Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to December 31 inclusive:
Just like an apple turnover in the oven, the soft middle of the Eastern Conference is on the rise. The Washington Wizards (14-14 SU, 17-11 ATS) have won five of their last six games to reach that lofty .500 level; only three other teams in the East are breathing that rarefied air, although teams like the 13-15 Toronto Raptors and the 14-18 Charlotte Bobcats could reach that plateau soon.
Too bad the Dallas Mavericks (18-13 SU, 17-14 ATS) can’t switch conferences. They’re in eighth place in the West, but they’d be in third place in the East as we go to press. At least the Mavericks still get to play Eastern teams; they’re 8-3 SU and 7-4 ATS in non-conference action, and they’ll try to make it 2-0 against the Wizards when they meet on New Year’s Day at the Verizon Center. Dallas is a 1-point puppy on Wednesday’s NBA odds board with a total of 205.
Washington hasn’t even sniffed the playoffs since 2008, but with so many teams in the East bent on taking this season, the Wizards figured to have a decent shot at breaking out. They’ve already got plenty of young talent, starting with the backcourt duo of PG John Wall (20.9 PER) and, when healthy, SG Bradley Beal (13.8 PER). Wall is the franchise player the Wizards have craved ever since Gilbert Arenas got caught bringing his gun to work, although there are still some bugs to be ironed out, like those artery-clogging turnovers (3.5 per 36 minutes) and that ugly 3-point shot (31.1 percent).
That’s okay – Beal is hitting 46.2 percent of his trey attempts, and at the moment, he’s got two working knees. Not sure how long that’s going to last, mind you. Neal hurt his left knee last Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves and left the arena on crutches, although he came back the next day against the Detroit Pistons (+3.5 away) and went 3-of-4 from downtown in a 106-82 victory. Maybe he got some deer-antler spray for Christmas.
Monta Got a Raw Deal
There were plenty of questions about the new-look Dallas backcourt going into the 2013-14 campaign. PG Jose Calderon (16.2 PER) is in his 10th NBA season, most of that spent toiling in obscurity in Toronto, and SG Monta Ellis (17.8 PER) has developed a reputation as an injury-prone chucker with not much interest in playing defense. But Calderon and Ellis are performing just fine in Dallas, and they’ve helped PF Dirk Nowitzki (23.4 PER) regain his All-Star form after a down year that looked like the beginning of the end for his stellar career.
There isn’t much depth at point guard with Devin Harris (toe) not expected back until January, but the Mavericks are otherwise well stocked and capable of playing with intensity for 48 minutes or more. The most intriguing player from a stathead perspective is big man Brandan Wright (20.0 career PER), who has been dogged by injuries since joining the league in 2007. Wright made his 2013-14 season debut on Dec. 14; the Mavs are 5-2 SU and ATS in his seven games, with Wright posting an MVP-like 28.8 PER off the bench.
Wright wasn’t around on Nov. 12 when Dallas beat the fully-loaded Wizards 105-95 as a 5.5-point home chalk. If home-court advantage is worth about three points in the NBA, then the basketball lines for Wednesday’s matchup (6:00 p.m. ET) are vulnerable with Wright back in the picture. Don’t sleep on the Wiz moving forward, though. The East shall rise again.NBA Pick: Take the Mavericks +1 (+102) at Pinnacle