Houston Rockets (-1, 217 o/u) at Chicago Bulls
Two struggling teams will meet on Primetime tonight when the Houston Rockets (30-31, 13-17 Away) head to the Windy City to face the Chicago Bulls (30-30, 19-11 Home) at the United Center (8:30 PM Eastern).
Chicago, expected to challenge Cleveland for Eastern Conference supremacy at the start of the year, has seen its season nearly come off the rails. The Bulls have lost 11 of 15 (including four straight) and fallen back to .500. They now trail the Pistons by half a game for the final playoff spot in the East.
Chicago’s four-game losing streak (which has come at the hands of Atlanta, Portland, Miami, and Orlando) has seen the team drop games by an average of 13.5 points.
It’s no secret that injuries have been a major part of the problem this year. Defensive stalwart Joakim Noah is out for the season, and leading-scorer Jimmy Butler has missed the last 11 games with a knee injury.
Butler is slated to return tonight, but Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic remain on the sideline, which will deprive Chicago of important secondary scoring.
Houston hasn’t exactly been on a tear lately, either, but they’ve fared better than the Bulls, winning splitting their last six. They ended a two-game skid on Wednesday, downing the Pelicans 100-95 at home. The win kept the Rockets a game and a half up on Utah for the final playoff berth in the West.
But that’s not much consolation for a squad that finished second in the West last year and reached the conference finals.
The Houston defense has long been a weak link, but things have gotten a bit out of hand this season. The team is surrendering over 106 points per game (up from 100.5 last year), which is fifth-worst in the league.
Dwight Howard is still a monster on the boards, grabbing 12.4 RPG, but he isn’t the dominant defensive post presence he used to be, and leading scorer James Harden is as big a defensive liability as ever.
Harden at least makes up for his shortcomings at the offensive end, averaging 28.7 PPG (second to only Steph Curry). Facing a Chicago team that is no defensive juggernaut, either (102 points against per game), Harden could be in for a big night. (The trends seem to support that; the total has gone over in the last five head-to-head at the United Center.)
The trends also support a Houston ATS win. The Rockets are 8-4 in the last 12 on the road in Chicago. I’ll take a slightly more reliable Houston to get it done again tonight.
Pick: Houston (-1).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA (Derrick Rose) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped from its original.)
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