Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to March 14 inclusive:
Are the Houston Rockets your next NBA champions? Not a lot of people are talking them up; the Rockets (44-21 SU, 33-30-2 ATS) are just sitting there quietly in fourth place in the Western Conference, biding their time, waiting. It’ll be difficult for any one team to survive the West and reach the NBA Finals, but if Houston makes it, and so do the two-time defending champion Miami Heat (44-19 SU, 28-33-2 ATS)? The Rockets have to like their chances.
We’ve already seen what can happen when these two teams meet. On March 4 at The Showroom, Houston took an early lead and held on for a 106-103 victory, cashing in as a 2-point chalk on the NBA odds board. Sweet, sweet cash. They’ll go at it again on Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) at The Triple A with Miami laying 4.5 points.
Panic on the Streets of Kendall
Things have changed slightly since that last meeting. Perhaps most importantly, Miami played that game on zero days of rest, right on the heels of LeBron James (29.1 PER) scoring 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats. That was the apex of a very nice 5-0-1 ATS run for the Heat following the All-Star break. Since then, the defending champs are back to their unprofitable ways at 1-5 SU and ATS.
The Rockets, on the other hand, kept rolling through their opponents, picking up another big win over the Indiana Pacers (+5 away) in another possible Finals preview. But that’s where things started going off the rails. Houston has dropped the cash in each of its last three contests, losing back-to-back road games against the Oklahoma City Thunder (–4.5) and the Chicago Bulls (+3.5). Thursday’s 111-87 defeat at the hands of the Bulls was a serious butt-kicking, too. Houston’s starting five combined for all of 33 points. Sweet Mary Mother of Joseph.
Even though the Rockets lost that game, it serves to illustrate the main advantage they have over Miami. Dwight Howard (21.6 PER) and Joakim Noah went at it hammer-and-tong in the paint, and on this day, Noah came out on top:
Noah: 35 minutes, 13 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, two steals, one turnover, plus-24
Howard: 29 minutes, 12 points, 10 rebounds, one assist, four blocks, seven turnovers, minus-28
Howard had his moments, but Noah won the war. No shame in that. Even before the game, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale told reporters he thought Noah should be named Defensive Player of the Year, an award Howard won three times in a row when he was at the height of his powers. Point being, Miami doesn’t have a big man like that – unless you count Alonzo Mourning, now the team’s Vice President of Player Programs and Development.
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It’s a Shoot
What Miami does have is offense. The best offense in the NBA, in fact, at 109.7 points per 100 possessions. The Heat also lead the league by far in effective field-goal percentage (56.0) and true shooting percentage (59.6). Unfortunately, they’re also last in the league in offensive rebound rate at 19.9 percent, so if those shots aren’t falling, the Heat aren’t winning. James is the biggest part of the offense, and go figure, he’s in his worst slump of the season since dumping those 61 points on Charlotte.
It’s basketball, and a couple of friendly bounces here and there could be enough for Miami to get paid in this matchup. But the Rockets have Howard and Omer Asik (10.9 PER) there to scoop up all the rebounds when the Heat miss. It’s worked so far.
NBA Pick: Take the Rockets +5 (–105) at Pinnacle