This is a big time of the season as the Play Off positions begin to be set and teams are in the last chance saloon if they want to get back into those places.
The regular season continues to wind down and this week will be another important one for the teams.
Tuesday 1st March
It was a poor final day in February as Washington blew a big first half lead before rallying, while the Houston Rockets were ahead in the Fourth Quarter before also falling away.
At least the Memphis Grizzlies prevented it from being a total nightmare day.
Portland Trail Blazers @ New York Knicks Pick: The ambition for the Portland Trail Blazers is no longer to simply make the Western Conference Play Offs, but to try and earn a higher Seed in the post-season. Portland have work to do to make sure they are in the top eight places in the Western Conference, but they have been in hot form and might be looking at the 3.5 game gap to the Memphis Grizzlies as one they should be closing.
They continue a Eastern Conference road trip this week at the New York Knicks having beaten Chicago and Indiana already. The Knicks are not making the Play Offs with their recent form and Phil Jackson has a big off-season in front of him to make the right hire at Head Coach to get this team moving in a positive direction.
Kurt Rambis is almost certainly not the answer, but the Knicks won't be helped with Carmelo Anthony banged up and Arron Afflalo likely to sit out again. The Knicks have lost ten of their last twelve games and they are 3-9 against the spread in that time.
New York are also 3-9 against the spread this season when set as the home underdog of 6 points or fewer and I do think the Trail Blazers might have too much scoring for them. Portland have scored at least 103 points in eight straight games and more than half of their last nine games have seen New York fail to reach triple digits.
Portland are just 4-3 against the spread as the road favourite this season, but they did cover a similar number at Chicago and I don't think the Bulls are of a dissimilar standard as New York with the injuries they have. I like the Trail Blazers to cover here.
Orlando Magic @ Dallas Mavericks Pick: A really poor January and February has given Orlando Magic a few issues to contend with when it comes to making the Eastern Conference Play Offs this season. They are only four games behind the Number 8 Seed in the Conference, but games are beginning to run out and this young Magic team haven't been able to find the consistency to think they will be able to bridge that gap.
They have a tough task here in Texas as they take on the Dallas Mavericks before returning home to face the slumping Chicago Bulls at home. It can be argued that the game tomorrow will mean a lot more for Orlando than this one in Dallas, but at this stage of the season teams can't afford to let any game slip by.
It is an important one for the Dallas Mavericks too who are 3.5 games clear of the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference. They have also been slumping, but Dallas have won three of their last four games to think they have turned the corner again.
The Mavericks have a solid 13-7 record against the spread as the home favourite and they do have a very strong 11-5 record against the spread when hosting a team with a losing record. Orlando do have a strong record in Dallas, going 8-2 against the spread in their last ten here, but I like the Mavericks to cover against a Defensively weak Orlando team.
Atlanta Hawks @ Golden State Warriors Pick: The Golden State Warriors might have got through the most difficult portion of their remaining schedule as they bid for history. Now they play a large majority of their games at home as they try to reach the 73 win mark and Golden State are protecting a long unbeaten run at the Oracle Arena.
The Warriors came through a real test to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder last time out and they will face one of their top contenders in the Western Conference again after this one. I still think the Warriors are professional enough to not overlook Atlanta Hawks who almost came back from a twenty-three point deficit to beat Golden State a couple of weeks ago.
That had much to do with Golden State going cold in the Third Quarter, but they still won the game by double digits and I expect they do the same back at the Oracle Arena. Atlanta are just 1-5 against the spread in their last six games at Golden State and I do think the home team cover.
It is a big number and Golden State are just 5-6 against the spread when hosting a team with a winning record. However I think they are the better team here and will show it to get ready for another big game against the Thunder later this week.
Wednesday 2nd March
If I had known Stephen Curry was going to be sitting for the Golden State Warriors I would not have made that pick, but that is the way it goes sometimes. However the first two picks were winners to get this week off to a positive start with a lot of games scheduled for Wednesday.
Charlotte Hornets @ Philadelphia 76ers Pick: The Charlotte Hornets blew out one of the worst teams in the NBA and now they get to face another as they continue trying to plough a road to the Eastern Conference Play Offs. The Hornets might be up to Number 6 Seed in the Conference, but they are only a game clear of Number 9 Chicago and two games clear of Number 10 Washington which shows the importance of every game they play.
Losing to one of the weaker teams would be a body blow for Charlotte, but they made easy work of the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. While the Hornets have not played well on the back to back this season, the starters should be completely rested for this one.
And Charlotte have played well behind blow out wins this season as they have followed a win by 15 points or more by going 8-1 against the spread in their next game.
However Charlotte will do well not to underestimate Philadelphia having lost the last time they visited them last season. On the other hand the 76ers have to show much more life after some heavy defeats in recent games as they once again look to ensure they are in a very strong Draft position. While this is a big number for the Hornets, I think they can put together another strong win and not overlook this team in anticipation of the important game with Indiana.
Indiana Pacers @ Milwaukee Bucks Pick: There are 22 games left for the Milwaukee Bucks to play so it is going to take some effort to close the six game gap to the Eastern Conference Play Offs. Too many inconsistencies in their performances suggest it is unlikely but this young Milwaukee team is off an impressive win over the Houston Rockets.
The Bucks are still a very good home underdog to back having gone 6-4 against the spread when set as the underdog here of 3 points or fewer. Milwaukee have also been very competitive in recent games even if they have fallen on the wrong side of the result at times, and they have split their last six games with the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers have lost four of their last five games, but all of those have been very close and Indiana have been disappointed with their execution down the stretch. This is not a team that has performed well as the small road favourite, while Indiana have a 2-10 record against the spread when trying to revenge a home loss.
However Indiana have dominated their Division opponents this season and I think this is a team that has played some of the better teams in the NBA very close. With their place in the Eastern Conference Play Offs under threat, Indiana need to win these kind of games especially with trips to Charlotte and Washington to come later this week.
Milwaukee have won their last home game against Indiana, but they had lost three in a row prior to that and I like the Pacers to cover here.
Detroit Pistons @ San Antonio Spurs Pick: It is no surprise that the Golden State Warriors are getting all of the attention as they chase the Chicago Bulls single season win record. However San Antonio have quietly kept going about their business and have also reached 50 wins already which is a fantastic achievement while 'only' trailing Golden State by 4 games for the Number 1 Seed.
I have so much respect for the Spurs who have been amongst the leading contenders to win the NBA Championship since the turn of the century. That longevity deserves so much praise and Gregg Popovich and his team will genuinely believe they can win it all again.
In saying all of that, I do think the Detroit Pistons are getting too many points here as they go into the game as the biggest underdog in terms of points so far this season. Stan Van Gundy has got the Pistons into a position to challenge for a Play Off berth in the Eastern Conference and they have won four in a row including against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
San Antonio are also coming off a long road trip which can be tough both physically and mentally while Detroit have a 7-2 record against the spread in their last nine games here. Of course the worry is that San Antonio have an incredible 7-1 record against the spread when set as the home favourite of between 9.5 and 12 points, but I think the Pistons are under-rated and keep this competitive to a point.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ LA Clippers Pick: This game might have some real importance when it comes to determining the Number 3 and Number 4 Seed in the Western Conference. However I also think it might come at a difficult time for the Oklahoma City Thunder who have to be looking at their visit to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night and perhaps overlooking this one.
That isn't a disrespect to the LA Clippers, but the way the Thunder missed their chance for a statement win over the Warriors has to grate at them. Oklahoma City led for most of the game against Golden State on Saturday, but were beaten by a ridiculous Stephen Curry shot in Overtime and revenge has to be on the mind.
The same can be said for the Clippers who were beaten by a single point when they hosted Oklahoma City in December. Even in the absence of Blake Griffin, the Clippers have played well but they will be judged on how well they play in the post-season as Chris Paul is desperate to at least reach a Conference Finals.
I think Doc Rivers will have his team playing a little stronger Defensively, although the Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant tandem is tough to stop. Oklahoma City are 5-1 against the spread in their last six at the Clippers, but they are just 2-8 against the spread when visiting a team with a winning record this season and didn't cover in their last visit here.
With that game against Golden State at the Oracle Arena in their mind, I think the Clippers take advantage and win this game.
Thursday 3rd March
Look, I am no fool and I am not going to say I didn't receive a huge break when the LA Clippers rallied from an improbable deficit to win on Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It was absolutely a lucky break, but makes up for last week when Portland blew an almost similar size lead in their loss to the Houston Rockets. The point being I am not going to apologise for a bit of luck when I don't go overboard when it goes against me.
Sacramento Kings @ Dallas Mavericks Pick: There are only four games on the schedule this Thursday and one stand out one, but my focus is on the American Airlines Center. That is where the Dallas Mavericks are hosting the Sacramento Kings as the home team looks to continue the dominance of their visitors having made it 22 straight home wins against them.
These teams look to be trending in different directions as Dallas have won three in a row and remain in a strong position to get to the Western Conference Play Offs. On the other hand, the Sacramento Kings have lost four in a row and are now 5 games behind the Number 8 Seed in the Conference.
The Mavericks are definitely on the same page on the Offensive side of the court which has helped them reach at least 120 points in three straight games. That is going to be tough for Sacramento to match and Dallas have also improved to 12-5 against the spread when hosting a team with a losing record.
I have to give the Kings some respect as they are 7-2 against the spread in the last nine games against Dallas and have players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo who can get hot. However this is a team that have lost four straight games to teams in the Western Conference top eight and Dallas are certainly playing well enough to make that five in a row. The last four have all covered against Sacramento too so I will back the Mavericks to do the same.
Friday 4th March
The Dallas pick looked pretty ugly from the Third Quarter onwards, but there isn't a lot you can do about that. Hopefully Friday will get the picks moving back in a positive direction for the first week of this month.
Portland Trail Blazers @ Toronto Raptors Pick: The Portland Trail Blazers were crushed in their last game by the Boston Celtics and while they denied fatigue played any part, a fourth game in five nights will do that to you. It has only be a day of rest for Portland ahead of another tough road game at another top Eastern Conference team.
The Trail Blazers had been in hot form before the defeat to Boston and remain one of the better teams in the NBA on current form. However they have a healthy four game lead over the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Play Off picture and and I do think this game 'means more' to the Toronto Raptors who are chasing the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Number 1 Seed in the East.
Only two games separate the Raptors from the Cavaliers, and they have won five of their last six games to keep the pressure on Cleveland. Toronto have been a solid home favourite to back all season, while they have a very impressive 10-2 record against the spread when hosting a team with a winning record.
That isn't taking away anything from Portland who have a solid record as the road underdog of 6 points or fewer, but they have not quite been able to match the very best teams when on the road. Portland do play with revenge on their side, but I will look for a rested Toronto team to have a little too much and come through with the cover.
Utah Jazz @ Memphis Grizzlies Pick: The loss of Marc Gasol is likely to be felt by the Memphis Grizzlies when we get to the Play Offs, but they look to have enough games under their belt to make the post-season. Since their big man went down with an injury, Memphis have changed their style to a more up tempo one and that has resulted in some mixed performances from them.
The Grizzlies have won six of their last eight though and have an eight game advantage over Number 9 Utah Jazz who they host on Friday. Utah have really dropped the ball of late with four straight losses although three of those came to the top teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
However it is the home loss to Brooklyn which suggests Utah are feeling the pressure of a Play Off chase and Rodney Hood could be forced to sit in this one. That takes away another play maker for the Jazz who have been a poor road underdog through the season, especially when given 3 points or fewer as they have gone 2-5 against the spread in that spot this year.
Memphis have been a little hit and miss as a small home favourite and they have really struggled in 'revenge' spots, but I think the Grizzlies have the momentum in this one. The Jazz might have gone 4-0 against the spread in the last four between these teams, but I like Memphis to snap that run on Friday.
Washington Wizards @ Cleveland Cavaliers Pick: All doesn't seem to be well at the Cleveland Cavaliers but they have had a few days rest to get over their issues and work them out. However it might seem strange that LeBron James, who is a Free Agent this summer, opted to travel down to Miami to work out with Dwyane Wade this week.
I won't read too much into that, but his 'tweets' suggest he might not be at his happiest at this moment in time with Cleveland looking like they've taken another step back from the Golden State Warriors. Merely getting to the NBA Finals isn't enough for James who wants to write his place in history but I am not sure he feels he is getting the support in Cleveland to do that.
This is an important game for the Cavaliers as they look to right an ugly loss to the Washington Wizards last week. Washington are in very strong form though as they look to find a way back to the post-season and they have a team that is difficult to stop once they build some momentum behind them.
Washington have shown they can match up well with Cleveland even if the blow out win last week came against a team that was resting James. That was still an impressive result and the Wizards are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games in Cleveland.
I am a little concerned with the motivation Cleveland will have to rectify a really bad loss, but I think Washington keep this close on current form and I will take the points on offer.
Atlanta Hawks @ LA Lakers Pick: The Atlanta Hawks might be the current Number 5 Seed in the Eastern Conference but a good run of form can see them challenge the two teams above them for a First Round home series. On the other hand there are 2.5 games between them and the Number 10 Chicago Bulls which shows how condensed the Eastern Conference actually is.
The Hawks will feel comfortable if they can produce the same effort in a close loss to the Golden State Warriors, but consistency has been a problem for them all season. This is also a 'must win' game for Atlanta who have tougher road tests to come in the coming days, especially if they want to realise their ambitions of making the Play Offs and perhaps improving Seeding.
The first trip to the Staples Center this week is against the LA Lakers who have lost nine of their last ten games. The Kobe Bryant retirement tour means the former All-Star is trying his best to play as much as possible, but he is very banged up at the moment and the Lakers could be short-handed.
The Lakers have failed to cover in four of their last six games and six of their last eight games have seen them lose by nine points or more. It is an important game for Atlanta and I think they can match that margin of victory here and cover the number they are being asked to.
Saturday 5th March
Friday was another mixed bag, but much of that was down to the Toronto Raptors blowing a big lead in the Fourth Quarter of their eventual win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
On the other hand, the Memphis Grizzlies were able to knuckle down late in their game and managed to knock off the Utah Jazz so going 2-2 on the day was probably fair.
Utah Jazz @ New Orleans Pelicans Pick: A defeat to the Houston Texans earlier this week saw Al Gentry admit his New Orleans Pelicans team would not be making the Play Offs this season. They are currently 6.5 games behind the Number 8 Seed in the Western Conference, but the Pelicans may still have enough to see off the Utah Jazz who are quickly falling out of contention themselves.
It was another late collapse from Utah on Friday night at the Memphis Grizzlies and this is a team that has now lost five in a row and struggled for Offensive consistency. The Jazz are only two games out of the Play Offs, but they have struggled on the road all season and will be looking forward to returning home next week.
Utah have been a poor road underdog of 3 points or fewer, but they will feel they can have a chance of beating the injury hit Pelicans squad. Eric Gordon admitted New Orleans would have won a lot more games if they could keep their composure in the final moments of the Fourth Quarter of games and that will likely be tested again.
The Jazz do have a very strong record here, going 4-1-1 against the spread in their last six at New Orleans, but this is a team struggling for confidence. They have simply not been as good on the road this season as they have at home and I think New Orleans will win this game so I will back them to cover.
Detroit Pistons @ New York Knicks Pick: The New York Knicks are coming in off a heartbreaking loss to rivals the Boston Celtics and I think it will take something special to pick themselves up from that. The Play Offs look like they beyond the Knicks who have had two terrible months and now they host the Detroit Pistons who are just about hanging on to the Number 8 Seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Pistons should be well rested, but they have not exactly encouraged their backers when set as the road favourite of 6 points or fewer. However that is cancelled out by how poor New York have been as the home underdog of 6 points or fewer plus the manner in which this team was beaten on Friday night.
That emotion is tough to ignore and I think it will be tough for New York to pick themselves up with little rest. I also think the Pistons are simply the better team who are about to embark on a very important part of their season and Stan Van Gundy should have them ready to get that run off to a good start.
Detroit have struggled at Madison Square Garden which includes a defeat here in December, but poor records can be snapped as Sacramento showed when winning at Dallas earlier this week. I think the fresher team will come out and put together a victory here and will back the Pistons to cover.
Brooklyn Nets @ Minnesota Timberwolves Pick: The Minnesota Timberwolves will point to a young core and next season as the time for them to make a significant push towards the Western Conference. That won't change the fact that this season has been a disappointment and they are coming in off another game where the youngsters will have said they have learnt something.
Too many turnovers cost them against the Milwaukee Bucks, but they host a really average Brooklyn Nets team on Saturday and should be able to bounce back. That might especially be the case because of the effort Brooklyn put in last night to beat the Denver Nuggets on the road in Overtime.
The Nets would have put in a huge physical and emotional effort in that win and back to back games is tough enough without the need for travel as Brooklyn will have done for this game. All in all it is tough for them to back that up, although my concern has to be how poor Minnesota have been at home this season, especially as the home favourite.
However, this looks a very good spot for Minnesota to bounce back from their loss on Friday. Brooklyn are 3-3 straight up in their last six games during this long road trip, but I think the effort of Friday has a big impact here and I will back the Timberwolves to cover.
MY PICKS: 01/03 Portland Trail Blazers - 5.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
01/03 Dallas Mavericks - 5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
01/03 Golden State Warriors - 9.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
02/03 Charlotte Hornets - 8.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
02/03 Indiana Pacers - 2 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
02/03 Detroit Pistons + 11 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
02/03 LA Clippers - 1 Point @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
03/03 Dallas Mavericks - 5 Points @ 1.91 @ Paddy Power (1 Unit)
04/03 Toronto Raptors - 5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
04/03 Memphis Grizzlies - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
04/03 Washington Wizards + 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
04/03 Atlanta Hawks - 8.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
05/03 New Orleans Pelicans - 1 Point @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
05/03 Detroit Pistons - 5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
05/03 Minnesota Timberwolves - 4.5 Points @ 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: 101-97-6, - 4.64 Units