MIAMI HEAT AT HOUSTON ROCKETS (-6, 227)
First quarters have been rough sledding for the Rockets in recent games. Houston was blasted for 45 points in the opening 12 minutes versus Dallas on Sunday and allowed the L.A. Clippers to hang 31 points in the first quarter in last Friday’s defeat in Los Angeles.
That is a similar story to the one that played out the last time these teams met, with Miami scoring a franchise-record 46 points in the opening frame back on November 3. The Heat are one of the fastest-starting teams in the NBA, averaging 29.2 points per first quarter, and are coming off a 36-point explosion in the opening stanza versus Charlotte on Monday.
PREDICTION: Miami first-quarter total Over 27.5 points
FIRST HALF BET
The Heat have made their mark in the first month of the schedule, jumping out to a 12-4 SU record thanks in large part to a shutdown defense giving up only 104.3 points per game. That defense has allowed just 51.4 of those points get scored in the opening half.
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Miami knows it can’t afford for Houston’s high-octane offense to get hot early into Wednesday’s game, especially from beyond the arc. The Rockets fire a league-high 45.5 average attempts from distance so far this season, connecting on 15.2 of those 3-point looks per game.
However, they’ve been a little gun shy during this current three-game losing skid, most notably in the first half. Houston has averaged only 18 3-point attempts and made just four of those per first 24 minutes during those three losses.
The Heat, which have limited opponents to an NBA-low 31 percent shooting from beyond the arc, are allowing on average 5.3 3-point buckets per first half and checked the Rockets to only five makes from distance in the opeing half in their November 3 victory in South Beach.
With tight perimeter defense and a methodical pace on the offensive end (24th slowest in first half over last three games - 98.00), we're calling for few first-half fireworks Wednesday night.
PREDICTION: First-half Under 116.5
Rebounding is a sore spot for the Rockets, who rank 18th in rebounding percentage, and it doesn’t help having your best player on the glass questionable for a matchup with the NBA’s second-ranked rebounding team.
Rockets center Clint Capela is up in the air for Wednesday due to an illness, and could park his 14.7 rebounds per game on the bench if he’s not good to go. Capela has been especially active on the boards in his last seven games, grabbing 19 or more rebounds per outing in that span.
Even if he’s healthy enough to play, an under-the-weather Capela could see his production dip and leaves Houston to lean on veteran Tyson Chandler in the paint. That also opens the door for the Miami frontcourt, which includes forward Bam Adebayo.
Adebayo has been fantastic for the Heat this season, averaging more than 14 points and 10 rebounds and watching his minutes jump significantly this month. He’s coming off a season-high 21 points in the win over the Hornets Monday, adding five assists and 13 rebounds to that stat line. We expect a strong night from the Kentucky product Wednesday, especially if Capela is out or slowed due to illness.
PREDICTION: Adebayo Points + Rebounds + Assists Over 29.5
Houston is very dependent on the 3-pointer, collecting 38.5 percent of its total production from downtown. During this three-game stinker, the Rockets have knocked down just 37 of their total 125 shots from beyond the arc – a 29.6 percent success rate which has produced only 33 percent of the team’s total points in that span.
Miami is going to force the Rockets to make their money from mid range and in the paint. As mentioned, the Heat are the best team in the NBA at defending the 3-ball and forced the Rockets to a 14-for-48 night from deep in that November 3 win in Miami.
In their most recent contest, the Heat cooled off a Charlotte squad that picks up 36 percent of its points from 3-point range (sixth most in the NBA), locking down the Hornets to a 9-for-33 night from outside.
Miami is 2-5 Over/Under in its last seven road games while Houston has played below the number in nine of its last 14 games overall.
PREDICTION: Under 227
The Rockets have had a few days to clear the cobwebs after losing their third straight game, at home to Dallas Sunday night. And this matchup is in Houston, not South Beach, where the Heat rolled the Rockets by 29 points at the start of the month. So, for those buying into the James Harden “Strip Club Theory”, you shouldn’t have to sweat his pre-game activities tonight.
There’s plenty of motivation for Houston in this one, and the atmosphere could have a hint of postseason intensity – especially when you consider Miami star Jimmy Butler’s backhanded complement of Harden heading into this game, tagging him the NBA’s “most unstoppable player” but not debunking a question on whether Harden gets away with traveling on many of his infamous step-backs.
And then there’s Russell Westbrook, who was terrible in the first meeting between these teams (10 points, 3-for-11 shooting) and has absolutely zero chill when it comes to butting heads with opposing superstars. Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni lashed out at his players after that embarassing loss to Miami, calling them "soft". Those words will resonate with guys like Westbrook tonight.
The Heat are the anti-Rockets, in the way they play a slowed pace, lean on defense, and guard the 3-point arc like it’s Fort Knox. Miami will put up a good fight – it may not win outright – but it will cover the six points in what will be a very heated and tightly-contested matchup.
PREDICTION: Miami +6