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All-Star weekend is over. It was the best ASG in recent memory because of its competitive spirit in the 4th quarter, in memory of Kobe. Let’s get back to business as usual though, the last stretch of the regular season and play-off hustling. An excellent Sunday card with a jewel opening game:

 

Los Angeles Lakers - Boston Celtics (20.30 UK Time)

 

A hell of a game to kick start our basketball Sunday evening. Both teams are extremely motivated. LeBron and his Lakers will likely conquest the first seed in the West unchallenged from here on. The King wants to go for it all though. Chances for catching Milwaukee for the best overall record and home advantage in the Finals are slim really. Bucks are 5-6 wins better than Lakers and have an easier looking schedule, being in the Eastern Conference.

Celtics on the other hand seem assured of at least 3rd seed in the East. They are only 2 games behind Raptors for the 2nd and it will be an intriguing battle between these two franchises. Brad Stevens once again succeeded to motivate his players to the max in the most deciding part of the season. They have lost a single game in their last 10 encounters and really rock on the floor.

Verdict: Boston won easily the first game in the season series, one month ago. Lakers played a lifeless game though. They will surely look more like themselves tonight. No odds yet. The LA team will likely be installed as mid-fav because of the home court. Celtics should be really on top of their game in order to win tonight, but it’s far from impossible. I see value backing Celtics plus the points. Will take any Boston +6 or better at any moment, pre-game or live.

 

 

 

Denver Nuggets - Minnesota Timberwolves (23.00 UK Time)

 

Denver are 2nd in the West but both Clippers and Jazz breathe in their neck. Nuggets should really start winning games like these if they are to stay ahead of the opposition. Denver lost their first game after the break on Friday in Oklahoma. It was the 4th loss in their last 10 games. They shouldn’t have such troubles against Minny though.

Wolves were tragic even before the break, winning just a single game in the last 10. Towns missed their Friday game and his status for tonight is questionable. The team traded Wiggins to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell. It’s an upgrade in their point-guard spot but this franchise is still way behind in the process of building a competitive NBA team. Let’s see how they fare in the off-season and the free agent market.

Verdict: Nuggets will be heavy favourite here, around 10 points on the spread probably. They can win big, with or without KAT on the floor. Big spreads are a pain though, even against tanking teams. I’d take Denver only if by some chance the spread falls to some 6-7 points early in the game.

 

Toronto Raptors - Indiana Pacers (23.00 UK Time)

 

Toronto are in a dog-fight with Celtics for the second seed in the East, as mentioned above. Raptors are in the pilot seat though. They are in perfect form right when it matters most, with a single loss in their last 10 games.

Just the opposite case for Pacers. They slipped down to 6th place following a weak series of 6 straight losses. Oladipo still can’t find his old self after returning to the line-up. Yet Indiana won a statement game against Milwaukee just before the ASG. They also got a much needed win in New York on Friday night. The best thing for Pacers is they can’t get below the 6th spot so the way is only up for them.  

Verdict: It’s the final game in the season series. Raptors lead 2-1 and have all the chances to make it 3-1 tonight. It will be hard to win in Toronto but Indiana never give up easily. We can put a value bet on them, providing the right spread is available. I’d bet Pacers +7 points or better, pre-game or live.

 

 

 

 

 

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NBA All-Star weekend 2020 is here! This is the third time Chicago has hosted the event and the first time since 1988, when Michael Jordan narrowly edged Dominique Wilkins in an iconic Dunk contest and scored 40 points to earn MVP trophy and lead the East to the win.

Let’s get back to present times though. A record 8 international players from 7 countries have been named 2020 NBA All-Star participants: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Luka Doncic (Slovenia), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Rudy Gobert (France), Nikola Jokić (Serbia), Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania), Pascal Siakam (Cameroon) and Ben Simmons (Australia).

It’s also a parade of the young upcoming stars, the stars of the new NBA generation. Nine 2020 NBA All-Stars are under 24. This is the most since the league’s first All-Star Game. These are: Luka Doncic (20), Trae Young (21), Jayson Tatum (21), Brandon Ingram (22), Bam Adebayo (22), Devin Booker (23) Donovan Mitchell (23), Ben Simmons (23) and Domantas Sabonis (23).

Veterans still have some fire in them though. LeBron James will set the record for NBA All-Star Game starts with 16. James is also the career All-Star Game scoring leader with 362 points. The duel between James and Giannis will be once again one of the main stories of the weekend. Both players are captains of the two teams for second straight year.

The NBA also announced a new format for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, aiming to raise the level of competition throughout the game. Every quarter will count for charity with each team trying to compete to win each quarter for the benefit of different community causes. There will also be a new game ending in which the fourth will be untimed and the teams will play to a final target score of 24 to honor Kobe Bryant.

The draft process with James and Giannis was fun itself. The highlight of the show was when Giannis passed over James Harden, saying "I want somebody who's going to pass the ball," and then chose Kemba Walker. Harden is known to tolerate such jokes badly. Will that motivate him to try and go for a big scoring effort and MVP trophy? Or vice versa, he’ll record a lifeless and uninterested performance? It’s also Zion Williamson’s first All-Star Weekend. The young gun will be highly motivated to make an impact for sure. Another black horse for a good performance (and highly surprising MVP?) is Hawks’ point-guard Trae Young. Ice Trae is making a fantastic season, however bad Atlanta are. The All-Star rosters are packed with plenty of fresh faces everywhere, from to Trae Young to Luka Doncic, to the recent replacement addition Devin Booker. Some things will stay the same though. LeBron James will certainly look for Anthony Davis repeatedly on lob attempts. Giannis Antetokounmpo is now rather a full-strength veteran than an upcoming newcomer. Let’s not throw Russell Westbrook totally out of the equation either. The stats guru already has two All-Star Game MVPs on his account. The fiery guard is never afraid of taking a drive or a shot. Westbrook has his mojo back after a good last month with the Rockets.

 

 

Real interest will bring the Teammate vs. Teammate spots in the game, as always. There are only two such matchups in this year’s addition - Boston Celtics’ guard Kemba Walker vs. forward Jayson Tatum, and Philadelphia Sixers’ guard Ben Simmons vs. center Joel Embiid. It’s not a new thing for Simmons and Embiid. They also played in different jerseys last season, after Antetokounmpo and James engineered a draft-night trade to send Simmons from Team Giannis to Team LeBron. It’s a first-time for both Walker and Tatum though. Walker has never had a teammate in the All-Star Game before and it’s the first ASG selection for Tatum. Walker said he’s not giving any advice on it though: "It's an experience you just have to go through. Whatever he's feeling, he's supposed to feel that way. It's his first time, he doesn't know what to expect, he's an All-Star, man. That's it. I'm super proud of him, he deserves it. It's going to be fun."

The 3-point contest is getting a small tweak too. There are 8 participants again. We’ll have the standard four racks with four regular balls plus one money ball that is worth two points. Then there is the all-money rack, where each ball counts for two points, placed at the shooter's desired location. But the new thing this time is an additional rack with two green balls. These will be six feet behind the line and worth three points apiece. There are two rounds, with the three highest scores moving on to the finals, where highest total wins. Washington’s Davis Bertans is having an outstanding 3-point shooting campaign this year. He might be the black horse here but it’s too much of a lottery-type competition to take seriously from betting point of view.

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4 NBA games on tonight’s card and all of these are early tip-offs because of the Superbowl:

 

Detroit Pistons - Denver Nuggets (17.30 UK Time)

 

Detroit are clearly heading toward the rebuilding path. Rumours about all kind of trades are swirling around the association. Derrick Rose will surely be on his way out of Mo-town, Lakers being the leading candidate for the veteran point-guard. Blake Griffin’s trade value is too small right now with his injury. Drummond will get quite a few of suitors among the league’s GM’s though, should Pistons decide to get rid of the center now. Anyway Pistons are on a 5-game losing run and loss Nr. 6 is on the way at the hands of Denver.

Nuggets still continue to play without two starters in Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap. Jokic and Barton stepped up though and the team has won 7 of their last 10 games.  

Verdict: Anything but a win for the road team would be a shock here. It’s all about the spread as always. Handicappers won’t be kind. I expect the opening spread to be around 8-9 points for Denver to cover. They are more than able to win in double-digits, yet it’s questionable how much value is there in these spreads. If we get lucky and Pistons drop a few unanswered points in the beginning of the game, maybe the spread would fall down to some 5-6 points. That would be playable, watching brief only otherwise.

 

Houston Rockets - New Orleans Pelicans (19.00 UK Time)

 

Hopefully we’ll see a more intriguing game here. Rockets are 5th in the West. They’ve won only 4 of their last 10 games which corresponds directly to Harden’s weak stretch. The Beard had some minor injury woes really but his shooting percentage is pretty bad after the holidays. Still he scored 35 points on Friday night on 10 of 25 shots and Mike D’Antoni surely hopes that his franchise player leads the team as he should do.

Zion continue to record good performances in limited minutes for Pelicans. The team won 3 straight wins, one of these coming over Boston (with some injury problems for Celtics though). New Orleans won in a nice fashion over Grizzlies on Friday night. They know Rockets will probably beat them but won’t go down without a proper fight.

Verdict: This is the last 4th game in the season series between these teams. Rockets leads 2-1. You never quite know which face Harden will show on any given night. It’s too risky to trust Houston with big spreads because of this. In face I’d be tempted to back Pelicans with any double-digit spread. Even if the pre-match lines are not double-digits, there’s a fair chance to get this line even in the first few minutes of the game.

 

 

Toronto Raptors - Chicago Bulls (20.00 UK Time)

 

Raptors are one of the hottest teams in NBA right now. They have no chance to catch Bucks for the top spot in the East but at the other hand hold a few wins’ advantage over the third Boston. The second seed would be a tremendous success for the champions anyway.

Young Bulls have only slim play-off chances as both teams directly above them, Brooklyn and Orland, have deeper and better rosters. Chicago plays well though and have 5 wins in their last 10 games.

Verdict: Raptors will probably have to cover some 10-11 points on the opening spread. It would be a fair line, not much value in it though. Actually I’d take Bulls +15 or more in-play, if available. Raptors might step off the pedal a little bit in the garbage minutes, once the win is secured.

 

 

Milwaukee Bucks - Phoenix Suns (19.00 UK Time)

 

Verdict: Not much to be said here. Milwaukee will add another win to their tally probably. Bucks are very stable at home, at least against lesser teams. The spread will be around 11-12 points probably. Much like the previous game, some value to be had on the outsider in-play (say 15+ points for Suns). Booker and Oubre play well lately and can escape a total blow-out.

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The trade deadline is in the books now. No big ripples this time, as usual in the last few years. Miami tried to boost their chances to be contender in the East now. Andre Iguodala will be useful addition, no word about it. Yet it remains to be seen whether Heat will be able to reproduce their good regular-season performances in the post-season and be a threat for Bucks and Celtics. On to tonight’s early games then:

 

Oklahoma City Thunder - Boston Celtics (18.30 UK Time)

 

Two of the hottest teams in direct clash here. Both have lost a single game in their last 10 games. Thunder failed to reach an agreement with Miami about Gallinari and the sharpshooting forward stayed put. This hurts Thunders’ future but is good for their roster now. Schroeder is making a push for 6th man of the year and Oklahoma will give someone a series in the first play-off round in the West.

Celtics continue to struggle with injuries. Nearly all starters and important pieces have missed games this year due to some knocks. Yet Brad Stevens should be satisfied with the depth of his team. Boston usually finds a way to win games against lesser teams, no matter of the current roster available.

Verdict: No odds yet. It should be a balanced money-line due to recent fine Oklahoma’s form. Chris Paul and his teammates will be hard to beat at home. Still Boston have a few more aces in this spot. I’d be content to try Celtics money-line at minimum odds of 1.95+, pre-match or live.

 

 

Philadelphia 76ers - Chicago Bulls (21.00 UK Time)

 

Sixers added two backup shoot-first guards before the deadline. They swept Alec Burks and Glen Robinson from Golden State. No one of them can help Philly get out of their recent struggles though. They’ve lost 5 games in their last 10 matches. This made them fall to 5th in the East. More importantly, Sixers seem weaker than all 4 teams above them in the standings. They desperately need to get a few wins before the All-Star break next weekend.

Chicago are one of the pleasant surprises this season. Bulls will probably fail to get the last available play-off spot, but they are trying hard in most games. Bulls have also won 5 of their last 10 games.

Verdict: Embiid’s status is not yet confirmed for tonight. Sixers will probably find a way to win over Bulls at home without him. It’s all about the spread though. Philly is a team you can’t trust to cover big spread in all times, let alone in a rough patch. I’d even try to bet Bulls with any spread of at least 11-12 points. There’s a very good chance we’ll have this early in the game.

 

Houston Rockets - Utah Jazz (22.00 UK Time)

 

This game has an intrigue in it. Jazz lead Rockets by a single win for the 4th spot in the West. At the same time both teams should be aware of the coming Thunder, which are only a few games behind them. Dallas will probably lose some momentum during Doncic’s absence. Mavs will also make a final push in March though.

Rockets stabilized the ship in the last 10 days or so. They got a nice win over Clippers on the road behind a crazy performance from Russell. Harden also came back to life recently and Rockets won 7 of their last 10 games. The franchise decided to try small-ball style mid—season. They traded center Capella for two-way perimeter player Robert Covington. Let’s see how this will make them look against the LA teams eventually.

Utah stopped the rot (5-games losing run) with a narrow win over Portland at home on Friday night. Jazz made a late come-back in this game. They look a bit tired and out of sync lately and the All-Star can’t happen in a better time for them.

 

 

Verdict: Rockets won the first game in their series here in Salt Lake only some 10 days ago. Jazz will be eager to avenge this loss and build on their momentum before the break. Westbrook’s participation in the game is questionable. All this leads to a definite Utah’s advantage in this spot. I’d not be prepared to trust them with too big spreads to cover though. Would play Jazz -3 points maximum, if that’s available at some point pre-match or live.

 

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We are close to the All-Star weekend now. Starters from both Conferences have been announced this week with the reserves picks coming up on Tuesday. No big surprises except Jimmy Butler omission from East starters in favour of Pascal Siakam probably. First things first though, let’s look at tonight’s card:

 

Denver Nuggets - Houston Rockets (20.30 UK Time)

 

This is the 4th and last regular season game between the teams. Rockets lead 2-1 with each team winning their home games. Both teams have some injury woes. James Harden played on Friday night in Houston’s win over Wolves in Minnesota but he wasn’t his real self obviously. The Beards scored just 12 points on awful shooting percentage and seemed bothered by his thigh injury. He is listed as questionable for tonight at this stage. It looks probable that the organization wouldn’t risk him even though this being a quite important regular season game for tie-breaking purposes.

Denver continue to play without two starters – point-guard Jamal Murray (almost surely out for tonight) and veteran forward Paul Millsap. Paul missed the last 7-8 games because of this knee injury and there’s no timetable set for his return too.

Verdict: The oddsmakers will probably wait until the last moment before releasing the opening lines here, in relation to Harden’s news. It’s logical teams to split the season series by 2 wins apiece and continue chasing each other in the standings. I like Denver here, regardless of Harden’s participation in the game. Nuggets have played better lately and Jokic seems back to his usual MVP-like form. It’s tricky to estimate the opening lines with all the personnel problems in the teams. There surely will be a lot of opportunities to back Nuggets in-play though. I’d pull the trigger on anything around Denver -4 or better.

 

 

 

San Antonio Spurs - Toronto Raptors (21.00 UK Time)

 

Both teams have raised their level of play in the past few weeks. Spurs are 6-4 in their last 10 games and breathe in Grizzlies’ necks for the last available play-off spot in the West. San Antonio trails Memphis by a single win. Popovich would want his team to sweep Toronto after their one-point win on the road two weeks ago.

Raptors’ resurgence directly connects to the return of all the starters with injury problems. Toronto share the second spot in the East with Miami. They are on good run of 6 straight wins and have won 8 of their last 10 games. No time for rest in the crowded East play-off standings though and every single game matters.

Verdict: Raptors are obviously the better and deeper team. They should be able to even the series with San Antonio. Oddsmakers will probably install the Canadians as a slight fav here. I’d be willing to take Raptors to cover any spread up to 4 points max, pre-match or live.

 

 

New Orleans Pelicans - Boston Celtics (Monday, 23.00 UK Time)

 

The big talk around the league this week is Zion Williamson’s NBA debut. The first overall pick finally made his delayed debut against San Antonio last Wednesday. He played again on Friday night against Denver on Friday. Of course the medical staff will insist Zion be on a strict minute’s restriction for the whole remainder of the season. Not that it matters much for Pelicans. New Orleans is long out of the play-off battle. The coaching staff will just use the remaining games for Zion to gather some much needed NBA experience and develop some chemistry with the team and especially with Ingramm who was the team’s leading scorer so far. What we saw from the young prospect in these two games is extremely promising anyway. Zion was shooting the ball efficiently, grabbing rebounds and blocking a few shots. Add his ever-present boldness in attacking the paint and the rim and Pelicans really have a reason to believe the future is bright. Let’s just hope his knees are durable enough for a long and decorated NBA career.

Verdict: Zion or no Zion, Pelicans still lost both games. They need to gel together and learn how to make their defense more effective. It will take some time, probably in the summer. Boston have injury problems. Tatum and Brown are nursing injuries and both are listed as day-to-day. Even with these problems Celtics won 3 straight games, one against Lakers in Boston and one against Magic in Orlando. They have deep bench and find ways to deal with lesser teams even without some personnel. I would favour them to win in New Orleans too, providing the spread is the right one. If Boston is available to cover 5 points spread max, pre-match or live, that’s a bet opportunity.

 

 

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