Cleveland -5 1/2 at Atlanta----- Confidence factor: 2 Josh Smith is out indefinitely for Atlanta after having hernia surgery. Lue and Claxton both missed last game and although the AP preview claims they should play, I will believe Claxton is playing when I see him on the floor. Cleveland is having trouble on the road, but the only player that Cleveland has to think much about on defense is Joe Johnson. As long as Cleveland doesn't absolutely bomb on this game they should come away with a W. Josh Smith has missed 6 games in his 3 year career (impressive eh?), and the only one Atlanta won was in November '04, the 7th game of Smith's rookie season. The closest of the other 5 was a 7 point loss two games after that win. Even though I hate to pick an underperforming team, I have to go Cleveland.
Minnesota +2 at Toronto----- Confidence factor: 4 Is my disdain for what Minnesota's imprisonment of KG biasing my judgement? They blew a 24 point lead last game, but still won and beat the cover by a point. Okay, I'll give Minnesota some credit. This team is playing defense. Foye looks good. Every time they find him minutes he puts up decent numbers, including a game winner the other night against Chicago. One storyline to watch here is it is Mike James' first game back in Toronto. Is he one of those guys who loves to stick it to old teams? Last year with Toronto he put up 19 and 30 against Houston. Not really noteworthy, although he had his career year in Toronto, not Houston. I think I'll pick Minnesota for perhaps the first time this year? I still believe that it is a travesty that KG is stuck on this team. One more time folks,
Lakers +2 at Orlando----- Confidence factor: 1 Kobe was sick last game. That's why he let Wade torch him on the first ABC game of the year. I see no reason why he won't still be sick one night later. The magic have had serious trouble scoring and the Lakers have a dominating history against Orlando. Of course the lakers have a dominating history in general. Then again, the lakers haven't exactly proven that they can be successful without Odom (3-4 so far). I'll take Orlando.
Houston +6 1/2 at New Jersey----- Confidence factor: 3 T-Mac comes back just in time for a back to back. Hopefully that doesn't trigger his back going back to the back it was two weeks ago. That would be a short comeback. Are things finally truly coming apart for the Nets? This is now their second heartbreaking (backbreaking?) loss of the season to a premiere team. That nets didn't wig out on the officials in that first loss. They did not hesitate to do so after losing to detroit (Kidd even criticized an official by name). There will be fines. As much as I'd like to just write the Nets off, I think they've gone about as low as a team with this kind of talent can go. I think they will start their turnaround tonight. That being said, 6 1/2 points??? I know Houston has no Yao, but T-Mac is playing and they only lost by 5 to Indiana. Bonzi is playing more minutes every game. Both Bonzi and T-Mac have reason to be tired on the second night of a back to back, and the Nets are discovering that Josh Boone can be a contributor. I go with the Nets to cover, despite the fact taht I find the spread rather large.
Detroit -5 1/2 at New York----- Confidence factor: 3 Knicks get Jared Jeffries back tonight and have had 2 days to rest their weary bones. Detroit is on the second night of a back to back. They were at home in Detroit last night. Detroit does match up pretty well with New York and the Knicks have a tough time against disciplined teams, but I think that they will come out and play competitive basketball. They may not win, but I think they'll cover.
Milwaukee +1 at Memphis----- Confidence factor: 3 Well games start soon, so I'm going to have to rush through these last 5 games. Bucks are hot. It's funny, the bucks have two second round picks and an undrafted guy starting at the 1, 2 and 3, and they might be the most prolific scoring backcourt trio in the league. Memphis, even with Gasol doing his thing, lacks the cohesion to stop these guys from going off.
Miami +5 1/2 at Chicago----- **PICK OF THE NIGHT** Confidence factor: 4 Wade has had a day to recovery from his performance on christmas. Chicago is on the second night of a back to back. It don't matter. The bulls annihilated the heat on opening night. They gave miami a real hard time last year in the playoffs. Hinrich has done an excellent job defending wade. The bulls also have Duhon and sepholosha to throw at him. Go Chicago here.
New Orleans +8 at Portland----- Confidence factor: 2 Paul is out 2 games. Portland has been very consistent this year and I think it's about time Roy puts his name out on ESPN with a big game, and jumps ahead of.... hmmm.... well, jumps ahead in the ROY race. New Orleans players must be feeling exasperated.
Philadelphia +8 at Sacramento----- Confidence factor: 3 Does the Artest trade controversy fuel sac's fire? Does it matter? Philly seems intent on losing as much as they can this season, and so they should. They aren't going anywhere and this draft is deep. Rodney Carney is not a good player now. I understand he put up some points in last game, but most of them came after the game was out of hand. Carney doesn't do the little things. Why do you think Craphead Barnes went off? No one was covering him.
Boston +7 1/2 at Los Angeles----- Confidence factor: 3