Pacers Will Have To Lean On George

The present and future of the Indiana Pacers seems to hinge largely on the play of Paul George, the third-year pro who was selected to his first All-Star Game this season.

The former Fresno State star has helped push the Pacers to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference this season with a record of 40-24. George leads the team in scoring with 17.6 points a game, while also chipping in a healthy 7.8 rebounds a game from the small forward position. His youth and all-around production has moved him past Danny Granger as the Pacer’s most indispensable asset moving forward.

As you consider your NBA picks, consider the Pacers have been an excellent 36-28 against the spread this season. However, that strike rate has cooled a bit as they are just 2-3 against the number in their last five games.

The Pacers will need play big down the stretch if they hope to hold on to the second-spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are both within 2 1/2-games of the Pacers. That means George will have to keep playing at his current All-Star level, especially after it was revealed Thursday that Granger will be out for at least another three games. The former All-Star has played just five games this season because of a devilish left knee injury.

The three games Granger is scheduled to miss will be Friday at home against the Los Angeles Lakers, who in all likelihood will be without Kobe Bryant; Saturday on the road versus the Philadelphia 76ers and Monday on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pacers figure to be favored in all three of those games, even without Granger.

The concern with the Pacers is George has been playing heavy minutes of late and eventually he could begin to get worn down given all that he contributes on the floor. Still, he’s a 22-year-old star in the making that will be asked to do most of the heavy lifting for Indiana down the stretch.

Mayo Needs To Find His Stroke

The Dallas Mavericks are still in the midst of a playoff push in the Western Conference. They are three-games back in the Western Conference playoff race, though they still have a heck of a lot of teams to catch to reach their goals. Dallas has run off four straight wins, but it is going to need to win a ton of more games in order to get into the postseason.

OJ Mayo is a man that is going to really need to step it up if Dallas is going to keep making for great NBA picks for the rest of the regular season, and hopefully into the postseason.

Mayo has averaged just 13.5 points per game over the course of his last 12 games, and that’s a far cry from the man that put up an average of 22.2 points per game in the first 12 games of the campaign. The Mavericks were 7-5 in those first 12 games, and they are only 23-28 since that point. Needless to say, that’s a big difference, both in terms of Mayo’s production and in the won/loss column.

The other problem that Mayo is having is that he is turning the ball over far too much. The 2.65 turnovers per game isn’t that it is all that awful, but the games in which he isn’t keeping tabs on the rock, Dallas is really struggling. Not surprisingly in this four-game winning streak, Mayo only has turned the ball over a total of three times in those games. He has turned it over at least five times in 13 times over the course of the season. Dallas has only gone 1-12 in those games.

Thornton Finding Niche In Sacramento As Sixth Man

It’s been a rough season for the Sacramento Kings, but it’s looking increasingly like they may have found something in the form of shooting guard Marcus Thornton. A former second round pick out of LSU, Thornton has averaged nearly 20 points over the last 10 games, including a 32-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.

Thornton has admirably filled the sixth-man role in relief of a Kings’ starting five that boasts high-draft picks like Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, but zero cohesion. Thornton hit 12-of-21 from the field—5-of-11 behind the arc—in his breakout performance against the Nuggets.

The Kings are a dismal 21-42 straight-up this season and have already managed to lose two games this week. Those followed a rare win that came against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday. Fans should note things haven’t been much better for Sacramento versus the number. The Kings are a roll-breaking 27-34-2 against the spread this season.

As for Thornton, even head coach Keith Smart sounds excited about the recent production, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“He’s playing good basketball and obviously that’s what I envisioned that’s how he’d play on our team give us a boost with our second unit,” Smart told the paper. “Because he has the ability to score from the perimeter as well as drive and he makes free throws.”

Thornton has played a sizable role since coming to the Kings as a late-round pick in 2009. He averaged 21.3 points a game his sophomore season, though that came in just 27 games, and posted 18.7 points a game while starting all 51 games a season ago. Despite those numbers, the Baton Rouge native has been pegged as the sixth man behind the backcourt of Evans and Isiah Thomas, who was a high first-round pick by the Kings two seasons ago.

Nets Need Blatche To Shine

The Brooklyn Nets are still searching for the lead in the Atlantic Division, but their dream is starting to become a heck of a lot less than a potential reality. They are five back in the loss column of the New York Knicks, and time isn’t on their side with just 21 games left in the season. In fact, Brooklyn has to be careful. The team is currently in the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, but only 3.5 games separate it from the No. 8 seed.

Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are nice, but the Nets require some sort of glue to get into the playoffs and make a push when they get there. Andray Blatche is the type of man that can provide that spark for Brooklyn when he is called upon, and if it is going to make for successful NBA picks in the final quarter of the season, Blatche is the man that is really going to have to step it up.

We’ve seen the big man do this before, though. He isn’t quite getting the same type of minutes that he was getting when he was with the Washington Wizards, but his level of effectiveness is still right up there. Blatche’s numbers seem to be pedestrian, as he is averaging just 10.0 points and 5.3 boards per game, but we also have to remember that he is only on the court for 18:45 or so per night on average. 18.865

If you take Blatche’s numbers and plug in the amount of time per game that he played for the Wizards in his best season (33:57 per game in 2010-11), his averages would be even stronger than they were then. Blatche would be good for 17.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, and over a block and almost two steals per game.

Conley Key Defensive Cog For Surging Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference thanks in large part to its consistently strong defensive effort. A key cog for the Grizzlies, which ranks second in the NBA in points allowed at just 89.6 points a game, is ball-hawking point guard Michael Conley.

The No. 4 pick in the 2007 NBA draft out of Ohio State, Conley is considered to be among the best perimeter defenders in the entire league. He leads the NBA with 119 steals this season, which is just ahead of Chris Paul (115) and comes just two years after setting a franchise-record for steals in a season with 144 in 2010-2011.

Pair Conley’s defensive production with the rough-and-rugged inside duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and you can see why only the Indiana Pacers are allowing fewer points per game (89.4) than the Grizzlies.

It’s not just on the defensive end that Conley has proven to be a valuable piece for the Grizzlies. He is also a solid facilitator and adequate shooter at the point guard position. Conley leads the team in assists with 5.9 a game while also averaging 13.3 points a game, which is a solid number for a team’s third option on offense.

As you consider your NBA picks for this week, note the Grizzlies are an excellent 34-23-1 against the spread thanks in large part to Conley’s steady hand at the point guard position. They have also won nine of their last 10 games straight-up to inch within just two games of the Los Angeles Clippers for the West’s No. 2 seed.

This week the Grizzlies have three very winnable games against Portland on Wednesday, at the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and at home against the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday. Three straight games against non-playoff contenders means the Grizzlies excellent run isn’t likely to end soon.