East Conference Playoff matchups


The Raptors and Nets will battle in a three-6 matchup. (USATSI)



Here is a rundown of the Eastern Conference Playoff Matchups updating with the results Wednesday.


Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (eight)

Analysis: The Pacers have struggled headed into the playoffs and split the season series 2-2 with the Hawks. The Hawks truly completed with a constructive web rating after their final blowout win in Atlanta.

But the matchups nonetheless favor the Pacers. If Al Horford was playing it will be an entire totally different collection. One factor to keep watch over? Small ball lineups featuring rookie Pero Antic at middle, stretching the floor and forcing Roy Hibbert out of his comfort zone.

Miami Warmth (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7)

The Warmth gained the season sequence 4-zero, and have been +10.5 per game vs. Charlotte. Most notably, LeBron James dropped 62 on the Bobcats' defense. Do not think the Bobcats are a pushover, although. They play nice defense, grind, and have a top-stage interior participant in Al Jefferson.

They will wrestle to score, although, and the Heat's entice on Kemba Walker should give the Heat guard issues. Guarding Chris Bosh from range will probably show problematic, and the Bobcats' youthful gamers may have points with nerves in opposition to the champs. Greatest case for Charlotte, a tough, laborious-nosed six-game series that offers them one thing to build on. Worst-case: Miami hits the jets and leaves them in a mud to be swept away.

Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)

The Nets tanked down to grab this matchup, so that they got what they needed. The Nets and Raptors cut up the season sequence 2-2, with the Raptors finishing with a +2.8 level differential within the four video games.

It's an intriguing matchup of youth vs. expertise. The Nets can grind it out and have veteran players with playoff expertise. The Raptors have been the better staff and have youth and a deeper talent pool. It needs to be a fascinating first spherical matchup.

Chicago Bulls (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5)

The Wizards had been caught between the Bulls and the Warmth. They chose properly. There are some interesting matchups going on here. We're speaking John Wall vs. D.J. Augustin and Nene vs. Carlos Boozer. The Bulls cannot shoot, the Wizards are inconsistent throughout. Marcin Gortat is huge and versatile but Joakim Noah is a tank.

The Bulls should win this sequence with execution and savvy, however don't be surprised if the Wizards make some noise.

Western Convention Matchups right here.


Ramirez leaves after taking pitch to left hand


UPDATE: In accordance with a live replace through the SportsNet LA broadcast, the workforce's training staff confirmed X-rays were unfavorable. The Dodgers have since officially introduced the news. Exhale, Dodgers fans.


Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez left Wednesday night time's sport after being hit by a pitch in the left hand. He was in obvious ache afterwards, and whereas he tried to speak supervisor Don Mattingly and the coaching staff into allowing him to remain in, he was faraway from the game instantly.

Listed below are two angles of the pitch:

Ramirez, 30, missed the start of last season with a thumb harm suffered while diving for a ball during the World Baseball Classic. He additionally missed time with a hamstring drawback. Despite the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, it is fairly clear Ryan Vogelsong did not hit Hanley deliberately.

In 14 games coming into Wednesday, Ramirez was hitting291/.381/.527 (147 OPS+) with seven doubles and two home runs. He hit a robust345/.402/.638 (189 OPS+) with 20 home runs in 86 video games after returning from the thumb and hamstring issues last season.

The Dodgers have not but released an replace on Ramirez. Clearly dropping him for any length of time could be devastating.

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NCAA College Basketball Prediction- #2 Wisconsin vs. #1 Arizona

NCAA Free Pick & Prediction Badgers vs. Wildcats

#2 Wisconsin Badgers (29-7) @ #1 Arizona Wildcats (33-4) 03/29- 8:49PM EST- Honda Center, Anaheim CA


Line: ARI -3.0

Over/Under- 131.0


With a spot for the Final Four up for grabs on Saturday night, No. 2 seed Wisconsin and No. 1 seed Arizona will take to the court at the Honda Center in Anaheim with the winner of the West Final punching their ticket to next weeks Final Four.


It’s hard to go to the Final Four,” said Arizona Wildcat coach Sean Miller, who began his coaching career as the Wisconsin Badgers assistant coach way back in 1992. “You can be really good and not make it, both as a coach, a team and a player.”


That will be the challenge for this Arizona team that is looking to advance out of the West Regional for the first time since 1998. The Wildcats (33-4) have failed the previous three times when playing in Anaheim, but this years team who was ranked No. 1 in the polls for eight weeks and went on a 21-game win streak have to be feeling good about their chances.


The Arizona program has gone the last five years going unnoticed, but now want to deliver for coach Miller who has restored this once proud basketball program back to prominence this season.


What we have done during the season has validated how good we are,” said 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski.


Tarczewski hopes to have a more productive game after struggling with foul trouble in Thursday’s night semifinal game in which they staged a comeback against the San Diego Aztecs.


For Wisconsin (29-7), they haven’t tasted the Final Four since 2000 and reached the regional final just once in 13 straight trips in the NCAA tournament under long-time coach Bo Ryan. Ryan turned 69 earlier this week and his team feels they need to finally deliver for their coach who became was an assistant for the Wisconsin program from 1976-85.


Badger guard Josh Gasser had this to say about his coach… “He deserves it. We all want it and we all want it for him.”


These two teams are similar in their defensive approach and go after it when it comes to rebounding.


We are tough, nasty and relentless,” said Arizona freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.


Expect a good battle between both 7-foot centers, Arizona’s Tarczewski and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, who had 19 points and six blocks in helping to lead the Badgers to their semifinal win over the Baylor Bears.


We’re looking to draw fouls and throw them off-balance a little bit with early foul trouble,” said Wisconsin’s three-point specialist Ben Brust.


The Badgers are a slightly better team from beyond the arc shooting 38 percent to Arizona’s 36, so containing any damage done from 3point range will be a priority for both teams.


We have to close out the high ends and keep them off line,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “They’re going to play tough in guarding us too.”


One person the Badgers will need to guard closely will be Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year.


It still makes you say, ‘Wow,’ every time you see them,” says Badger’s Sam Dekker on Johnson and his high-flying teammates. “Dunks aside, they are a very solid team that can go out there and defend. They get after people and make you work.”


Both teams enter averaging 73 points per contest while limiting opponents to 42 percent shooting or less and with that, oddsmakers are expecting a tightly close played game making the Wildcats a slight (minus -3.0) point favorite with an O/U of just 131.0, so stay up to date on the latest spread up until tipoff right here at Wonder Punter.


I expect the same… a close game from beginning to end but will have to predict the slightly stronger Arizona Wildcats doing just enough to punch their ticket to the Final Four next weekend.


Prediction/Pick- Arizona



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter



NBA Prediction NBA Saturday Night Preview/Pick- Clippers vs. Rockets

NBA Free Pick & Prediction L.A Clippers vs. Rockets

Los Angeles Clippers (51-22, 20-17 away) @ Houston Rockets (49-22, 29-7 home) 02/29- 8:00PM EST


Line: HOU -1.5

Over/Under: 216.5


Yet another big Western Conference showdown will take place on Saturday night when Los Angeles visits the Houston Rockets as the Clippers will be going for the season sweep.


The Rockets (49-22) will be in quest of their 12th straight home victory on Saturday night and a win against a team they have yet to defeat this season will draw them into a third-place tie in the tough Western Conference.


Houston is also riding a five game win streak, having won three of those without center Dwight Howard who was sidelined with a left ankle strain and he responded in his second game back with 17 points and 13 boards in their 120-98 smack down of the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night.


James Harden continued his all-star season performance by recording a triple-double with 26 points, 10 boards and 10 assists.


We did a great job of coming out tonight and taking care of business,” said Harden who’s been on a scoring tear averaging 31.3 over his last three games. He is also 12 of 23 from behind the arc in that same span.


Speaking of tears, the Rockets have been lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of 118.2 points per game during their win streak and are averaging the same amount of points over their last nine games at the Toyota Center beating opposing teams by an average of 14.6 points per contest.


Having Howard back in the mix and with the team putting points on the board, the Rockets will need all they can muster against the Clippers…. a team that has dominated them winning eight of nine, including taking the first three games by an average of 13.3 points this season.


Los Angeles (51-22) is challenging the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs for the West’s best record and are closing in on their second straight Pacific Division crown. However, the Clippers sit just one game ahead of fourth place Houston after dropping two consecutive games before bouncing back with a big 109-103 road victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night.


The big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan all responded against the Mavs after losing the night before to New Orleans and understand there is no room for nights off if they want to challenge come playoff time and make some noise.


We knew it was going to be a playoff-type game,” Paul said. “They’re just not playing for their playoff lives; we’re trying to gear up for the playoffs too.”


Despite the Clips having their way with Houston of late, the oddsmakers have faith the home town Rockets will get it done on Saturday night making them a slight (minus -1.5) point favorite with an over/under of 216.5, but as always… stay up to date with the latest spread up until game time right here at Wonder Punter.


Tough one to call between these two teams, but I too am going to agree with the oddsmakers on this one and predict the Rockets to finally find some success and find a way to defeat the visiting Clippers in a close one.


Prediction/Pick- Houston



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter


NBA Prediction Friday Night Preview/Pick- Memphis vs. Golden State

NBA Free Pick & Prediciton Grizzlies vs. Warriors

Memphis Grizzlies (43-28, 20-14 away) @ Golden State Warriors (44-27, 23-12 home) 02/28- 10:30PM EST


Line: GSW -2.0

Over/Under- 188.0


With the NBA season winding down and teams in the Western Conference still battling for positioning, the Memphis Grizzlies will try to move even with the Golden State Warriors when both teams take the floor in Oakland on Friday night.


The playoff seedings are still up for grabs and with not many games separating the fifth and ninth place teams in the tough Western Conference… both the Grizzlies and Warriors understand what is needed the rest of the way so they are not sitting at home come playoff time.


With a win over the Warriors, the surging Memphis Grizzlies (43-28) will have a chance to draw even with six-place Golden State… although I feel confident both teams will advance to the postseason.


The Grizzlies, since Jan. 10 have been one of the hottest and better teams in the league having won 28 of their 37 games, with only the San Antonio Spurs, which has won 15 straight the only hotter team with a better winning percentage. But, prior to the Grizzlies playing the type of basketball we’ve come to expect, they were sitting at the bottom of the Southwest Division at 15-19.


Memphis has won three straight and nine of 11 games and with the likes Portland, Golden State, Dallas and Phoenix all fighting for the final four playoff spots, the Grizzlies must continue to use what has gotten them to where they are… defense.


We know how important each of these games are for us,” said Marc Gasol, who along with Zach Randolph and Mike Conely are the cornerstones of this team.


With a win in Oakland, a place where they have had success in recent years, the Grizzlies can move a season-high 16 games above .500 and having won 15 of 19 games versus the West with the Trail Blazers coming up on Sunday, Memphis is poised to continue their success and make a strong playoff push.


After five days off, a well rested Golden State team will try to bounce back following last Saturday’s 99-90 home loss to San Antonio, a team that won without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in the lineup.


It’s a disappointing loss,” said Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson, who along with the Grizzlies are 13-5 since the All-Star break. “It’ll make us better.”


Starting swingman Andre Iguadala will be back in the lineup after missing the last three games due to a sore right knee and will give the Warriors another offensive weapon along with Stephen Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson to go up against the tough defense of the Grizzlies who have allowed an NBA-low 90.2 points per game since the return of Gasol back on Jan. 14.


Golden State is a team that lives and dies from the outside and it’s all-or-nothing for them, where in their seven wins since March 5 have averaged 110.1 points per game and in their three losses have averaged only 94.0 ppg.


Memphis has won the last five contests in Oakland holding the home Warriors to only 88.8 points per game, but the oddsmakers are giving Golden State the slight edge making them a (minus -2.0) point favorite with an over/under of 188.0, but get the latest odds on the game up until tipoff right here at Wonder Punter.


It will be the high powered offense of Golden State versus the stingy defense of Memphis on Friday night and we all know defense wins games. Expect a good close game between these two teams but I predict the Grizzlies to continue form and leave Oakland with a tough road victory.


Prediction/Pick- Memphis



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Sunday Game Preview/Pick- Houston vs. Miami

Free NBA Pick & Prediction Rockets vs Heat

Houston Rockets (44-21, 18-14 away) @ Miami Heat (44-19, 25-6 home) 03/16- 3:30PM EST


Line: MIA -4.0

Over/Under- 208.5


The Miami Heat, losers of five of their last six games will try to get it together against a tough Houston Rockets team on Sunday afternoon in what has the makings of a great game.


The Heat (44-19) are experiencing their worst funk in three years and it couldn’t come at a worst time as they are trying to catch the Indiana Pacers for the top-spot in the Eastern Conference which will give them home court advantage through-out the playoffs in the East. They will be hard pressed to secure the best record in the NBA as of now with the season winding down unless they can go on a serious run.


Their loss on Friday night to visiting Denver was a hard pill to swallow given the fact that the Nuggets are not expected to make the playoffs.


Something is off, obviously,” Heat guard Dwayne Wade said.


Just not playing well,” four-time NBA MVP LeBron James added.


With just 19 games left in the season and a race to the finish between the Heat and Pacers, Miami needs to figure it out quick.


Five out of six, to our standards, that’s unacceptable,” forward Chris Bosh added. “We know we’re better than this. We have to do a better job. We have to have better urgency.”


It seemed not to long ago, the Heat were on a tear winning eight straight and 14 of 16 to challenge for the NBA’s best record but now are looking to put anything together and build some momentum.


Fittingly enough, Miami’s slump started with a 106-103 loss to the Rocket’s back on March 4and now will be trying to end it against the very same team who go in having lost two consecutive games of their own.


Houston (44-21) has lost to Oklahoma City and Chicago on this road trip and will be trying to avoid losing three-in-a-row for the first time all year.


And with a 4-0 record following back-to-back losses, they have to like their chances going up against the two-time defending champions looking to find their way again.


Despite Miami’s recent play of late, no one on the team is in panic mode just yet and know they just have to go out and play the type of basketball they are capable of.


We just have to take it on the chin and stay in the fight,” Bosh said. “We’re going to do that. We’re going to turn this thing around and we’re going to make a championship run. That’s going to be it, because we have to.”


Oddsmakers feel the Heat can get it done Sunday afternoon making the Heat a (minus -4.0) point favorite, but get the latest spread on the game up until game time right here at Wonder Punter.


Something as to give between these two teams who will be both coming out with a sense of urgency but it will come down to who wants it more and I have to favor the Heat to finally get out of their slump and win in a good game come Sunday.


Prediction/Pick- Miami



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Tuesday Night Preview- San Antonio vs. Chicago

NBA Free Pick Spurs vs Bulls

San Antonio Spurs (46-16, 23-8 away) @ Chicago Bulls (35-28, 19-11 home) 03/10- 8:00PM EST


Line: SAS -4.0

Over/Under: 188.0


The red-hot San Antonio Spurs will be looking for revenge on the road against another team that has been playing well of late… the Chicago Bulls, as both teams will battle on Tuesday night at the United Center.


All the Spurs have done since the Bulls beat them 96-86 back in January is rattle off 13 of 16 wins and are enjoying a six-game win streak all while going on a offensive surge scoring an average of 106.6 points per game over their last 16 games while allowing 101.6 points per contest.


Last Thursday, the Spurs (46-16) were able to exact revenge on the Miami Heat with a 111-87 home win and will be looking for the same results against the defensive minded Bulls who also defeated the Heat at home on Sunday with a 95-88 overtime win.


Following their big win over the two-time defending champions, San Antonio survived a letdown at the hands of the lowly Orlando Magic on Saturday night with a 121-112 victory to keep their winning streak alive.


It’s always hard after a big win against Miami, the emotions,” Tony Parker said. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t come out flat, and Orlando, they came out firing.” They were shooting the ball very well from outside. They are young and wanted to prove something. They made it hard on us but it’s a big win for us.”


As well as the Spurs have been playing since their Chicago defeat, the Bulls (35-28) have also been on fire winning eleven of their last fourteen games and six of seven at home as they have been playing balanced basketball averaging 93.1 on offense and allowing 92.2 on defense.


They are a team with heart that plays hard for all 48 minutes and Sunday’s big win over the Heat as given them more of reason to feel good about themselves as the playoffs near.


I want what they have—a championship,” Joakim Noah said of the Heat. “One day, we are going to have to get through those guys.”


Chicago is in the middle of a challenging six-game stand that has seen them lose to the Memphis Grizzlies and bounce back with a huge win over the Heat, but after the Spurs will still be faced with the likes of the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. Wow… talk about a tough stretch games! No doubt, defense will be the key for the Bulls to contain these high scoring teams in the coming days.


The Spurs have lost five-of-eight to the Bulls in the series, but oddsmakers have given the edge for Tuesday’s game making them a (minus -4.0) point favorite in Chicago where they will be looking for their second straight win in the Windy City. In what promises to be an entertaining well-played game for both teams, stay in the know with all the latest spreads on the game up until tipoff right here at Wonder Punter.


Tough one to call on this one as both teams are playing great ball, but I will favor the home-town Bulls to win in a close one as they continue to build their confidence as they playoffs near.


Prediction/Pick- Chicago



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Tuesday Night Preview/Pick- Portland vs. Memphis


Portland Trail Blazers (42-21, 18-13 away) @ Memphis Grizzlies (36-26, 19-14 home) 03/11- 8:00PM EST


Line: MEM -3.5

Over/Under: 198.0


After dropping two games in the state of Texas, the Portland Trail Blazers hope to get it together as they will go into FedEx Forum on Tuesday night to battle the surging Memphis Grizzlies.


The Trail Blazers (42-21) dropped back-to-back games after giving away fourth quarter leads… first to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night losing 103-98 then on Sunday to the Houston Rockets falling in defeat 118-113 in overtime.


In both fourth quarter games, the Blazers were outscored by an average of 8.0 points, shooing 41.7 percent from the field and 75.0 percent from the charity stripe… Portland is among the league’s best from the free throw line with 80.7 percent.


That Blazers defensive collapse in the fourth quarter resulted in the Rockets outscoring Portland 33-21 to send the game into overtime.


That was a tough loss,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “A game, I thought we did a good job of controlling it for a good part of it. We had our opportunities to win it. They made some tough shots. I thought we overcame some adversity and still put ourselves in a position to win, but we didn’t close it out.”


Portland still ranks among the best with 107.7 points per game and LaMarcus Aldridge is doing his part in scoring averaging with 29.0 ppg and 14.5 rebounds on this five-game trip so far but the Blazers as a whole will need to play some defense if they want to end their road trip that takes them through the Southwest Division on a more positive note. After Memphis, they will travel back to Texas to face the San Antonio Spurs and than end the trip versus the New Orleans Pelicans.


Against Memphis in 24 games, Aldridge has struggled averaging only 15.9 points… his lowest against any other NBA team.


Having won back-to-back games and winners of four of five, the Memphis Grizzlies (36-26) is a team that seems to peaking at the right time and much of their success is because of their defensive intensity to provide them with a nice balance on both sides of the ball as everyone is getting involved.


Everybody is pitching in, and we are going to need everybody to continue to do that for the remainder (of the season),” guard Tony Allen said. “Be ready when their number is called.”


The Grizzlies have won four straight against the Trail Blazers and with their recent play, the oddsmakers have the confidence that they will get it done again by making them a (minus -3.5) point favorite against the visiting Blazers, but get the latest odds up until game time right here at Wonder Punter.


I too, have that confidence in the Grizzlies to continue playing with success the rest of the way and see them being able beat the Blazers come Tuesday night as they continue to make a strong playoff push.


Prediction/Pick- Memphis



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter


NBA Prediction Sunday Game Preview/Pick- Phoenix vs. Golden State



NBA Free Pick & Prediction Suns v. Warriors

Phoenix Suns (36-25, 14-13 away) @ Golden State Warriors (39-24, 19-10 home) 03/09- 9:00PM EST


Line: GSW -7.5

Over/Under- 213.0


After a huge home win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Phoenix Suns will look to win the season-series against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday evening.


The Warriors, known for their offense all season have been getting it done with some solid defense as of late, winning three straight and all with a slumping Stephen Curry, who has failed to score over 20 points in four consecutive games for the first time in 2014. Golden State (39-24) is 8-2 since the All-Star break and understand it will be the defense that will ultimately win them games as no team as scored over 100 points during their three-game win streak and are 30-4 when they can keep their opponents under the century mark.


All in all I think we’re doing a great job of understanding who we are. We are a defensive-minded team,” center Jermaine O’Neil said. “We’ve got guys who can score the basketball, but I don’t want anybody to be fooled; we are a defensive-minded team and if we’re going to win it all, that’s what’s going to help us win it all.”


For Phoenix (36-25), despite winning three-of-four games, defense has taken a back seat to this high-scoring team who have allowed an average of 112.0 points over their last seven games. But, the bright spot has been the play of 7-year veteran Gerald Green over his last two games going for 33 in a 129-120 win over the Atlanta Hawks and for a career-high 41 in a 128-122 victory over Oklahoma City to help the Suns rally from a 16-point deficit.


I love the way he’s playing right now,” coach Jeff Hornacek said of Green. “We knew he could shoot the ball. There’s not too many guys that can get on a roll like that.”


Green entered this season with his seventh team with a career average of 9.4 points per game, however since Feb. 8 has been among the league leaders with 23.3 points per contest. Green scored 25 in a 122-109 win over the Warriors that night.


Goran Dragic has been big as well coming off a 40-point win last week against New Orleans and is averaging 25.2 points in his last five road games and with the Suns opening a nine-day stretch in which they play five of six on the road and trailing the Warriors by two games for sixth in the Western Conference…. Sunday’s game is a huge one along with every other game from this point on.


Phoenix is playing great basketball. They’re trying to knock on our door for that sixth spot,” said O’Neil. “They play with great speed, they play together, they shoot a lot of 3s. We’re going to try to slow those guys down and put them in a difficult situation on the defensive end.”


The Suns have taken two of three so far, but they got spanked 115-86 back in Oakland on Dec. 27 to give them four-straight losses in the Bay Area and with the way the Warriors are playing defense, the oddsmakers have made Golden State a (minus -7.5) point favorite, but get the latest spread up until game time right here at Wonder Punter.


Stephen Curry went for a triple-double in that big win with 14 points and career-highs of 16 assists and 13 boards and I expect him to shake off his slump and lead his team to a big win on Sunday night to help give the Warriors some breathing room over the charging Phoenix Suns.


Prediction/Pick- Golden State



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Sunday Preview/Pick- Indiana vs. Dallas

Free NBA Pick and Prediction Pacers vs. Mavericks

Indiana Pacers (46-16, 17-12 away) @ Dallas Mavericks (37-26, 20-10 home) 03/09- 7:30PM EST


Line: IND -1.0

Over/Under: 197.0


The Indiana Pacers take to the court on Sunday night against the Dallas Mavericks as they try to regroup and end their longest slide of the season in what should be an entertaining game.


Dallas will be the second stop for the Pacers in Texas and hopefully they can give a better performance than they egg they laid against the Houston Rockets on Friday night when they suffered a 112-86 blowout loss. I truly believed they were going to leave Houston with a big win, instead what we got was a team that has looked awful since winning five straight not too long ago and now find themselves trying to avoid losing four consecutive games.


Indiana committed 19 turnovers and were outscored in the paint 48-30 against the Rockets, but more disturbing has been their lack of defense over the last two games as they gave up 109 at Charlotte and 112 at Houston while giving up a combined 51.9 percent shooting to both teams.


We just need to win games at this point,” center Roy Hibbert said. “We’re just putting the emphasis on trying to get better. We’ve been playing awful.”


The Pacers (46-16) still find themselves atop the Eastern Conference but now find the two-time defending champion Miami Heat hot on their heals for the top spot in the East.


Despite Indiana’s 37 turnovers over the last two ballgames and lack of defense, coach Frank Vogel doesn’t seem too concern…


Every team I’ve ever been a part of has had a stretch like we’re in right now. And since I’ve been here we’ve always worked our way out of it, so I’m sure we will. It stinks right now. It’s not fun right now, but we’ve got a good team and we’ll regroup.”


Another key to the Pacers getting back to winning other than their lack of defense will be the ability of small forward Paul George to get back on track putting the ball through the net, where he is a combined 5-of-21 shooting for just 15 points with nine turnovers in his last two games.


In Indiana’s 81-73 home defeat to Dallas back on Feb. 12, George was held to just 12 points while going a dismal 4-of-17 from the field as the Mavericks snapped a three-game losing streak to the Pacers.


The Mavericks (37-26) will look to keep it going after beating the Portland Trail Blazers 103-98 on Friday night, however they had to rally after blowing a 30-point second quarter lead. Dirk Nowitski poured in 22 points to help the Mavs snap a three-game losing streak going into the game.


It’s that close; you’re either feeling great about it or it’s a really tough, tough night,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who’s Dallas ball club holds a slim lead against the surging Memphis Grizzlies for the eight spot in the tough Western Conference. “This is how it’s going to be the next 19 games; the games are all going to be hard like this.”


From here on out, the Mavericks realize it will be the defense that will propel them into the playoffs.. and let’s be honest, Dallas has never been known as a defensive team but after giving up an average of 109.0 points a game during their three-game skid, they understand what is needed the rest of the way.


That’s what it comes down to, one stop and one opportunity, one stop,” Carlisle said. “That’s how you’ve got to look at it. It’s going to be a character test. If we’re not up to it, then we don’t deserve to go to the playoffs.”


Although the Pacers seem to be going the wrong way, the oddsmakers have faith they can get together in Dallas as they have been made a very slim (minus -1.0) point favorite, but with the line likely to move before tipoff, stay up-to-date with the latest odds here at Wonder Punter.


Expect a close, well played game as both teams realize they must clamp down the rest of the way and play with a sense of urgency, but I am going to agree with the oddsmakers and favor the Pacers to win on Sunday night as I feel they are due to finally get back to playing the style of basketball we expect out of them.


Prediction/Pick- Indiana



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Friday Night Preview/Pick- Indiana vs. Houston


Indiana Pacers (46-15, 17-11 away) @ Houston Rockets (42-19, 24-7 home) 03/07- 9:30PM EST


Line: HOU -4.0

Over/Under: 201.0


Another great game on the docket on Friday night as two of the NBA’s best, the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets will take to the court on Friday night.


The Pacers became the first team in the NBA this season to lock up a playoff spot but having lost two straight has put their seeding in the Eastern Conference in doubt. The Pacers were running away with the East and were the early front runners but now have the Miami Heat hot on their heels in what many figure to be a two team race to the Finals for the East.


Indiana (46-15) has lost two consecutive games for only the second time this season and will try to avoid losing three straight for the first time against the Rockets… a team that has dominated the East this season.


The Pacers, it seemed all year could do no wrong, beating everybody in their path and had a stretch of winning 13 of 15 games but since Jan. 22 have put the brakes on and are just 13-8 to allow the Heat to contend for the top spot in the Eastern Conference but there is still some basketball left to be played.


But, if they want to stay in the top spot, they will need to get back to what has gotten them to where they are and that is defense… allowing 97.9 points per game over their last 21 games compared to 88.3 which propelled them to a 33-7 record to start the season.


Over the last 20 games or so, we just haven’t had our mojo,” forward David West said. “We’ve got to change some things up because these last 20 games is going to be a battle.”


Indiana has been shaky against the Western Conference recently having lost three of their last five and will try to stop the bleeding against a Rockets team that has had their way with weaker Eastern opponents having won nine straight against the East, are 19-3 overall and have are 13-0 at home, including their big 106-103 win over the Heat on Tuesday.


All-Stars Dwight Howard and James Harden continue to pace the Rockets (42-19) and are enjoying a 13-2 stretch as they try to catch the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the West.


On the minds for the Rockets on Friday night will be revenge as they were embarrassed 114-81 back on Dec. 20 in Indiana.. that was Houston’s fourth straight loss in the series to the Pacers.


The game in Indiana, we didn’t play our brand of basketball,” Howard said. “They were a lot better team than we were earlier in the season. We understand the game as a team a little bit better. I think it’s going to be a different game and we are looking forward to that matchup.”


And with the way the Rockets are playing of late, the oddsmakers agree as they have made the home Rockets a (minus -4.0) point favorite on Friday night, but get the latest spread on the game up until tipoff right here at Wonder Punter.


This is an important game for the Pacers to get back on track and show they are still the team to beat in the NBA and I expect them to have a great all-around game on Friday night. All signs point to the Rockets winning but I’m going to go with the Pacers on this one and feel they can steal one at the Toyota Center. It’s going to be close game but predict the Pacers in a tight one.


Prediction/Pick- Indiana Pacers



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Friday Night Preview/Pick- Memphis vs. Chicago


Memphis Grizzlies (34-26, 16-12 away) @ Chicago Bulls (34-27, 18-10 home) 03/07- 7:00PM EST


Line: CHI -2.0

Over/Under: 179.5


In what promises to be a great game, two of the league’s hottest teams since the beginning of the new year, the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls will battle on Friday night at the United Center.


Both teams struggled for the first two months of the season, disappointing many around the league as they were a combined 25-35 from Oct-Dec, but since the start of January have put together 43-18 combined record.


The Bulls (34-27) has been the hotter of the two as they will be in search of their 11th victory in 13 games, including five straight at home by an average of 19.6 points.


Defense as been the swan song of the Bulls under head coach Tom Thibodeau, but it has been the offense surge sort of speak that has allowed them to win 10 of 12 giving them a nice balance between defense and offense.


A lot of guys are stepping up on this team right now,” said Taj Gibson, who is averaging a career-high 13.4 this season. “Everyone is working hard and helping in whatever way we need. The guys are just focused on the team right now.”


All-star Joakim Noah has been the leader in place of Derrick Rose this season averaging 13.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists while shooting 54.o percent over his last 13 games, but has been less than effective against the Grizzlies over his last six games averaging just 7.9 points on 41.9 percent shooting. However, power forward Carlos Boozer (14.4 ppg) is averaging a career-best 20.1 points per contest against the Grizzlies.. his highest versus any other NBA team.


Memphis (34-26) will try to bounce back after an unexpected and disappointing 104-93 road loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. The were without the services of power forward Zach Randolph (flu) and point guard Mike Conley (17.3) went 0-8 from the field after going for 22 against Cleveland and 20 versus Washington in back-to-back wins.


It was a tough night,” coach Dave Joerger said. “We had some guys, really, really struggle tonight.”


The Grizzlies are 7-3 and the Bulls are 8-2 over their last 10 games and the oddsmakers are favoring the Bulls as a slight (minus 2.0) point favorite but stay up to date with the latest spread as they may change before game time right here at Wonder Punter.


I’m really looking forward to these two teams clashing on Friday night and feel if Zach Randolph is able to suit up, I’m going to give a slight edge to the visiting Grizzlies to get out of the United Center with a win. Expect a great game with great defenses played on both sides.


Prediction/Pick- Memphis Grizzlies



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Friday Night Preview/Pick- Portland vs. Dallas


Portland Trail Blazers (42-19, 18-11 away) @ Dallas Mavericks (36-26, 19-10 home) 02/07- 8:30PM EST


Line: DAL -2.5

Over/Under: 217.0


On Friday night, the Portland Trail Blazers take to the road to start a stretch of road games against teams with winning records and first up is the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Arena.


The Blazers did well beating up on teams at home with losing records to get them back to winning basketball but now will get the task of playing the first of two five-game road trips this month after enjoying seven of eight at home following the All-Star break.


Portland (42-19), with the first leg of their road trip will consist of four of five teams above .500 in the likes of Dallas (36-26), the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs before completing their trip in New Orleans next Friday night.


It’s going to be a real tough road trip for us,” Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “But if we go out and take care of business and keep playing defense like we did tonight, anything is possible.”


That defense is in response to their 102-78 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night allowing for season-lows in points and field goal percentage (33.0). Defense wins ballgames and after slumping at 3-7, the Blazers started playing defense allowing an average of 39.7 in field goal shooting and 89.3 points per game… 13.3 below their season mark and the result has led them to win six of seven.


Difference is, none of those teams the Blazers beat up on had winning records and against teams that do… they are 1-9 and 3-6 on the road since Jan 18, which was a 127-111 win at Dallas.


If the Blazers wish to find success on the road, they must get more production from All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed the first five games after the All-Star game due to a groin injury has been off as he tries to get back into a groove averaging just 15.7 points and 6.7 rebounds since his return over the last three games. Aldridge was a dismal 1 of 13 from the field on Wednesday night… his season worst.


My timing is just off,” Aldridge said. “Since coming back, I haven’t felt like my timing has been great.”


For the Dallas Mavericks (36-26), they find themselves in a three-game slump after winning 10 of 12 and defense has been a question mark giving up an average of 110 points per contest over their last two road games, including a 115-110 defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.


The Mavericks will also find themselves facing tougher opponents as they will take on four of the league’s top seven teams record-wise, including games against the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder.


It’s not going to get easier,” Mavs forward Brandon Wright said. “We just have to come out and play hard. In these home games we have two tough opponents. We just have to keep trucking and we’ll see what happens. We have to lift the level up.”


Dallas is 0-6 against the Western Conference’s top five teams since winning in Houston back on Dec. 23 but oddsmakers have made the Mavs a slight (minus -2.5) point favorite against the Blazers, who are 6-9 on the road since Dec. 18… the worst for any team with a record above .500, but get the latest spread on the game up until tipoff right here at Wonder Punter.


I can easily see this game being a toss-up but will have to agree with the oddsmakers on this one with the Mavericks winning in a close one at home to earn a quality win.


Prediction/Pick- Dallas



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Thursday Night Preview/Pick- Thunder vs. Suns

Oklahoma City Thunder (46-15, 20-9 away) @ Phoenix Suns (35-25, 21-12 home) 03/06- 9:00PM EST


Line: OKC -6.0

Over/Under: 217.5


The Oklahoma City Thunder look to keep rolling as they go into Phoenix in search of their fourth straight win and 12th consecutive victory over the Suns in a Western Conference showdown on Thursday night.


With star Russell Westbrook back in the lineup and appearing to be in game shape following his knee injury, he has team poised and ready to make a strong push into the playoffs.


OKC (46-15) came under fire when Westbrook returned to the lineup and the Thunder dropped three straight at home, but they now appear to have found their game once again lighting up the scoreboard for an average of 118.0 points per game during their win streak.


Westbrook recorded a triple-double (13 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds) in the Thunder’s 125-92 spanking of the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, achieving the feat in the smallest amount of time in 59 years.


I’m just trying to get my groove back,” he said. “I’m blessed to be able to do that in such in a short amount of time. It was fun.”


As good as the Thunder are without Westbrook, he is the man that makes everybody better and makes them a great and dangerous team and is the key to getting the Thunder back into the Finals in a talented and dangerous Western Conference.


With Westbrook back into a groove, that spells trouble for the Phoenix Suns (35-25) who are looking to snap an 11-game losing streak at the hands of the Thunder with Westbrook leading the charge averaging 23.0 points, 7.5 assists with a 49.4 shooting percentage.


For Phoenix, they are still a good team but seem to have fallen off the grid a little without the star point guard Eric Bledsoe, who’s been out since Dec. 30 with a knee injury. Bledsoe has starting practicing once again and is expected back in the coming weeks which is a welcome relieve with backup guard Leandro Barbosa out for the next six weeks with a fractured hand which he injured in Tuesday’s 104-96 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The challenge now will be… can the Suns keep it together until then?


Other guys will to step up,” coach Jeff Hornacek said.


The Suns (35-25) are 2-3 in their last five games and failed to take advantage of a home heavy stretch that will see them play 12 of 15 in Phoenix after Thursday’s contest. 15 of their last 22 games will be played on the road and they will need to find their defense if they want any chance of making a strong playoff run.


Oklahoma is 1-0 so far against the Suns after posting a 103-96 win way back on Nov. 3 and with two teams that appear to be headed into opposite directions, the oddsmakers have made the visiting Thunder a (minus -6.0) point favorite but get the latest odds up until tipoff right here at Wonder Punter.


I too have to agree with the oddsmakers on this one and just feel the Thunder have too much fire power to leave Phoenix with a loss on Thursday night as it will be hard to go against the likes of Kevin Durant, Westbrook and the rest of the talented Thunder.


Prediction/Pick- Oklahoma City



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Friday Night Preview/Pick- Bulls vs. Mavericks

nba pick

Chicago Bulls (31-26, 14-16 away) @ Dallas Mavericks (36-23, 19-9 home) 02/28- 8:30PM EST


Line: DAL -4.5

Over/Under: 191.0


The all of a sudden ‘offensive’ minded Chicago Bulls will travel into American Airlines Center on Friday night in search of their eighth victory in nine games against a Dallas Mavericks team riding a four game win streak.


We all know the Bulls are a great defensive team under coach Tom Thibodeau as they have been ranked in the top three in the NBA under Thibodeau in his first three seasons and with an 91.3 points allowed per game this season are amongst the tops in the league again in the 2013-14 season… but it’s been the offense that has been stealing headlines of late as the Bulls have scored over 100 points in three of their last four games to put them over a season-high five games over the .500 mark.


Chicago (31-26) still ranks last in the league in scoring at 92.9 points per game and after losing Derrick Rose for the season again very easily could’ve just cashed it in and who could blame them?… but there is too much pride in them and Thibodeau has them believing in themselves once again. Let’s not forget they still have a lot of talent in the likes of All-Star Joakim Noah (12.1 ppg, 11.5 rpg), Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer and a team that loves and takes in pride in hard nose defense and it showed on Wednesday night when they went into Oakland and gave the Golden State Warriors… the NBA’s highest-scoring team a lesson in defense by holding them to just 83 points in a 103-83 win.


We’re a confident group,” Noah said. “(Wednesday) was a big night for us. Played against a team with great offensive power, definitely one of the best teams in the West. To come out there and kick their (butts) like that feels great.”


Many feel the NBA’s Eastern Conference is a two-team race between the Indianapolis Pacers and Miami Heat, but the Bulls who are chasing the third-seed Toronto Raptors are poised to make a move as they have won four of six on the road and will play three of their next four away from home.


Now’s the time to step on the gas pedal and really get ready for the playoffs,” Boozer said.


As for the Dallas Mavericks (36-23), they may be in a loaded and dangerous Western Conference, but have to be feeling confident about they way they have been playing of late moving to a season-high 13 games above .500 as Monte Ellis (19.0 ppg) and Dirk Nowitski (21.6 ppg) continue to pace the team.


The last 12 games we’ve been playing together as a team,” Ellis said. “I think we are coming along at the right time. I think everybody is tuned in and accepting their role of what they need to do to help us win. The biggest thing is that everyone is playing together.”


The Mavs have won 10 of 12, four of five at home and an impressive 13 of 15 at A.A Center against the Bulls, so it is no surprise that oddsmakers have made the Mavericks a (minus -4.5) point favorite, but stay up to date on all the latest odds here at Wonder Punter up until game time.


Both teams are playing great and this will come down to the great defense of the Bulls (91.3 points allowed) trying to slow down the good offensive of the Mavericks (104.6 ppg) and although the Mavs can put some points on the board, their defense is questionable giving up 102.1 points per game and with that am going to predict the Bulls doing enough on both ends of the court to get out of Dallas with a big road win.


Prediction/Pick- Chicago Bulls

By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Friday Night Preview/Pick- Grizzlies vs. Thunder

grizzlies vs thunder

Memphis Grizzlies (32-24, 15-10 away) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (43-15, 23-6 home) 02/28- 8:00PM EST


Line: OKC -6.0

Over/Under- 192.0


The Oklahoma City Thunder will take to the court on Friday night against the visiting and surging Memphis Grizzlies as they will be trying to avoid their fourth straight defeat at home.


It’s been almost five years since the Thunder have experienced a losing streak of this nature but most concerning is that the first three losses have all come at home. Granted, they played the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers, but losing to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers 114-104 on Wednesday night shocked everyone that knows the game of basketball.


More surprising is that with the return of point guard Michael Westbrook back in the lineup, the Thunder were expected to run the table the rest of the way, but instead have dropped their first three in the midst of a six-game homestand at Chesapeake Energy Arena and the blame can pointed on the defensive end where they have allowed 106.1 points per game in their last seven compared to an NBA ranking of seventh (97.4 ppg) in their first 51 games.


No one in the locker room, including myself, feels good about it,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. “The exciting thing is we know we can do better. We just to maximize our potential.


Defensively we’re not getting after it enough. We just have to keep focusing on that end and it will turn back around for us.”


Despite their recent home slump, the Thunder still hold the best record (43-15) in a very tough and competitive Western Conference and had won 23 of their first 26 before the defense decided to take a break.


We just have to figure it out,” Kevin Durant said. “We have to help everybody else out and figure it out what were doing wrong out there. … we just have to focus on the next game.”


And that next game is Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that they defeated 86-77 in a strong defensive showing back on Feb. 3 at home, allowing their second-fewest points of the season.


The Grizzlies have dropped two of three so far this season to the Thunder but have won four of the last six meetings at OKC, including two big games in last year’s Western Conference semifinal that saw them win in five games.


You know it’s always going to be a good game,” Memphis center Marc Gasol said. “Playing over there, you know the place is going to be packed, fans are going to get into it and it’s going to feel like a playoff game. We enjoy that.”


Memphis has won five of their last six and seem to be hitting their stride getting it done at stopping the ball, allowing only 94.6 points per game with an impressive 84.9 per road contest since Jan. 5—tops in the league in that stretch.


Despite the recent struggles of the Thunder at home and the Grizzlies being able to win in OKC, the oddsmakers have still made Oklahoma City a (minus -6.0) point favorite for Friday night’s game, but stay up to date on the latest spread up until tipoff right here at Wonder Punter.


NBA Prediction Friday Night Preview/Pick- Spurs vs. Suns

nba free pick and prediction

Free NBA Pick & Prediction Spurs vs. Suns

San Antonio Spurs (40-15, 22-7 away) @ Phoenix Suns (32-21, 18-9 home) 02/21- 6:00PM EST


Line: SAS -1.0

Over/Under: 209.0


The San Antonio Spurs on the heals of two impressive road wins on back-to-back nights against the Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers will look to secure another big road win as they face the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.


It seems the All-Star break did the “aging” Spurs some good as they come out of the break looking for their fourth straight win without injured point guard Tony Parker and look to close out their season-high nine game annual road trip by going seven of nine.


What was impressive about the Portland victory is they did it without Parker… out with Achilles, groin, back and calf ailments and Tim Duncan who got his customary rest on a back-to-back night.


The Spurs (40-15) have gotten a huge lift from reserve Patty Mills as the fifth-year guard went for 29 points in a 111-109 win at Portland without Parker and Duncan.


If it wasn’t for him the last couple of nights, we would have really struggled,” san Antonio forward Danny Green said. “He’s doing what Tony usually does, in taking over in that fourth quarter.”


Mills has responded with his playing time by averaging 21.0 points over his last seven games, including a season-high 32 points against Charlotte back on Feb. 8 in less than 29 minutes of playing time.


For me, it’s just been learning from great guys,” Mills said. “We’ve got three future Hall of Famers and a great coach, so I just sat back and learned.”


The Southwest Division leaders have been battling injuries and age all season but have managed to remain amongst the best in the NBA, are still loaded with talent with the likes of Marco Belinelli, Manu Ginobili, Parker, Duncan and now welcome back the addition of Tiago Splitter who missed the last four games with a calf injury.


San Antonio has dominated the Suns of late, having won eight of nine, including four straight on the road and taking the first two of the season and will face a Suns team that also won on back-to-back nights to improve to 2-0 since the All-Star break.


Coming off back-to-back we were a little tired, a little exhausted,” said Channing Frye who added 15 points and seven rebounds in a 100-94 win over Boston on Tuesday night. “And I think we had some mental breakdowns, but other than that, I think we just battle and grind it out.”


Phoenix is in the midst of a nine game stretch that will only see them travel on the road for one road game on Feb 26 at Utah, so sitting 3½ games behind the Pacific Division leading Clippers… are the Suns (32-21) poised to make a move in the second half of the season as the playoffs approach?


With the way the Spurs have handled the Suns recently, the oddsmakers have made the Spurs a slim (minus 1.0) point favorite on the road, but stay in the know with the latest spread up until game time right here at Wonder Punter.


I like the way both teams are playing this season, but it’s hard to overlook the Spurs and they way they just keep on winning and predict them going into Phoenix and leaving with a close win.


Prediction/Pick- San Antonio



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Friday Night Preview/Pick- Clippers vs. Grizzlies

nba pick & prediction

Los Angeles Clippers (37-19, 14-14 away) @ Memphis Grizzlies (30-23, 15-14 home) 02/21- 8:00PM EST


Line: LAC -2.5

Over/Under: 196.5


Two of the hottest teams over the last six-weeks, the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers will square off in the final regular-season meeting between these two teams on Friday night at FedEx Forum.


The Grizzlies (30-23), winners of 15 of their last 19 find themselves one game out of the eighth position in the tough Western Conference for the final playoff spot while the Clippers (37-19), winners of 14 of 19 lead the Pacific Division.


The Clippers’ Blake Griffin has been a big reason for their success averaging a career-best 24.4 points, while going for a career-high 25 points or more over his last nine games and has posted six double-doubles in seven games, though his last effort of 35 points and 12 boards was not enough to defeat the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night 113-103.


He scored like 60, didn’t he? Blake’s great,” Spurs veteran Tim Duncan said. “He’s been playing the best basketball of us career thus far.”


The Clippers had won three in a row prior to losing to San Antonio but their defense has come into question where they have allowed 110 points or more in four of their last six games… and that must improve if they expect to be a factor come playoff time.


Sometimes you can’t control if you’re shooting the ball well or things like that. But you can always control your energy on defense,” Griffin said. “Even when you’re tired, you can still bring a little bit more.


“…. It’s on me. I think I have got to show a little more energy at the start, especially defensively.”


For the Grizzlies, defense has been a vocal point all season, surrendering only 87.8 points per game since Jan 14. One of only two teams along with the Chicago Bulls (93.3) to allow less than 96.0 points per contest in that span.


The big front line of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have done a stellar job of containing Griffin since the start of last season allowing only 14.3 points per matchup and his 16.5 career average is the lowest against any NBA opponent.


Memphis, winners of three straight will be in search of winning the regular-season series for the first time since the 2008-09 year with both teams winning on each others home court thus far this season.


The Grizzlies have found their groove since dealing with early season injuries which found them four games under .500 in early January, but despite their winning streak and defense… find themselves a (minus -2.5) point underdog to the visiting Clippers. I’m not sold on the spread, but you can stay up-to-date on the latest lines on the game up until tip off right here at Wonder Punter.


I look for the Grizzlies to continue with their tough defense on Friday night, establishing themselves as a team to be reckoned with for the second half of the season and predict a good home win to extend their winning streak to four games.


Prediction/Pick- Memphis



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Thursday Night Preview/Pick- Heat vs. Thunder

nba pick heat vs thunder

Free NBA Pick and Prediction Heat vs Thunder

Miami Heat (38-14, 18-10 away) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (43-12, 23-3 home) 02/20- 8:00PM EST


Line: OKC -3.0

Over/Under: 207.0


Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook is set to make his return on Thursday night just in time as the Thunder get set to host the Miami Heat and go for a season sweep against the two-time defending NBA champions.


In a rematch from Jan 29 back in Miami, the Thunder fought back from an early 18-point deficit to roll past the Heat 112-95… a game Westbrook did not play in.


Westbrook who has missed 27 games due to swelling in his injured right knee had his third operation in nine months back on Dec. 27. After going through a full practice on Wednesday, Westbrook is eager to get back on the court and help lead the Thunder, who already have the NBA’s best record 43-12 to another playoff run.


It’s like trading for an All-Star at the trade deadline,” said Kevin Durant, who leads the league in scoring. “We’re looking forward to it. We’re definitely excited to get him back.”


Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks wouldn’t make a definite yes or no on Westbrook returning to action against the Heat, but had this to say after Wednesday’s practice…


I thought he had a good practice today. We went so hard, no question. We did a lot of things in transition, we did a lot of halfcourt. We did a lot of defensive drills, and he was able to participate in all of our drills.”


The Miami Heat (38-14) are expecting the three-time All-Star Westbrook to be suited up for Thursday’s contest and realize the challenge will be tough.


It’ll be one of our biggest challenges of the regular season,” Heat’s Dwayne Wade said. “Anytime we play them (is a challenge), especially now, after losing to them at home. And bringing in Westbrook, you’re bringing in a dynamic player at home, where they play very well. We’re going to have to play as close to flawless as we can to beat this team.”


As for MVP candidate Kevin Durant, he has been playing like a man among boys in Westbrook’s absence, averaging 35.0 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists to help lead the Thunder to a 20-7 without their star point guard.


Miami will be playing in the final of a six-game road trip that has seen them win three straight and four of five as they try to chase down the Indiana Pacers for the best record in the Eastern Conference.


With the Thunder’s impressive 23-3 home record, the oddsmakers have made OKC a slim (minus -3.0) point favorite, but get the latest spread on the game up until game time right here at Wonder Punter.


Expect a great game on Thursday night as Durant and LeBron James will battle once again, but it’s hard to go against the Thunder with Russell Westbrook back in the lineup for the seasons most important game for Oklahoma City. The line may have it as a close game but I predict the Thunder winning by a comfortable margin to sweep the season series in what can be yet another preview for the NBA championship.


Prediction/Pick- Oklahoma City



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter

NBA Prediction Wednesday Night Preview/Pick- Rockets vs. Lakers

rockets vs lakers pick

NBA Free Pick & Prediction Houston vs. Los Angeles

Houston Rockets (36-17, 14-10 away) @ Los Angeles Lakers (18-35, 8-16 home) 02/19- 10:30PM EST


Line: HOU -8.5

Over/Under: 214.5


Former Laker Dwight Howard will make his long awaited return back to Los Angeles on Wednesday night to face his former team at Staples Center… and the fans will be waiting to give him a heavy dose of boos.


Last year in his first and only season with Los Angeles, expectations were high all around as the Lakers were expected to be serious contenders for an NBA championship with the addition of Howard and Steve Nash. What the Lakers encountered instead was a 2012-13 season filled with injuries, a disappointing slow start, a coaching change, internal conflicts and a quick first-round exit.


Despite the underachieving and disappointing end to last season, the Lakers felt they did enough to try to resign Howard to a long-term max deal in the off season, but to many… myself included, the writing was on the wall about Howard bolting from Los Angeles. The shoes of stepping in and trying to carry a storied franchise under the bright lights of Hollywood proved too much pressure on Howard and decided to sign with the Houston Rockets for $88 million dollars.


For Howard, the move to Houston seemed to have been the right one as he was named an All-Star and as the Rockets (36-17) are riding a season-high seven game win streak, Howard has been the main go-to-guy scoring an average of 24.7 points on 60.0 percent shooting with 12.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks during the surge as they get set to open the second half of the season.


Let’s face it… L.A. was just not the right fit for Howard where he clashed often with Kobe Bryant and coach Mike D’Antoni in his offensive system. Houston has proved a safe-haven for Howard.


We enjoy each other,” Howard said of his current teammates. “I’m happy to be here. The guys are happy to be here and we’re just having a lot of fun. I think the biggest thing for our team is that we are free, we’re able to have fun with each other, but when we step between the lines we know it’s serious.”


And serious it will be as the Rockets, who have won six of their last seven on the road since Jan 11 will get set to open up a five-game road trip that will also pit them against Western Conference contenders Golden State, Phoenix and the L.A. Clippers.


There’s going to be some tough road games,” said All-Star guard James Harden. “We’re on a roll right now but it’s going to be some tough games when we get back and hopefully we can string (some wins) together.”


For the Lakers (18-35), this season as been nothing but a disaster in the injury department, missing much of their fire-power all season, one injury after another, losing seven straight and 13 of their last 15 games at Staples and … this is not what we expect from a prideful Lakers team. They are playing hard and no one can fault them for that, but they simply lack the talent to close out games and put together some wins.


With the NBA trade deadline set for Thursday afternoon, there is talk of the Lakers dealing away veteran center and the Lakers leading scorer this season Pau Gasol, who has also had his run-ins with coach D’Antoni as Gasol questioned his role in the D’Antoni system.


As a general manager, we’re always looking a year or two or three down the road,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “Our approach going into this deadline might be a little different than it’s been in year’s past. We may look to shore up a position going into the playoff run. It may not be. But certainly I’m respectful and mindful of our record.”


And though the Lakers are going through their worst season in years, they have split two games in Houston this season and will be fired-up for the return of Howard.


The oddsmakers have the hot Houston Rockets as (minus 8.5) point favorites on Wednesday night, but get the latest odds up until tip off right here at Wonder Punter.


Yes, these two teams are going in opposite direction and the Rockets are heavily favored but I feel the Lakers will be ready to deal Howard and the Rockets a loss. Expect the L.A. crowd to pull out all stops to distract Howard as the Lakers will look to win their seventh game in eight tries against the Rockets at Staples Center.


Prediction/Pick: Lakers



By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter