The Portland Trail Blazers blew a late lead Saturday night in Dallas. Tonight they face the Houston Rockets, who’ve been a solid NBA pick since Dwight Howard was hurt.
Jason’s record as of Feb. 7: 33-28-3 ATS, 2-4 Totals
These are not the best of times for the Portland Trail Blazers. They’ve been taken down a couple of notches in the Western Conference standings, going 4-9 SU and 3-10 ATS since mid-January. Saturday night’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks (–2.5 at home) was a horror show; Portland was up 94-83 with two minutes left in regulation, but Dallas extended the game to overtime before winning 111-101.
The Trail Blazers (34-17 SU, 25-25-1 ATS) now find themselves in fourth place in the West, 1.5 games behind Sunday’s opponents, the Houston Rockets (35-15 SU, 29-21 ATS). While Portland has been struggling, the Rockets have won six of their last seven games at 5-2 ATS despite the absence of Dwight Howard, who’s out for at least another month with a knee injury. The NBA odds for Sunday’s matchup (7:00 p.m. ET) have Houston favored by four points.
Artisanal Coffee Won’t Save You
Is this going to be a repeat of the 2013-14 season for the Blazers? They were 22-4 SU and 18-8 ATS to start that campaign, before losing their betting value and going 9-5 SU and 6-8 ATS the following month. After that: disaster. Portland hit the skids at 6-9 SU and 5-10 ATS, then went through some more ups and downs before finally getting hot again at the end of the season.
Here’s the story in 2014-15 thus far:
First 28 games: 22-6 SU, 16-11-1 ATS
Next 14 games: 9-5 SU, 6-8 ATS
Since then: 3-6 SU and ATS
Pretty close, huh? If the pattern were to hold, that would put us in the late-middle stages of this year’s disaster. It is pretty much the same team – same starting five, at least. Damian Lillard (21.2 PER) has taken a step forward, and was a much better All-Star candidate this year than he was last season, when he got in. LaMarcus Aldridge (22.8 PER) is still doing his not-quite-MVP thing. Wesley Matthews (15.8 PER) has improved slightly. Nicolas Batum (12.1 PER) can’t hit a shot these days, but he and Robin Lopez (15.9 PER) are anchoring Portland’s defense.
Too bad the Trail Blazers also have the same lack of depth that nearly bit them in the ayahuasca last year. Chris Kaman (15.6 PER) was a welcome addition to the frontcourt, but he’s hampered by a sore back, while Steve Blake (9.1 PER) is hitting just 33.3 percent of his threes. That was the offseason upgrade plan. The Blazers didn’t have any draft picks in 2014. Other than the progress of third-year center Meyers Leonard (14.7 PER), there’s nothing much brewing on Portland’s bench.
You know what that means: overused starters getting tired in the middle of the season. It isn’t quite as bad as it was last year, when Aldridge was the only starter not to put in the full 82 games. He, Batum and Lopez have all gotten rest this year whether they liked it or not, thanks to assorted injuries. But Lillard and Matthews are still being overworked, and they’re losing their shooting touch. No wonder the Blazers collapsed late in the fourth quarter against Dallas.
Imagine what having a strong bench could do for Portland. Just look at the Rockets, who have barely missed a beat despite the absence of Howard (18.2 PER). Maybe they haven’t even noticed he’s gone, with Howard’s mini-me Joey Dorsey (10.5 PER) starting in his place. Dorsey’s game is even more tilted toward defense than Howard’s, but that’s a good thing, because Howard (minus-2.6 OBPM) was taking 12.3 shots every 36 minutes. Dorsey (5.6 shots per 36) doesn’t even get half as many touches. All the more reason to put Houston in your NBA picks for Sunday.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Rockets at Pinnacle Sports Book