There are still basically three weeks of the month to go to get things moving in a more positive direction as the regular season winds down and the Play Offs approach at a rapid rate.
This is the time of the season when I have begun to wonder which of the underdogs have given up on the season and are looking to improve their lottery position in a bid to create a better roster for the 2017/18 season. I've got a couple of teams on the list who certainly look in 'wind down' mode or, as they call it, 'player evaluation' mode and I won't be backing them regardless of the number of points they are being given for the remainder of the regular season.
On the other hand this might be the final couple of weeks when teams really push for their Seeding before players are rested for the Play Offs which is another point to keep in mind.
Monday 12th March
Dallas Mavericks @ Toronto Raptors Pick: Barring an incredible collapse at the end of the season for the Memphis Grizzlies, the top seven in the Western Conference Play Offs have likely been decided and they are battling for their Seedings. That means there is only one place left for the other teams in the Conference and the Dallas Mavericks are one of a number of teams looking to work their way into the top eight.
They continue searching for a way to close the 2.5 game gap to the Denver Nuggets who would be the Number 8 Seed if the season was to come to a close today. Dropping the last game to the Phoenix Suns was a big blow to the Mavericks, but they have put together a decent roster with players that might not have been wanted elsewhere and they will be looking to bounce back as they begin this Eastern Conference road trip.
First up is the Toronto Raptors who are slipping in the Play Off standings in the Eastern Conference and trying desperately to maintain their spot with a home First Round series in April. Toronto have lost four of their last six games, although the last five have been on the road, and the concern for them has to be the struggles they have had without Kyle Lowry who might not be at 100% if he returns for the Play Offs.
The Raptors have had a few issues at both ends of the court and losing a playmaker like Lowry just increases the pressure on DeMar DeRozan to pull them through. Dallas can match the Raptors on the boards which will increase the pressure on the home team and the Mavericks have been shooting the ball well enough to keep this one close.
Toronto have not played well against the supposedly weaker teams in the NBA as they are 2-7 against the spread in their last nine against a team with a losing record, while they are 1-5 against the spread in their last six hosting a team who have a losing record on the road. Add in the fact that Dallas are 18-6 against the spread in their last twenty-four games following a loss and I will be looking for the Mavericks to keep this one competitive by taking the points with the road underdog.
Washington Wizards @ Minnesota Timberwolves Pick: I have backed against the Washington Wizards twice in a row and so far been rewarded with a push and a loss. They have twice in a row come back from huge deficits in those wins at the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers and both of those wins have come in Overtime, but I am going to back the Minnesota Timberwolves to beat them on Monday.
While the Washington Wizards have used their latest positive run to get within 2 games of the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been much improved out of the All-Star Break and are 3.5 games off a Play Off place themselves.
The Timberwolves were beaten last time out against the Milwaukee Bucks, but that was on a back to back after holding off the Golden State Warriors in their last home game on Friday. The improvement on the Defensive side of the court will give them a chance in this one, although the Washington Wizards have one of the best Offensive rotations in the NBA and players like Bradley Beal and John Wall who can turn on the after-jets to pull this team away from anyone.
However I do think Minnesota can challenge the Wizards on the boards and have found the Offensive groove to surprise their visitors. Minnesota are much better at home and they have gone 5-1 against the spread in their last six games here against Washington.
Washington are 1-9-1 against the spread in their last eleven games on the road against a team who have a losing record at home. On the other hand, Minnesota are 16-5 against the spread against the last twenty-one teams they have faced with a winning record and they have covered in the last five games after a loss. I will lay the point with the home favourite and look for them to hold off the surging Washington Wizards for a big win.
LA Clippers @ Utah Jazz Pick: The Number 4 Seed in the Western Conference is going to be battled out between the LA Clippers and Utah Jazz through the rest of the season, but this game is more important to the Jazz. They have already lost twice to the Clippers this season and losing this game will mean they have lost the tie-breaker which could be very important come the end of the season with just 1 game keeping these teams apart in the Standings at the moment.
Both teams have been playing well over the last few games and so this should be a very good game between two teams who may feel they can make a real impact in the Play Offs this season.
There are some similarities with what the teams want to achieve on the court with the Defensive side of their performances the key to sparking the Offensive effort. Both defend the three point line effectively, which is important for the kind of teams they will see in the Play Offs, and the size means both the Jazz and the Clippers like dominating on the boards, although Utah may be missing Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors for this one.
Being at home in a spot of revenge may just give Utah the edge in this one and they have been a very good small favourite to back as they are 9-4 against the spread when favoured by less than 4 points this season.
I have to offer the LA Clippers a lot of respect having played a lot of good basketball of late and they have a very good recent record against Utah which makes it hard to back against them. However I do think the Jazz have a couple of factors in their favour including the schedule spot for them and this is a game Utah have to win. That isn't always the best position to back a team, but I do think Utah can lay the point and come away with the win and snap their poor run against the Clippers.
Orlando Magic @ Sacramento Kings Pick: The Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic might already be looking ahead to the Draft as promising seasons have fallen apart. The Magic have been disappointing in a weak Eastern Conference and allowed big off-season signing Serge Ibaka move on to the Toronto Raptors before the trade deadline. Of course that was nothing compared with the Sacramento Kings who finally moved on from the DeMarcus Cousins era which promised so much but failed to really ignite.
With both teams looking to improve Draft position in the coming weeks, it might be tough to actually make a pick in this game as it could be one that both the Magic and Kings prefer to lose. However I do think playing at home might be important for Sacramento who have not played that badly of late and been close to a win or two during their eight game losing run.
The Kings have been shooting the ball effectively, especially from the three point range, and now face an Orlando Defensive unit which have allowed teams to hit from that range at 44% over their last five games. Neither team have played well Defensively, but Orlando have perhaps found consistent scoring a little more difficult to come by and that may show up here.
Orlando have won three of their last eight games which may encourage some support, but they have not covered in their last four when facing a team with a winning record lower than 40% and they have not covered in their last four against the Western Conference. The Kings are not much better and they are 1-4 against the spread in their last four against Orlando.
However I do think the Kings have shown a little more efficiency shooting the ball and I do think that makes the difference for them. It will keep Orlando in a position to finish with the fourth worst record in the NBA and I like the Kings in this one.
Tuesday 14th March
Detroit Pistons @ Cleveland Cavaliers Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers are barely holding onto their Number 1 Seed in the Eastern Conference and the players are admitting they have to start performing with the Play Offs fast approaching. The Cavaliers have lost five of their last seven games as they have allowed the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards to close in on them.
One of those losses has come against the Detroit Pistons who have rallied together and moved into the Number 7 Seed in the Eastern Conference. There is still work for them to do as they are only 1.5 games clear of the Chicago Bulls in the Number 9 spot, but the Pistons do feel a little better about themselves having won four of their last five games.
There is still some feeling that the Pistons are not all on the same page as they would like to be, but they have been rallying together to try and force a Play Off spot. Detroit have the size to really give Cleveland some problems in this one, especially with the Cavaliers searching for another big man following the injury to Andrew Bogut just seconds into his career with Cleveland.
The Pistons have been shooting the ball pretty well, but Cleveland have shown signs they are returning to the Defensive levels that have taken them to back to back NBA Finals. The Cavaliers haven't held a team to fewer than 100 points in their last six games, but they have been close to turning a corner, and returning JR Smith gives them a three point shooting star that can turn this game in their favour.
Detroit have a good record in Cleveland, but they are just 0-5 against the spread when given 8 or more points as the underdog this season. The home team is also 4-0 against the spread in the last four in this series too and I will back Cleveland to snap a poor run and get back into winning ways with a solid home win.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Brooklyn Nets Pick: It looks like the Oklahoma City Thunder have an outside chance to try and close to the LA Clippers in the Number 5 Seed in the Western Conference, and they have moved above the slumping Memphis Grizzlies in the standings. They are expected to beat the struggling Brooklyn Nets who have the inside track into the lottery for the NBA Draft, although Brooklyn have showed some life having won three of their last seven games.
The factor that makes the Nets dangerous in this game is their ambitions to shoot from the three point line, regardless of the player who has the ball, and they have been producing at a really good clip of late. The Thunder don't defend the three point line as well as they would like, but they do have Russell Westbrook who is able to take over games when Oklahoma City need him to.
The Thunder do have the size to dominate the boards and that will give them a chance to pull away from the Brooklyn Nets and they do have the best player on the court. That should be enough for most people to expect Oklahoma City to cover on the road, but I think the Brooklyn Nets shooting from the three point range can keep them in this one.
Oklahoma City are just 1-4 against the spread in their last five games against the Brooklyn Nets and this game comes between the Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors where the focus of the Thunder players would have been much more important.
The Thunder are just 2-8 against the spread when visiting a team who have won fewer than 40% of home games and they have not covered in their last four against a team with a losing record. Brooklyn have also gone 3-1-1 against the spread in their last five games when coming off a win and I am going to play the home underdog who are being heavily opposed to at least cover the points.
Wednesday 15th March
Minnesota Timberwolves @ Boston Celtics Pick: The Minnesota Timberwolves continue hoping they have not left things too late to get into the Play Off spots in the Western Conference, but they remain 3.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets and the games are beginning to run out. They have a tough couple of games at top Eastern Conference opponents in the next couple of days, but Minnesota cannot allow themselves to slip up as they have been in fine form out of the All-Star Break.
The first of those games comes at the Boston Celtics who reclaimed the Number 2 Seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to the Timberwolves who knocked off the Washington Wizards last time out. There is also a 2.5 game gap between the Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Number 1 Seed in the Eastern Conference so this is clearly a big game for both teams.
It is the recent form of the Timberwolves, who have finally understood what is expected of them on both sides of the court, that has intrigued me. I think they can make this number of points count in this game and Minnesota have the size to win the rebounding battle to give them a chance to win this game.
And I do mean actually upset the Celtics and win this game outright. Minnesota have been shooting the ball really well and have been improved Defensively which suggests they can match up well with the erratic Celtics in this one. It certainly looks like a lot of points for the Timberwolves to be receiving despite their poor recent record when visiting the TD Garden.
However Boston are just 5-11 against the spread when hosting a team with a losing record this season. They are facing a Minnesota team who have gone 17-4 against the spread in their last twenty-one games when facing a team with a winning record and I think the Timberwolves do enough to make sure they stay within the points in this one.
Portland Trail Blazers @ San Antonio Spurs Pick: The San Antonio Spurs have a chance to finish the season with the best record in the Western Conference although this is a team who doesn't really put a lot of stock into that. They will instead be looking to keep doing things the right way in preparation for the Play Offs and there was good news for the Spurs on Wednesday with LaMarcus Aldridge cleared to return to the team.
Kahwi Leonard continues to silently become one of the best players in the NBA and the new look Spurs have not missed a beat even though inspirational leader Tim Duncan has been retired for several months. Most would have expected a drop off from the standards San Antonio have produced during the Duncan era, but Gregg Popovich has helped them maintain those this season.
They should be too good for the Portland Trail Blazers who are in a difficult position in their schedule as they continue to chase the Number 8 Seed in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers were embarrassed in New Orleans last night, but they will be motivated to bounce back even if the back to back is a tough spot for them.
Portland will have to win the battle on the boards to give themselves a chance to even stay within this huge mark and I do think it is a tough ask for them. They are not quite as good as San Antonio at both ends of the court and the Trail Blazers are only 2-4 against the spread when set as the double digit underdog this season.
The team also have a poor 2-7 record against the spread in their last nine games in San Antonio and I think the Spurs can cover a big number at home.
Thursday 16th March
Tough day of games today so will be back with any picks tomorrow.
Friday 17th March
Boston Celtics @ Brooklyn Nets Pick: The regular season games are beginning to run down but the Boston Celtics could still finish in any of the top three positions in the Eastern Conference. They are 2.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Number 1 Seed, but also just 1.5 games ahead of the Number 3 Seed Washington Wizards and the Celtics are looking for back to back road wins in the next couple of days without star player Isaiah Thomas.
A bruised knee will keep Thomas out of contention, but the Celtics are playing two teams in the Eastern Conference who are perhaps focusing on improving their lottery position. The first of those is the Brooklyn Nets who have actually shown some life now they are almost certainly assured of having the worst record in the NBA.
The Nets are on a back to back, which is a concern, but they have won four of their last nine games and won the battle of New York by beating the Knicks twice over the last week. This is a team who have been shooting the ball very well and it will be able to put some pressure on Boston who have relied on Thomas to spark their play when the chips are down.
The size of the Brooklyn players should mean they can have some success on the boards too and I do think they can make use of the points being given to them. They do have a 1-4 record against the spread in their last five home games with the Celtics which includes a blow out loss in November, but Boston have not been a great team to back when being asked to cover these big numbers.
Boston are 0-9 against the spread when favoured by 8 or more points this season and missing Thomas is a setback for them. While I do think the Celtics ultimately win this game, Brooklyn can make them work for it and I will take the points with the home underdog.
Toronto Raptors @ Detroit Pistons Pick: The Toronto Raptors starting rotation might be a little more rested than you would expect for a team on a back to back after they were effectively blown out by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. The Raptors have continued to struggle for consistency without injured Kyle Lowry and they might be in danger of losing their grip on a home First Round series in the Play Offs.
While the Raptors might be very keen on getting back to winning ways, at least they are assured of a Play Off berth which is more than the Detroit Pistons can say. The Pistons are currently the Number 8 Seed in the Eastern Conference, but they have suffered back to back losses which has left them with the same record as the Number 9 Miami Heat.
Playing well at home is going to be the key for Detroit who were beaten easily by Cleveland and Utah in their last couple of games. This looks like a game where both Detroit and Toronto have been playing at a similar level in recent games, but the home advantage could be telling for the Pistons.
Detroit have bounced back with an 8-1 record against the spread in their last nine games following a loss and they are 4-1 against the spread in their last five at home. They face a Raptors team who have not covered in their last four games on the second half of a back to back and the Pistons are also 16-6 against the spread when favoured by between 4 and 6.5 points this season.
There will be runs for both teams that should keep the game competitive for large portions of it but I will look for Detroit to improve their recent 2-6 record against the spread when hosting Toronto and I will look for the Pistons to cover.
Houston Rockets @ New Orleans Pelicans Pick: The Western Conference Play Offs are beginning to take shape with teams getting close to the mark of locking up their Seedings. The Houston Rockets are almost certainly going to be the Number 3 Seed in the Conference and there is a lot of confidence being built at the team which is important for them.
One team that looks like they won't be making the Play Offs is the New Orleans Pelicans despite the big move ahead of the trade deadline to bring in DeMarcus Cousins. I voiced my concerns that it would take time for Cousins and Anthony Davis to get on the same page on the court, despite how well they get on with one another off the court, and that has proven to be the case.
Cousins might be absent for this one while Davis has been banged up and battling through but there is now a 6 game gap between the Denver Nuggets in the Number 8 spot in the Western Conference and the Pelicans. With the Rockets now having an advantage when it comes to the rebounding statistics, it is hard to see how New Orleans will stay with them the high powered scoring in this one.
The Rockets crushed New Orleans here at the end of February to improve to 6-2 against the spread in the last eight of the series. Houston are also 15-6 against the spread in their last twenty-one road games against a team with a losing record at home and they might be catching the Pelicans at the right time in their schedule.
If Houston get hot from the three point mark as they can, I think they pull away and earn another win in New Orleans along with another cover.
MY PICKS: 13/03 Dallas Mavericks + 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
13/03 Minnesota Timberwolves - 1 Point @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
13/03 Utah Jazz - 1 Point @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
13/03 Sacramento Kings - 2 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
14/03 Cleveland Cavaliers - 8 Points @ 2.00 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
14/03 Brooklyn Nets + 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
15/03 Minnesota Timberwolves + 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
15/03 San Antonio Spurs - 11.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
17/03 Brooklyn Nets + 9 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
17/03 Detroit Pistons - 4 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
17/03 Houston Rockets - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
March 13-19 Update: 5-6, - 1.32 Units
March 6-12 Final: 7-8-1, - 1.51 Units
March 1-5 Final: 4-5, - 1.28 Units
March Update: 11-13-1, - 2.79 Units
February Final: 32-20-3, + 9.69 Units
January Final: 26-28-1, - 4 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: 109-105-5, + 1.05 Units
Final Season 2016: 150-143-7, - 5.37 Units