Climate perfect for Thunder to eclipse Suns

With NASCAR speeding into Las Vegas this weekend, allow me to use a racing analogy to describe my recent handicapping efforts: After two straight profitable weeks pushed my bankroll over $7,000 for the first time, I was cruising at the front of the pack, but instead of letting off the gas going into the final turn last week, I floored it, lost control and crashed and burned worse than James Franco at the Academy Awards.

It wasn’t the record that was so bad (9-7 with 16 basketball picks) but rather the net result (minus-$509, dropping my bankroll to $6,766) thanks to missing with my two biggest plays, including a frustrating $440 loss with UNLV—frustrating because for weeks the Rebels had more trouble scoring than a sewer worker in a roomful of supermodels. But in its home finale against Wyoming, UNLV shot 55 percent and put up 90 points (its third-highest total of the season) … but the Rebels also gave up 77 and failed to cover the 17-point spread.

In addition to whiffing with UNLV, I also came up short with a $220 play on Wichita State (five-point loser at Missouri State as a 1½-point underdog).

The good news? Unlike Franco at the Oscars, I get an immediate shot at redemption. On to this week’s picks (all point spreads are projected) …

$330 (to win $300) on THUNDER (-8) vs. Suns (March 6): No team in the NBA has played more up-tempo over the last decade than the Suns, so it’s not a stretch to predict that Phoenix in this game will be running nonstop … for the oxygen tank, that is. See, this contest caps the team’s six-game, 10-day road trip—a journey that will have taken the Suns from Toronto to Indiana (overtime game) to New Jersey (overtime game) to Boston to Milwaukee and finally Oklahoma City.

Keep in mind that three of Phoenix’s key contributors (Steve Nash, Vince Carter, Grant Hill) have a ton of miles on their NBA odometer, while Oklahoma City is led by two of the best young players in the game in Kevin Durant (who leads the league in scoring) and Russell Westbrook (who has emerged as a top point guard).

Not only are the Thunder younger and, most importantly, better than the Suns, but they’ll be much fresher (this will be just their third game in a week). Oklahoma City also figures to be highly motivated because, as of March 1, it had split its past six home games, including Sunday afternoon losses to the Lakers and Heat.

$110 (to win $100) on KANSAS STATE (-14½) vs. Iowa State (March 5): Here’s what Kansas State has done since Valentine’s Day: 5-0 straight up and against the spread, a run bookended by a 16-point home victory over then-No. 2 Kansas and a five-point road win at No. 5 Texas. Now here’s what Iowa State has done since Big 12 play began (through February): two wins, 12 losses and 3-8 ATS in its last 11.

Kansas State’s last six home games: six wins, six spread-covers, average victory margin of 16.5 points per game. Iowa State’s seven conference road games: seven losses, two spread-covers, average margin of defeat of 17 ppg (including losses of 23, 23, 26 and 33 points). Nuff said.

$110 (to win $100) on LAKERS (+1) at San Antonio (March 6): For much of the season’s first four months, the Lakers were the NBA’s version of a Ponzi scheme (those who invested got little to nothing in return) and the Spurs were the NBA’s version of Oprah (a freaking cash machine, going 34-19-2 ATS). But as February ended, the Spurs’ machine started to malfunction (four consecutive noncovers to end the month), while the Lakers finally started to pay dividends (a 4-0 SU and ATS run).

Also, Spurs guard Tony Parker went down with a calf injury on Feb. 27, putting him out until at least the end of March. While he’s on the mend, Parker would be wise not to hold his breath waiting for “get-well” wishes from the Lakers, who are 0-for-2 against the Spurs this season. And a quick check of the betting handbook reveals the following entry on Page 2: “Don’t bet against Kobe Bryant when he’s lost consecutive games to the same team.”

Best of the Rest: March 5 – Arizona (-10) over Oregon ($44); Pitt (-6½) vs. Villanova ($44); South Florida (+17) at St. John’s; Trail Blazers (-5) vs. Bobcats ($33); March 6 – Ohio State (-6½) vs. Wisconsin ($33); Grizzlies (+7) at Mavericks ($33).

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