Following an entertaining All-Star break the NBA turns to the business end of the season. Ben Steele previews the pick of the games from Thursday's schedule.
"The tactic has been hit and miss, a 116-105 win over the Boston Celtics that saw Harden and Westbrook combine for 78 points was arguably the high point but the low is a 127-91 blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns that saw Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre take Houston apart."
Big Bucks win in the Motor City
Milwaukee Bucks @ Detroit Pistons
Friday 00:10 GMT
Giannis Antetokounmpo was an All-Star captain over the break, and as the unquestioned leader of the Milwaukee Bucks he will be expected to have another big game tonight in Detroit. The reigning MVP has actually improved on his outstanding 2018/19 season, becoming a more accurate three point shooter and setting a career high for rebounds per game. Facing a Pistons side who traded away star Center Andre Drummond before the deadline, Giannis should have no trouble in putting up a great stat line.
The Bucks have the best record in the NBA, thanks in part to their ability to dominate bad teams. All but one of Milwaukee's eight losses have come against sides with a winning record and the 19-38 Pistons are some way off .500. The two games this season between the two sides have ended in double digit Milwaukee victories and I expect the same to happen again tonight.
In-form Grizz hope to consolidate playoff spot
Memphis Grizzlies @ Sacramento Kings
Friday 03:10 GMT
As the race for the playoffs intensifies in the second half of the season the Memphis Grizzlies are locked in a battle with the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Fortunately for Memphis, they have been in great form since they last faced tonight's opponent, the Sacramento Kings. On 2nd January the Kings, led by 3-point champion, Buddy Hield, and a big game from De'Aaron Fox overcame a 20 point Memphis lead to win 128-123. Since then the Grizzlies have lost just four times and won 15 and have flown up the rankings.
Rookie of the Year favourite Ja Morant has been in sensational form while Jonas Valanciunas has stepped up his game and is a dominant force on the defensive end of the floor. The 6ft 11 Center had 46 rebounds and nine blocks in the three games before the All-Star break and will look to continue that strong form. Look for the Lithuanian Center to have another strong rebounding performance in a Memphis win.
Small ball Rockets could be tested by Warriors
Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors
Friday 03:40 GMT
The Houston Rockets are a solid playoff contender and a side who feature two of the games biggest names, but tonight's game against the Golden State Warriors will be a big test of their new style of play. Head Coach Mike D'Antoni has built one of the shortest rosters in the league, often starting the 6ft 5 P.J. Tucker as the Center position, giving up a huge height advantage to his opposition. The style allows Houston to spread the floor and rely on All-Star guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook to work their magic.
The tactic has been hit and miss, a 116-105 win over the Boston Celtics that saw Harden and Westbrook combine for 78 points was arguably the high point but the low is a 127-91 blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns that saw Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre take Houston apart. Golden State are a similar size team to Phoenix which could mean Houston struggle but Golden State's lack of consistent performers will probably mean the Rockets run out as winners. I'm backing Golden State to cover the spread.
Ben Steele NBA: P/L
Staked: 56 pts
Returned: 62.4 pts
P/L: +6.4 pts