Houston at Portland
Time: 9:30 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: HOU -5
Odds c/o 5dimes
Portland has won 13-straight games, including an impressive 125-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors most recently. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 58 points on combined 18 of 40 shooting, as the pair hit nine threes between them. Lillard also dished out eight assists in the game, as the Blazers were able to overcome a 40-point effort from Kevin Durant.
Warriors’ MVP Stephen Curry did sit out or the Warriors, but the Blazers did a masterful job of limiting Klay Thompson and holding the Dubs’ bench to just 18 points. Portland shot nearly 50 percent from the field in the game, and starting center Jusuf Nurkic had a double-double in just 21 minutes of play.
That is one of Nurkic’s most limiting factors, in that he is just not able to log heavy minutes really, and the Blazers’ backup bigs have typically fallen short. Not so much recently. Rookie Zach Collins shot 5 of 6 from the floor for 12 points and four rebounds off the bench, and Ed Davis is a consistent offensive threat and fair defender with some veteran presence.
If Portland can overcome its lack of front court depth, it could ride the Lillard-McCollum pairing deep into the postseason, though few are giving Portland much of a chance in a seven-game series against Golden State or Houston.?Even with a major victory like its last against Golden State, sustainability is the next on Portland’s checklist before it can be considered a true contender in the staunch Western Conference.
Houston has been on fire. It had won 17-straight games until a 108-105 loss to the Toronto Raptors, but it followed that game up with a 105-82 blowout of the Dallas Mavericks. Everything seems to be clicking for Mike D’Antoni’s team, including its defense. The Rockets rank No. 9 in defensive rating, limiting teams to 106.7 points per-100 possessions, all the while maintaining the league’s best offense, ranking No. 1 in offensive efficiency with 115.8 points per-100.
The Rockets also, predictably, have the league’s best point differential, with a +8.9 mark, beating out the Warriors by a full point. It is time to take Houston seriously as a contender because nothing is guaranteed to the Warriors, despite having played in the past three NBA Finals. If there is a team to dethrone the Warriors as Western Conference Champions, it is Houston.
Of course, it is easy to credit the evolution of the team to one player, but it has not been all Chris Paul that has been behind the improvement. The defense is anchored by the young Clint Capela, who could be in line for a max contract this offseason. The Rockets felt confident enough in Capela to part ways with Dwight Howard, and that was a wise decision because he is far more impactful than the aged Howard is at this juncture in D12’s career.
Capela has averaged a double-double this season with 14.2 points and 11 rebounds per game, and a PER of 24.8. He may be in line for a max-contract this summer.
Beyond Capela, reserve Eric Gordon has found his niche as an NBA player. The sharpshooter is averaging 18.7 points per game off the Houston bench while shooting 9.1 threes per game. Houston as a team averages 42.2 threes attempted per game, which is an NBA league record.
The Rockets connected on 36.6 percent of those, which is the noted difference in what has become the most efficient offensive regular season in league history. The Rockets round out its rotation with some solid vets: Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the ageless Joe Johnson.
In addition to that, Ryan Anderson is a perfect starting-4 for Houston with his range and quick release. All signs point to Chris Paul and James Harden having the perfectly competent of shooters around them to really push this Rockets team deep into the playoffs, potentially far enough to usurp the Dubs’ place as Conference Champions.