The Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets begin a home-and-home series Friday night at The Showroom. The Grizz have had some trouble beating the basketball odds lately, while Houston seems to be heating up.
Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to January 23 inclusive:
I gotta say, betting on the NBA is almost like a vacation compared to NFL betting. A lot of it has to do the shape of the ball; a sphere bounces a whole lot more predictably than a prolate spheroid. It’s also a lot easier tracking the performance of 12 athletes than 53. And even if we’re focussing primarily on the star players in each sport, in the NBA, they play both ways. Except for Andrea Bargnani. Zing~!
Having said that, sometimes NBA teams act in surprising ways. Take the Memphis Grizzlies; they looked like they were in big trouble when their best player, center Marc Gasol (18.4 PER), went down in late November with a sprained MCL. And the Grizz did indeed struggle at 3-9 SU and ATS. But then something funny happened: They got better. Memphis went on a roll at 7-4 SU and 9-2 ATS, then they got Gasol back in the lineup – and are 1-3 ATS going into Friday’s matchup with the Houston Rockets. So much for predictability.
You’re Such a Marc
It isn’t terribly shocking that Memphis is having some trouble with those basketball lines. Gasol is 7-foot-1 and coming off a knee injury. He’s not going to be jumping out of the gym anytime soon, and you can see that in his limited performance: 10.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per game. The Grizzlies did win three of those games, but the NBA odds market over-adjusted to Gasol’s return, as the market often does when a star player comes off the injured list.
It’s that earlier 9-2 ATS burst that I’m interested in. Where did that come from? It appears to be the work of a certain Mr. James Johnson. He signed with the Grizzlies on Dec. 16 after bouncing around the NBA and the D-League since his pro debut in 2009. Five days later, Johnson started at power forward against the New York Knicks, and the Grizz (+3 away) won 95-87. Off they went.
Insert Johnson Here
I didn’t think much of Johnson’s arrival at the time, and I’m pleased to say I was wrong. Sometimes a player just needs to land with the right team in the right system – like D.J. Augustin with the Chicago Bulls, or even Gerald Green with the Phoenix Suns. There was no room on the Bulls when Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall out of Wake Forest, then he ended up in bad situations in Toronto and Sacramento before the Atlanta Hawks waived him this October.
Johnson easily could have gone to Europe, but he went back to the D-League instead, and it paid off when the struggling Grizzlies decided to give him a chance. Playing on a big frontline with Zach Randolph (17.6 PER) and Kosta Koufos (15.9 PER), Johnson has made the most of his opportunity, posting a 19.1 PER with 12.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.8 blocks and 2.2 steals per 36 minutes. Now here’s a glue guy. Performance god.
Our hero only started a few games before Tayshaun Prince (8.2 PER) returned to action, but he was still getting plenty of action off the bench – until Monday’s 95-92 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans (+7.5 away), where Johnson was limited to 15 relatively quiet minutes. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets more burn during this home-and-home series against Houston (29-15 SU, 22-20-2 ATS), but for now, I’m content to fade the Grizzlies until either Gasol gets back up to speed, or Johnson gets to make an impact again.NBA Pick: Take the Rockets –5.5 at BetCRIS