Far be it from anyone to question the Houston Rockets at this point. They've knocked off two quality opponents to begin their NBA bubble schedule, but will face another dangerous foe in the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.
Portland is desperately scrapping for a playoff spot in a crowded fight for the No. 8 seed. It'll be tough to knock off Houston, though, after the rolling Rockets dispatched of the Mavericks and Bucks in consecutive contests
Check out abe Insights' betting preview for the best odds on this marquee meeting of electric offenses, with analysis of wagers, advanced stats to consider and more salient betting information.
Date: Tuesday, August 4
Time: 9 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Rockets 64%; Blazers 37%
Spread: HOU -4.5
Moneyline: HOU -175; POR +170
One big boon to Portland's playoff hopes has been the return of big man Jusuf Nurkic. After missing all of the previous regular-season games, Nurkic has been a man on a mission in Orlando, averaging 24 points, nine boards, five assists, 3.5 blocks and two steals the past two outings.
Apparently Eric Gordon's absence due to a sprained ankle isn't really a big deal for Houston. His defense isn't being missed as much as one would expect, and the Rockets have plenty of willing shooters to let it fly from beyond the arc to replace his production of 14.5 ppg.
14.7 vs. 12.2: Houston has the 11th-highest turnover percentage in the NBA, whereas Portland takes better care of the ball, with the second lowest rate in that category. Since both teams figure to have tons of possessions, let's if this doesn't favor the Blazers on Tuesday night.
13.0 vs. -5.6: These are the combined margin in offensive points per 100 possessions when Damian Lillard (+10.6) and C.J. McCollum (+2.4) are on the court, versus James Harden (+0.5) and Russell Westbrook (-6.1). Portland is clearly more reliant on its star backcourt, as Houston's system still works fine when its chief catalysts aren't on the floor.
51.7 vs. 48.2: Further revealing their guard-dependent tendencies, the Rockets and Blazers respectively have the NBA's lowest assist percentages. Lillard and McCollum account for 60% of Portland's assist average; Harden and Westbrook for 66.6% of Houston's.
Whether triggered by the need to fill the void left by Gordon on the perimeter, refreshed after plenty of pre-bubble rest or inspired in general, Westbrook and Harden have upped their defensive efforts. It's resulted in the Rockets owning crunch time versus Dallas and Milwaukee, so that's something to watch for.
Another element to this matchup to monitor is the impressive personnel Portland boasts up front. Between Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside, few frontcourts are better equipped to protect the rim from elite finishers like Harden and Westbrook.
Considering the Rockets make their living predominantly from fast pace, numerous free-throw attempts and jacking trey bombs all night, Nurkic and Whiteside could potentially erase at least one of those advantages. Plus, Lillard and McCollum can both get to the rim off the dribble, and are smaller, shiftier athletes than the point-forwards Houston previously matched up with like Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Because of the Clint Capela trade, the Rockets don't really have a paint enforcer, opting instead to play a sort of small-ball numbers game.
That said, they also netted Robert Covington as part of that deal, and he's been nothing short of spectacular defensively. If Westbrook, Harden and Covington are all locked in on that end of the court, with enough gas for the former two to produce on offense, Houston is downright scary.
One potential X-factor for the underdogs: Gary Trent Jr., who's made 11 3-pointers for Portland in two bubble games.
Bettors who don't agree with the Rockets' overall philosophy and Harden flopping his way to the foul line shouldn't let emotion play into wagers. Houston has been sensational in the bubble thus far, and coach Mike D'Antoni's squad is worth riding until something changes.
Or at least that should be the perception in the betting market. Especially with the Blazers losing two straight, action is bound to skew toward the Rockets' moneyline and spread. However, Portland has a dangerous combination of shot-blockers, a backcourt tandem to rival Houston's and desperation to qualify for the postseason.
The Over/Under suggests each side will score over 120 points if it's really close. That seems absurd, but not so much so considering the Blazers are back at full strength and the Rockets offense is firing on all cylinders. Expect more bets to go on the Over.
Note: Odds current as of 1:50 p.m. ET on Tuesday, August 4.
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