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NBA Betting Preview: Harden soaring as Rockets show title form

Harden soaring in another MVP challenge as Rockets aim for title
Harden soaring in another MVP challenge as Rockets aim for title
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Houston host the lowly Suns on Sunday evening with James Harden playing at an MVP level once again. He should put on a show against a team giving up the most points per game in the league, writes Mark Kirwan....

"Alongside center Clint Capela, Harden and Paul have formed an almost unstoppable core for a Rockets team with a much improved defence from last season. They've also continued to score at a pace only bettered by the omnipotent Warriors."

Phoenix Suns @ Houston Rockets
January 28, 20:40 GMT
Live on Betfair Video

The Rockets and Suns meet with James Harden hurtling through NBA defences at a 31 points-per-game pace. He leads the league's next highest scorer, Giannis Antetokounmpo, by a whole three points, and the rest of the league by more than five.

He's not just scoring though. Averaging nine assists per game, he is outstripping his illustrious point guard teammate Chris Paul. The former Clipper has managed just over eight assists and 18 points each night since entering the Rockets line-up after injury disrupted his early season.

Alongside center Clint Capela, Harden and Paul have formed an almost unstoppable core for a Rockets team with a much improved defence from last season. They've also continued to score at a pace only bettered by the omnipotent Warriors.

This is a daunting prospect for Phoenix, who come into this game with eight defeats in their last ten games. They are a team in transition, headed for a high draft pick and have moved on some of their talent for prospects since the start of the season.

That chaotic opening, where coach Earl Watson was fired after a handful of games and Eric Bledsoe tweeted his way to a trade, showed the long road ahead for the Suns.

That turmoil has provided some opportunities. Devin Booker is emerging as a leader and All-star level talent, TJ Warren leads the team with 8.2 field goals made per game, while rookie Josh Jackson is averaging over 14 points and four rebounds per night.

Phoenix can also look forward to free agency, and if they move a few more veterans before the deadline, they could make a big impact on the market for stars this summer.

That's all in the long-term. For now, the team is struggling in a very competitive Western Conference. The spread here is 13.5, and the last time Houston covered a handicap of -12 or more was mid-November at the Suns. I would look at the Over 227.5 on the Total Points here at [1.91] because the second highest scorers in the league are facing the worst defence.

Philadelphia 76ers @ Oklahoma City Thunder
January 28, 23:00 GMT
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport 2

The Sixers will be on a high going to OKC after their dominant victory over the Spurs on Friday night. The 97-78 win was against a team missing Kawhi Leonard, but it still has to be acknowledged because San Antonio is always a tough place to play.

Philly are one of the form teams in the league at the moment. Since Christmas they've won ten and lost just three games. They're averaging 107 points on the road, and their defence has stepped up during this run.

They've limited nine of their opponents to 103 points or fewer during this run. Their star center Joel Embiid leads their defensive effort, his seven-foot frame accompanied by uncharacteristic speed allowing him to cut off options for opponents.

They will need to be at their best going to Oklahoma, where the Thunder have started to roll in the last few weeks. On paper, they've had a scary teams all season, the question was whether the roster could gel.

It looks like they have, because OKC are on a run of seven wins straight, scoring over 115 points per game in that run, almost ten points more than their season average.

One cloud though is the expected patellar tendon injury to Andre Roberson suffered in their last game against Detroit. Roberson is the offensive odd-man-out on the Thunder starting five, where Westbrook, George, Carmelo and Steven Adams provide the scoring.

Roberson is not in their league as a scorer, but defensively, the Thunder give up almost 12 points more per 100 possessions when Roberson is out of the lineup. With him on the court, they've, statistically, one of the best defences in the league. Without him, they're fourteenth.

That is worrying. It definitely makes an impact on this game. It's very tough to call, but I would take the Sixers +3.5 in the Handicap at [2.02] market given Roberson's absence and how poorly OKC have defended this season when he's been out.

Detroit Pistons @ Cleveland Cavaliers
January 28, 23:00 GMT
Live on Betfair Video

The Cavaliers terrible January continued this week, with losses to the Thunder and Spurs taking them to ten losses in their fourteen games since Christmas. Cleveland have played badly in previous years and still gone to the finals, and it is hard to draw too many conclusions about teams before the All-star break, but the mood and numbers around the Cavs are different this time.

Isaiah Thomas has returned from injury but, if anything, the Cavs are worse since he's been in the line-up. Cleveland's defence isn't reaching the average level it has in recent seasons that allowed it to outscore opponents. Cleveland have the 29th worst defence in the league.

Looking deeper, when results this season are weighted by the quality of the opponent, the Cavs should be eighth... in the East! According to this analysis, they are on pace for 46 wins. Expect movement before the trade deadline if this form continues.

Were the Cavs placed as their play deserves, they'd be just one place ahead of their opponents tonight, who visit Cleveland having lost their last eight games. This is a meeting of two of the worst form teams in the league.

Where Cleveland's issues are defensively. The Pistons rank as one of the better defence in the league, but are also one of the lowest scorers. Five of their last eight losses were by five points or less.

Point guard Reggie Jackson is a big loss for this team, especially in close games, where they need the experience and control the 27-year-old offers. Ish Smith has covered for him since his injury in late December, but does not carry the same three-point threat or play-making ability, and it's showing up in their results.

These teams are difficult to read at the moment. Cleveland managed to cover the spread for the first time in ten games against the Pacers. Detroit are playing teams close but losing late. I'd look at the Under 215.5 on the Total Points market at [1.98].

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