Free NBA Pick: Mild Upset Expected in Rockets vs. Pacers Tilt

Jay Pryce

Sunday, March 27, 2016 5:40 PM UTC

Sunday, Mar. 27, 2016 5:40 PM UTC

The Rockets and Pacers, each battling to earn a postseason birth, tip off in a crucial inter-conference clash on Sunday evening (6 p.m. ET). Get your NBA pick and betting analysis on the contest.

Houston Rockets (36-37 SU, 30-41-2 ATS)
The Rockets are in a three-way battle for the Western Conference's final two playoff spots with the Mavericks and Jazz. As of Friday night, Houston held the seventh seed, a half game up over its rivals with nine to go. James Harden, who posted his third triple-double of the year in the team's 112-109 victory over the Raptors last time out, will have to improve his team's play if they are to advanced to the postseason. Despite the Toronto win, the Rockets have dropped five of eight (3-5 Against The NBA Odds) and their last three on the road.

Defense, or lack there of, is Houston's biggest problem this season. It particularly stinks on the road. Only the lowly Lakers, Suns, and Nets struggle with poorer defensive efficiency away from home than the Rockets' 110.7 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Pacers, though, have struggled to take advantage of the league's leakiest units. Against teams allowing 103.5 points or more a night, they're posting just 103.1 per game, failing to reach their team total in regulation time in 10 of their last 11 games (11 of 16 overall).

Offensively, the Rockets are one of the fastest teams in the NBA, using 100.0 possessions per game. They love to fire away from downtown, too. Their 30.8 three-pointer attempts and 10.7 made per game rank second each in the NBA. In fact, a little over 28 percent of their field goals come from behind the arc. This may give Indiana's defense headaches. It allows 12.2 treys and 111.4 points per game against teams scoring 26 percent or more of their shots from the zone. The Pacers are 0-9 SU in these games, three times losing as chalk.


Indiana Pacers (38-34 SU, 35-36-1 ATS)
Like the Rockets, the Pacers find themselves in a dogfight for a postseason birth, clinging on to the seventh seed in the East as of Friday, tied with the Pistons and two games up on the Bulls. Indiana, who is just 4-10 SU (5-9 ATS) on zero rest this season, was outscored by 18 points in the fourth quarter to the Nets last night, losing 120-100 in Brooklyn.

Indiana and Houston are two of the league's most mercurial teams; you never know which team will show up on a night-to-night basis. Nevertheless, as we've discussed in other analysis, the Pacers defense tends to step up versus stronger units. When up against a foe with a better opponent shooting percentage on the season, they hold offenses to 97.4 points on 42.6 percent shooting (18-10 ATS) opposed to 101.8 on 44.7 (17-26-1 ATS) against those with worse units. The UNDER has proved the profitable play in this scenario, going 20-6-2 on the season, staying roughly 6.2 points below oddsmakers' expectations. Houston, however, enter the fray allowing 46.1 from the field, well north of the Pacers' 43.9 rate.

Offensively, the Pacers don't really stand out in any primary categories. Their 104 points per 100 possessions rank 25th in the NBA. Indiana is particularly poor at generating assisted baskets, owning a .546 (26th) assist-to-field goals made ratio—it works hard for its points. The Rockets handle these teams well, going 17-6 SU and 13-8-2 ATS versus those with a .554 rate or less. The visitors allow 104.7 points per game as opposed to 107.8 against those with a higher percentage.

Final Analysis
Houston presents a myriad of matchup problems for the Pacers, but its chances depend on the health of James Harden. He sat out of Saturday's practice with an illness, and may not be 100 percent for this one. Nonetheless, the Rockets may be ripe for a small upset here, as the Pacers could struggle to match them point for point. Houston on the moneyline +115 is the NBA Pick.

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Free NBA Pick:  Houston +115
Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle

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