Jason’s record on his final NBA picks for 2013, up to December 10 inclusive:
This can’t be real, can it? The Portland Trail Blazers (18-4 SU, 16-6 ATS) are absolutely crushing it this year. Very few people were expecting this. Portland looked like a playoff bubble team coming out of the tough Western Conference, and while the Blazers didn’t fit the tanking profile, they also didn’t figure to be one of the top dogs in the West, let alone the top dog.
The Houston Rockets (15-7 SU, 12-9-1 ATS), on the other hand, were supposed to contend for the NBA championship after adding center Dwight Howard, and so it has come to pass. But the Rockets have also dropped the cash in three of their last four games as they head for the Left Coast to play the Blazers on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Our NBA odds board has Portland laying four points with a total of 211.5.
Coffee and Bicycles
I wondered a while back whether Portland would be able to maintain its hot start, and I was skeptical – specifically about SG Wesley Matthews and swingman Dorell Wright. And Wright (10.4 PER) has indeed fallen back, way back. But Matthews (18.3 PER) is still performing at well above his previous career levels. Not bad for someone who wasn’t even drafted after leaving Marquette in 2009.
Maybe being part of a viable Big Three is just what Matthews needs. At Marquette, he got to play alongside guards Dominic James and Jerel McNeal. In Portland, Matthews has the good fortune of joining gifted sophomore PG Damian Lillard (19.9 PER) and two-time All-Star PF LaMarcus Aldridge (23.1 PER), who’s also playing at the highest level of his career. The frustratingly inconsistent Nicolas Batum (17.6 PER) seems to be putting things together, as well. Factor in all that depth the Blazers added during the offseason, and maybe they can keep this up for the whole season.
Pork Rinds and SUVs
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Rockets are playing about as well as could be expected. Howard (21.0 PER) is healthier than he was in Los Angeles, and his production is up somewhat, although still below his MVP-quality seasons with Orlando. SG James Harden (22.0 PER) is lighting it up again, although Harden is getting some grief for lollygagging on defense. And PG Jeremy Lin (18.8 PER) is showing some of that famous Linsanity again. Lin expects to play Thursday after missing a couple of weeks with a sprained knee.
Houston fans also have to be pleased with the work of SF Chandler Parsons (17.2 PER) and especially PF Terrence Jones (18.9 PER), who has taken over the starting gig from Omer Asik (10.6 PER) and largely solved Houston’s problems in the paint. Jones is working out marvellously as a stretch-4, hitting 40.6 percent of his trey attempts while posting 15.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. Balance has been restored. Dogs and cats are no longer living together.
As much as I dig what Portland is doing these days, I think Houston is more likely to continue its trajectory toward a deep playoff run. The Blazers are only No. 21 on the defensive efficiency charts as we go to press, fueled almost entirely by their No. 1-ranked offense. The Rockets are No. 3 on offense and No. 8 on defense. You’re not going to get many chances this year to take Houston and the points. I’m taking this particular opportunity and adding the Rockets to our NBA picks.
NBA Pick: Take the Rockets +3.5 (–105) at Pinnacle