Here is something that seemed impossible to say by those placing NBA picks: Denver is actually playing better basketball than Memphis at this exact time.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying Denver (27-41, 29-35-4 ATS) is better than Memphis (46-20, 32-33-1 ATS), but over each team’s last eight games, the Nuggets are 6-2 (7-1 ATS) and the Grizzlies are .500 (3-5 ATS).
With this in mind, let’s do what Bow Wow once said in song, let’s –Break it Down.
Denver Playing with Purpose
At no point of the season would anyone working the NBA odds versus the sportbooks would it have reasonable to assume the Nuggets would be a Play On team. Yet something has clicked with interim head coach Melvin Hunt and this team is actually playing with heart and emotions as opposed to several points throughout the season where they were merely going thru the motions.
Last night was a perfect example, knocking off New Orleans on the road 118-111 in double OT as eight point underdogs. "They fought," Hunt said of his players. "They had an incredible will to win. These guys, they are reaching inside themselves and they are pulling things out of themselves that they didn't even know they had.
It’s impossible to evaluate any coach after eight games, but certainly observations can be constructed. Hunt understands what kind of players are on the roster and the Nuggets have averaged 108.7 points a game since he’s taken over, compared to averaging 87.8 PPG in the previous six games (all losses), when he was an assistant.
Also, Hunt has restored it appears professional pride, because Denver will not be playing in the postseason, but understand this comment for forward Kenneth Faried after last night’s victory. "Today, I know they were fighting for a playoff spot," Faried said. "I want to show them, 'Hey, it's not going to be easy.' "
Does this make Denver a team to consider for NBA picks tonight, not necessarily, but compared to before Hunt took over the job, the Nuggets are no longer an automatic bet against outfit.
Memphis Tries to Rejuvenate
Over the course of a long NBA season, there are going to be points where the schedule is just going to work against no matter your talent level. Over a 29-day period, Memphis was on the road 10 of 13 games, which included a pair of four-contest trips. During that stretch the first place Grizzlies were 6-7 SU and only beat the betting odds on four occasions. In the last week, Memphis players have been amazingly candid in saying not having to scratch and crawl just to make the playoffs has turned into a “different experience” at this time of year and they do realize as the current No. 2 seed, this season is their opportunity to be something more than just be a good story.
"We understand," Marc Gasol said. "We know. We’ve been together for a while now and the window is right now. We’re in our prime. Our maturity level and our talent are both balanced. We’re at a point where we have to do it. Of course, nothing guarantees you making it all the way. Work ethic and consistency, we believe, that gives you a lot of chances more than anything else."
In the grander scheme, how the Grizz have reached this point is by improved offense and in their past five games they have averaged 93 PPG, six below their season average. In other words, tonight and in the near future, if they want to remain a two-seed and win the Southwest Division, they better start making shots and close the season strongly.
Betting Odds and Head to Head
With point guard Mile Conley still a question mark for Memphis, no total was posted early this morning. The sportsbooks did make the Grizzlies nine-point favorites and they are 4-1 and 3-2 ATS in recent home games with Denver.
Watch for when the total is released and understand in the past 10 meetings, the UNDER is 8-2.
After tonight, Denver will continue their five-game road trip. Starting Thursday, they will play three games in four beginning in Houston, the next night in Miami and in Orlando on Sunday. The Nuggets have at least been representative on the road at 14-16-2 ATS this season. Denver will be playing with no rest and is 4-12 and 6-8-2 ATS, losing by 5.6 points per game. One more quick fact, with no days off and playing consecutive road games, the Nuggets are 1-4 and 2-2-1 ATS.
Memphis will be playing three of the next four away from home and be at Detroit on Tuesday and Dallas on Friday. The next night they are back home to take on Portland, followed by a game/scrimmage at the Knicks in The Garden. The Grizz is 27-11 (20-17-1 ATS) with a day off, winning by 5.6 PPG.
Denver has won and covered four in a row and the last three have been impressive accomplishments, taking down Atlanta, Golden State and the Pelicans. Yet, I have to wonder if this where the schedule catches up with them, coming off extended minutes last evening.
If the Nuggets did not have those extra 10 minutes of action, I might well be taking them tonight, but a more rested and refreshed Memphis slides by the number to win and cover.
NBA Basketball Free Pick: Memphis -9 at 5Dimes