NBA Bubble Preview For 8/13/2020

Today’s matchups determine who participates in the Western Conference play-in game

Well, here we are. Almost every postseason series matchup has been set for the 2020 NBA playoffs. With just two days left of Bubble action, there is a huge race at the bottom of the Western Conference for the eighth seed in the playoffs. Four teams are currently in contention for that last playoff spot: the Suns, Spurs, Trail Blazers, and Grizzlies. All four teams play today, so we will have to cover all of those games.

The four games that affect the final playoff standings all take place back-to-back-to-back. At four, the Grizzlies hope to stay alive as they take on the Bucks. At the same time, the Suns will face off against the Mavericks. After that, the Spurs and Jazz go head-to-head on TNT. Lastly, the Trail Blazers look to hold on to the eighth seed with a game against the Nets. It’s going to be one hell of a busy day.

Memphis Grizzlies (-3.0) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (+3.0) at 4:00 PM EST

There are no guarantees in sports. They are completely random and out of our control. My good friend Nathan is a fan of the WWE, and a quote he once gave me has stuck with me for quite some time. He said, “if your favorite wrestler loses, then you can just blame the writers or Vince McMahon. But if your team loses in a sport like football or hockey, that just means God hates you.” Truer words have never been spoken. In the unforgiving world of professional sports, you cannot bet on anything. However, I would be willing to bet that the Grizzlies easily win this game today against the Bucks.

The Milwaukee Bucks have looked like one of the most overrated and unconcerned teams in the bubble. They won their first game against the Boston Celtics, but they have only managed to win two other matchups since then. This is a massive step back for a team that finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA. It is certainly possible that Milwaukee was unmotivated because they only needed a win or two to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but that is beside the point. If you are one of the best teams in the NBA, you go out and you give your best effort every night. You don’t allow the Nets to beat you or the Mavs to score 136 points on you. Teams that coast into the playoffs never make it to the Championship round. But that is what the Bucks have done, and they look completely unprepared for the beginning of the playoffs as a result.

The Grizzlies are easily going to win this game. Milwaukee has absolutely nothing to gain by giving a truly concerted effort to win the game. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ season is effectively ended with a loss today. Furthermore, Giannis will be out in this game after his head-butting incident against the Wizards two days ago. The Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis are about as good as the Brooklyn Nets without Durant (not good). The Grizzlies solidify a spot for themselves in the Western Conference playoff game on their way to a win.

Grizzlies 110 – Bucks 99

Phoenix Suns (-8.5) vs. Dallas Mavericks (+8.5) at 4:00 PM EST

I don’t want anything to get lost in translation here, so I am going to come out and say it. The Phoenix Suns are a garbage franchise. They are the New York Jets of the NBA, and I consider that an insult to the Jets. At least Gang Green has won a championship! In 52 seasons, the Suns have reached the NBA Finals once and have zero championships to show for 29 playoff appearances. The team has also gone through seven coaches since they last made the playoffs in 2009-2010. The only reason they are undefeated in the bubble is that they actually care enough to go full-speed every game. If the Suns made the playoffs or went up against an opponent that actually had something to play for, then they would get their doors blown off every single night. Phoenix is one of the worst-run franchises in American sports. I am actively rooting for them to go undefeated just so the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies can win their games and knock them out of the playoffs anyway. A team that was 26-39 does not deserve a spot in the postseason. They could win 15 consecutive games, you still wouldn’t be able to convince me that the Suns are a good team. I simply refer to my dear friend Greta Rogers for more on the Suns.

With that being said, I am still picking Phoenix to win this game. They may be a horrendous joke of a franchise with ownership that is worse than the New York Knicks or the Washington football team, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t playing decent basketball right now. As for the Mavericks, they have absolutely nothing to play for in today’s game. The Mavs will likely rest Kristaps Porzingis today so he is ready for the playoffs. Dallas will keep this game close because the Suns are terrible and still can’t defend anybody. However, Phoenix wins the game when all is said and done, but they don’t cover the spread.

Suns 122 – Mavericks 115

San Antonio Spurs (-8.0) vs. Utah Jazz (+8.0) at 6:30 PM EST

The San Antonio Spurs are the exact opposite of the Phoenix Suns in so many ways. They have had the same coach for nearly two decades. They are a respected franchise that has proven they can win championships time and time again, regardless of who is on the team. Hell, they even play in the same division and have made the playoffs every year for almost 20 years while the Suns have wallowed in pity at the bottom of the conference for the better part of five years. If the Phoenix Suns are the example of a bad organization, then the San Antonio Spurs are the antithesis of a good professional sports team.

The Spurs can still reach the play-in game, but they will need a few things to go their way. First and most importantly, they have to beat the Utah Jazz. This is not something I am too worried about. Pop is a Hall of Fame coach that will find a way to lead his guys to victory at the end of the day. The problem for the Spurs is that they will need outside help if they want a chance to participate in the play-in game. As long as the Spurs win and two of the three teams still in the running for the final playoff spot lose (Trail Blazers, Suns, or Grizzlies), then they will reach the postseason for a 23rd consecutive season.

The way this game is shaking out favors the Spurs. I am slightly concerned about the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge, but I have confidence in Gregg Popovich to coach his guys up without one of the team’s best players. Furthermore, it is looking like Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert are both a little banged up heading into this game. If Conley and Gobert are not fully effective, then I like the Spurs’ chances. I think they win without covering the eight-point spread.

Spurs 109 – Jazz 103

Portland Trail Blazers (-10.0) vs. Brooklyn Nets (+10.0) at 9:00 PM EST

The final and most important game of the day will be taking place between the Portland Trail Blazers and the unimpressive, bubble-version of the Brooklyn Nets. This game carries a lot of weight since a win for Portland would almost guarantee them the eighth seed in the Western Conference. I fully expect Dame and the Blazers to go out there and thrash the Nets.

You guys can rave about cute players like Devin Booker or TJ Warren, but the Bubble MVP is Damian Lillard. This dude is absolutely right. We need to start putting some respect on his name. I’ll start. *Clears throat* DAMIAN LILLARD IS THE BEST POINT GUARD IN THE NBA TODAY! The man single-handedly carries his team to the playoffs every year while sending other, lesser Western Conference opponents packing in the postseason. Just ask an Oklahoma City Thunder fan. This man is averaging 37 points per game in the bubble. And last time he played, he put up 61 points on a night where he shot the ball over 50% from the field. I believe that Damian Lillard is the most ruthless player in the NBA today. He is a guy that wants to step on your throat and make sure you know that he was the one who choked you out.

It should be worth noting that Damian Lillard scored 60 points in his only matchup against the Nets this season. Meanwhile, the Nets will be without the services of one of their best bubble players in Jamal Crawford. You would have to be an insane person if you think you are going to stand in the way of Damian Lillard’s playoff run. The Trail Blazers don’t win by ten, but they win the game, and that’s what really matters.

Trail Blazers 113 – Nets 108

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/11/2020

Spurs take on the Rockets; Grizzlies look to stay alive against Celtics; Trail Blazers face the Mavericks

We have just four days left of Bubble basketball before the playoffs start, and things are heating up. In the West, there is a four-way race between the Spurs, Suns, Trail Blazers, and Grizzlies for the final spot in the conference. At this point, a play-in series is guaranteed in the West. Meanwhile, teams are still battling things out in the East to see where everybody ends up being seeded when the playoffs begin. Either way, things are getting crazy, and fans will be getting more meaningful basketball games because of it.

All four teams competing for the Western Conference’s eighth seed will be playing today. The Spurs will face off against the Rockets in a battle for the Lone Star state. Later on, the Grizzlies and Celtics will go head-to-head. Lastly, the Trail Blazers look to stay alive in the hunt for the playoffs with a game against the Mavericks tonight. This is going to be a great day of NBA action.

San Antonio Spurs (-2.5) vs. Houston Rockets (+2.5) at 2:00 PM EST

The motivated San Antonio Spurs will be taking on the Houston Rockets for the third and final time this season later today. The only way these teams will meet again is if they both end up qualifying for the playoffs. The Rockets look to have a comfortable position in the postseason, but the Spurs will have to work their tails off over the next few days to ensure they reach the playoffs.

Despite being 31-38, the Spurs only find themselves two games back from the Memphis Grizzlies. San Antonio has been one of the better teams in the NBA bubble. Since resuming play on July 31st, the Spurs have gone a respectable 4-2, with their only losses coming against the 76ers by two points and the Nuggets by six points. The Spurs have been able to answer the call every other time they have taken the court. This includes head-to-head victories over the Kings, Pelicans, Grizzlies, and Jazz. With a two-game win-streak headed into today, the Spurs have to make sure they play mistake-free basketball if they want to steal a win from the Rockets.

Unfortunately for Houston, the Rockets will be missing two of their best players today. The team announced that it expects Eric Gordon to be out again today after the guard suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago. This was seen as a big blow to the Rockets’ chances in the bubble, but the squad has been able to survive his absence, posting a 4-1 record since NBA action picked back up again. Houston’s bigger issue is that they will not have James Harden available to play today after the team announced on Monday that he would not play in this game. This is a huge blow for the Rockets, who desperately need Harden’s 34.3 points per game to stay competitive in the ruthless Western Conference. With Harden out, I have total confidence in the Spurs to get the job done today against the Rockets.

Everything in this game is pointing me towards the Spurs. San Antonio is desperate and must continue to wrack up wins if they want to make the postseason. Meanwhile, the Rockets already have a comfortable spot in the playoffs and will be without their best player later today. I am shocked that the Spurs are only getting 2.5 points in this one considering James Harden won’t play. San Antonio wins and has no problem covering the spread.

Spurs 111 – Rockets 100

Boston Celtics (-3.5) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (+3.5) at 5:00 PM EST

Our second exciting matchup of the day features one of the best teams in the East going up against the current eighth seed in the West. The Memphis Grizzlies come into this one needing a win as they look to stay afloat in a crowded Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Celtics are looking for their fourth-straight win in bubble play.

This may be the most important game of the NBA season so far. There are so many different things riding on this game. The Trail Blazers, Suns, and Spurs will all be watching this matchup in Celtics gear because all three teams need the Grizzlies to lose so they can continue to climb up the playoff rankings. As for the Grizzlies, they need a win to ensure they remain the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race for another day. All eyes will be on Celtics-Grizzlies when the game tips-off at 5:00 PM.

This is quite an unusual matchup. It isn’t often you see teams from different conferences play in such meaningful games outside the NBA finals. The Celtics were able to blow the doors off the Grizzlies in the only head-to-head matchup between these teams this season. Six Boston players put up double-digit scoring figures on their way to a 119-95 victory back in January. However, I think today’s game will be much closer because Memphis’ rookie sensation, Ja Morant, was held to just two points in that game. I don’t see that happening again today.

I am very tempted to take the Boston Celtics in this one. They have better coaching and a more complete roster top-to-bottom. My only concern is that the Grizzlies NEED this game if they want their postseason hopes to stay alive. Meanwhile, the Celtics have already clinched a playoff spot and are now looking to just improve their seeding. This game means very little to Boston and everything to Memphis. That is why I am picking Memphis to win a close game.

Grizzlies 106 – Celtics 102

Portland Trail Blazers (-4.5) vs. Dallas Mavericks (+4.5) at 6:30 PM EST

Our last meaningful basketball game of the day will be played at 6:30 PM between the Trail Blazers and the Mavericks. I don’t want to offend any fans of the Bucks, Kings, Wizards, or Pelicans, but Milwaukee has solidified its position as the top seed in the East while those other three teams have all been eliminated from playoff contention. As a result, we look to the Trail Blazers and Mavericks to provide us with the last bit of entertaining NBA action to close out the day.

Both squads come into this one with something to prove. On one hand, you have the Portland Trail Blazers. Here you have a team that came into the bubble with a 30-37 record. Since then, the Blazers have managed to go 4-2 in the bubble and now find themselves just a half-game back from the Grizzlies for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff race. On the other hand, you have the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs are a team that is better than their record indicates. However, playing in a stacked Western Conference has given them a 43-30 record as well as control of the seventh seed in the West. A win for the Mavericks could certainly help their postseason push because the team is only one game back from the Jazz for the sixth seed in the conference. Both teams will have a lot to play for today when they take the court at 6:30.

These common Western Conference foes have already faced off three times this season. As things stand, the Mavericks currently lead the season series two games to one. The Trail Blazers were able to squeak past the Mavericks the first time they played for a 121-119 victory. However, the Mavericks would win the next two games against Portland, giving them a 2-1 series lead on the season. Now, when these teams play tonight, it will arguably be their most important matchup of the year as both squads look to solidify a spot for themselves in the 2020 NBA Playoffs.

I would be a fool to pick against Damian Lillard, who is a top ten (maybe top five) basketball player in the world right now. In Dame’s last five games, he has averaged 22.4 points per contest. This number shoots all the way up to 36.3 points per game in three matchups against the Mavericks. Dame clearly balls out when he faces Dallas, so I like Portland’s chances. Furthermore, ESPN lists Luka Doncic and Kritspas Porzingis as day-to-day with various minor injuries. If Luka is even slightly off, then I have no issue taking the Trail Blazers. I like Portland to win, but the Mavericks cover the 4.5 point spread.

Trail Blazers 121 – Mavericks 117

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/6/2020

Heat play the Bucks, Clippers take on Dallas, and Lakers face the Rockets

Things are getting weird in the NBA Bubble. The Phoenix Suns have managed to win every game they have played in Orlando since the restart. The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Lakers by 29 points yesterday! And let’s not forget the Bucks losing to the G-league Nets. The chaos and uncertainty coming out of Orlando is intoxicating. Every game matters and nobody is quite sure who is going to win on a day-to-day basis. This may be the most interesting season in the history of the NBA.

As usual, six games are being played today starting at 1:30 PM and running all the way through 11 o’clock at night. All the matchups carry some weight and importance. However, I decided that we will try to focus on games that featured the NBA’s best and most interesting teams. That is why we will preview Heat-Bucks, Clippers-Mavericks, and briefly glance over Lakers-Rockets.

Milwaukee Bucks (-8.5) vs. Miami Heat (+8.5) at 4:00 PM EST

Is it safe to say that the bubble has not been kind to Milwaukee? The Milwaukee Bucks were the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth this season. Also, they finished with the best regular-season record in the NBA. Yet, the Bucks cannot seem to get out of their own way as they have dropped their last two games to fall to 1-2 since NBA play restarted.

Milwaukee looked sharp in their first game back. The Bucks were able to top the Celtics 119-112 on July 31st. However, some would argue that referees handed the Bucks that victory by not calling late fouls on Giannis. Either way, Milwaukee barely got out of that game with the victory. Since then, things have only gotten worse for the Bucks. Following the win, Milwaukee lost to the Houston Rockets on Sunday by a score of 120-116. I am not a person that makes excuses for a team with high expectations, but I can forgive the Bucks for this loss. Houston is the second-highest scoring team in the NBA, and they are no stranger to meaningful basketball games. It’s acceptable to have a one-time loss to an out-of-conference opponent. However, I cannot justify Milwaukee’s loss to the Nets. Granted, Giannis only played in half the game, but when the Nets are missing at least five starters, I expect your team to beat them, especially when your squad averaged the most points per game in the NBA this season! In the end, the Nets won 119-116 for the largest upset victory in the NBA since the mid-90s. I have a feeling the Bucks are mad and feel embarrassed about that loss, so I could see them making a strong comeback tonight.

On the other side of the court, you have the Miami Heat, who are playing wonderfully. The Heat have played three teams so far and have a 2-1 record to show for it against three of the better-run franchises in the NBA. Their only loss in the bubble came against the defending NBA Champions by four points. Miami may be the hungrier team, but I think Milwaukee is going to come out with something to prove today after that embarrassment (and it was an embarrassment) against the Nets.

I am taking Milwaukee in this one, but 8.5 is a ridiculous spread. I am not sure if Vegas is very confident in the Bucks or not confident at all in the Heat. I’ll tell you this, I think both teams can make deep postseason runs. Unfortunately, Goran Dragic’s status for the game is up in the air. It will be huge if Dragic is unavailable because he is averaging 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game this season against the Bucks. If Dragic is unable to play or is even a little off, then I think this motivated Bucks team will be able to get the win. Milwaukee wins, but the Heat cover the point spread.

Bucks 120 – Heat 113

Los Angeles Clippers (-4.5) vs. Dallas Mavericks (+4.5) at 6:30 PM EST

Our second game of the day will be a matchup between one of the NBA’s preseason favorites and one of the league’s most exciting up-and-coming teams. The Los Angeles Clippers are looking to bounce back after a last-second loss to the Phoenix Suns. On the other side, the Dallas Mavericks are hoping to build momentum as they look for their first postseason birth since 2016.

The Milwaukee Bucks have arguably been the most disappointing team in the NBA bubble, but the Clippers are making a strong case as the second-most disappointing team in the bubble. Before the season began, the Clippers were given the best odds out of any team in the league to win the NBA championship at 7/2. The Clips have now fallen out of the top spot and have the third-highest odds out of any team in the bubble to win the NBA Championship. That’s not bad, but I think it is safe to say that the Clips have not yet been able to live up to all the expectations they had before the season began.

Simply put, the Clippers have not been impressive in the bubble. Their only win has come against a New Orleans Pelicans team that isn’t even one of the eight best teams in the Western Conference right now. Furthermore, they have lost close games to the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns (a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2010). The Clippers are a very good team, but they have a lot left to prove in the Bubble, and I think they are now starting to realize that. I imagine their frustrations will be taken out on the Mavericks tonight.

Since the season began, the Dallas Mavericks have been considered “must-see-TV” because of their budding young star and play-style. The Mavs are the third-highest scoring team in the NBA. They also manage to shoot exceptionally well from beyond the arc. Furthermore, Luka Doncic has emerged as an NBA superstar, averaging 29 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. A casual watcher of basketball would love getting a chance to see the Mavs play.

Unfortunately, Dallas is not a complete team. They have the offensive firepower to win games. However, the team has not been able to put the clamps down on anybody defensively towards the end of games. That’s why they have lost two matchups in overtime so far. They simply surrender too many points. I think Dallas’ defensive woes will be put on full display tonight when an angry (and dare I say, embarrassed) Kawhi Leonard takes the court looking to make up for the game-winning basket he allowed Devin Booker to make.

The Clippers are favored in this one, as they should be. Los Angeles is still one of the most talented teams in the NBA top to bottom. I think their defensive energies will be focused on making other players on Dallas not named Luka Doncic beat you. This game will be close, in typical Dallas fashion, but the Mavericks will end up losing the game, in typical Dallas fashion.

Clippers 119 – Maverics 115

Los Angeles Lakers (-1) vs Houston Rockets (+1) at 9:00 PM EST

I am going to try and keep this preview brief because you are probably sick of hearing me talk, or write, or whatever. The Los Angeles Lakers come into this game as just one-point favorites over the Houston Rockets. Both of these teams have looked great in the bubble. Houston has managed to pull off impressive wins over Dallas and Milwaukee. Meanwhile, the Lakers have already clinched the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

One of these teams has something to play tonight for while the other doesn’t. The Lakers are going to take their foot off the gas now that they have locked up the top seed in the West. You could see how lax their approach was yesterday after they lost to the Thunder by 29 points! LeBron was held to just 19 points on a night where LA shot the ball a little over 35% from the field.

Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets are still fighting and clawing their way into a position to steal the second seed from the Clippers. A victory tonight will go a long way in helping the Rockets’ playoff standings. Russell Westbrook is a little banged up, but I still expect Houston to come out in full force while the Lakers just coast by until the playoffs actually begin. The Rockets are going to rout the Lakers tonight. Get your popcorn ready because we are in for a clinic in how to score.

Rockets 131 – Lakers 100

NBA Bubble Preview For 7/31/2020

Bucks-Celtics and Rockets-Mavs highlight the six NBA games scheduled for today

Basketball’s return was an unprecedented success. Yesterday, the NBA restart went off without a hitch. Both games came down to the wire. The Utah Jazz notched a win over the New Orleans Pelicans thanks to a pair of late free throws from Rudy Gobert. After that, LeBron James put the clamps on Kawhi and Paul George to give the Lakers a 103-101 victory over the Clippers.

With the first two games of the NBA restart in the books, it looks like the league is finally ready to unleash its full slate of games. There will be six NBA games played today in Orlando. Action starts at 2:30 PM EST, but the real excitement won’t begin until the evening. The Milwaukee Bucks will take on the Boston Celtics at 6:30 PM EST. After that, the Houston Rockets face off against the Dallas Mavericks at 9:00 PM EST. Those are the two best games of the day, so those are the ones that I will be previewing for today. Sorry NBA fans, you’ll have to go elsewhere if you want a preview of Nets vs. Magic or Suns vs. Wizards.

Milwaukee Bucks (-4.5) vs. Boston Celtics (+4.5) at 6:30 PM EST

After top teams in the Western Conference clashed last night, it only makes sense that some of the best teams in the East would go head-to-head today. When the season was paused back in March, the Bucks were the best team in the NBA with a 53-12 record. Meanwhile, the Celtics come into this matchup with a 43-21 record. Even though the Bucks’ regular-season record was significantly better than Boston’s, I still think this will be a close game.

Anybody that has watched the NBA over the last two years knows that Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as one of the best, if not the best, players in the league. The Greek Freak was named league MVP last season. However, he is having a better season statistically this year. The Greek Freak is averaging more points and rebounds per game in fewer minutes this year compared to last year. As a result, the Bucks currently stand alone with the best record in the NBA. Giannis has been excellent this season for the Bucks (and deserves to be named MVP), but Milwaukee has made it this far because they are playing well as a whole team.

Giannis is third in the NBA in points and rebounds per game this season, but the Greek Freak has had a lot of help from his teammates. Milwaukee enters the NBA restart with the number one scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 118.6 points per game. Furthermore, the defensive side of the ball has been getting the job done for the Bucks, who are currently fifth in the NBA in points allowed per game. Furthermore, Khris Middleton has continued to prove his worth, putting up over 21 points per game this season and earning a second straight invite to the NBA’s All-Star weekend. The Bucks have a terrific starting five, plus a great sixth man coming off the bench in George Hill. Milwaukee will go far in the playoffs this year, but they may not have the easiest time getting off to a hot start against a team that is loaded top to bottom like the Celtics.

The Boston Celtics seem like mirrored opposites of the Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee is led by an MVP candidate who makes every player around him better. Meanwhile, the Celtics have an arsenal of talented players that can take over a game. The C’s seem to have a different person leading the team every night because there is no shortage of scorers in Boston.

The top five players on the Celtics all average more than ten points per game. This is further exemplified by the fact that the top three scorers on the team all average over 20 points per game. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker make up the three-headed monster that leads the Celtics into Orlando. Furthermore, Tatum and Walker have already faced off against the Bucks and have proven they know how to score when going up against an elite team. Also, this game marks the first start Jaylen Brown will make against the Bucks this season, so I am confident he will be a difference-maker in tonight’s matchup.

I am leaning towards the Celtics right now. I love Giannis and think he will win MVP. However, the Celtics have a more complete roster top-to-bottom with more players that can score. Also, I think the Celtics will greatly benefit from having Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker all playing on the court at the same time. With those three guys out there, as well as lock-down defenders like Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and Enes Kanter, I think it will be hard for everybody else on the Bucks (besides Giannis) to get the job done against their opponent and win their matchup. I like the Celtics to win this game outright.

Celtics 108 – Bucks 105

Dallas Mavericks (-1.5) vs. Houston Rockets (+1.5) at 9:00 PM EST

The second exciting game of the day will be a late-night matchup between two teams from the Lone Star state. The Houston Rockets are hoping that their small-ball approach to the game of basketball will bring the team its first championship since 1995. Meanwhile, the Mavs are hoping Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis can help Dallas earn its first playoff-birth since 2016.

Even though this game is littered with stars and NBA greats, I believe that the most interesting player in this matchup is Luka Doncic. The 21-year-old Slovenian has taken one of the biggest leaps from rookie year to second-year I have ever seen. Luka averaged more points, assists, rebounds per game all while making his shots at a higher percentage than last year. I am never a person to say that things in the world of sports are a guarantee. However, I think Luka Doncic is a lock to win Most Improved Player in the League this season.

Kristaps Porzingis will also have to be a big factor in the Mavericks’ game plan if Dallas wants to make a deep playoff push. The Mavs have been blessed with two lanky, European big men that can score from anywhere on the court and get the ball to anybody. If Dallas wants to win, Luka and Kristaps will both have to score over 25 in this one and Porzingis will likely need to record a double-double.

On the other side of the ball, you have a team that is no stranger to the postseason and making deep playoff pushes. 2016 marked the last time the Houston Rockets did not win a playoff series. Offense has been the main reason why the Rockets have had so much success over the last few years. The Rockets have finished with the second-ranked scoring offense in the NBA three of the last four years.

The Rockets tandem of Westbrook and Harden is as good as any duo in the NBA. Harden is first on the team in scoring while Westbrook is second. Both players also lead the team in steals as well as assists. In fact, the Rockets are the only team this season that finished with two players ranked in the top ten in points per game. I am not worried about Westbrook and Harden getting the job done against the Mavs.

To be honest, there are only two factors that are making it hard for me to pick the Rockets with confidence. The first issue is that the Rockets do not have the services of Eric Gordon for about two weeks. Gordon will certainly be missed since he is third on the team in points per game. The other issue is that the Rockets play small ball, and that works to the Mavericks’ advantage. When your two best players are tall, lanky Europeans that can move the ball all over the court and shoot from three, then you should have little issue taking advantage of the small defenders on Houston’s side. I want to pick the Mavs, but I feel the Rockets are a little bit more used to the spotlight of the playoffs and big games. Houston will win this game outright.

Rockets 115 – Mavericks 114