February 23, 2016 (1:10 PM ET)
There are 3 picks tonight.
1) Take Utah Jazz at -4.5 spread against Houston Rockets for 3% of the bankroll.
There is a reason why Vegas opened the 9th placed Jazz as 5-point favorites over a Houston team that currently not only has a slightly better record but has dominated this series! Utah is primed to have a strong showing tonight. They always amp up their intensity when facing a team that has previously beaten them and in this case, they're going up against one that has defeated them twice this season! One was a narrow 2-point win back in Salt Lake City early in the year and the other, a comfortable win in Houston. Despite those previous matchups, oddsmakers have installed Quin Snyder's side as a significant favorite tonight and rightly so. In fact, we believe the spread should have been -7 and given that we are getting it at -4.5, it presents great value. It's worth noting that Utah is 15-9 ATS when seeking revenge over the last 3 seasons!
The Jazz are one of the best defensive teams in the league and allow only an average of 96.8 points per game! That is polar opposite to a Rockets squad that just doesn't bring it on that end of the court with any consistency and has given up 106.7 points on average. They occasionally play defense when they 'feel like it' but that is not the hallmark of a playoff team and their lack of work ethic and concentration has been all too evident this season. Letting go of Hall of Famer, Kevin McHale was a mistake as he was a coach that would bark at his players when necessary and get them to play with more intensity. Under interim coach, JB Bickerstaff, Houston has taken a step backward as he seems to lack authority. The players' body language say a lot and they often seem to almost casually nod away or brush off what he's instructing on the sidelines. This is a disorganized group that has good individual talent but lacks cohesion and unity.
This is a must-win game for Utah if they want to make it to the post-season. That's because despite sitting just outside the playoff spots right now, they know they will find it difficult getting there if they lose to a direct rlval 3 times, including twice on their home court. They've already hurt their cause by losing the previous 2 meetings, which ironically are the only reason they are currently on the outside looking in! They know that dropping the final home meeting of the season is unthinkable since the 4th matchup between these two clubs will be in Houston where they've found it tough. Luckily for them, they don't often lose in Salt Lake City and that's evident by their excellent 18-10 home record! This young team enjoys great home court advantage as every player seems to play with more confidence at this venue. They have a great track record of covering spreads in this price range, having cashed out 12 of 16 tickets as a home favorite of 3.5 to 6 points over the last 3 years!
The Rockets have only played one game since the All-Star break and that puts them at a great disadvantage tonight. Too much rest leads to rust and the fact that this squad has only participated in one NBA contest since Feb 10th, means their rhythm will be off. Basketball and shooting (offense in particular) is largely dependent on being in good game shape, having that rhythm and confidence that only time on the court can bring. The Jazz are much more up for that task given that they've played in 3 games since the All-Star break and are in good shape heading into this. Coming off a loss in Portland which was a defeat to another direct rival, we don't believe they'll allow this one to slip away as well. We fully expect the better coached team to win this game and covering the spread should naturally come with it given that they're laying only 4 points. The Jazz can overtake the Rockets for that 8th and final playoff spot if they grab a W tonight and we believe they'll do just that against their rusty opponents.
2) Take Denver Nuggets at -1 spread against Sacramento Kings for 3% of the bankroll.
These two teams met 4 days ago when the Kings pulled off a 6-point win after Nikola Jokic got into early foul trouble for the Nuggets and ended playing only 4 minutes! Cousins got the benefit of many calls from the officials in that game in Sacramento which made him unstoppable. While he is always a dominant force on the court, we don't expect the refs to help him out as much in this contest. Playing in the Denver altitude is no easy task and that is made even more difficult by the fact that the California side has not played since that game on Friday night! Too much rest leads to rust and there's no doubt that Denver will be the sharper team out of the gates.
The Nuggets have revenge in mind and will be extremely motivated for this matchup. That's because not only were they manhandled by Cousins and company just recently, coach Mike Malone has yet to defeat his former team. Many will remember that Michael Malone was in charge of the Kings last season before being unexpectedly fired despite a promising start. He would love nothing more than to get one over his former employers and we expect his players to do their part to make that possible. This is a squad that has bought into his philosophy and plays hard for its coach. They have no shortage of incentives to win this game especially since the Kings are a direct playoff rival with both of these teams currently sitting just outside the postseason picture and needing wins to catch the likes of Jazz and Rockets.
Denver has been great at covering spreads this season and continues to fly under the radar. This isn't a team filled with superstars but they do have potent scorers in Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton that can take over a game in the 4th quarter! They are in much better game shape heading into this contest, since they have played 3 times since the All-Star break while the Kings have only participated in one matchup since Feb 10th! It wouldn't surprise us to see George Karl's side rusty and that should allow Denver to take control of the game. The Nuggets are coming off an ugly home loss to the Celtics and will want to come out of the gate fired up to bounce back! The Kings on the other hand look disinterested half the time and with a home game against perennial contenders, Spurs, coming up tomorrow, they might just be looking ahead to that.
The Kings have talent but they are a dysfunctional unit and a squad that refuses to play defense. This roster has no chance of making it to the post-season if they don't improve their organization and communication on that end of the court. The Nuggets have their own issues but at least they are a tight-knit group that has less ego and more unselfish individuals. They share the ball well at Pepsi Center and tend to play with more intensity. Look for Kenneth Faried and company to win the battle of the boards after being outrebounded by Boston and ignite the crowd. We expect Denver to avenge Friday night's loss and score an important W for their coach against Sacramento. Denver can pull within just one game of the Kings with a victory tonight and that is likely given Sacramento's struggles on the road, where they have lost twice as many games (18) as they have won (9) this season!
3) Take Baylor at +3 spread (buy half a point) against Kansas for 3% of the bankroll.
This is a big time matchup between two teams who are right in the thick of the Big 12 title race. Kansas who has won or at least shared in 11 consecutive Big 12 championships currently leads the pack on their way to their 12th straight, but will be in for a tough contest as they head to Waco to take on a surging Baylor Bears team.
This is a revenge game for the Bears who were upended earlier in the season in Lawrence by these same Kansas Jayhawks. Baylor has dropped 6 straight meetings to Kansas, but this is arguably the most complete Baylor team that we have seen in recent history and have a real shot at ending the Jayhawks streak and gaining their manner of revenge. Kansas star Perry Ellis was knocked around in the Kansas State game which resulted in him needing 12 stiches in his head and suffered a scratch in his eye. He is averaging 18.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest in Big 12 competition and is one of two players in the conference to rank in the top seven in both scoring (third) and rebounding (tied for seventh). If Ellis is not at 100%, it could severely impact this Kansas team tonight. As it stands, Baylor sits two games back of the Jayhawks in the conference standing and if they want to have any shot at the Big 12 championship, a win tonight is a must have and the fact that Ellis is partially limited could be the deciding factor.
The Bears should also receive a boost on the offensive end tonight as well as forward Rico Gathers missed two of the three previous games because of illness but returned in a 78-64 victory at Texas last Saturday. The senior came off the bench and contributed six points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes. Gathers is averaging 12.2 points per game to go along with a conference-high 10.0 rebounds. With a game already under his belt, we expect him to make an impact in this game as he gets closer to 100%.
With Gathers sidelined, Johnathan Motley has been nothing short of outstanding in the starting lineup. He recorded his fourth double-double of the season last Tuesday against Iowa State with Gathers completely out. Motley then went 12 of 13 from the floor for 24 points in the matchup against Texas The sophomore forward is averaging 11.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting a Big 12 best 64 percent from the field. The Bears are also getting huge production from Taurean Prince, who is the only player in the conference in the top 12 in scoring, rebounding, and steals. Prince has scored in double-figures in four straight contests and could be a wildcard for this matchup with Kansas tonight.
It is going to be imperative that the Bears get off to a fast start in this contest and if they do, they will have a strong sot at pulling off the upset. Baylor is 20-0 this season when they have led at any point during the second half of the game, so if they can keep things competitive in the first half, they have proven to have the heart and determination to pull through during the crucial moments in the game. We don't expect they will be intimidated by the Jayhawks and should be the team who comes into this with the most motivation. Kansas is in the midst of a 7 game winning streak and we wouldn't be surprised if the players have become somewhat complacent given how well they have played.
Kansas is no doubt a tough team who doesn't lose very often, but if they were to slip up, even momentarily, we believe this would be the spot for them to do so. We fully believe that Baylor can pull off the upset tonight, but even if they happen to fall short, we believe they will do enough to keep this game competitive and within a single possession which means that the points could prove valuable in this contest. The Jayhawks will be fortunate to leave Waco with the victory, but we believe Baylor and the points are what cash our tickets tonight.
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