I didn't make any picks over the last weekend because I didn't really have the research time I would like to devote and it would have been less prepared than normal.
The month is in a winning position, but I want to kick on with some consistency this week and really get things moving in a positive direction.
Monday 16th January
Atlanta Hawks @ New York Knicks Pick: The New York Knicks are on the bring of being completely destroyed as they continue slipping off the pace in the Eastern Conference. This is a franchise that will always receive far more media attention than a team with a losing record should be getting, but a big market also means big demands from the fans and the Knicks are falling far short of those at the moment.
Phil Jackson was supposed to be overseeing a turn around for the Knicks, but his two and a half years in the job have been inconsistent to say the least. No one has been impressed with the Head Coaching appointments under Jackson who looks to blame everyone but himself for the mess the Knicks keep finding themselves in.
Kristaps Porzingis will be a big miss on Monday as he battles an injury, while we are only seven days removed from Derrick Rose walking out on the team and almost calling time on his Knicks career. Now we've had a piece in the media that suggests Carmelo Anthony could waive his 'no trade' clause and this might be the closest we have come to seeing Anthony get ready to leave Gotham.
It all doesn't bode well for the Knicks who host the Atlanta Hawks in the Garden on Monday and who are facing a team that looks to be building momentum. Atlanta were supposed to be big trade players with some of their veteran pieces expected to be moved on, but they have won eight of their last nine games and look to be in a much better place mentally than the Knicks.
The Hawks look to be matching up well with the Knicks and have used strong Defensive performances to spark their winning run. I would expect Atlanta to win the battles on the board and I do think they can snap their 0-4 run against the spread in the last four against the New York Knicks. Atlanta look to be in a positive state of mind heading to Madison Square Garden and I will back them to cover the points in this one.
Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks Pick: The Philadelphia 76ers will have to have a special second half of the season if they are serious about getting into the Play Offs and everything is possible when you Trust The Process. Joel Embiid is still on a minutes restriction and isn't playing in back to backs, but he will be returning to the starting line up after missing the 76ers loss at the Washington Wizards on Saturday.
That loss snapped a three game winning run for the 76ers, but it is clear this is a team that is playing with more confidence than arguably at any time over the last four seasons. The 76ers had been very competitive before the 16 point loss to Washington, but having their star player back in the line up should mean they are much more competitive when they head to The Bradley Center.
It won't be an easy game for the 76ers as they face a young and hungry Milwaukee Bucks team who look like a Play Off team in the making in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks have been a little inconsistent over the last couple of weeks, but that is not a big surprise when you think of the youthfulness of this squad and the usual ups and downs young players will have.
The Bucks are capable of covering this number when you think how well they have been playing Offensively, but I think the 76ers keep this close because of the Defensive problems the home team have been having. They did cover this number in a win over the Miami Heat last week, but Milwaukee are just 1-2 against the spread as the favourite of 7 points or higher this season and this Philadelphia team have been playing much better than the Heat in recent games.
Philadelphia are just 1-4 against the spread in their last five games in Milwaukee, but I think the 76ers can make this number of points count and stay within it.
Charlotte Hornets @ Boston Celtics Pick: The Boston Celtics are not only expected to be an Eastern Conference Play Off team, but they are expected to be in a position to perhaps host at least two Play Off series. There are suggestions that the Celtics may even make a big trade to put themselves in a position to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.
They are facing a Charlotte Hornets team who have been sliding in the Eastern Conference and have been knocked out of the top eight in the East this past weekend. The Hornets have lost six of their last seven games and are close to dropping below 0.500 for the first time this season, while Charlotte also conclude a road trip on Monday in which they have lost four in a row.
A close loss to the Detroit Pistons in the first of those hurt Charlotte, but they have since been beaten comfortably at San Antonio, Houston and Philadelphia and this is a big test for a team who have lost confidence. There have been struggles on the Offensive side of the ball and that has led to some holes Defensively which has seen Charlotte allow at least 102 points in their last seven games.
Defensive performances have been something of an issue for Boston in recent games too, but they are doing enough on the other side of the court to win six of their last seven games. Barring a fourth quarter collapse at the Toronto Raptors, Boston would have been riding a long winning run into this game and they will also likely have a boost with Avery Bradley returning to the roster with his superior Defensive skills.
The Celtics are 18-6 against the spread as a favourite of fewer than 8 points this season and Charlotte are 3-5 against the spread as an underdog of fewer than that number. It has to be noted that Charlotte have a very strong recent record when visiting Boston, but they are 1-6 against the spread in the last seven in this series and I like the home Celtics to win and cover in this one.
Tuesday 17th January
Only a real sloppy opening to the fourth quarter prevented the Atlanta Hawks from making it a 3-0 day, but I am always happy with a winning start to the week. I am looking to keep that going on Tuesday.
Toronto Raptors @ Brooklyn Nets Pick: The Toronto Raptors are only a couple of games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference and they do look the closest challenges to prevent the Cavs from making it three Finals appearances in a row. There are some suggestions that the Raptors will hit the trade market to improve, but the chemistry in the current roster is very good and one they may not want to mess around with too much.
The Raptors head off on a three game road trip at three teams with losing records in the Eastern Conference beginning with this tilt at the Barclays Center against the Brooklyn Nets who have the worst record in the NBA. It has been really tough for the Nets who have lost ten in a row and will be favourites to finish with the worst record in the NBA this season as they have continued to struggle at both ends of the court.
The Nets have given up at least 101 points in each of those ten losses and it is made worse by the fact they have not broken triple digits themselves in six of those games. That includes being blown out by the Toronto Raptors in Canada last week and I think it will be difficult for Brooklyn to narrow that gap on Tuesday.
My one concern has to be that Toronto head to Philadelphia for a game on Wednesday night and might be overlooking the poor Nets. The 76ers might have a losing record, but they are a team in form so Toronto could be gearing up for that challenge. However I think the Raptors should have too much Offensively for Brooklyn in this one and I expect Toronto to find a way to move away from the Nets over the course of 48 minutes.
Toronto are 5-1 against the spread as a double digit favourite this season and I will look for them to cover a big number on the road.
Houston Rockets @ Miami Heat Pick: The Miami Heat could decide to make some big moves in the trade market to get them ready for a better 2017/18 season as this one is looking a write off by each passing week. Only the Brooklyn Nets have a weaker record than the Miami Heat in the NBA this season although the Heat do play a lot of their next few games at home to try and improve.
Things might get a little more comfortable for the Heat going forward, but the Houston Rockets come into town as one of the better teams in the NBA. After a couple of setbacks, Houston blew out the Brooklyn Nets last time out and they will look to conclude this mini road trip at the weakest teams in the Eastern Conference with another win before returning home.
The Heat are off a six game road trip where they went 1-5 and they have now lost ten of their last eleven games as the Play Off picture moves into the horizon. This is a difficult test for Miami against a hot shooting Houston Rockets team who have been strong from the three point range and that could be a the key in helping them get over this number.
Houston have been very strong when visiting teams with losing records as they are 9-3 against the spread in that spot this season while the Miami Heat are 3-7 against the spread when hosting a team with a winning record.
You can't argue that this is a big number to cover when you think Miami have been good enough Defensively to challenge teams and they do have a good record when given 7 plus points as an underdog. The Heat are 8-4 against the spread in that spot, but I think Houston will have too much firepower for them and they can improve their 6-2 record against the spread in the last eight in this series.
Denver Nuggets @ LA Lakers Pick: The Denver Nuggets visited London last week and blew out the Indiana Pacers and followed that up with an impressive win over the Orlando Magic on Martin Luther King Day. There are still some questions to answer Defensively, but Denver have been very strong on the other side of the court and will feel they can keep the winning run going when they visit the LA Lakers.
The Nuggets might be catching the Lakers at the right time with the latter on a four game losing run and having some problems at both ends of the court. In that run, the Lakers have given up at least 102 points in each game, but they have yet to reach triple digits as some of the younger players on the roster have hit a wall.
It is possible that the Lakers get back on track Offensively against this Denver team who have allowed 118 points per game in their last five games and allowed teams to shoot 50% from the field. However Denver will feel confident in a shoot out with the points they have been producing Offensively and they are facing a Lakers Defense that has allowed almost 49% from the field over their last five games.
Denver have a strong 6-0 record against the spread in their last six visits to the Lakers and that overrides my concern that they have gone 0-5 against the spread in their last five in the second half of a back to back. They did play early on Monday which means more time to prepare for this game and I think the Nuggets are playing well enough to take the points as the underdog.
This will be a close game because of the way the Nuggets have played on the Defensive side of the court, but I like them with the small number of points.
Wednesday 18th January
I have to admit I was a little frustrated to see the Toronto Raptors decide to rest Kyle Lowry for the first time this season on Tuesday which meant they actually went off as 8 point favourites rather than the 11.5 point favourites they were earlier in the day. So technically the Raptors covered, but missed out for me as they were 10 point winners which meant a 1-2 day.
You have to be careful of this time of the season as teams are more likely to give players a rest with one eye on the post-season already, but it is a haphazard task.
Memphis Grizzlies @ Washington Wizards Pick: A strong home record has sparked the Washington Wizards who have moved up to Number 5 in the Eastern Conference. Only the two NBA Finalists from last season have more home wins to this point than the Wizards who have won twelve in a row in this Arena and looking to make it lucky number thirteen when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.
There is plenty of confidence coursing through the roster in Washington who have won five of their last six games as they look to make a return to the Play Offs having missed out last season. A lot of the success has come thanks to Bradley Beal and John Wall and what they have been able to do on the Offensive side of the court and Washington have responded by scoring at least 100 points in seven straight games.
However don't sleep on what Scott Brooks has instilled on the Defensive side of the court and the Wizards are going to need to make stops against the Grizzlies if they want their winning run to continue. Memphis have been a little more up and down in recent games with some big wins followed by some disappointing losses but they are a dangerous team who Defend against the three point shot very effectively and also are big enough to challenge most teams in the rebounding category.
That is an area where Washington have excelled too and could be part of the reason why the Wizards are able to extend their 7-4 record against the spread when hosting a team with a winning record. Washington also have gone 9-5 against the spread when favoured by fewer than 5 points this season and I think they can win this game with their home court building an aura for visitors to overcome.
Memphis don't have a great recent record here anyway, finishing 1-4 against the spread in their last five visits to Washington, and I think they might give up a little too much Defensively to stay with the home team. I will back the Wizards to continue their strong form at home and cover.
Portland Trail Blazers @ Charlotte Hornets Pick: A poor run of form has seen the Charlotte Hornets not only slip under 0.500 for the first time this season, but they have also fallen out of the top eight places in the Eastern Conference. The same happened to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference on Tuesday as their inconsistent results continue to see the team flounder seven games below 0.500.
A return home might be a benefit for the Hornets who lost all five games on a road trip, although losing seven of eight overall has to have dented some of the confidence. Head Coach Steve Clifford has urged the team to perform better on the Defensive side of the court as he feels Charlotte have gotten away from that aspect of their game which has sparked the rest of the team.
That is going to be tested by the Portland Trail Blazers who have been strong Offensively which isn't a surprise with CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard in the back court, but their own Defensive issues have been clear to all. The Trail Blazers have been up and down on that aspect of their game but will feel they can at least challenge the Charlotte Hornets off a long road trip and use their own Offensive power to keep the pressure on their hosts.
It is important for the Portland Trail Blazers to stay with Charlotte early in this one having fallen into a hole in the first quarter against the Washington Wizards last time out. They should be able to score enough points to remain competitive and Portland do have a 10-4 record against the spread in their last fourteen games against Charlotte.
Portland have been playing the boards well in recent games and I think they can make use of the points being given to them in this game.
New York Knicks @ Boston Celtics Pick: There is a lot of unrest behind the closed doors at Madison Square Garden as the New York Knicks have slipped down the Eastern Conference. Problems have only intensified with news that Carmelo Anthony may be unhappy with Phil Jackson and rumours swirl that the Knicks may be ready to ask their superstar to waive his 'no trade' clause.
Things could have unravelled on the court, but the Knicks have at least shown signs of fight in recent games with their dominance on the glass enabling them to stay in games. However they have failed to get over the line and put a run of wins together and that means New York head to their rivals Boston off the pace in the Eastern Conference Play Off picture.
The Knicks could have Kristaps Porzingis back in the line up having missed a few games with injury and they have been decent Offensively in recent games with Derrick Rose looking more like his old self. However they need to finish and that won't be easy against the Boston Celtics who are still chasing the Number 2 Seed in the Eastern Conference and potentially adding to their roster in the coming weeks.
Boston have a closer in Isaiah Thomas who has come up big in the fourth quarter to help Boston win seven of their last eight games and they will be confident they can do enough to keep their wins going. Avery Bradley is back to give them more Defensive security having just had some difficulty making stops at times, but this is a Knicks team who can score points when all their scorers are out on the court.
With that in mind, this does look like a lot of points for the Boston Celtics to cover even against a rival who they would love to embarrass. The Celtics have gone 3-1 against the spread in their last four home games against the New York Knicks, but Boston are 0-4 against the spread when favoured by 8 or more points this season. It isn't to say the Knicks have thrived as a big underdog, but they can score enough points to stay with Boston in this one and I will take the underdog on the road.
Thursday 18th January
Don't ask me how the Washington Wizards didn't cover against the Memphis Grizzlies but only gave us a push. The referees were at fault by offering up the Grizzlies a debatable foul and then not calling one on Marc Gasol which would have given the Wizards two free throws with seven seconds left that might have been enough for the cover. That meant Wednesday saw the picks go 1-1-1, but I should be up this week with the right amount of fortune behind me, so I am disappointed to this point.
Washington Wizards @ New York Knicks Pick: Both teams are playing the second half of a back to back set on their schedule and it should be noted that the Washington Wizards have not impressed in this spot through the season. They are 1-7 in the second half of these games, but the sole win came over the New York Knicks and I do think Washington can do the same again as they continue their hot roll.
The Wizards and the Knicks both won on Wednesday evening, but the Knicks look like they will be shorthanded again in this one and will need the back ups to make big plays for them. The Knicks do still have the likes of Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony who can produce big numbers for the team, but they will have their hands full with this Washington team who have won six of their last seven games.
Washington are not as good on the road as they are at home, but they have won on their last five visits to Madison Square Garden and they have covered the spread each time. In fact Washington have improved to 8-2-1 against the spread in the last eleven games in the series with the New York Knicks and I expect the Offensive power to give them the edge in this one too.
It looks like New York will be missing Kristaps Porzingis, Joakim Noah and Lance Thomas, but they have still dominated the boards in the last couple of games which have given them a chance to win both games. The Wizards do have some decent size to them though and they have the players who can expose some of the Defensive problems that the New York Knicks have been having for much of the season.
We have now seen Washington score triple digit points in eight games in a row and I think they will have the edge in this one. I like the Wizards as the favourites at the 'World's Most Famous Arena' and I will back them to win this one and cover.
Denver Nuggets @ San Antonio Spurs Pick: If the Play Offs were to begin today, both the San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets would be playing in the Western Conference post-season. The goals for each team are much different though with the Spurs considered a genuine contender to win the Finals, while the Denver Nuggets will have to battle over the next four months to merely make the top eight in the West.
The Nuggets are playing well at this moment in time with three straight wins and finding an Offensive groove that will make them dangerous. However none of those wins have come against the top tier of teams in the NBA and so you can understand why they are being given as many points as they are in this one.
It was only earlier this month that Denver were blown out easily enough by the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs so they have some room to bridge to be more competitive on the road. This might be the best time to try and earn revenge over the Spurs who have lost two of their last four games and didn't cover in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in that time either.
San Antonio are also getting set to visit the Cleveland Cavaliers and could easily be overlooking a team who are six games under 0.500 who they blew out a couple of weeks ago. The Spurs have not been at their best on the Defensive side of the court and Denver are doing enough Offensively to keep this one closer than it was when they last met and I do like the Nuggets with the points.
The Spurs have to be respected as a team who have gone 6-5 against the spread when being asked to cover these big numbers, but this might be a bad spot for them. Hopefully Denver can make a fast start to build confidence and I will take the points and look for the road team to stay within it.
Friday 20th January
I am feeling a little frustrated with the NBA Picks as it could easily have been a much better week than the one I am enjoying. Washington have twice tried to mess up an easy cover by blowing a huge lead in the fourth quarter, while the Denver Nuggets missed some key free throws which at least would have put them within the number.
The only thing I am feeling good about is I am identifying the correct games, I just need a little bit more luck down the stretch to get ahead of the numbers.
Portland Trail Blazers @ Philadelphia 76ers Pick: I actually can't remember the last time the Philadelphia 76ers had as many positive vibes as they have at this moment. It has been a long time since the 76ers could say they have won seven of their last ten games and they have a chance to win three in a row for the second time in the last week when they host the Portland Trail Blazers.
One question is whether they will be playing Joel Embiid in this game or on Saturday as they continue to hold out their new star player from back to back spots on the schedule. The 76ers will be playing in Atlanta tomorrow, but I think they want to keep the momentum going from a big win over the Toronto Raptors and that means Embiid is likely to get the start in this one.
This number did jump out at me immediately and, barring Embiid being left out, it is a surprising one to me. The Portland Trail Blazers have lost three in a row, including the first two games of this Eastern Conference road trip, and I am not sure they deserve to be favourites in the game.
Philadelphia have been playing well at both ends of the court in recent games and they have been fired up by Embiid and the confidence he exudes. Other players have begun to feel more comfortable in the system and the 76ers are 3-0 against the spread this season when set as the underdog of less than three points like they are here. On the other side of the coin, Portland are just 4-4 against the spread as the small favourite and they have a 1-3-1 record against the spread in their last five games in Philadelphia.
The confidence in the home locker room has reached levels not seen in recent seasons and this 76ers team truly believe they can get back into the Play Off mix. On current form they should be the underdog in this one and I will back them to cover.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Orlando Magic Pick: The Milwaukee Bucks have fallen back out of the tight and congested Eastern Conference Play Off places thanks to a run of three losses in a row, but they can bounce back over the next two days. A double header against the two teams from Florida should give the Bucks the chance to put a couple of wins on the board and get back above 0.500, although they can't afford to take any team lightly.
The first of those games comes at the Orlando Magic who are coming in off a long road trip and who have lost seven of their last eight games. The eye test says the Magic are a lot worse than their record indicates as they continue to have a hard time understanding the Defensive schemes Frank Vogel has put in place for them.
Those problems have meant the Magic have allowed at least 100 points in their last twelve games and Orlando have not really been good enough to make up for that on the Offensive side of the court. The scoring has been better in recent games, but at the same time the Orlando Defensive numbers have been trending in a negative direction.
Milwaukee can take advantage even if their own Defensive performances have not been that good of late. However they should have enough Offensively to challenge Orlando and might just have an edge on the rebounding which can help the Bucks pull away in this game.
The Magic have struggled to a 3-7 record against the spread when hosting a team with a losing record this season and Milwaukee are 6-3 against the spread when favoured by less than four points. It has to be said that Milwaukee have struggled when visiting Orlando, but they won on their most recent game here back in November and I like Milwaukee to lock down for long enough to win and cover on the road.
Indiana Pacers @ LA Lakers Pick: The LA Lakers have hit the wall in recent weeks but this is a team that still has a chance to move closer to the Play Off standings in the Western Conference if they can turn around their form. It is a big task for the young Lakers to take the hits they have and get back on the horse and five straight losses will have dented what had to have been fragile confidence.
It is the struggles on the Defensive side of the ball which hasn't helped the Lakers as they have allowed at least 102 points in each of those five losses, while struggling for consistency Offensively. Now they face an Indiana Pacers team who have won seven of their last eight to move up the Eastern Conference Play Off standings and one who have found their groove on the Offensive side of the court.
I do think the LA Lakers will have some joy in this one shooting the ball as the Pacers have not been totally locked down Defensively, but Indiana will feel they can win any shoot out. The Pacers have looked good bringing down the rebounds and that can be important in these type of shoot outs, but there are a couple of concerns in backing the road team.
One is that Indiana have not been as good on the road despite the win in Sacramento a couple of nights ago, and they have also not been good when visiting teams with losing records like they will on Friday. The Pacers are also 2-3 against the spread when favoured by fewer than four points this season but that is negated by the fact the Lakers have been a poor underdog of less than four points too.
Ultimately I feel the Pacers can do enough on the boards and shooting the ball to move clear of the Lakers who have been inconsistent Offensively. Indiana have gone 4-1-1 against the spread in their last six games at the Lakers and I will look for them to improve that by narrowly overcoming this number on Friday.
MY PICKS: 16/01 Atlanta Hawks - 3 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
16/01 Philadelphia 76ers + 7 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
16/01 Boston Celtics - 5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
17/01 Toronto Raptors - 11.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
17/01 Houston Rockets - 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
17/01 Denver Nuggets + 1.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
18/01 Washington Wizards - 3 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
18/01 Portland Trail Blazers + 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
18/01 New York Knicks + 8.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
19/01 Washington Wizards - 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
19/01 Denver Nuggets + 11.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
20/01 Philadelphia 76ers + 1.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
20/01 Milwaukee Bucks - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Coral (1 Unit)
20/01 Indiana Pacers - 3 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
January 16-23 Update: 6-7-1, - 1.42 Units
January 9-15 Final: 6-6, - 0.54 Units
January 2-8 Final: 4-3, + 0.68 Units
January Update: 10-9, + 0.14 Units
December Final: 19-23, - 5.51 Units
November Final: 24-25-1, - 2.92 Units
October Final: 8-9, - 1.72 Units
Season 2017: 32-34-1, - 4.64 Units
Final Season 2016: 150-143-7, - 5.37 Units