Friday, December 8
Houston Rockets -5.5 (3 Units)
The Houston Rockets are 12-6 on the year and let me tell you that this team is finally getting their act together. This play here is not so much that I think Houston can beat the smack out of Charlotte on any given day but it's more the fact that Houston has been great coming off losses this season and I expect the same type of reaction for a Friday Night game. Up until their 24 point win over the Bobcats last season, Houston had lost all their games to Charlotte but that game there may have swung things the other way. The Rockets are coming off a loss to Minnesota on Wednesday and they can ill afford to lose this game tonight. The last time the Rockets lost a game before the Minnesota game was against Phoenix last week and they bounced back with an 81-63 drubbing of the Cleveland Cavaliers the next time out. You also can't forget their 8 point loss to the Pistons back in November where the Rockets bounced right back the next time out and beat the Knicks 97-90. To win and cover on the road, you need to be able to play outstanding defense and the Rockets do just that. The Rockets have kicked ass at home this season but now it's time to make their mark on the road. The Rockets are however, 3-0 SU and ATS versus teams from the East on the road which is encouraging. The Rockets don't score much and they haven't been shooting well as of late but the Bobcats suck defensively as they allow 99.4 points per game in their last five games and those opponents have shot 46.2% against them. As much as the Rockets have struggled shooting the ball, they are still hitting 9.6 three point shots per game in their last five which is always good for big leads. Luther Head and Rafer Alston are getting good looks and that should continue tonight. What the Rockets really need is an opponent that sends them to the line because they don't do much in terms of hard drives to the bucket. Thankfully, Charlotte's last five opponents have gone to the line 27.2 times. In terms of rebounds, the Rockets have a big advantage here as they average 46.2 rebounds per game in their last five and the Rockets work hard on the O-boards. Keep in mind that when Houston lost to Charlotte last year, both T-Mac and Yao were out. Now that Yao is playing, Emeka Okafor will have his hands full and that matchup will be the difference in this game. I love the Rockets to win this game by at least 8-10 points.
The Charlotte Bobcats are now only 5-13 on the season and for those of you who think that playing against a Houston team coming off a loss is the answer to their prayers...think again. Charlotte have now lost three of their last four games and apart from the impressive home win against Detroit on Sunday, they have done nothing to show me or make me think that they can stay in this game. We all keep forgetting that the Bobcats are a very young team with guys like Morrison, Felton, Okafor and Sean May. Having never seen Yao and Tracy together at the same time is not a good thing because I think the Bobcats are going to be quite confused at times in the game tonight. Miami and Dallas were both able to come in this place and win their games by 8 or more points and if Houston consider themselves one of the top teams in the NBA, they will have no problems coming in and doing the exact same thing. Charlotte's 20 point loss to San Antonio the other was the beginning of their Texas one-two step and if leg two is anything like leg one was, the Bobcats are in for one hell of a long night. I actually see this game ressembling the Spurs game very much. Charlotte is averaging 93.6 points per game in their last five games on 45% shooting from the floor but they are going to have to deal with a very good Houston defense that is allowing only 84.0 points per game in their last five (14 points below NBA average for that time period) and who's last five opponents have shot 40.0% from the floor. The Rockets only flaw is that they allow a lot of three pointers but let me remind you that Charlotte have attempted only 12.8 three point shots per game in their last five. The Bobcats have been lazy on the boards the last five games and that just won't work against a team like the Rockets who love to rebound as a team. Yao is going to bug Okafor all night and keep him away from his usual second chance points. The key to the Bobcats success is their ball movement and quick passing but Houston is allowing only 18.0 assists per game in their last five and they average 7.2 steals per game. The bench does most of the scoring for Charlotte which can't be good because Houston's second unit is a very good shutdown unit that is usually interested in shutting down other teams more than scoring on other teams. Charlotte's starters average only 56.4 points per game in their last five games and that spells trouble. The Rockets should have no problems shutting down the Bobcats and both Yao and Tracy should have monster games when playing against Charlotte's second unit of youth.
Trend of the Game:
Charlotte is 2-11-1 ATS in their last 14 games versus the SouthWest Division.
Houston 95, Charlotte 82
Minnesota Timberwolves +1 (5 Units)
The Utah Jazz are currently sitting pretty at the top of the Northwest division but how long can they keep this up and how long can they keep playing like this? The Jazz have looked impressive on paper and the Jazz have looked impressive at home but has anyone really checked how these guys have been playing on the road lately? Yes they are 5-3 on the road this season but their last two road games were big losses to the Lakers by 30 points and to Golden State by 13 points. This game actually reminds me of the Golden State game because everyone was on Utah as a road favorite and teams like this never do well in games like this. The Jazz are coming off huge home wins against Milwaukee and and Seattle but those two games most definitely won't have them ready for the kind of basketball the confident T-Wolves are going to bring to the table tonight. The Jazz have had big time success this season beating up on teams that don't play much defense and that don't challenge them physically. I have no doubt in my mind that after playing so many home games, Utah is going to be vulnerable on the road here even though they average more than 100 points per game on the road. The Jazz are averaging 94.0 points per game in their last five games and they have shot 46.7% from the floor in those games. However, Minnesota really has their defensive act together as of late, allowing only 89.8 points per game in their last five games and those opponents have shot only 40.8%. Utah doesn't take many three point shots per game lately but when they do, they have been missing them left and right. That's probably good news because Minnesota's problem is that they allow too many high percentage three point attempts. What people don't realize is that Utah has been careless with the ball lately averaging 16.0 turnvoers per game in their last five games while Minnesota have been little pests, averaging 8.4 steals in their last five games and running away with some big time fast break points. The Timberwolves have an outstanding second unit that has held opponents to only 17.1 points per game off the bench in their last five games. Seeing that Utah's bench averages only 25.2 points per game in their last five, I think the Timberwolves can takeover this game sometime in the 2nd quarter. This should be an interesting test for this Jazz team that have won the last three meetings and that have won the last two in Minnesota. Break all the trends tonight and give me a fade on the Jazz.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been flying under the radar for the last week or so and although they are 8-9 on the season, I have been impressed by some of the things I have seen. This is not a bad team at all but they have had problems on the offensive side of things which could be about to change tonight against a Utah team that doesn't usually play defense on the road. What people also don't know is how good Minnesota has been in the money lately. The T-Wolves are 7-1 ATS in their last eight games and the best part about that is that the oddsmakers had them as underdogs in five of those games. This is a big test for this team tonight and this game will go a long way into showing us if they can compete for a playoff spot this year. We really can't forget about this teams win over Houston the other because that win has this team very confident and that win has this team believing they can beat anyone out there. Even more impressive during their 7-1 ATS streak is that Minnesota has covered four of those games by 10 or more points which also tells me that oddsmakers don't really have a clue what they are doing when putting lines out on the T-Wolves. Minnesota is averaging only 87.8 points per game in their last five games but they have shot the ball very well at 46.9% over that stretch of games and that's encouraging. Utah's defense is absolutely horrendous on the road allowing 105.5 points per game away from home on 47.0% shooting from the floor. Expect the T-Wolves to score some points in this one. What I like about Minnesota is that they don't attempt too many three point shots but they need to establish more inside presence. Utah has allowed 7.0 three pointers against in their last five games so should Mike James or Troy Hudson have some open looks, I expect them to hit. The T-Wolves are not a very good rebounding team on the offensive boards so the key tonight will be to shoot at a high percentage, and that's always possible against the Jazz. The other issues I have with Minnesota is that they turn the ball over too much in their last five games but Utah is not an agressive defensive team as they force only 13.2 turnovers per game in their last five. That should allow a lot of room for Minnesota to score a lot of points and breakout of their offensive funk. This is Minnesota's last home game before the road trip and it's time for these guys to make some noise and follow up the Houston win with another big hom win as an underdog.
Trend of the Game:
Minnesota is 5-0 ATS in their last five as underdogs.
Minnesota 102, Utah 96