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Free Sports Picks: Thursday NBA Doubleheader on TNT
by Matt Severance - 1/14/2010

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers

Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics, 8 p.m.

The line: Boston -6.5 on Bookmaker (total at 196.5)

How they enter: The Bulls haven’t played since Monday when they beat sliding Detroit by 33 points and shot 57.1 percent from the field. That was Chicago’s second win in a row, but both came over bad teams at the United Center (the other being Minnesota). Chicago should have the advantage of fresh legs because the Celtics played Wednesday night (their sixth game in nine days), although they didn’t have to exert themselves too much in a 111-87 win over the Nets. Boston had lost two of three before last night – both setbacks coming to Atlanta.

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Scouting reports: Of course these two played an epic first-round playoff series last season, but the Celtics have beaten the Bulls both times this season by at least 26 points (goes without saying the C’s covered both). However, Boston had both Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace healthy for those two meetings and neither big man will play tonight. Garnett won’t be back for at least another week with his knee injury while Wallace is expected to miss a few more days with a foot injury. Brian Scalabrine has started the past two games with Wallace out. Chicago is pretty healthy, although rookie forward Taj Gibson is battling plantar fasciitis but expects to remain in the starting lineup. The Bulls should certainly be able to outrebound Boston in a big way tonight with Gibson, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah against the shorthanded Celtics frontcourt.

Key trends: The Bulls have one just one of their past nine regular-season games in Boston.

Boston is 4-3 (2-5 ATS) this season in the second game of back-to-backs.

Chicago has covered in eight of its past nine games overall.

The pick: The Bulls should be able to cover but still aren’t likely to win outright even against a tired team. Chicago is just 3-13 away from home this year (6-10 ATS).

Cleveland Cavaliers at Utah Jazz, 10:30 p.m.

The line: Utah -1 on Bookmaker (total at 195)

How they enter: The Cavaliers are in the midst of a five-game swing out West and have won the past two, in Portland and Golden State. That’s six wins in the past seven road games overall. Cleveland’s magic number seems to be 95, as it is 27-3 this season when scoring at least that many. Utah has won two in a row in impressive fashion, spanking both Dallas (on the road) and Miami (Monday at home). The Jazz aren’t quite as invincible at home as in recent years (14-6, 13-7 ATS) and in fact has only won two of its past four in Salt Lake City.

Scouting reports: Cleveland has won four in a row in this series, including 107-103 back in Ohio on Nov. 14. The Cavs were without Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West in that one, but Utah was without star point guard Deron Williams. Utah starting small forward C.J. Miles missed Monday’s win over the Heat and didn’t practice Wednesday with a viral infection. He will be a game-time decision. Andrei Kirilenko started in place of Miles and had 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting against Miami, prompting coach Jerry Sloan to say Kirilenko needs more minutes. Obviously, LeBron James is the focus of Utah tonight, as he has led Cleveland in scoring in 10 of the past 11 games against Utah ("We don't have the ability to guard him," Sloan says). But Cleveland also is getting major production from its center tandem of Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. In the past four games, those two are combining for 22.6 points, 13.8 rebounds and well better than 57 percent shooting.

Key trends: The Cavs have only been dogs five times all season: at Atlanta, at the Lakers, at Phoenix, at Miami and at Orlando. Cleveland has won all five games.

Cleveland has covered its past four trips to Utah and in 10 of the past 11 meetings overall with the Jazz.

The Jazz are 3-0 on TNT this season and 6-0 ATS in their past six Thursday games. They are 7-0 against Eastern Conference opponents at home this season. The Cavs are 13-4 against the Western Conference.

The pick: Cleveland figures to start to get tired as this trip winds down, while Utah is plenty rested. Take the Jazz.


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