Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to January 31 inclusive:
Being above .500 in the NBA isn’t something to plan a parade around, but you’d think it would at least get you into the playoffs. Not so if you play in the Western Conference. As we go to press, the Memphis Grizzlies (24-20 SU, 21-22-1 ATS) are in ninth place in the West, and the Minnesota Timberwolves (23-22 SU, 25-20 ATS) are in 10th. If the Grizzlies were in the Eastern Conference, they’d be in third place. Hardly seems fair.
But maybe Minnesota has more to complain about. If you look at point differential, the Timberwolves are plus-4.7, which would again put them third in the East – but also fifth in the West. The Grizzlies are plus-0.4, only good enough for fifth in the East and 11th in the West. So maybe we should be betting on the Wolves when these two teams meet on Friday (8:00 p.m. ET). The NBA betting lines have Minnesota pegged as a 1-point home dog with a total of 191.
Spoiler alert: I’m recommending Memphis in this matchup. Point differentials are useful, but c’mon. You’ve been reading my stuff lately, right? The Grizzlies are on a major roll at 11-3 SU and ATS in their last 14 games. They cashed in for us again on Tuesday in a 98-81 takedown of the once-hot Portland Trail Blazers (–5 at home), and they followed that up one day later with a 99-89 victory over the Sacramento Kings (+5 at home). I’m not about to ghost this party quite yet.
For one thing, Marc Gasol (17.8 PER) is just getting warmed up. He’s been struggling since coming back from his knee injury, but those last two games were very encouraging:
Gasol vs. POR: 35 minutes, 7-of-13 for 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals
Gasol vs. SAC: 33 minutes, 6-of-10 for 12 points, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks
Aw yeah. Sadly, while Gasol is on the rise, James Johnson (18.7 PER) has played fewer minutes and taken fewer shots, but he’s still a combined plus-27 over the past two games. So is Courtney Lee (18.6 PER), even though he’s eased off a bit as well. We’ll call it a wash.
Having said all that, don’t sleep on the Wolves. They’ve gone 5-1 SU and ATS in their last six games to get back over .500, although that did include a home-and-home sweep of the Utah Jazz, plus Wednesday’s 88-77 win over the injury-depleted New Orleans Pelicans (+10.5 away). At least Minnesota managed to cash in without Nikola Pekovic (20.7 PER), who has bursitis in his right ankle and isn’t expected to play for another week.
What’s making things work all of a sudden for the Wolves? Kevin Love (26.8 PER) is on fire, scoring at least 30 points in his last two games, and Kevin Martin (17.0 PER) also has a hot hand. But this team has generally been blowing out weaker opponents and losing the close, competitive games, which is why that point differential is as high as it is.
I’m quite content to take Memphis for our NBA pick in this situation, especially with Pekovic on the sidelines. And I’m not alone. The Grizzlies opened as 1-point underdogs before the early-bird sharps jumped all over them; our consensus reports at press time show 53 percent of bettors siding with Memphis. However, if you’d rather bail on the NBA point spreads and take the total, I wouldn’t blame you. The UNDER is on an eight-game streak for Memphis and 4-2-1 in Minnesota’s last seven. The sharps have already driven down the over/under from as high as 194 at the open. Shop smart, folks.
NBA Pick: Take the Grizzlies –1 at 5Dimes