Potential NBA Finals matchup between the Rockets and Heat on Sunday evening in Miami. Not saying it's likely but a key injury or two to other teams and it could happen. The Heat are 1.5-point favorites on BetOnline's NBA odds with a total of 206.
What's Wrong With Rockets?
Raise your hand if you had Houston, the Western Conference runner-up last season, as the worst team in the West in 2015-16. Yeah, didn't think so. And of course the Rockets aren't going to be the West's worst, but they are right now at 0-2 and with the conference's worst point differential at -20.0 per game. And I've been wrong on the Rockets twice already so take this prediction with a grain of salt.
Houston was without Dwight Howard on Wednesday and got punked by Denver 105-85 at home. It was no better on Friday as in a Western Conference Finals rematch, the Warriors beat the Rockets 112-92 in Houston. So maybe the fact this game is on the road will help matters. Howard was back off his suspension against the Warriors but not a huge factor with nine points, seven rebounds and a minus-16 rating. Harden has taken contact several times in the first two games and hasn't been getting the calls the way he did last season.
The addition of point guard Ty Lawson was supposed to make things easier on Harden this season, but Harden has been off. He was 4-for-18 from the field and 1-for-10 from long range for 16 points against Golden State. Harden is shooting a combined . 256 overall in two games and .136 from 3-point range. Lawson is averaging 11.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game thus far but shooting .278 from the field. I might have thought this team would struggle defensively --Harden and Lawson are not good defenders at all -- but not on offense. Houston is 0-2 for the first time in five years.
Houston is 0-2 against the spread on NBA odds and 0-2 'over/under.'
Heat Still Figuring Things Out
Miami has a terrific starting five of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. All was well as the five played together for the first time in their careers in a 104-94 home win over Charlotte on Wednesday. But the competition level rose Friday in Cleveland against old friend LeBron James and the Heat lost 102-92.
Actually, the Heat starting five played quite well vs. the Cavs with every member of that group having a positive plus/minus rating and scoring in double figures, led by Wade's 25. And Whiteside had two assists. Why is that notable? He had all of six last year. But the bench got killed. Coach Erik Spoelstra thus far has replaced his entire starting five for rest and inserted a second unit of guards Mario Chalmers and Gerald Green and forwards Justise Winslow (rookie), Amare Stoudemire (he made his season debut Friday; Udonis Haslem was used in his place in the opener) and Josh McRoberts. Those five were 7-for-23 from the field -- Green 1-for-9 -- and all five had at negative rating in the double digits against Cleveland. I'm not sure that full-on substitution pattern will continue because the second unit also is terrible defensively.
This is the second of three straight games for Miami against teams that reached last season's conference finals. Next up: home to Atlanta on Tuesday. Then the schedule is much, much easier through the end of November.
The Heat are 1-1 ATS on NBA picks and 1-1 O/U.
The Rockets clearly were glad to see LeBron leave Miami as they swept the Heat last year for the first time since 2008-09. The first meeting was in south Florida almost a year to the day, Nov. 4, 2014. The Rockets won 108-91. Harden finished with 25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds and Howard 26 points and 10 boards. Houston used a 13-0 run late in the fourth to pull away. Bosh had 21 for Miami and Wade 19. Two guys who started for Miami that day, Shawne Williams and Norris Cole, are no longer with the team. On Jan. 3 in Houston, the Rockets destroyed the Heat 115-79. Harden had 28 points and Howard 23 points and 13 rebounds. Bosh and Wade each had 15 to lead the Heat, who were only 4-for-17 from long range. Miami had more turnovers (40) than assists (36) combined in the two losses last season.
NBA Picks: I've taken Houston to cover twice in two games... I know the Rockets aren't this bad, but I'm not falling into that trap again. Take the Heat and go 'under' at BetOnline. The 'under' has hit in seven of Houston's past eight overall. It is 13-6 in Miami's past 19 vs. the West. The home team is 5-2 ATS in the past seven meetings.