Houston Rockets at Cleveland Cavaliers (-2, 212 o/u)
The fact that the Houston Rockets (36-38, 16-22 Away) are still tied for the final playoff spot in the West says a lot about the state of the once mighty conference. Last year, the eighth-place team in the West (New Orleans) barely squeaked into the postseason despite being eight games over .500. This year, Houston and Dallas are tied for the final berth at two games under. The Rockets will try to take a slim lead on the Mavs when they visit the best team the in East, the Cleveland Cavaliers (52-21, 30-6 Home), at Quicken Loans Arena tonight (7:00 PM Eastern).
If the season ended today, Houston would sneak into the playoffs thanks to owning the tiebreaker over Dallas. But the team has been abysmal over its last five games, going 1-4, including a costly setback to the Jazz, who have now leapfrogged the Rockets in the standings.
The Houston defense has been virtually nonexistent all year, allowing 106.8 points per game. Their offense is fourth best in the NBA, averaging 105.9 PPG, but has been held to 100.8 PPG over the last five. Given that this is largely the same team that reached the Western Conference finals last year, it’s not a shock they are one of the worst teams against the spread (31-42-1 record). A lot more was expected from James Harden and company.
Cleveland is not great against the spread, either (32-39-2 ATS), but that’s largely a product of LeBron James’ name power leading to inflated spreads. The team still leads the Eastern Conference, sitting three games ahead of Toronto.
Rumors of a fractured locker room are running rampant through Cleveland right now, but the team has largely been able to shut out the noise, winning three of its last four and eight of 11. That includes a 107-93 romp over the Knicks in New York on Saturday. The Cavs’ defense was phenomenal in the first half, holding the Knicks to just 32 points. Kevin Love had 28 points and 12 rebounds in the win while James had a huge triple-double with 27 points, 11 boards, and 11 assists.
Apart from some embarrassing performances against the top teams in the conference (read: Golden State and San Antonio), the Cavs have owned the Western Conference this year, recording a 22-7 mark. Unfortunately for them, James is not going to be in the lineup tonight (rest). But Kyrie Irving will be back in action after resting against New York.
Cleveland is just 1-2 without LeBron in the lineup this year, but both losses came on the road; they managed to down the Mavericks at home two weeks ago without James. With Houston reeling, I expect Irving and Love to be enough firepower to come out on top tonight.
Pick: Cleveland (-2).
(Photo Credit: Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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