It’s Thursday night and there’s plenty of action to be seen in the NBA! Two marquee matchups feature the Denver Nuggets taking on the Houston Rockets in a Western Conference heavyweight showdown, while the Los Angeles Clippers are heading East to take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Jokic, Harden, Giannis. Let’s break down the trends and odds for each MVP candidate’s team below.
Game 1: Denver Nuggets (50-23) @ Houston Rockets (47-28)
After clashing with Giannis just a few days ago, Harden finds himself in another bloodbath with an MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. The Rockets and Nuggets have played 3 times this season, with Houston grabbing a 2-1 lead thus far. The Nuggets did win the last game though, and certainly will look to tie the series up tonight.
The Nuggets have been a fairly streaky team this year, but it’s worked out in their favor, winning much more than they lose. They are losing the season series with Golden State 2-1, meaning that they’ll have to move mountains if they want to reclaim the 1st seed. After tonight, Denver plays 8 more games, but 6 of them are against Western Conference playoff teams, including one against the Warriors. The final stretch of the season for the Nuggets will be huge in determining their final seeding and how they’ll do in the playoffs.
- Fairly average 19-17 road record this year.
- Jokic has averaged 23 points, 12.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 1.7 steals in the 3 games against Houston this season. He’ll need a big game if the Nuggets want to win tonight.
- Stellar 30-14 record against the rest of the Western Conference.
- 7-1 in their last 8 games played.
- Did not cover the point spread the last 2 games, and have covered just 4 of the last 10 games overall.
James Harden has the Rockets flying quite high this year. They were the 3rd seed a few days ago, but have slipped after losing to the Bucks and are now just a ½ game behind Portland. At the same time, Jusuf Nurkic did suffer a catastrophic season ending injury for the Blazers, hurting their chances of winning out the rest of the season. The Rockets will need to take care of business tonight first though, faced with the tall task of containing Jokic.
- 27-10 record at home this year.
- Harden has averaged 28 points, 5.3 rebounds, 11.3 assists, and 2 steals in the 3 games played against Denver. He seems to take more of a facilitator role against Denver, opting to pass more frequently than he usually would and scoring 8 less points per game than his season average.
- Very strong 27-19 record against Western Conference teams.
- Kenneth Faried is out, and Eric Gordon is probable to play. Gordon averages 14 points across 2 games played against Denver, and Faried scored 23 in the 1 game he played.
- Failed to cover the point spread last game, but covered 4 of the last 5 games prior to that, and 5 of the last 10 games overall.
Pick: Denver Nuggets +5.0
The Rockets are certainly point spread favorites and are leading the season series against Denver so far, but it’s hard to see them taking a 3rd win against the Nuggets this season. Houston has won 14 of their last 17 games, but 2 of their 3 losses have been against Golden State and Milwaukee. Denver has played on the same level as those two teams this season and they also won the last matchup with Houston. If Denver doesn’t win, it’s likely they at least cover the spread. Expect Denver to win tonight.
Game 2: Los Angeles Clippers (45-30) @ Milwaukee Bucks (56-19)
The Clippers and the Bucks play just twice a year, and tonight signals the second and final game the two will play against each other. Surprisingly, the Clippers won the first matchup by a score of 128-126. That was back in November though, and the Clippers looked a little different then than they do now. This game will feature the hottest team in the league in the Clippers, and the best team record-wise in Milwaukee, and it’s sure to be a fun one!
The Clippers have shocked absolutely everyone by becoming the 5th team to secure a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Since trading away Tobias Harris to Philadelphia, the Clippers have gone 15-5 in the 20 games since, vaulting them up the standings in the shaky Western Conference. Nobody thought they were still competing this year, but Doc Rivers has a quietly excellent team in LA that teams need to watch out for. Just how high up the standings can this Clipper team climb?
- 22-17 road record this year.
- The Clippers “Big 3” have been phenomenal in march. Danilo Gallinari is averaging 24.5 points and 6.7 rebounds on 53% shooting from the field and 48% from downtown. Lou Williams is averaging 22.4 points and 5.1 assists on 45% shooting, and Montrezl Harrell is averaging 18.3 points and 7.3 rebounds on 56% shooting. That’s some firepower right there.
- 19-9 against Eastern Conference teams this year.
- 11-1 in their last 12 games played.
- Covered the point spread the last 2 games, and have covered 6 of the last 10 games overall.
The Bucks are still the best team in the league even after losing Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic to injuries. They score the most points per game in the league at 117.4, and own the largest point differential at +9.5 per game. Simply put, Milwaukee has been dominant this season and have earned their title of best team in the league. They’re on pace to win 60 games, especially with a fairly tame schedule to finish out the year.
- Still hold the best home record in the league at 31-6.
- Giannis and Middleton have been fantastic this month. Giannis is averaging 28.6 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists on 58% shooting, while Middleton is averaging 19.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.8 assists on just 43% shooting.
- 19-9 against the Western Conference, very solid but responsible for half their losses and only a third of their wins.
- Just 9-5 in March, the most losses they’ve had in a month since they lost 6 in November.
- Managed to cover the point spread the last 3 games in a row, and have been excellent lately, covering 7 of the last 10 games overall.
Pick: Milwaukee Bucks -8.5
If the Bucks had lost to Houston the other night, I’d be picking the Clippers tonight. Instead, they stomped the Rockets, and are heavy point spread favorites here tonight. The Clippers are indeed the hottest team in the NBA right now, but Milwaukee is one of the hardest arenas to steal a win from, where the Bucks have only lost 6 times at home. Tonight won’t be #7, but it’s possible the Bucks don’t cover the large point spread. Expect Milwaukee to win tonight.