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Monday, 19 December 2016

NBA December Picks 2016 (December 19-25)

This is a big week in the NBA which leads up to Christmas Day where there are five games scheduled as the basketball takes centre stage in the United States. This year they do compete with a couple of NFL games on Sunday, even if the majority of the NFL games are played on Christmas Eve, but the NBA fans love Christmas Day and the games on primetime television.

The picks have been a mixed bag over the course of the month, but there is still a chance to get this month turned back around and produce a positive result.

Monday 19th December
Washington Wizards @ Indiana Pacers Pick: In an eighty-two game regular season and the majority of teams in the NBA earning a place in the Play Offs, a poor start can be overcome and that is what the Washington Wizards have to be telling themselves. The Wizards won a three game home stand to make it five wins in their last six games as they close back in on 0.500, but they have to show they can take that form on the road if they are going to finish in the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

This is a test for them against the inconsistent Indiana Pacers who haven't won or lost more than two games in a row to get to their 14-14 record. The Pacers won their last game so perhaps are set for a positive moment, but they are making a quick stop at home before heading on the road to take on the New York Knicks on Tuesday.

The Pacers have been stronger Defensively at home which has helped them to a 10-4 record here, but they are just 3-3 against the spread when hosting a team with a losing record. The Defense will be tested by the Washington Wizards who have shot 50% from the field in their last five games, although it has to be noted that the Wizards have not been very good on the other side of the court.

Washington have a good chance of continuing the hot shooting from the three point range though and the key to this game is going to be which of these teams is able to win the rebounding battle. Both have struggled in that regards in recent games, but I do feel this is going to be a close game which makes the points very appealing on the road team.

The Wizards are 6-0 against the spread in their last six visits to Indiana and I will take the points and look for them to keep it close here on their recent form.

Atlanta Hawks @ Oklahoma City Thunder Pick: The Atlanta Hawks have won three of their last five games which has seen them get back towards 0.500, but there is no disguising how disappointing the last month has been for them. There are still plenty of questions for the Hawks to answer as they look to be transitioning into a new look roster, but at least they have started winning some games of late.

Now they head to the Oklahoma City Thunder who beat the Atlanta Hawks on the road earlier in the month and who have been much stronger at home than on the road. Russell Westbrook doesn't want to be inundated with compliments for his own play and the triple-doubles he has been racking up for fun, especially if it doesn't mean the Oklahoma City Thunder are winning games.

The Thunder have won five of the last six home games and they have gone 4-1-1 against the spread in that time. They can improve on that against the Atlanta Hawks who have allowed teams to shoot at 50% from the field in their last five games and given up 112 points per game in that time.

This isn't the old Oklahoma City Thunder team who had the shooting power of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined, but they have averaged 109 points per game at home which is significantly better than on the road and I think that makes a big difference in this one.

You can't underestimate Atlanta because they have been much better Offensively of late and they have the three point shooters that can punish the Thunder whose Defense from that range has been a little erratic. However their shooting on the road hasn't been quite as good as at home and I think the Thunder can improve their 20-7 record against the spread from the last twenty-seven games against Atlanta by covering the spread in this one.

Dallas Mavericks @ Denver Nuggets Pick: They might still have the joint worst record in the NBA, but the Dallas Mavericks have won half of their last six games and look to have been a little more competitive in that time. No one is really going to imagine the Mavericks making it back into the Western Conference Play Off picture, but they might be a tougher proposition heading towards the trade deadline when Dallas will be expected to be involved.

This is a big test for the Dallas Mavericks when they head to the Denver Nuggets who have won two games in a row with really strong Offensive showings. Both of those games saw the Nuggets score at least 127 points and Denver should have a significant edge on the rebounding statistics to give them a chance to pull away for a win in this one.

However I think the Dallas Mavericks may surprise as it could be easy for the Nuggets to overlook them with a game at the LA Clippers to be played tomorrow. It also has to be said that Dallas have been shooting pretty well from the three point range which has been a problem for the Nuggets to defend while Denver have struggled overall on the Defensive side of the court having allowed 110 points per game over their last five games at 48% from the field.

The Mavericks have been looking after the ball better in recent games which has given them a chance to stay with teams and they should have opportunities in this one.

Dallas have a strong 8-3 record against the spread in their last eleven visits to Denver and they are 5-1-1 against the spread in the last seven overall including a blow out win over them last week. They are getting a lot of points despite the big wins the Nuggets have had in their last two home games, and I think Dallas can perhaps take advantage of an unfocused opponent to keep this one close.

Tuesday 20th December
I seriously have no idea how all three picks didn't come back as winners on Monday when all had been in a position to do that. The Dallas Mavericks loss by a couple of points particularly hurt when they had been leading by almost twenty points in the Second Quarter which meant a twenty-nine point lead on the spread.

Hopefully Tuesday will prove to be a much better day.

San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets Pick: The San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets are amongst the very best teams in the NBA, let alone the Western Conference, and every game between these in-State rivals will be very important regardless of the situation.

It is the Spurs who have dominated the head to head in recent seasons, but the Rockets have split the first two games of the 2017 season. However both teams have won on the road at the other and Houston have lost three of their last four home games against San Antonio which is going to be some mental block to overcome.

Both teams are playing really good basketball at the moment, although there is no hotter team than the Rockets and I think the underdog can make the points they are being given count. The teams do match up well and both have shown they have been performing well Defensively while doing enough Offensively to create opportunities for a strong roster.

The key may be the improvements Houston have made on the boards and getting second chance opportunities while preventing the Spurs doing the same could be all-important in this game. The Rockets are well rested and this has to be a game they are completely focused on to show they are more than an also-ran in the Western Conference and I think they are going to keep this very close.

It isn't a lot of points being given to the underdog, but I will take them with the Houston Rockets and look for them to give the San Antonio Spurs all they can handle.

Utah Jazz @ Golden State Warriors Pick: A shorthanded Utah Jazz team took on the Golden State Warriors at home a couple of weeks ago and looked to be on the road to a huge blow out at the end of the First Half. They fought back to give the score a respectable look, but a fuller roster heads to The Oracle Arena on Tuesday.

They are getting as many points as the shorthanded team got at home when they head to Golden State although backing against the Warriors is a tough proposition despite them being 6-7 against the spread here this season. They are 1-4 against the spread when facing a team with a winning record and that is because the Warriors are always being asked to cover big numbers at home and I do think the Utah Jazz can stay within the number in this one.

Gordon Hayward is a huge boost for Utah having missed the game a couple of weeks ago and this is a Jazz team that prides themselves on being very strong on the Defensive side of the court. That will be tested to the full by Golden State and the Offensive players they have, but Utah will also have some joy on the other side of the court which suggests this will be closer than the layers expect.

Winning the battle on the boards is going to be huge for the Jazz if they are going to give themselves a chance in this one. They have the size with players like Rudy Gobert in the starting line up to do that, but the Warriors have been sneakily better on the boards than you may initially imagine.

That is going to be so important in this game and Golden State might be preparing for their big three game road trip which ends with a first game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day. I will be looking for Utah to do enough on the boards to give themselves a real chance of making this number of points work for them.

Wednesday 21st December
Minnesota Timberwolves @ Atlanta Hawks Pick: The Atlanta Hawks have been really inconsistent over the last couple of weeks which has seen them beat some big teams but then lose to teams they would be expected to beat. They are the favourites returning home to face the Minnesota Timberwolves, but I think the road team are being given too many points in this one.

There have been some improvements from the way Minnesota started this season to the way they have been playing in recent games. However there is no doubt that the Timberwolves have work to do to really fulfil the potential they have on the roster, but the young players have been producing some of their best basketball over the last week.

The Timberwolves have won two of their last three games and they came close to knocking off the Houston Rockets before a narrow loss in overtime in that time. I do expect Minnesota to exploit the spaces that Atlanta have left Defensively over the last couple of weeks and another game without Dwight Howard will make things difficult for them.

Both teams have been strong on the boards, but the one concern in backing Minnesota is their poor Defense from the three point range which is an area that Atlanta can have success. However the Timberwolves have a 4-1 record against the spread in the last five games in the series between these teams and I do think this is too many points for the home team to cover.

Atlanta just seem to be giving up too many points at the moment and so I will take the points and back the road underdog.

Washington Wizards @ Chicago Bulls Pick: The 2016/17 season has begun with the Washington Wizards failing to get over the hump in the Fourth Quarter in a number of games which has left them with a losing record. The Wizards will feel anything but a place in the Eastern Conference Play Offs would be a disappointing season and they suffered another tough loss at the Indiana Pacers a couple of days ago.

They are getting the points again when they head to the Chicago Bulls and I think the road underdog can be backed to keep this one within the number. The Bulls are coming in off a brutal beat down of the Detroit Pistons, but they had been struggling in the previous three games and the Wizards have enjoyed visiting this famous Arena where they have a 9-3 record against the spread in their last twelve visits.

The Wizards are playing well enough at the moment to keep this close with their Offense showing some spark in the last couple of weeks. They do need more from Bradley Beal and John Wall from the three point range where they have been struggling, but Chicago are not likely to get really hot from outside the arc themselves which gives Washington the chance to keep this one close.

I do think Chicago will likely have the edge on the boards which can be critical in these close games, but Washington have played well enough to challenge them all the way.

Chicago are 0-5 against the spread in their next game following a win and I think Washington can extend that sequence by making use of the points they are being given.

Thursday 22nd December
Orlando Magic @ New York Knicks Pick: There is no doubting that the New York Knicks have exceeded expectations to this point of the season and they have been especially good at home where they have compiled a 10-4 record. A battling display saw them come from a big deficit to beat the Indiana Pacers last time out and the Knicks have this one game to play before the big Christmas Day home game against the Boston Celtics.

They come into this game as a pretty solid favourite, but I think the Orlando Magic can make the points look too big by the end of this one. They do have a losing record against the spread this season, but those numbers are not helped by a really poor record as the favourite which isn't a surprise when you think of how inconsistent the Magic have been.

Orlando haven't played that well as a small underdog either and they are up against a Knicks team that have thrived as a favourite of six points or fewer this season. However I like the Magic to get the better of the number thanks to their shooting success in recent games going up against a Knicks team whose Defense has just had a few problems to overcome.

I do think the Magic have been looking after the ball pretty well of late and that can be a big difference maker in this one. It is also a game in which they will believe they can earn an edge on the boards where both teams have struggled and I think Orlando are catching the Knicks at the right time in their schedule.

The Magic were blown out by the Toronto Raptors earlier this week, but they have been involved in a number of competitive games other than that in recent games. Orlando don't have a good recent record at Madison Square Garden, but this is a Knicks team that does let a lot of their games go down to the wire because of their Defensive issues and I will take the points with the road underdog.

LA Lakers @ Miami Heat Pick: It wasn't meant to be as hard as it has been for the Miami Heat despite losing long time leader Dwyane Wade and there are some frustrations building for the remaining players. Not many would have picked the Heat to have fewer wins than the LA Lakers going into Christmas Day, but the fall for Miami has to be proven by the fact they have not been picked to play on that marquee date in the NBA calendar.

Another Overtime loss means the Heat have lost three in a row heading into this game and Hassan Whiteside has made it clear he expects to be a big part of the Offensive game plan down the stretch. The Center feels Miami got away from him in the loss to the Orlando Magic a couple of days ago, but the Heat have every chance of snapping their losing run against a Lakers team who have lost ten of their last eleven games.

The Lakers might be shorthanded for their visit to Miami and they have just had a few issues Defensively that can be exposed by the home team. A real issue for the Lakers to resolve is getting enough action on the boards but that is going to be a big challenge for them against this Miami team and I think that will give the home team enough of an edge in this one to win and cover this number.

It has to be noted that the LA Lakers are just 1-7 against the spread when playing with just a day of rest between games. Looking after the ball has been a better trait for Miami in recent games and they have the bench to match what the LA Lakers are able to do when the rosters are mixed about during the game. I think the Heat can do enough on the Defensive side of the court to make sure they get over this number and I will back the favourite in this one.

San Antonio Spurs @ LA Clippers Pick: The San Antonio Spurs needed a big comeback in the final five minutes to see off the Houston Rockets narrowly a couple of days ago and that improved the team to 15-1 on the road. I think they can be backed to beat the LA Clippers who are missing Blake Griffin until the New Year and will be needing a number of role players to cover his absence.

One of the reasons I like the San Antonio Spurs in this one is how well they are shooting from the field at the moment with the team averaging 51% from the field over their last five games. They have been incredibly efficient from the three point range and the Spurs can expose some of the problems the Clippers have had Defensively compared with earlier in the season.

San Antonio have been very strong on the rebounding stats too and I think that gives them a definite edge in this one. They are moving the ball very well to find the open shot and the Spurs have improved to 5-2 against the spread when playing a road game against a team with a winning record.

The Clippers have been a little better across the board at home, but there are still some problems on the Defensive side of the court that need to be resolved. With the Spurs currently rolling along as they have been, I am not sure the Clippers have the time to resolve their problems at this moment and I can see San Antonio coming through with a cover and a win.

Los Angeles have only kept one of their last eight opponents from scoring at least 100 points and I think that is an issue for them here as San Antonio make a few more plays in the Fourth Quarter to win this game.

Sunday 25th December
The NBA plays its annual Christmas Day selection of games in a back to back to back schedule through the day. We begin at Madison Square Garden at 12pm Eastern Time and end up at The Staples Center for 10:30pm Eastern Time start with three other games between those.

Usually this would be a spot kept solely for the NBA, but they will be competing with two big NFL games that have huge Play Off implications on Sunday and the ratings will be of interest for the League on Monday morning.

Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Pick: Things may be opening up in New York City for the NBA Christmas Day schedule, but the biggest game of the day will head to the court in the second game of the day. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met last Christmas and they have played the NBA Finals against one another for the last two seasons while being favourites to meet one another again at the end of the 2017 NBA season.

There are some obstacles for both to overcome in their respective Conferences, but it would take a brave person to pick the team who is capable of beating the Cavaliers or the Warriors over a seven game series prior to the NBA Finals.

A rivalry has definitely built up between these teams who want to finish with the best record and have home court advantage in the NBA Finals. They also put out some of the best players in the NBA on the court when the Cavaliers and Warriors meet, although LeBron James has downplayed the significance of this game with suggestions that Cleveland are treating it as any other regular season game.

James was amazing in the NBA Finals and the reason the Cavaliers recovered a 3-1 deficit to win that series, but he has been pointing out the importance of losing JR Smith for the coming months. While I agree Smith is a loss, the Cavaliers can deal with his absence if they can continue playing the Defense which helped them beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

Smith is not known for his strong Defensive play, while the rest of the Cleveland team have not been up to the level they set for themselves last June. That is going to be a problem against a Golden State team that have added Kevin Durant and been producing 49% from the field in their recent games. A bigger concern for the Cavaliers has to be the way they have played the three point shot in their recent games, an area that Golden State will look to exploit.

In fact it is the Golden State Warriors who have been showing their Defensive strength in their most recent games and they could give Cleveland some problems. Kyrie Irving is a bad match up for Stephen Curry from a Defensive point of view, but they could give Curry more help knowing Kevin Durant will give LeBron James trouble with his size, while Klay Thompson is a very strong Defender and may spend time on Irving.

Both teams have looked after the ball effectively and Cleveland do have a 4-1 record against the spread in the last five games against the Warriors. However the Cavaliers do have a losing record against the spread at home when facing a team with a winning record and I think Golden State can beat them on Christmas Day for a second season in a row. I will back the Warriors to win and cover in the biggest game on Christmas Day in the NBA.

Chicago Bulls @ San Antonio Spurs Pick: The San Antonio Spurs might have a fairly different feel these days without Tim Duncan in the line up and players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili no longer the key ones for them. Gregg Popovich will still look to his veterans at times, but the San Antonio Spurs have been better than expected because of the improvement of other players on the roster, most notably Kahwi Leonard who has become a star in the NBA.

It showed how much things have changed for San Antonio that they were able to rest some of the older legs on Friday in a blow out win over the Portland Trail Blazers and only the Golden State Warriors have a better record in the Western Conference. There are still some questions that will be needed to be answered for the Spurs in April once we hit the Play Offs, but they are developing the right way.

They will be hosting the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day as their visitors have perhaps regressed to a level that would be less surprising. The Bulls started the season very impressively, but they have a losing record going into Christmas Day as the veterans have perhaps not gelled as well as it seemed they had.

Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have both won NBA Championship Rings and came to Chicago to help Jimmy Butler take the next step. While Butler has the numbers, both Wade and Rondo have been inconsistent and the Bulls don't have the depth to think they can challenge either Cleveland or Toronto in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls have hit a wall when it comes to what they want to do from an Offensive point of view and they are not expected to get things going any easier when they face this solid San Antonio Defense. The three point shot has been a struggle for Chicago all season and that is another area where the Spurs have been solid enough to prevent teams lighting them up, which was highlighted last week when shutting down the Houston Rockets from that range.

Considering that is what Houston do as well as any team in the NBA, the Spurs success was even more impressive. They also don't anticipate to face the same difficulties in getting baskets when they have the ball in hand and San Antonio can punish the Bulls' issues Defensively that have been highlighted in recent games.

Even the strength of the Chicago team in attacking the boards might be nullified by the San Antonio Spurs who have put considerable stock into this Christmas Day game when you think they rested players in anticipation of it. The Spurs need to look after the ball a little better than they have in their most recent games, and they do have a poor 5-7 record against the spread at home.

The Spurs have not been a great favourite to back when asked to cover a lot of points like they are on Christmas Day, but they are 5-0 against the spread in their last five against a team with a losing record. I think they can do enough at both ends of the court to find a way to pull away from the Chicago Bulls in this one and I will back the Spurs to cover.

Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder Pick: There is no doubting the historically strong numbers Russell Westbrook is putting up this season and I fully expect he is going to have a huge game in the Christmas Day showdown with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Westbrook doesn't worry himself about the statistics, but it is clear he is trying to will the Oklahoma City Thunder to surpassing all expectations this season, the first without Kevin Durant.

One of the problems the Thunder have had is finding consistent Offensive support for Westbrook through the season and their 18-12 record says much about how well their Point Guard has been playing. They are very much expected to be in the Play Off mix thanks to the start made, but the Thunder look some way from being able to beat the top teams in the Western Conference, especially over a seven game series.

There is elements of a rebuild in Oklahoma City, but a clearer picture in Minnesota where the young Timberwolves are still trying to understand and execute what Tom Thibodeau wants his team to do. That is especially the case on the Defensive side of the court where Minnesota have been unable to really produce over the full 48 minutes and the Timberwolves will need to turn the key on their performances sooner rather than later if they are to make the Play Offs.

No one will doubt the exciting roster Minnesota have and their young stars have been able to show off on the Offensive side of the court. They should have their successes against a Thunders team that have allowed teams to shoot at 49% from the field in recent games although the Defensive disorganisation is going to be broken down by Westbrook and the Thunder too.

Both teams have players who can take over the rebounding, which suggests a close battle on the boards, while the Timberwolves might find a little more room for three point shooting which can be an important factor in this one. The Timberwolves will just need the bench players to stay with the Oklahoma City Thunder in this game and doing that will give them a chance of recording the upset on Christmas Day.

I do like the road underdog in this one, but my concern is how well Oklahoma City have played when hosting a team with a losing record. They are 7-2 against the spread in that spot and Minnesota have struggled in recent games against the Thunder. However a lot of those were with Kevin Durant in the home locker room and I do think the Minnesota Timberwolves are playing well enough to make these points count on the road.

LA Clippers @ LA Lakers Pick: These days it is the LA Clippers and not the LA Lakers who run Los Angeles, but there are still some doubts about the former and they won't be fully recognised in these parts unless they can win a NBA Championship. The Clippers haven't even made the Western Conference Finals, let alone win the NBA Finals, and a team with the third best record in the West are still one that won't be trusted unless they can win a lot of games in April, May and June.

It is still a transitional time for the LA Lakers whose promising start under Luke Walton has been forgotten in light of an 11-22 record. There are some good young pieces on the roster, but the Lakers are still a work in progress even if they are rewarded with a big appearance on Christmas Day yet again.

The Lakers were beaten by the Clippers on Christmas Day last year in the final game of the day and they will do well to avoid that fate again. It is a Clippers team missing Blake Griffin until the New Year, but Chris Paul is expected to return having missed the Friday night surprising loss to the Dallas Mavericks, a result that should have the players fired up to perform.

A strong Defensive start to the season has not been on show in recent games for the Clippers, but they will feel they can get what they want Offensively against this Lakers Defense. Protecting against the three point shot has been a particular problem for the Lakers and we all know that the Clippers will move the ball around and look for the open man to knock down some big shots from outside of the arc.

Rebounding shouldn't be a big concern for the Clippers in this one, while having their primary ball handling player back on the court in Chris Paul is key to restricting the turnovers that have hurt them of late. It also means the Clippers should match what the Lakers are able to produce from the bench with the likes of Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford coming out in relief of the starters.

The Clippers haven't been that good against the spread when facing a team with a losing record this season, while they are 1-4 against the spread in the last five against the Lakers. However the Lakers haven't exactly thrived when playing the best teams in the NBA even with the points they have been getting and I think the Clippers will be able to cover a spread that was over double the size twelve months ago.

That is because of some improvement from the Lakers as well as Blake Griffin being absent and Chris Paul a little banged up, but I like the Clippers and I will back them to round out the day with a win and a cover.

MY PICKS: 19/12 Washington Wizards + 5.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
19/12 Oklahoma City Thunder - 3 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
19/12 Dallas Mavericks + 8.5 Points @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
20/12 Houston Rockets + 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
20/12 Utah Jazz + 12 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
21/12 Minnesota Timberwolves + 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
21/12 Washington Wizards + 4 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
22/12 Orlando Magic + 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
22/12 Miami Heat - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
22/12 San Antonio Spurs - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
25/12 Golden State Warriors - 2 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
25/12 San Antonio Spurs - 9 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
25/12 Minnesota Timberwolves + 5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
25/12 LA Clippers - 6 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)

December 19-25 Update: 5-9, - 4.41 Units
December 12-18 Final5-5, - 0.37 Units
December 5-11 Final5-6, - 1.41 Units
December 1-4 Final4-3, + 0.68 Units

December Update14-14, - 1.10 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

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