Saturday NBA Picks

Our team of writers and handicappers hand out their NBA picks and predictions for Saturday, January 17.

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Boston Celtics at New Jersey Nets, 1:05PM ET

The Boston Celtics' best start in franchise history came to an abrupt end as the club struggled through two uncharacteristic weeks. With three straight wins over Atlantic Division rivals, however, Boston thinks it's back on track.

The Celtics look for their fourth consecutive victory within the division as they visit the New Jersey Nets on Saturday for the teams' second meeting in four days.

After opening a franchise-best 27-2, Boston dropped seven of nine, including four in a row from Jan. 4-9. That was the team's longest losing streak since acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007 to provide the foundation for the club that led the Celtics to their 17th NBA title in June.

The Celtics (32-9), who were remarkably consistent in going 66-16 before last season's title run, appear to have found a way to snap out of their surprising slump. They've won three straight games against Atlantic rivals, sweeping a home-and-home series from Toronto before beating New Jersey 118-86 in Boston Wednesday night to improve to 9-1 within the division.

NBA Free Pick: Boston  View Game Matchup | Best Line: -7

Miami Heat at Houston Rockets, 8:35PM ET

With Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest sidelined by injury, little-known Von Wafer has stepped into a much larger role for the Houston Rockets.

The Miami Heat got a similar boost from reserve guard Daequan Cook in their last game while Dwyane Wade struggled through his worst shooting performance of the season.

Wafer and Cook look to build on the highest-scoring games of their respective careers as the Rockets and Heat square off in Houston on Saturday night.

McGrady is out at least two weeks to fully recuperate from a sore left knee that's bothered him for months, and Artest is expected to be sidelined about a week with a nagging ankle injury. Wafer's presence, though, has lessened the blow for the injury-plagued Rockets (24-16).

Wafer scored 18 points in 12 minutes off the bench Jan. 2, and Rockets coach Rick Adelman rewarded him by putting him in the starting lineup the next day. In six starts since, the 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 15.8 points while shooting 54.3 percent (38-for-70) from the field, including 48.3 percent (14-for-29) from 3-point range.

Wafer scored a career-high 23 points Tuesday night, going 10-for-14 from the field and 3-for-4 from behind the arc to help the Rockets stay close in their 105-100 home loss to the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers.

NBA Free Pick: Houston View Game Matchup | Best Line: -3.5

Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks, 9:05PM ET

The Dallas Mavericks dug themselves out of a hole once this season. Facing the Utah Jazz at home might help set them on their way to doing it again.

The struggling Mavericks look to avoid matching a season-high five-game losing streak while trying to continue their recent home success over the Jazz on Saturday night.

Dallas (22-17) finds itself in an unfamiliar place, sitting ninth in the Western Conference - one game back of the eighth and final playoff spot. The Mavericks dropped five in a row as part of a 2-7 start, but followed that by winning 20 of their next 26 prior to the current skid.

With that fresh in their minds, the Mavericks hope for another successful turnaround.

"Stay at it,'' first-year Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "These guys are professionals and they're competitive. It's got to be a team effort. Everybody can do something better to help us through this. That's what we're going to do.''

They can start against Utah (24-16) before heading out on a four-game road swing versus Eastern Conference clubs. Though they have won five of their last six games overall, the Jazz won 101-91 at Memphis on Friday to snap a five-game road losing streak.

Utah is 8-12 away from home and has lost two in a row and 11 of its 13 games at Dallas. That history could benefit the Mavericks, who had their five-game home winning streak snapped in a 104-97 loss to New Orleans on Wednesday.

NBA Free Pick: Utah View Game Matchup | Best Line: +3

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Posted: 1/17/09 11:00AM ET


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