Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to April 10 inclusive:
It ain’t over yet, folks. The New York Knicks (33-45 SU, 34-44 ATS) are clinging to life in the Eastern Conference playoff race, two games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 seed with four games remaining in the regular season. The Hawks own the tiebreaker, so their “magic number” is two for clinching that final postseason berth. It could happen as soon as Friday night; Atlanta visits the Brooklyn Nets, while the Knicks will be north of the border to face the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors (46-32 SU, 45-31-2 ATS) will definitely want to do their part. Toronto’s magic number for clinching the Atlantic Division is one, and there’s also the matter of staying ahead of the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern standings, thus hanging onto the No. 3 seed that comes with the division crown. The NBA odds board for Friday’s matchup (7:00 p.m. ET, MSG) has Toronto laying five points with a total of 194.5.
The Knicks have certainly had their chances. Despite a season filled with injuries and palace intrigue, they clawed their way back into eighth place last week – and they promptly gave it up again when Carmelo Anthony (24.4 PER) came up with a sore shoulder in Friday’s 90-89 loss to the Washington Wizards (+5 away). Anthony had nine turnovers in that game and scored just 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting; two days later, he was 4-of-17 for 13 points in a 102-91 loss to the Miami Heat (–6.5 at home).
Anthony is expected to suit up against Toronto, but will he do more harm than good? Before the Heat game, he admitted to having a dead arm. “It feels tight,” he told ESPN New York. “It’s hard to lift up; it’s hard to do things.” As it turned out, Anthony didn’t attempt any shots in the fourth quarter against Miami. He was also limited to non-contact situations while practicing for Friday’s matchup.
We’ve already seen what can happen to the Knicks when they face Toronto without Anthony in the lineup; on Dec. 27-28, they dropped both ends of a home-and-home series, SU and ATS. And that was when Andrea Bargnani (14.5 PER) and Kenyon Martin (12.2 PER) were both still available to fill up those minutes. Anthony is obviously a more productive player than either gentleman, but not if he can’t lift his arm.
Your Daddy Don’t Know
It looks like the Raptors will be at close to full capacity for their playoff drive. After missing three games with a sore knee, Kyle Lowry (20.0 PER) returned to action Wednesday night and dropped 29 points on the Philadelphia 76ers (+13.5 away), although it wasn’t enough to beat the NBA lines in a 125-114 victory. Lowry also played 38 minutes and looked very impressive, so he’ll probably put in another full shift Friday night.
Amir Johnson (15.5 PER), on the other hand, isn’t expected to be pushed too hard after missing three games with a sore ankle. Patrick Patterson (16.7 PER) returned to action at the same time as Johnson’s injury, and the Raptors haven’t lost a game since at 4-0 SU, but without Johnson’s defense, they had to split the cash at 2-2 ATS while all four games went OVER the posted total.
It’s going to be very difficult to fade Toronto in this situation. It’s possible that Anthony will bounce back, and perhaps J.R. Smith (13.4 PER) will go 10-for-22 from downtown again, like he did against Miami. That’s not enough to stop me from picking the Raptors. May the sphere be with you.
NBA Pick: Take the Raptors –5.5 (+100) at Pinnacle