Chicago Bulls at Houston Rockets (-5.5, 214.5 o/u)
Two of the worst defensive teams in the NBA are to meet tonight in Texas when the Chicago Bulls (37-37, 13-23 Away) visit the Houston Rockets (37-38, 20-16 Home) at the Toyota Center (7:00 PM Eastern).
Both teams are hovering around .500 and battling for the last playoff spot in their respective conferences. It’s not a surprise that neither has been able to solidify its postseason status when you look at their defenses. Houston has long employed a Swiss cheese approach to defense in the James Harden era – relying on a potent offense to keep the team afloat – and that’s only gotten more pronounced this season, with the team surrendering 106.7 PPG.
Chicago, on the other hand, had one of the best defenses in the league the past few years, but that’s come crashing down this season under first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg. After playing most of the season without former Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, the Bulls are averaging 103.1 points against per night.
Thanks to a recent four-game losing streak, Chicago is currently out of the postseason, trailing the eighth-place Pacers by two games. They were facing a must-win last time out, visiting the Pacers in Indiana, and got back in the win column with a 98-93 victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.
If they do miss out on the playoffs, they’ll look back on the recent slide and wonder what might have been. Three of the four losses came against non-playoff teams, including two to the incompetent Knicks.
The Rockets are two games under .500 but find themselves in a three-way tie with Utah and Dallas for the seventh seed in the West. Houston owns the tiebreaker over the Jazz and Mavs (thanks to a better winning percentage in games played amongst the three teams) but they need to find some consistency down the stretch to ensure a playoff spot.
They suffered a costly loss to the Jazz last week, but responded by beating the top teams in the East (Toronto and Cleveland) in two of their last three. The team came back from a 20-point deficit to beat the Cavaliers on Tuesday, but had the massive advantage of facing Cleveland sans LeBron.
Harden had 27 points in the win, including a huge 18-point fourth quarter.
Both teams are subpar against the spread (Chicago: 31-43-0; Houston: 33-42-0) but the Rockets have gotten the better of the head-to-head lately, going 4-2-1 ATS in the last seven at home.
Pick: Rockets (-5).
(Photo Credit: Roy Luck (Flickr) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.)