Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to March 4 inclusive:
Well, that wasn’t very difficult. All the Houston Rockets needed to do Tuesday night was pray – pray that LeBron James would miss his potential game-tying heave at the buzzer. Which he did, as Houston held off a late rally to beat the Miami Heat 106-103, cashing in as 1-point home faves on the NBA odds board. Cash money, baby.
Houston got to take advantage of a Miami team that was playing on zero days of rest. This time, it will be the Rockets trying to stay fresh as they prepare to face the Orlando Magic, who have been idle since Sunday. Hardly seems fair. Also not fair: This game is circled as we go to press. There are key players on both teams who are considered iffy for Wednesday’s matchup (7:00 p.m. ET).
Absence of Mallets
Let’s start with Houston, where both Dwight Howard (22.0 PER) and Jeremy Lin (13.8 PER) were able to suit up against Miami despite missing Monday’s practice with sore backs. Howard ended up with 22 points and 16 rebounds to drive the Rockets (41-19 SU, 31-27-2 ATS) to the pay window. Lin had a quiet, but useful seven points in 15 minutes off the bench. In theory, both players remain day-to-day and could see their minutes cut in Orlando, if not removed entirely.
The Magic (19-43 SU, 26-34-2 ATS), meanwhile, could be without Aaron Afflalo (17.5 PER) for the sixth game in a row, although head coach Jacque Vaughn expects his star 2-guard will play. The prognosis is less certain for Jameer Nelson (13.9 PER), who missed Sunday’s 92-81 win over the Philadelphia 76ers (+10.5 away) with a sore calf. The Magic are 2-3 SU and 2-1-2 ATS during these past five games – both wins SU and ATS were against Philly, by the way.
Orlando won’t be too concerned about rushing any of its wounded players back into action. There are only two teams below the Magic in the overall NBA standings: the Sixers and the Milwaukee Bucks. However, as we go to press, there are four other teams with 21 wins to Orlando’s 20. Getting a top lottery pick is the goal this season. Winning is bad, m’kay?
Of course, if the basketball lines are set high enough, the Magic will have enough room to cash in ATS without damaging their lottery chances. And they’ve played reasonably well this year against tougher opposition, going 12-13 ATS against winning teams, compared to 14-21 ATS versus losing teams. The Magic also have a favorable home split at 16-14 ATS; on the road, they’re just 10-20-2 ATS.
Learn While You Earn
Houston doesn’t have much to choose from when it comes to home/away and winning/losing splits. But the Rockets do have a little trouble covering the NBA spreads when they get too big. As a double-digit chalk, Houston is 4-7 ATS. Anything smaller than that? 20-14 ATS. This is an important consideration; the last time they met in Orlando, the Rockets were favored by nine points, but the Magic bagged the cash in a 118-110 loss.
Granted, that was last season. Howard wasn’t there for the Rockets, and for that matter, neither was Nelson for the Magic. That wasn’t the case when these two teams met in Houston in December, but once again, it was the Magic (+13.5) getting paid in a 98-88 defeat. And that was without the services of Nikola Vucevic (18.9 PER). Howard had 20 points and 22 rebounds in that game and still couldn’t get the Rockets to the bank. I’ll bet on something similar happening Wednesday night, with less production from Howard this time.NBA Pick: Take the Magic