If there’s an early contender for Coach of the Year, it could be Chicago Bulls playcaller Tom Thibodeau, who is working miracles to keep his side in the running for homecourt advantage in the absence of Derrick Rose.
Sensibly, there’s no sign that they’ll attempt to rush the former NBA Most Valuable Player back, but with a defence that’s allowing just 91.5 points per game they’ll be a team to fear if Rose returns at even close to the level he was before his ACL tear.
The Bulls have a favourable schedule over the next month, starting with a visit from Cleveland, who are bidding to avoid a third loss at their hands this season. In those past meetings, Chicago have held their Central Division foes to 85 and 86 points and they’re capable of exploiting the Cavs' weakness as an appalling fourth quarter team. Kyrie Irving is hard to contain completely and he’s a tempting 1.85 to score 24 points or more. But take the hosts on the handicap of -8.5 for victory.
Dallas have been pinning their hopes on the return of Dirk Nowitzki to propel them out of the doldrums but even the German’s insertion back into the starting line-up for the first time this season couldn’t stop the Mavericks from losing at home to New Orleans in overtime on Saturday. And with a 13-21 record, including just one win in their last nine, it looks ever more likely that the champions of 2011 will be lottery-bound in 2013.
They travel to Utah on Monday with the Jazz trying to prise themselves out of a slump that has seen them win just four of their last eleven games. But in their defence, those defeats have included reversals against Memphis, Miami, Denver and the Clippers (twice) - all good teams. Back the Jazz at -5 on the handicap to tune out Dallas in a game that should go over the linen of 197.5 total points.
Boston and New York square off for the first time this season, with the Celtics landing at Madison Square Garden off the back of two victories. But they’ve struggled mightily against offensively-minded rivals, going just 3-11 when opponents have reached 100 points. Back the Knicks to come up trumps but it’s worth a punt on Paul Pierce to score 20 or more at 1.85.
Bet of the day: Take Chicago over Cleveland on the handicap at 1.91.