N.Y. Knicks top NBA surprise in Eastern Conference

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The center of the NBA universe this weekend will be Houston, Texas, which is the site of the annual All Star game and related festivities.

After the lockout, which delayed the start of last season and resulted in a compacted 66-game regular season, the 2012-13 campaign has unfolded normally with a handful of surprises along the way.

One of the biggest surprises is the consistently solid play of the New York Knicks. Carmelo Anthony is a contender for league MVP as the Knicks are battling with heavily favored Miami for the top spot in the Eastern Conference more than halfway through the season.

Sunday’s loss to the LA Clippers dropped the Knicks to 32-17, just a game below a .667 winning percentage. Miami’s lead over the Knicks grew to 2½ games when a few hours later the Heat defeated the Lakers.

Two other teams are contending for the top spot in the East despite missing their star players for the entire season thus far. Indiana currently sits third even though Danny Granger has yet to play.

Just a half game behind the Pacers is Chicago. The Bulls have been without star Derrick Rose yet have managed to win 60 percent of their games. Rose is ahead of schedule and could see his first action of the season shortly after the All Star break. At 15-9 the Bulls have one of the best road records in the NBA, right up there with San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

Talk radio remains abuzz with heated debates about the Los Angeles Lakers’ chances of making the playoffs. Even after Sunday’s loss at Miami, the Lakers had won 7 of their last 10 games as they edge back toward .500.

At 24-28 Kobe Bryant and his teammates were seeded tenth, three and a half games behind Houston for the eighth playoff seed. Exactly 30 games remain for the Lakers and if they were to suddenly change course and go 20-10 for the remainder of the season it still would be very ‘iffy’ for a 44-38 record to make the playoffs.

As the All Star break approaches only three teams are covering at a 60 percent rate or better, led by Oklahoma City and joined by Washington and Denver. Of this trio Washington is by far the hottest, entering this week on a 19-5 ATS run that dates back to Jan. 7 and follows a stretch in which the Wizards were the coldest ATS team in the league, going 2-14 ATS between Dec. 7 and Jan. 6.

A team’s ATS fortunes can change quickly and, as with Washington, bettors can enjoy sustained success by playing on or against a specific team over an extended period of time.

As with baseball, it’s important to recognize and respect streaks. Charlotte (35%) and Sacramento (39%) are the only teams covering at less than 40.

Despite just missing the OVER when they met this past Saturday, Dallas and Golden State still lead the NBA in that category and are the only teams who have exceeded 60%, ignoring pushes. No team has stayed UNDER more than 40%.

Home teams are winning slightly more than 62% of the time, but the lines makers have done a good job at balancing the point spread results. Ignoring pushes, home teams are covering 51% of all games.

Overall, favorites are outperforming underdogs, hitting at 51.7% ATS.

After fans of the collegiate game were treated Saturday night to a five overtime classic between Louisville and Notre Dame, NBA fans were treated to a very similar display on Sunday between Boston and Denver.

The Nuggets entered the game on a 9-game winning streak and Boston had won 6 in a row (all since PG Rajon Rondo was lost for the season to injury). Neither team wanted their streak to end. It took 3 overtimes for Boston to defeat the Nuggets 118-114, giving UNDER bettors their second brutal beat in less than 24 hours.

The win was more crucial to Boston’s playoff hopes as even with their now 7-game winning streak the Celtics are just 27-23, seeded seventh in the East just 1½ games up on Milwaukee for the final Eastern berth.

With the All Star break this weekend, the regular season takes a pause after Thursday night’s attractive double header.

Here’s a look at both of those games, preceded by a game to be played a night earlier.

Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics (Wed): This is the fourth meeting between these teams this season and the first three games were all competitively priced with the home team favored by less than a trey in each game. Boston won the first meeting in mid November, played in Chicago. The Bulls won each of the next two games, one home and one in Boston. 

The Celtics have adjusted to life without Rajon Rondo, having yet to lose with him out for the season. Chicago has battled numerous nagging injuries to key players, including Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, and is still without Rose. Chicago has one of the NBA’s best road records even after dropping 4 of its last 7 road games.

Boston’s current streak includes 5 home wins, but 2 were over Miami and the Clippers. This play will be based on whether or not the Celtics’ streak remains intact. 

Projected picks: BOSTON if defeating the Bobcats in Charlotte on Monday night. CHICAGO, if the Celtics were upset at Charlotte.

Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder (Thu): In their first meeting since Miami defeated the Thunder to win last season’s NBA Title, the Heat reprised their success with a 103-97 home win on Christmas Day, covering as 2½ point favorites. 

Miami currently has the best record in the East (34-14 through Sunday) while OKC trailed San Antonio by a half game for tops in the West. After a 2-5 slump early in the new year, Miami has won 10 of 12 prior to hosting Portland on Tuesday. 

Oklahoma City had been a bit choppy itself, alternating wins and losses over a 9-game stretch in the second half of January but is now on a 4 game winning streak. Both teams should be focused for this nationally televised contest with the Thunder likely to come favored by a basket or two. These teams are evenly matched and are favored to again meet in the NBA finals.

While ordinarily this would suggest taking Miami plus the points OKC may be a bit more focused on not being swept by the Heat in the season series. Neither team has a scheduling advantage as both played on Tuesday and will be off until next Wednesday. OKC.

Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers (Thu): Both teams have had health issues over the past few weeks and although the Clippers seem to be getting healthier the Lakers will be without Pau Gasol for an extended period of time after already losing backup forward Jordan Hill for the season. 

Several key players have returned for the Clippers including Chauncey Billups, who had missed all but 2 games prior to returning last Friday in Miami. The Clippers could be solid favorites in this game due to the sharp differences in the teams’ health. 

The Lakers need to play with the greater sense of urgency considering their position in the standings and are worth playing as an underdog in this spot. They also are a little fresher as the Clippers hosted Houston on Wednesday night. LAKERS.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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