Houston (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS) at Utah (0-2 SU, 0-2 ATS)
Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Free NBA Pick: Under
Recommended Sportsbook: Pinnacle
The NBA playoffs aren’t very kind to underdogs, are they? We had the Utah Jazz as a +250 value pick for their first-round series against the Houston Rockets, although the preview we did seems to have disappeared into the ether; the Rockets won each of their first two games comfortably at home. And they did it with defense as well as offense, which was a bit surprising – we had the ‘over’ for Game 1, only to see Houston win 122-90 (Under 212.5).
Maybe we can get some bounce-back goodness out of Game 3. The Rockets are 2.5-point road dogs on the NBA odds board at press time after opening at +3, which doesn’t give us any profit margin for betting the spread; FiveThirtyEight also have Houston pegged at +2.5 using their hoop-nerd projections. But Saturday’s total is still available at 216 points, and that might be just enough of an increase to get the ‘under’ to the pay window.
Too Much Iron
The early consensus reports are encouraging enough. They have 100 percent of first responders taking the ‘under’ in this matchup, and we’ve already seen this total dip to 215.5 points at some of the locations out there. As always, the small sample size alert is in effect with these early previews, but if you want to make a sharp bet, you usually want to be first on the scene.
We’re definitely going to suggest a small bet, as well. The Jazz shot very poorly from downtown in the first two games: 7-of-27 (25.9 percent) in Game 1, and 8-of-38 (21.1 percent) in Game 2. Some of that was Houston’s defense, which was miles ahead of where it was during the regular season, but there’s also plenty of bad luck in those numbers. According to NBA.com, the Jazz shot a combined 4-of-20 (heh heh) on wide-open trey attempts, with the defender at least six feet away from the shooter.
So why the heck are we recommending the ‘under’ for Game 3? The change in venue should help; the ‘under’ went 22-19 for the Jazz at home during the regular season, and 23-18 for Houston on the road. And while Utah have missed plenty of open shots, we can’t ignore how much better the Rockets defense has been since they lured Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement to be their defensive co-ordinator. These are the two top defenses in the league since the All-Star break – Utah, then Houston. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em this Saturday, and may the sphere be with you.