Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to January 8 inclusive:
Dwight Howard finally got his sweet, sweet revenge. Everyone’s favorite punching bag dropped 20 points and 13 rebounds on the Los Angeles Lakers (+13.5 away) Wednesday night, and the Houston Rockets paid off the chalkeaters with a 113-99 victory over Howard’s former team. The Lakers actually carried a five-point lead into the dressing room, but Howard and James Harden (38 points) took over from there. Check out their pick-and-roll alley-oop on the YouWhos if you haven’t seen it already. I give it a 9.8 for technical merit and a 9.6 for artistic impression.
After beating up on what’s left of the Lakers, the Rockets (23-13 SU, 18-16-2 ATS) get to kick another team while it’s down. The Atlanta Hawks (19-17 SU, 20-16 ATS) are trying to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference morass after losing their best player, center Al Horford, for the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Atlanta’s 2-4 SU and 3-3 ATS since Horford’s injury; Friday’s NBA spread was pending as we went to press.
Horford’s absence didn’t prevent the Hawks from digging deep and beating the Indiana Pacers (–4 away) 97-87 on Wednesday. Okay, the Pacers haven’t won at Philips Arena since 2006, but that’s probably just coincidence – unless the visiting players just can’t keep themselves away from Atlanta’s many sightseeing opportunities. Five different Hawks scored in double figures, including 16 points in 27 minutes from Horford’s replacement, Pero Antic (12.7 PER).
Who the heck is Pero Antic? Glad you asked. Antic is a rookie in NBA terms, but the 31-year-old Macedonian is a veteran of the basketball wars, winning the Euroleague title with Olympiacos in 2012 and 2013. His minutes were fairly limited earlier this year; Antic’s rebounding and general athleticism aren’t quite up to snuff, but he’s a bull of a man at 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds, and he can definitely stroke the three (39.1 percent).
Antic did something Wednesday night that not too many people have done – push Roy Hibbert around. Between dealing with Antic and Elton Brand (13.8 PER), Hibbert was held to two points on 1-of-8 shooting and finished the game at a team-worst minus-21. Tag-team wrestling has returned to Atlanta, folks. Too bad The Omni isn’t around anymore.
This makes for a very interesting matchup this Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET). Howard is no shrinking violet, but he’s both prone to foul trouble and a lousy shooter when he gets to the line himself – Howard (21.7 PER) was 10-for-24 against the Lakers. There isn’t much beef left in Houston’s fridge once you get past Howard; Omer Asik (10.6 PER) still isn’t playing, and Greg Smith (14.9 PER) hurt his knee again in practice last Monday.
But wait, there’s more. Chandler Parsons (17.3 PER) has knee and hamstring issues and wasn’t able to practice Thursday. Ronnie Brewer (4.8 PER) ended up starting at the 3-spot against Los Angeles and was held scoreless on two shots. With Patrick Beverley (12.1 PER) also still on the shelf, the Rockets are rapidly running out of warm bodies.
Parsons is a game-time decision for Friday, which may have something to do with the delay in releasing the point spread. Online sportsbooks as well as in Vegas did manage to open with a total of 208 – first time I’ve seen a total without a spread, but I’m sure it’s happened before. That’s fine with me; the Antic-Brand Connection has the UNDER at 5-0 in Atlanta’s last five games. They’re all man and a yard wide.
NBA Pick: Take UNDER 208