The Pick: Heat 104-94
The Clippers have been fun this season (top-scoring offense and bottom-scoring defense in the league), but they haven’t looked like the Western Conference powerhouse that I expected. They’ve been a different team on the road, giving up 116 points to a bad Lakers team, 101 to an even worse Sacramento Kings squad and 98 in last night’s losing effort to the pitiful Orlando Magic roster.
Needless to say, the Heat are a different breed of basketball team, and walking into Miami on the second night of a back-to-back is a tough spot to be in.
The Heat have proven that they will take the occasional night off, but with this game on national TV against a legitimate title contender, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see anything but the Heat team that has won the Eastern Conference in each of the last three seasons.
Chris Paul is playing at an MVP level, and while I don’t expect that to change, but LeBron James is simply a tougher matchup for the Clippers than Paul is for the Heat. The teams that have given the Heat problems over the past few years have been strong defensive units that limit Miami to one shot and prevent transition opportunities, neither of which the Clippers do. Lob City ranks in the bottom half of the league in rebounding and will look to push the pace on offense.
I like this game to be nip-and-tuck for the first 30 minutes or so, but the Heat figure to distance themselves as a result of their fresh legs. If this game comes down to the wire, I still like the Heat to cover as James can limit the effectiveness of Paul and the Clippers’ lack other players that can create for themselves. Miami is shooting 77 percent from the line (top-10 in the league) right now, giving them the potential to break open a close game if it comes down to that.
The Pick: Rockets 109-92
I’d have a big problem laying this big of a number (and to be honest, I take the double-digit points 90 percent of the time) if I thought the Lakers were truly any good, but I don’t. What do the Lakers want to do offensively? They’ve been good on the glass (45 rebounds per game, eighth-best in the league) and love to jack up 3-pointers left and right (130 3PA, second-most in the league).
Sound familiar? The Rockets do the exact thing, but better. Houston ranked second in 3-point attempts last season and are among the top-five again this year, and they simply have better shooters than L.A. Not to mention, they added a big man in the middle who you might have heard of that wants to score 50 tonight on his former team. Dwight Howard is averaging nearly 15 rebounds per night, and with Omer Asik adding 23 minutes per game, the Rockets will hold a massive paint advantage in this game, which will make it awfully difficult for the Lakers to get out and run.
Jeremy Lin and James Harden lead a high-scoring backcourt that has the potential to be lethal from distance (ask Mark Jackson about that), but it is a tenacious guard who is lesser known that will be very important. Patrick Beverly (ribs) returned to the lineup on Tuesday and played 29 minutes, making me think that he has fully recovered for his early-season injury.
He can fill it up on occasion, but he always offers a consistent effort on the defensive end. With Howard/Asik in the middle, one strong perimeter defender makes all the difference in the world. I’ve got him pegged as the most valuable Rocket tonight (I think Howard registers the most impressive statistical night) as he has the ability to slow down the Lakers; and if this turns into a half-court game, the visiting team has no shot.
My picks have been heating up over the last few days as I’ve nearly nailed the exact score in two of the last three games, so let’s try to keep it going here.
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