Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to March 31 inclusive:
Once upon a time not very long ago, there were three good teams in the Eastern Conference: the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat, and the Atlanta Hawks. Everyone else in the East had a losing record. My, how times have changed. The Pacers and Heat are still battling for first place, but the Hawks have tumbled all the way down to eighth in the East at 32-41 (31-41-1 ATS), just one game ahead of the New York Knicks with two weeks left to go.
The Chicago Bulls (42-32 SU, 36-37-1 ATS) are one of the five teams that have leapfrogged Atlanta in the Eastern standings. The Bulls have overcome a slow start and the loss of Derrick Rose to lock down a playoff spot; it’s all about seeding from here, as Chicago tries to secure home-court advantage in the first round. Wednesday’s NBA odds board has the Bulls pegged as 2-point road faves against the Hawks with a total of 187.
the Night after Christmas
It’s something of a miracle that the Hawks are still in playoff position at all. They went on a horrible 1-14 SU and 2-11-1 ATS bender (including home and away losses to the Bulls) before pulling out of their spiral with five straight wins, albeit at 2-3 ATS. Then everything went pear-shaped again. Atlanta is 1-6 SU and ATS in its past seven games. What happened?
Well, first we have to go all the way back to Dec. 26. That’s the last game Al Horford (22.1 PER) played for Atlanta this year; he suffered what looked at first like a bruised shoulder, but turned into a torn pectoral muscle that knocked him out for the season. The Hawks kept playing reasonably well with Pero Antic (11.7 PER) at center, but then he got injured, too. So did Gusatvo Ayon (12.9 PER). Hard to play basketball without a center.
That first slump Atlanta went through lines up pretty closely with the 17 games Antic missed with a stress fracture in his right ankle. And that five-game winning streak came shortly after his return. But Antic isn’t terribly healthy; he sprained the same right ankle last week, and the big Macedonian was held to just two points in Monday’s 103-95 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers (+12 away). Back-up center Mike Muscala (4.4 PER) matched those two points for Atlanta in just four minutes.
So you’ve got a Hawks team with not much going on at center, and you’ve got a Bulls team with Joakim Noah (20.2 PER). He put up double-doubles in all three of his games against Atlanta this year, all three won by the Bulls SU and ATS:
Jan. 4 (vs. Antic): 10 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks, two assists, plus-4
Feb. 11 (vs. Ayon): 19 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks, 11 assists, plus-16
Feb. 25 (vs. Elton Brand): 20 points, 12 rebounds, three steals, three assists, minus-4
Without Horford manning the middle, the Hawks haven’t been able to stop Noah from reaching the Promised Land. Power forwards Taj Gibson (16.4 PER) and Carlos Boozer (14.3 PER) have also dropped double-doubles on Atlanta this year. Boozer didn’t dress for the first two games, but he’s been fairly healthy and productive ever since, and the Bulls don’t have any other injuries to worry about right now.
Chicago hasn’t been terrorizing the NBA lines lately at 6-3 SU and 2-6-1 ATS over the past nine games. But given the mismatch in the paint and the awful basketball Atlanta’s been playing lately, the Bulls are an easy pick in this situation. May the sphere be with you.
NBA Pick: Take Chicago –2 (–105) at Pinnacle