Celtics going up against the Heat; Rockets will take on the Trail Blazers
Yesterday was the first time since NBA action started back up again that I feel I nailed my picks. I was able to predict that the Toronto Raptors would beat the Miami Heat, and my pick of Lakers over the Jazz was also correct. I’m not here to brag though. I’m just saying that it had been a rough couple of days for my picks, so it’s nice to see that I actually got a few right. That’s all in the past now. I start a new day with a record of zero wins and zero losses as we look ahead to a pair of potential Conference Finals matchups.
As usual, we have six games on the NBA schedule today. We are going to focus our predictions on the two later games on TNT. The first matchup pits the Boston Celtics against the Miami Heat. After that, the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers go head-to-head as both teams look to climb up the Western Conference playoff standings.
Boston Celtics (-3.5) vs. Miami Heat (+3.5) at 6:30 PM EST
This may not be the sexiest game in the world because it is not littered with former MVPs or superstars like the later game, but I think this will be the best matchup in the NBA Bubble so far. The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are two well-coached teams that are not afraid to go to their bench or role players to find scoring. I think the winning team will need a star player to score at least 30 points while other role players on the team put up double-digit scoring figures. A full-team effort will be needed from either side to win this game.
Boston and Miami currently have the same record since entering the NBA Bubble. Both teams are 1-1 since play restarted. Miami was able to beat up the Nuggets by 20 points for a 125-105 win in the team’s first bubble game. However, the Heat were edged out by four points yesterday against the Toronto Raptors to give them their first loss of the NBA restart. The Celtics’ experience in the bubble has been the complete opposite. The C’s lost their first game and ended up winning their second game. A victory for either team will go a long way in determining where these squads end up in the NBA playoff seeding.
The Celtics currently lead the season series against the Heat two games to none. The first victory came back in December when Boston played host to Miami. Statistically speaking, the first game between these two was incredibly balanced. The teams finished with near-identical three-point shooting percentages as well as field-goal percentages. However, the Heat turned the ball over eight more times than the Celtics, which allowed Boston to come away with the 112-93 victory. The second game between these two was much closer, but the result was still the same. The Celtics came out with the victory 109-101. Regardless, that goes out the window today as these teams face off for the first time in almost seven months.
The team that has gotten in Boston’s way the most is Boston. For example, the Celtics lost their game against the Bucks, but it easily could have been won. So why didn’t Boston beat Milwaukee? They missed every shot in the final 1:58 of the game. Furthermore, Boston went into halftime of their previous game up by 19 against the Trail Blazers. So the Celtics finished the game strong and snagged the blowout victory of Portland, right? Wrong. In fact, the Celtics allowed the Trail Blazers to come back into the game and take a four-point lead in the fourth quarter. Boston did end up eventually winning the game, but the victory should have come by way more than four points and should not have been as stressful as it was.
As for the Miami Heat, I think they are playing with house money. Over the last couple of years (since LeBron James left the Eastern Conference), there has been an expectation that the Boston Celtics would take the step forward and become the best team in the East. Instead, Boston was bounced out of the playoffs in the Conference finals in 2018 and the conference semifinals in 2019. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat have made the playoffs three times in the last six years and have continued to build and develop their roster with new, young talent. The unspoken pressure on the Celtics will be a little bit too much for them while the Heat will walk into this game relaxed and poised knowing they don’t have to prove themselves to anybody.
The numbers indicate that this will be an ugly, grind-it-out game. Both teams are respectable on offense, but defense is where they really shine. Celtics are third in scoring defense while the Heat are ranked 11th. With that in mind, I like the Heat to get the upset win. Miami is better at shooting the ball and is way better than Boston at passing the ball. That teamwork is going to play a huge role in the eventual win. I think the Heat have the guys to close out the Celtics down the line. I like Miami to win the game outright.
Heat 104 – Celtics 100
Houston Rockets (-4.0) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (+4.0) at 9:00 PM EST
Our last game of the day will be a star-studded matchup between Houston and Portland. The Trail Blazers are still looking to climb up the postseason rankings to solidify a spot for themselves in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Rockets hope to improve their standing and compete for the number two spot in the West. This game will certainly be exciting and high-scoring.
The Houston Rockets have looked like the most impressive team in the NBA Bubble since the season restarted. In their first game, Houston scored 153 points on its way to a four-point overtime victory against the Dallas Mavericks. Houston looked even better in their next outing as they beat the Milwaukee Bucks 120-116. Those two victories, one against an up-and-coming team and another against the best team in the NBA, have been the most impressive in Orlando so far. A third-straight win could be a huge factor in determining if the Rockets will be able to leapfrog the Nuggets or Clippers for the number two spot in the West.
Unfortunately for the Portland Trail Blazers, they still appear to be on the outside looking in. With two matchups under their belt, Portland only has six games left to jump the Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. In a normal NBA season, fans would be up-in-arms complaining that the Trail Blazers would be a playoff team if they were in the Eastern Conference. However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still affecting people’s day-to-day lives, that conversation takes a backseat as teams duke it out for the eighth seed in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
I believe that this game will be one of the most interesting in the NBA Bubble. The complexion of these teams is very similar. Houston is led by a tandem of all-star guards while Portland is also led by a tandem of all-star guards. Both teams put up a lot of points, but they give up a lot of points as well. However, the reason the Rockets are a better offensive team is because they take more chances from beyond the arc than anybody in the NBA. In fact, the Rockets attempt 44.6 three-pointers per game, which is three more on average than the next closest team. They’re a below-average three-point shooting team, but they attempt so many threes that they eventually hit some of them. Houston is the definition of a high-volume scoring team. Sure they will have a lot of misses, but they will also have a lot of makes because they have the green light to pull up from anywhere on the court.
My heart says the Rockets will win, but my gut wants to pick Portland because they are the more desperate team at the moment. Houston is good, but I think they will struggle against Portland. The Trail Blazers have a ferocious rebounder in Hassan Whiteside. Also, Portland big-man Jusuf Nurkic is averaging 24 points per game in the bubble. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers have two guards in McCollum and Lillard that can go shot for shot with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. I think Portland just barely edges out the Rockets thanks to a signature clutch moment from Damian Lillard.