves are still one of the bigger disappointments on the season and saw their two game winning run snapped by an upset home loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Minnesota continue to struggle Defensively and being a home underdog hasn't really helped them against the spread as they are 5-9 in that spot this season.
Now they have to face a steaming hot Toronto team who have a 9-1 record against the spread in their last ten visits here. The Timberwolves have also struggled off an upset at home, going 0-5 against the spread in that spot this season and Toronto are 9-3 against the spread when playing a team with a losing record on the road. I'll take the Raptors to cover the points in this one too.
Thursday 11th February
I would have been seriously irritated if Philadelphia had blown their big lead and failed to cover after seeing the Toronto Raptors throw away a double digit first half lead in their eventual loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Thankfully the 76ers held themselves together for just long enough to take another competitive loss while Charlotte blew out Indiana to produce a winning run for the day.
Today is the last day of the NBA until next Thursday as we reach the All-Star break and a chance for teams to finalise trade deadline plans and get set for the run to the Play Offs in the 'second half of the season'.
Washington Wizards @ Milwaukee Bucks Pick: The Washington Wizards are trying to pick up their pace and begin to close on the Eastern Conference Play Off places. This was supposed to be a season when Washington took another step forward to become a real contender in the NBA, but it has been tough work for them all season with this being a vital game against the Milwaukee Bucks who are also trying to get closer to the top eight places in the Conference.
Both teams are coming off wins in different fashion as Washington took just their third win in their last nine games against the imploding New York Knicks. On the other side, Milwaukee held off a furious rally from the Boston Celtics, one of the hotter teams in the East, to snap a five game losing run.
This has been a good match up for Washington who have won seven of the last eight in the series and who have gone 5-2 against the spread in the last seven. The Wizards have played well on the road when facing a team with a losing record and improved to 6-0 against the spread in that spot this season.
It has also been a big test for the Milwaukee Bucks to back up close wins as they have gone 0-3 against the spread when winning their last home game by three points or fewer. They are not in the underdog spot this time in which they have thrived at home and the Bucks have to fear a Washington back court that is healthy and firing.
The layers are finding it hard to separate the teams, but I will take the point being given to the road underdog and look for Washington to win back to back games for the first time since the middle of January.
MY PICKS: 08/02 Denver Nuggets - 2 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
08/02 Memphis Grizzlies - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
09/02 Washington Wizards + 2 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
09/02 Boston Celtics - 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Betway (1 Unit)
09/02 Dallas Mavericks - 2 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
10/02 Charlotte Hornets + 4 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
10/02 Philadelphia 76ers + 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
10/02 Toronto Raptors - 6 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
11/02 Washington Wizards + 1 Point @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
December Final: 27-21-3, + 3.67 Units
November Final: 27-22-1, + 2.69 Units
October Final: 5-4, + 0.57 Units
Season 2016: 89-75-6, + 6.36 Units