NBA Sunday Tipsheet: Houston rock on despite end to Harden's scoring streak
It had to end sometime, but at least James Harden doesn't have to keep scoring as heavily as he was for Houston to be win. Still, 40 points tonight wouldn't do any harm, writes Mark Kirwan...
"James Harden's streak of 30-point nights ended at 32 when he only (only!) shot 28 in their win at Atlanta last week. He made up for it in their last game though by scoring 58 of the Rockets’ 121 points as they came back from 21 points down to win at Miami on Thursday. Harden also posted 45 when Boston slipped down to Houston for 127-113 loss the last time these teams met, so he'll fancy scoring in this one too."
Celtics face Harden challenge
Houston Rockets @ Boston Celtics
Live on Sky Sports Main Event, Arena
Is Boston's win over Washington a sign they've refocused for the closing stretch? It's hard to say for sure. It was their first win in five, but tonight's game against Houston will give a better indication of where Brad Stevens' team are at as the final run of regular season games looms. Are they going to reverse into the playoffs and be fodder for the higher seeds or can they make a run?
It's odd that their season's sitting poised like this. Last year they lost their two best players and still went to within a game of the NBA Finals. Both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returned this year, but it's broken the flow their young players had found in their absence. Their defensive effort has declined from last year and they've become prone to giving up huge numbers when under pressure.
Kyrie, talking last week, said everything would be fine because "I'm here". It's tempting to imagine an implied "for now" when he says this, given the sudden uncertainty about his future in New England. Or maybe he was just trying to reassure fans given his team had just lost to the stinking Bulls.
Either way, they could do with putting another win up after dealing with the Wizards, though there's plenty of easier teams to do it against than Houston. The Rockets have won eight of their last 11, including four straight before tonight. They've beaten both Golden State and Utah on their own courts in that time, a run of games made up of just four home match-ups versus seven away.
This is the first of two more road games against tough opposition, with a trip north of the border next up and a meeting with the Raptors before they head home and face the Sixers on Friday.
James Harden's streak of 30-point nights ended at 32 when he only (only!) shot 28 in their win at Atlanta last week. He made up for it in their last game though by scoring 58 of the Rockets' 121 points as they came back from 21 points down to win at Miami on Thursday. Harden also posted 45 when Boston slipped down to Houston for 127-113 loss the last time these teams met, so he'll fancy scoring in this one too.
Hiwever, despite their impressive recent record, the visitors haven't been all that reliable on the handicap. They're 5-13-1 in their last 19 games, but I'd suggest that wins and covers against good teams suggest that they're managing their play and performance to peak against better opponents. Boston, fifth in the East and seemingly in a funk, would still count as one of the stronger teams around, especially at home.
That pushes me towards the Rockets when they're +2.5. There are injuries - Eric Gordon, Iman Shumpert, Gerald Green - but they've weathered plenty of those all season. In addition, while Boston have one of the stronger home records in the league against the spread, in their last 13 home appearances they're just 6-7 on that count, and they haven't had an especially tough run of visitors to TD Garden. I have to take Houston on the handicap here at 10/11.
Detroit revving up for the playoffs?
Toronto Raptors @ Detroit Pistons
Live on Betfair Video
If not for the fact the Pistons played - and demolished - the Cavs last night, there'd be a case to have this game at scratch on the handicap, with Detroit building momentum at the right time of the season.
They're 8-2 in their last 10 games straight up, and 7-3 on the spread. Blake Griffin is probably having the best season of his career averaging almost 26 points per night, while Andre Drummond cleans the boards at a league-leading pace of 15 rebounds per games.
They're currently seventh in the Eastern Conference, and will fancy their chances of climbing a spot higher to overtake the Nets if they keep winning, and they could cause some trouble come the postseason if those ahead of them slacken.
As things stand, they'd play Toronto if the playoffs started today. They're on a hot streak as well, 9-1 in their last 10, but their only spread cover in the last six was their win in Boston on Tuesday. That's not necessarily a troubling sign though, as the Raptors have generally looked to be measuring their efforts.
Detroit may be undervalued given they played last night. Cleveland ought not to have taken much out of them though, as they led at the half by 33 points, and now they're back on their home court. The lines moved overnight from Pistons +5.5 to +4.5, but I'd still take them at [1.92] getting the points at home given Toronto's recent trends.
Grizzly end can't come soon enough
Memphis Grizzlies @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Live on Betfair Video
Both of these played last night. The Grizzlies enjoyed a rare win, leaving Dallas as 30 point victors. Now they skip over Texas' northern border to tackle the Thunder, the win taking their current run to 3-6 in the last nine as they slug through the remainder of this turgid campaign.
Though they have actually picked up some form through February, going 9-5-1 in the last 15 on the spread. That has tailed off in the last week, with two losses to the Bulls and one to the Cavs showing that the end of the season can't come fast enough.
OKC aren't staring down that barrel, but they've hit a rough streak too. Paul George's absence hasn't helped in the last couple of games and his status is doubtful for tonight. They've lost five of their last six and failed to cover in any of those games. Last night saw them visit San Antonio, who hit the skids themselves recently, but the Thunder were tonked by 14 points with the Spurs leading almost the entire game.
Under normal circumstances, I'd look at the Thunder -11.5 because the Grizzlies have covered just twice in the last seven games where they've been an underdog by 6 points or more, but the quick turnaround, recent choppy run, and crucial likely absence of George for Oklahoma City deters in this instance. Instead I'd take the under on the total when the line is set, it should be around 215.5, with the Thunder 2-7 in their last nine on the points total, while Memphis games are 10-18 this season when they're the away underdog.