The All-Star break is roughly one month away. Which teams will be in a better place, and which teams will slide in the conference standings? It’s time for teams to elevate their level of play.
Los Angeles Lakers @ Miami Heat
Thursday, 8:05 PM ET
Odds: Heat -12.5
This game is intriguing in light of the Heat’s recent struggles. Miami simply did not play very good defense on an extended road trip that took the two-time defending champions through New York, Brooklyn, Washington, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Atlanta. The Heat are just not rotating very well on defense. The high standard they’ve set as two-time NBA champions is primarily based on their defense. Sure, the acrobatics of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are hard to ignore, but Miami’s foremost core strength as a team has been its defense. The big problem for the Heat is Wade, who has missed a lot of games in the first three weeks of January and is not becoming a very regular presence on the floor for the champs. Wade’s absence is a big reason why this team’s defense is suffering. When reasonably healthy, Wade is a lockdown perimeter defender who gets into passing lanes and helps create the steals that fuel the Heat’s transition game. Without him, Miami is a diminished ballclub. The Los Angeles Lakers could very realistically keep this game close, but the Heat – after returning home – are probably going to be fresher and that will make the difference for them on the point spread on Thursday.
NBA Betting Pick: Miami
Denver Nuggets @ Portland Trail Blazers
Thursday, 10:35 PM ET
Odds: Blazers -7
The Nuggets are capable of pulling the upset, since they won at Golden State last week with a virtually perfect offensive performance in Oakland. Denver has the floor leader, point guard Ty Lawson, who can distort an opponent’s defensive structure and create all sorts of openings at various positions. Lawson can have a big impact on this game, and if he plays at or near his very best, Denver – an inconsistent but very talented team – can do something special, even on the road.
However, Portland is likely to call the shots in this game. The Trail Blazers were a lot easier to doubt after 10 games this season. They were still doubted for very good reasons after 20 games, when the season was still very new. However, the NBA season is roughly 40 games into the journey, and Portland is still standing tall, competing neck-and-neck with the other top teams in the Western Conference, chiefly San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The Trail Blazers split a recent four-game road trip to San Antonio (win), Dallas (win), Houston (loss), and Oklahoma City (loss). That kind of durability is conspicuous. It just doesn’t make as much sense to view Portland as a lucky team or as a flash-in-the-pan kind of ballclub. The Blazers are a legitimately good team and after their extended road trip, they should thrive at home against the Nuggets and cover on the betting lines.
NBA Betting Pick: Portland