Pick Bulls to 'Cover' at Home vs. Rockets

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, March 13, 2014 11:45 AM GMT

The centers for these teams couldn't be more different style-wise and it's a great individual matchup to watch on Thursday's TNT opener between the Rockets and Bulls.

With all due respect to guys like Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan or whomever you can think of, the two best all-around centers in the NBA these days are Houston's Dwight Howard and Chicago's Joakim Noah.

Houston opened as a 2.5-point favorite on NBA odds with a total of 193.5 for sports bettors.

Slow Down Joakim!

Chicago's front office is probably rooting for Howard to be named first-team All-NBA over Noah. Why? Noah earns a $500,000 bonus if he is first-team All-NBA. The Bulls are barely under the luxury tax and that would send them over for the second straight season. That brings into play much more punitive repeater penalties and means Chicago wouldn't be able to collect any money from the taxpayers. I'm sure there is some creative bookkeeping that can be done if Noah does make the first team.

The Bulls (33-331 ATS, 26-38 O/U at sportsbooks) suffered "Heat Stroke" in Tuesday's embarrassing home loss to San Antonio. "Heat Stroke" is a letdown teams all over the league have in their first game after beating Miami. The two-time champs are the measuring stick and clubs get up for them, simple as that. Chicago beat the Heat in overtime on Sunday in a very emotional game and then flopped Tuesday at home against the Spurs. They led 38-14 after a quarter on the way to a 104-96 win that wasn't remotely that close. San Antonio's Tony Parker had 16 by himself in the first quarter to outscore Chicago. The Bulls are tied for No. 2 in defensive field-goal percentage and San Antonio hit 50.6 percent of its shot. Chicago isn't good enough offensively to win many games when the opponent half or better.

Take out D.J. Augustin's 24 points and the Bulls bench managed 18 points against the Spurs. Taj Gibson was invisible with one point in 23 minutes. He's been battling the flu and struggled against Miami too. Noah played well with 13 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.

Rockets' Kryptonite Is Thunder

The Rockets (33-29-2 ATS, 30-32-2 O/U at sportsbooks) were involved in a playoff-type atmosphere Tuesday night in Oklahoma City and lost 106-98 to drop to 0-3 against the Thunder this season. It was the second-fewest points scored by Houston since Feb. 1 and ended its five-game winning streak. Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook got tangled up a few times Tuesday, which is clearly leftover emotion from Beverley ending Westbrook's season in last year's playoffs with a cheap move. He tried it again -- going for a steal as Westbrook crossed halfcourt to call a time out -- and that started things Tuesday.

Howard didn't play well at all against the Thunder with nine points (1-for-6 from free-throw line). It was his first game under 10 points since a Dec. 29 blowout loss in Oklahoma City. No one can really guard Kevin Durant, but the Rockets truly are at a massive disadvantage there because they don't have anything resembling a shutdown wing defender. Chandler Parsons? Terrence Jones? Please. Durant had 42, his 11th game this year with 40.

Take a look at the top NBA Futures Betting Lines

Season Series

When the Rockets and Bulls met Dec. 18 in Houston neither team was playing anywhere near as well as it is now (Tuesday notwithstanding). The Rockets won 109-94 as 8-point favorites on NBA odds (over 191). The Bulls were still in a major funk in the wake of Derrick Rose's season-ending injury. It was Chicago's 10th loss in 13 games since Rose was lost Nov. 22. The Bulls also still had Luol Deng than and were still incorporating Augustin into the team dynamic. Noah wasn't quite the all-around stud he's become, finishing with six points and 10 rebounds and a minus-7. Howard got the better of that matchup by going 11 of 14 for 23 points with nine rebounds and a plus-19 rating The Rockets shot 53.7 percent from the field, a very unusual number against the Bulls (maybe it's a Texas thing?). Houston has won four straight in this series.

NBA free picks: Bulls +2.5 and the under. Usually the home team dictates the pace so that should mean a game in the low-to mid-90s, which is what the Bulls want. They will come out with intensity after playing with none against the Spurs, with Coach Tom Thibodeau taking the blame. Chicago is 5-0 ATS in its past five after allowing 100 points in its previous game and the under is 4-0 in the Bulls' past four games after allowing 100 points or more in the last one.

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