Teams split first two meetings along home court lines. Not long ago, Dallas did get Ok City by 15 at AA Center on March 5 when Russell Westbrook was “held” to 29 & 6. Which was a nice accomplishment by Mavs after Westbrook lit them up for 45 in Thunder’s 11-point win and cover at the Peake on Jan. 26. Ok City had won and covered five straight before running headfirst into Warriors on March 20, and Westbrook’s recent brilliance has put the West fifth seed in play for Ok City. After a six-game stretch in which he averaged 44.0 points but only 8 assists as the Thunder lost 4 of 6, jeopardizing his chances of finishing the season with a triple-double average, Westbrook tallied 26.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 14.4 apg during the five game winning streak. That sort of production can reverse this season’s series home trends.
These two played a classic double-OT game at the “Q” on Jan. 21 when the Spurs survived by 3. Kawhi Leonard was the star that night with 41 points, one of his staggering 25 games of 30+ points thru March 20. Even with Kevin Love back in the fold, not sure about backing Cavs in revenge role, considering they had covered just 4 of last 13 thru March 20 and are just 2-8 as road dog this term. It won’t matter in this game, but Cavs fans in Charlotte, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta and Miami all need to be aware that the games their favorite team is playing in those cities are part of four remaining back-to-backs for the champs (though maybe that Boston game will mean something in regard to the No. 1 seed in the East), and that several starters are likely to rest those nights, as was case March 18 vs. Clippers.
Double-revenge game for Toronto, which is chasing Boston for the Atlantic Division title and still hasn’t salted away the homecourt edge in the first round of the playoffs. The Raptors have played much-improved defense since the All-Star break, holding foes to 97.6 ppg in the 13 games since, compared with 104.3 ppg prior to that. Conversely, Orlando is playing it fast and loose, losing 5 of its last 6 through March 21 against the points while yielding 115 ppg. The Magic, who have no incentive to win games, might not have C Nikola Vucevic due to ankle and Achilles problems, and he’s been their leading scorer vs. the Raptors
Lots at stake here between the top contenders for the last West playoff berth. Thus, it’s extremely important for both sides, as Portland (which has won 2 of the first 3 vs. Denver) also gets the tiebreaker over the Nuggets with a win in this one. Blazers have hit overdrive the past couple of weeks with wins and covers in six of their last seven, as what was the league’s worst defense through December ranks seventh this month and has allowed less than a point per possession in 277 minutes with its two starting bigs--Noah Vonleh and Jusuf Nurkic--on the floor together since Nurkic arrived before the break. That upgraded defense has also resulted in four straight “unders” for Portland.
After being outgunned by Houston in a wild 2-OT shootout at Oakland on Dec. 1, Golden State returned the favor on Jan. 20 at Toyota Center when rolling by 17, as Kevin Durant scored 32 and James Harden was “held” to 17 points. K-D, of course, is out at least another week (or perhaps longer according to the latest reports from HC Steve Kerr) as he nurses his bad knee, but his unavailability has prompted one of the top “totals” streaks in the NBA this season, as the Warriors are “under” 15-1 their last 16, roughly coinciding with Durant’s absence. Golden State, which slumped a few weeks ago in its early stages minus Durant, now enters Toyota Center on a 7-game SU win streak.
Indiana has yet to lock down a spot in the East playoffs, but did at least enter the week in a postseason position. Now the Pacers are gifted a reeling Minnesota side that enters Bankers Life Field house on a 6-game SU and spread skid. What has gone wrong for the T-wolves, whose current losing streak is also the longest in the career of HC Tom Thibodeau? Blame a tough March schedule and a sagging defense that has allowed opponents to score 120 points per 100 possessions in the slump. Can Indiana take advantage? The Pacers had better, because their next five games are against teams currently with winning records, and Indiana is only 11-18 SU vs. those sorts this term. Nate McMillan also has bench issues at the moment with Al Jefferson and Rodney Stuckey both hurting. But Jeff Teague (20.8 ppg on 53% FGs the last four) is providing consistent production, Myles Turner had a couple of big games over the weekend, and their starting lineup has been solid (plus-9.7 points per 100 possessions) over the last 10 games.
TCU has made a dramatic turnaround under first-year HC and alum Jamie Dixon, who led Pittsburgh to the Big Dance in 11 of his 13 seasons in the Steel City. Horned Frogs’ 6-11 Slovakian C Vladimir Brodziansky (13.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg) has developed into one of the top big men in the Big 12, while 6-1 jr. Alex Robinson (Texas A&M transfer) and 6-7 jr. F Kenrich Williams (he had the school’s first triple-double vs. Richmond!) provide steady scoring support. Additionally, 6-5 frosh G Desmon Bane (6.8 ppg) has been blossoming in the NIT, generating 13 points off the bench in each of the victories over Iowa & the Spiders. By the same token, UCF’s first-year mentor Johnny Dawkins has done a marvelous job in his debut in Orlando, leading the hard-nosed Knights to 24 victories after they won a total of only 37 games over the previous three campaigns. As the Stanford head honcho, Dawkins—who has gotten the Knights (with only seven scholarship players due to injuries/defections) to quickly buy into his philosophy of toughness and discipline—led the Cardinal to two NIT championships (2013 & 2015). I feel this should be a pick ’em game in the Big Apple, so I am suggesting “taking” with defensively-stifling, strong-boarding and surging UCF (allowing 67.2 ppg; a nation-leading 36.2% FGs; +8.8 rebounding margin, 6th nationally), which is 9-1 in its last 10 outings.
NCAA-B | Mar 28, 2017 CS Bakersfield vs Georgia Tech
First, some recognition is due to Bakersfield, this year’s regular-season champion of the WAC and last year’s winner of the WAC tourney. Three times a national champ at the Division II level in the 90s, the Roadrunners (as a 15-point dog) hung tough in earning a cover in last year’s NCAA tourney, falling 82-68 vs. eventual Final Four team Oklahoma in CSUB’s first try in the Big Dance. And the Roadrunners have been undaunted in winning three straight as a visitor (at Cal, Colorado State, UTArlington) to reach the Garden. Something good is happening with the team put together by Rod Barnes, a former HC at Ole Miss and Georgia State. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech found itself on the outside looking in when this year’s NCAA teams were called on Selection Sunday, watching all nine teams ahead of the Yellow Jackets in the ACC standings get the call to the Big Dance. While CSUB has been traveling for the entire NIT tournament, higher-seeded Tech was gifted with a pair of home games (Indiana, Belmont) before winning at Ole Miss in the quarterfinals to reach New York. The Yellow Jackets are only 3-11 in all games away from home this season despite the emergence of 6-5 blue-chipper Josh Okogie (16.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) to go with well-seasoned, NBA bound 6-10 jr. C Ben Lammers (14.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg).
Michael Alexander is the Founder and Head Handicapper of Alexander Sports. Mr. Alexander has been handicapping sports (NFL Football Picks, College Football Picks, NBA Basketball Picks, College Basketball Picks, NHL Hockey Picks, and MLB Baseball Picks) for over 20 years and holds numerous top 10 handicapping rankings and is the 2004 Overall Champion as documented at Procappers! His approach to this craft is truly unique in the industry. With a background in statistics and prior experience in finance, Michael combines in depth statistical analysis with a financial risk/reward formula. It is this method that allows Mr. Alexander to properly weigh the risk of investment vs. the possible reward of investment for each game he analyzes.
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