Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to February 27 inclusive:
When you’re having a hard time putting away the Milwaukee Bucks, you know you’re in trouble. The Indiana Pacers (44-13 SU, 33-23-1 ATS) had another one of their flat performances on Thursday, letting the last-place Bucks (+15.5 away) hang around before eventually winning 101-96. That drops the Pacers to 11-6 SU and 5-11-1 ATS in their last 17 games.
These opponents haven’t been the cream of the NBA crop, either. Except for one matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers, none of Indiana’s past 17 games was against a Top-5 seed from either conference, based on the standings as we go to press. And that will continue on Saturday when the Pacers visit the Boston Celtics (20-39 SU, 28-30-1 ATS). The early NBA lines have Indiana favored by 6.5 points with a total of 193.5.
Evan Not Mighty
And just when it looked like Indiana might be pulling out of its ATS slump. Replacing Danny Granger (10.4 PER) with Evan Turner (13.2 PER) is certainly an improvement for the second unit, and Turner looked good in his Indiana debut, posting 13 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes as the Pacers beat the Los Angeles Lakers (+13.5 away) 118-98. But against the Bucks, Turner shot 2-of-10 for eight points, and Indiana’s bench was outscored 36-23. Phooey.
For better or worse, we might see even more of Turner on Saturday (8:00 p.m. ET). George Hill (14.7 PER) suffered a bruised left shoulder late in the game against Milwaukee and is considered day-to-day. It doesn’t seem to be a major injury, but it could at the very least limit Hill’s floor time against Boston. That means more backcourt minutes for C.J. Watson (12.6 PER) as well as Turner.
Meanwhile, it seems the Pacers have developed the same dysfunction as the Miami Heat: failure to get it up for games against lesser opponents. However, that malaise is tied directly to the strength of said opposition. Indiana is just 7-9 ATS this year when favored by 11 points or more. When favored between six and 10.5 points inclusive, Indiana is 16-6 ATS. Having said that, the Pacers have been coughing up the cash to just about everyone these days.
The Celtics haven’t been all that great against the NBA lines, either, but they do have a knack for making me look silly. Despite losing Kelly Olynyk (13.2 PER) to a sprained toe as well as Jared Sullinger (16.9 PER), Boston managed to beat the Atlanta Hawks (+3 away) 115-104 on Wednesday. Jerryd Bayless (13.0 PER) was given the start at the 2-spot and responded with 29 points, while Rajon Rondo (16.5 PER) provided 22 points, 11 assists and three steals. Don’t make Rondo angry.
There’s no question that Boston is in tank mode, even though they didn’t dump any more ballast at the trade deadline. The injury bug is doing all the work instead; while Sullinger is expected to return from his concussion on Saturday, Olynyk is considered doubtful, and he’ll be joined on the sidelines by Gerald Wallace (10.1 PER), who has been diagnosed with a torn meniscus. Also out of commission: Avery Bradley (12.3 PER) and Vitor Faverani (11.2 PER).
So how will the Celtics respond on Saturday? They seem to play better when the NBA odds are truly against them, going 11-5 ATS when getting at least eight points. Otherwise, they’re just 9-16 ATS as smaller underdogs. I think this is one of those situations where I’ll have to bail and bet on the UNDER, which got paid in each of the last five meetings between these two teams. May the sphere be with you.
NBA Pick: Take UNDER 193.5 (+100) at Pinnacle