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Free NBA Pick: Charlotte Looks Revived With Return of Clifford

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Oskeim Sports provides a free NBA pick in Saturday’s game between the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets.  Visit Oskeim’s Blog daily for another free NBA pick.

Charlotte responded in dramatic fashion after welcoming back head coach Steve Clifford, who returned to practice earlier this week following a 21-game absence due to debilitating headaches.

Clifford started experiencing intense headaches in the first week of December and was forced to take a medical leave of absence. The Hornets cobbled together a 9-12 record under associate head coach Stephen Silas during Clifford’s absence.

In Clifford’s first game back since December 1, the Hornets destroyed Washington 133-109 on Wednesday behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s 21 points and Dwight Howard’s double-double. “Even when we were up 25 points, he was still screaming at us, still wasn’t happy,” Nic Batum said with a laugh.

“He wasn’t happy after the game either. I missed him a lot. It’s cool to have him back.” All five starters and two reserves scored in double figures Wednesday as part of a record-breaking 77-point first half against the Wizards.

Clifford has placed a lot of importance on Charlotte’s current five-game homestand, which commenced with Wednesday’s 24-point win over the Wizards.

“The newness or whatever excitement wears off because we need to win these games,” Clifford said. “I mean this is important, this stretch of home games. Physically, I feel really good – but we need to win, so that’s the best thing.”

Clifford can rely on two veterans – Dwight Howard and Kemba Walker – who are making a late push to make the Eastern All-Star team reserves. Howard has averaged 15.8 points and 13.5 rebounds in his last eleven games.

My only hesitation with backing Charlotte is the fact that the franchise has made Walker available in trade discussions. Walker is the team’s most popular player and is averaging 21.7 points on 42 percent shooting and 5.8 assists per game.

However, Walker appears to be taking the news in stride despite the emotional attachment he has to Charlotte. “I’ve been here for the last seven years, and I’m going to do what I’ve got to do to help my team win games,” Walker told reporters. “That’s all I can. I don’t have control over those kind of things.”

Finally, the scheduling dynamics are extremely favorable to the Hornets, who have been idle since Wednesday’s win and are in the midst of a five-game homestand.

In contrast, Miami is playing in its fifth game in 7 days, its third game in 4 days, and the second of a back-to-back set with travel involved. The Heat will also be playing in their fourth consecutive road affair, arriving in Charlotte overnight after playing at Brooklyn on Friday. The back-to-back set on the road is the Heat’s fourth of the season, losing two of their last three on the second night.

Miami is just 2-5 ATS in its last seven games without rest and 1-4 ATS in its last five games versus .499 or worse opposition, whereas the Hornets are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games overall.

With the favorite standing at 5-2 ATS in the last seven meetings in this series, lay the number with the Hornets as Oskeim Sports’ free NBA pick for Saturday, January 20.

Oskeim Sports’ Free NBA Pick:

  • Charlotte Hornets (-4) (-110) over Miami Heat

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