Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to February 28 inclusive:
It’s Goran Dragic’s world, and the rest of us are just living in it. Dragic returned from a brief one-game absence Friday night and dumped 40 points on the New Orleans Pelicans (+7 away) in a 116-104 victory, ending a three-game SU and ATS slide for his employers, the Phoenix Suns (34-24 SU, 37-20-1 ATS). Not bad for someone with a gimpy ankle.
Good thing Dragic has such a high healing factor. The Suns are in eighth place in the Western Conference, locked in a heated battle amongst four teams for the last three playoff spots. And on Sunday, they get to face the Atlanta Hawks (26-31 SU, 27-29-1 ATS), who have been absolutely shredded by injuries. Phoenix has opened as an 8.5-point home chalk on the NBA odds board with a total of 214.
It’s a bit much to ask your team to keep on truckin’ when your best player is out of the lineup. Dragic has been the most pleasant surprise this year on a Phoenix team full of surprises; his talent was rarely in question, but the 2013-14 season has seen Dragic elevate his play to a whole new level:
2011-12: 15.9 points, 7.2 assists per 36 minutes; 33.7 3P%; 18.0 PER
2012-13: 15.8 points, 7.9 assists per 36 minutes; 31.9 3P%; 17.5 PER
2013-14: 21.4 points, 6.4 assists per 36 minutes; 41.5 3P%; 22.8 PER
Dragic had developed into a very useful point guard by his fourth season in the NBA, which is the first season on the above list – spent with the Houston Rockets. He returned to Phoenix the following year and maintained that level of play under head coaches Alvin Gentry and Lindsey Hunter. But what Dragic has been able to do for new head coach Jeff Hornacek has been eye-opening to say the least. That’s if you’re willing to open your eyes to a European point guard on a small-market team.
Not everyone in the NBA betting market feels the same. The Suns have been making money hand-over-fist this year for their supporters, and despite that little three-game losing streak, they’re still 4-3 ATS in their last seven games and 10-6 ATS in their last 16. But everything could still go off the rails at any time – especially if Dragic gets hurt again. Phoenix is already minus Eric Bledsoe (19.9 PER), who was so good paired with Dragic at the start of the season. Losing one of your top two players is bad enough. Losing both? That’s a paddlin’.
Which brings us to the Hawks. They managed to stay competitive after losing Al Horford (22.1 PER) for the season after the holidays, but the more centers they’ve lost, the worse they’ve gotten. Pero Antic (12.4 PER) hurt his ankle on Jan. 22, then Gustavo Ayon (12.9 PER) was knocked out of the lineup with a shoulder injury on Feb. 18. The Hawks are now forced to play small ball with a substandard roster, and it shows.
It gets worse. Paul Millsap (19.8 PER) suffered a bruised knee on Feb. 22 and hasn’t played since. He’s already been ruled out for Sunday’s matchup (8:00 p.m. ET), which means Atlanta will be playing without both members of its All-Star frontcourt duo. The Hawks have plummeted from third place in the Eastern Conference all the way to No. 8, and at this rate, they’re going to miss the playoffs entirely. Sucks to be them.
NBA Pick: Take the Suns –8.5 (–106) at SBOBET