It hasn’t been a great start post-All Star Break, as we got caught with the Celtics dropping a game last night in Milwaukee. It was the first bad loss for the C’s in quite a while as they have stormed into the third spot in the East. Miami held on in overtime last night against the Pacers, which kept them in the top four and possessing home court advantage, for now, over the upstart Pacers.
Both Boston and Indy have far out-performed expectations so far this season, but seeing them in the potential third and fourth spots (or Miami without Bosh) really underscores the slight hyperbole of the whole “East is better than the West now” narrative that gained steam earlier this season. The East is more balanced, but if were are just counting teams that could win a title, the West seems FAR head.
Let’s get things back on track today and see if we can start a new winning streak.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz -4
It’s hard to believe after James Harden’s “People’s MVP Award” season and the Rockets Western Conference Finals appearance that tonight’s game will leave the winner slightly ahead of the loser for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West – but that is exactly where we are.
Houston had a slow start and I think it is fair to say at this point – this thing is DONE in Houston. They aren’t storming back into contention, and they have virtually no shot to win a first round playoff series as even with a surge they will find Golden State, San Antonio or Oklahoma City. I have to wonder at this point, do they even want to make the playoffs?
On the flipside, there is no DOUBT that the Jazz do. It was the stated goal prior to the season, and even with a devastating rash of injuries, here they are, knocking on the doorstep with just a third of the season remaining. I’d put my money on them finishing ahead of Portland, Houston AND Dallas and getting all the way to sixth, with a bent on pressuring Memphis to get to fifth. Rudy Gobert is back to anchor an elite defense and the emergence of some of their players like Hayward and Hood make them one of the better two-way teams in the league.
Utah is solid at home, going 9-3-1 ATS in their last 13 home games. They are 8-3 straight up in their last eleven, and it is no coincidence that winning resumed when they were finally relatively healthy again. Meanwhile Houston has lost six of nine straight up and has the look of a defeated team that doesn’t quite like playing together (especially defensively). The frustration is visible, and it is evidenced in the whopping 106.7 points per game they allow.
Look for Utah to get enough easy baskets to win and cover tonight. And of course, expect them to compete defensively all night long. This is a big game for Utah – they WANT the eighth seed. This is just another game – playing out a long, miserable season for Houston.