Wizards vs. Rockets Pick NBA – Dec 29th

We got back on the winning track last night as Dallas outscored the Thunder 112-107. The Thunder put up a few more points than I anticipated and looked impressive again without Kevin Durant. Serge Ibaka chipped in a team-high 26 points and Russell Westbrook was just a single assist and rebound shy of a triple-double, but Dallas’s offense was just too much to outscore. I still think the Thunder will storm back into comfortable playoff position once Durant returns, but I am sure they getting a little uneasy in Okie City awaiting KD’s second injury stint of the season.

Phoenix continues to play well, winning six straight games and now has a full three game lead over the Thunder for the eighth spot in the West (but just a single game lead over the Pels). It’ll be interesting to see if the Thunder can make a quick move in January or if the drama will linger with solid play from the Suns and Pelicans…

In the meantime, let’s try to build on yesterday’s winner and start cobbling together a nice winning streak as we close out 2014 and look forward to the New Year.

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Today’s Free Pick:

Washington Wizards at Houston Rockets -4

The Rockets played well last night, but once again came up just short against their instate rival Spurs, falling 110-106. It was their second highest point total allowed in regulation this season, and it was against a Tony Parker-less Spurs team (though I’m not sure any team in the NBA better employs the ‘next man up’ philosophy better than Coach Pop and the Spurs). Tonight will be their second game in as many days and their third in four. That’s a tough ask, especially considering the caliber of opponents they have faced in an early gauntlet post-Christmas.

Josh Smith’s statline returned more towards what I think can reasonably be expected; eight points on 2-7 shooting, eight rebounds and three steals in 26 minutes. The four turnovers aren’t great, but the fact he didn’t lead the team in shots, or even approach doing so, is a good sign.

Meanwhile, Washington enters winners of two straight, albeit over the Knicks and Celtics. They are a decent 7-4 on the road, though are just 5-6 ATS. Both teams enter tonight with identical 21-8 records, but given the slate of competition, it’s hard to place them on equal footing. Houston is one of the most talented teams in the NBA, and while Washington has an excellent back court and starting lineup, Houston has two elite MVP-type players (I know, everyone hates Dwight, but he’s still a top10-15 guy in the league).

But Houston does have a huge disadvantage in terms of offensive efficiency. The Wizards shoot nearly 5% better from the floor on average and are just the 19th most efficient offense in the NBA. However, the counter-act it with a counter-intuitive defensive efficiency. James Harden’s lowlights are meme-worthy and get a lot of attention, but the truth is, he and his mates are really good defensively – second best in the NBA good…

I’ll always take the defense at home. There could be some fatigue issues, but despite being a back-to-back for Houston, it’s an easy trip down the road from San Antonio and both teams are playing their third game in four days.

I’ll take the Rockets at home to handle their business.

Free Pick: Houston Rockets -4

Chris Scheeren / Author