Houston at Portland
Time: 9:30 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: HOU -1
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Portland Trail Blazers currently possess a one-game lead on the Denver Nuggets for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. The Blazers have won eight of its past 10 games and are 20-15 at home where it will host the No. 3 team ill the West, the Houston Rockets.
Houston is 1-point favorites in the game which will air as the second-half of a TNT Thursday night double header.
Portland has been rolling ever since it added center Josef Nurkic in a surprising trade with the Denver Nuggets, which saw the Blazers give up Mason Plumlee for Nurkic and a first round pick. It has worked out brilliantly, as Nurkic has become an automatic double-double and given the Blazers a legitimate back to the basket threat at the 5-spot. In this, it has caused Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to only grow further in their roles as scorers and creators.
Lillard, for his part, has gone absolutely bonkers since the All-Star break and is averaging over 31 points per game over Portland’s last 10 games. The combination off Lillard and McCollum is one of the league’s most volatile, and McCollum is the NBA’s best mid-range shooter. It has driven good court spacing, which has enabled role players like Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu to entirely flourish.
The Blazers have rebuilt around youth and castaways and teams like Orlando can only rue the loss of a talent like Harkless, who has evolved into a consummate “three and D” player since becoming a Blazer this season. Portland also acquired him for next to nothing, giving Orlando a heavily protected second round pick for Harkless, a reminent of Orlando’s package it received for Dwight Howard in the 2012 offseason. Lillard really takes immense pride in helping his complementary talents shine, and Harkless seems to have great chemistry in finding his role as a Blazer.
Portland seems to have the right mix of role players and superstars to contend soon, and Nurkic solved a long standing problem with a lack of 4/5 scoring presences. When Festus Ezeli returns next season to be his backup, the Blazers will no longer hurt so badly in the frontcourt, where opposing bigs have battered Portland the majority of the 2016-17 season. Portland does surrender 109 points per game, and its defense needs a lot of work. That will not bode well in a first round showdown with the vaunted Golden State Warriors, but the Blazers have shown more legitiimacy than expected simply in arriving to the postseason, should it maintain its lead over the Nuggets and secure the West’s final playoff spot.
Houston, similarly, has been a mega success story in the West in cruising to a No. 3 seed on the basis of the league’s second-most volatile offense and best three-point attack. The Rockets give up 108.9 points per game in their own right, but in scoring 115.6 per game, Houston maintains a 6.8 point differential and has won seven of its past 10. Harden is not resting as the season winds to its close, and he remains in a neck and neck chase with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook for the league’s MVP award.
Mike D’Antoni will receive similar considerations for the league’s Coach of the Year award. Houston also made the clutch addition of picking up Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams at the trade deadline. The Rockets have been successful, are thriving, and boast three potential award winners. Taking care of a surging Portland team will be no small task, however, and the Rockets will need another monster game from Harden if Lillard and/or McCollum get cooking.
Harden has been nursing an ailing wrist, but is committed to playing the remainder of Houston’s slate to cap off his brilliant season.