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NBA Notes: Changes & Freebies

   by Bryan Leonard - 03/05/2007

One of the best handicapping angles to unearth is when a team is angry. Revenge situations can present this, of course, as well as when a team is off a terrible beating. A common way to discover if a team is focused on an upcoming game is if they hold a team meeting.

This happened to the Blazers this week. Captain Zach Randolph called a players-only meeting to try to snap his teammates out of a two-game funk. This is a team that is a bit emotionally high-string anyway because of coach Nate McMillan, a fiery, emotional leader (and a good coach). Notice that the next game the Blazers played loose, unselfish basketball and ran the Charlotte Bobcats out of the Rose Garden in a 127-90 victory. Talk about a pep talk!

The Blazers overwhelmed Charlotte with an endless slew of alley-oop dunks and dominated the game. "Hopefully, this is the start of something good," said McMillan, who said he intends to stay with LaMarcus Aldridge as the starting center. The trick with emotional games like this is HOW LONG it adds confidence and fire to a lineup. It could only be that one game. It could even have the opposite effect, draining a team and they could be flat for the next one. Often that can happen with their first road game after an emotional game.

Speaking of changes, the Miami Heat have had a buzzard circling around them all season. Coach Pat Riley goes out with hip replacement surgery, and Shaq missed much of the first half of the season. Just as O'Neal returned to the Heat lineup, Dwyane Wade went out, lost for a minimum of six weeks and possibly the rest of this season to a dislocated left shoulder. One thing to keep in mind about Miami: All the injuries have made them undervalued by oddsmakers, it seems, which doesn’t usually happen to defending champs. Miami is 22-12 against the spread as a dog.

With Paul Pierce back in the lineup, the Celtics are scoring more, on a 6-2 spread run and 6-2 over the total. Yao Ming practiced with the Rockets this week for the first time since he fractured his right tibia Dec. 23. Keep in mind that Yao has repeatedly said he is uncomfortable with the knee brace that doctors have required he wear to play. During workouts, he often stops momentarily to readjust or pull the brace.

Everyone is talking about the effect Chris Webber has had in Detroit, as the Pistons have come alive as the team to beat in the East now. What is less noticeable is the great defense they are playing. The Pistons gave up a league-low 86.6 points per game in February. Detroit is also 11-4 under the total the last 15 games.

Finally, so how can free throw shooting be important? I notice that the worst three teams from the charity stripe (Cleveland, Orlando, Golden State) are poor on the road, both straight up and against the number. The Warriors are 6-23 SU, 11-18 ATS away from home, Orlando is 10-19 SU, 13-16 ATS while the worst free throw shooting team (Cavaliers) are 12-17 SU, 13-15 ATS away.

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