Houston Rockets @ Charlotte Hornets – Time Warner Cable Arena at 00:00

The Houston Rockets have been a little up and down since a long winning run came to an end, but this is the time of the season when the top teams begin to turn on the gas. Picking up the kind of form they want to take into the Play Offs in two months’ time is important and Houston have won consecutive games coming into this one.

Mike D’Antoni is the first to admit that Houston need to pick up their play on the defensive side of the court if they are going to challenge for the NBA title this season. Only one of the last eight teams they have played have finished with fewer than 100 points and while the Rockets score plenty of points themselves, they won’t want to get into a shoot-out with the likes of Golden State or Cleveland over a best of seven series.

The Rockets are still with an outside shot of catching the top two teams in the Western Conference to improve their own Seeding but they can’t afford to drop games like this one. The Charlotte Hornets snapped a seven game losing run with a narrow win over the Brooklyn Nets, but Steve Clifford was not happy with the Defensive effort and that is going to be tested by the high-powered Houston offense.

It is clear Charlotte are having some issues at both ends of the court and that is highlighted by Kemba Walker’s struggles, although he could get loose against this Houston defense. I do expect the Houston Rockets are able to take advantage of that on their one step on the road before returning home and the Charlotte Hornets are just 1-4 against the spread when given less than 5 points as the underdog.

Cody Zeller could be back in the rotation for Charlotte and he has been a huge miss for the Hornets, but I think Houston come away with a win and a cover in this one. They are just 2-5 against the spread in their last seven at Charlotte, but the Rockets have won three of their last four here and would have covered this number each time.

Handicap Betting Pick: Houston Rockets -4 Points at 2.07

Utah Jazz @ Dallas Mavericks – American Airlines Center at 01:30

I picked the Utah Jazz to win on the road on Wednesday and playing on a back to back might be an issue, but Utah were such big winners on the road at New Orleans that they were able to rest key players down the stretch in anticipation of this game. Playing at the Dallas Mavericks has been a challenge for Utah over the years and this is a Mavericks team arguably playing their best basketball of the season over the last month of the season, but I do like Utah to win and cover.

The Jazz won on their last visit to Dallas earlier this season and come into this one with strong showings at both the offensive and defensive side of the court. Utah have won four in a row heading into this game and they have scored at least 104 points in each of those games while not allowing more than 98 points in any of those too.

Dallas did suffer a heartbreaking loss a couple of nights ago against the Portland Trail Blazers but they had won four in a row at home before that which included knocking off the Cleveland Cavaliers. As impressive as that is, Dallas are still going to be shorthanded for this game and that only increases the pressure on their patched up roster against a team that is playing right near the top of their game.

I would expect the size of the Jazz to dominate the boards and that allows them to have more opportunities to score when defenses break down and I have to respect the fact that Utah have improved to 8-2 against the spread when favoured by less than 4 points this season. At the same time Dallas are just 4-9 against the spread when given less than 4 points as the underdog and I think Utah are playing at a very good level and will be too good on the day.

Utah are just 3-9-1 against the spread in their last thirteen against Dallas, but I will look for them to sweep the series against the Mavericks this season.

Handicap Betting Pick: Utah Jazz -3.5 Points at 1.92

Prices correct at the time of writing.

By @DavAulak

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