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NEW YORK KNICKS (15-23) at INDIANA PACERS (30-7) Line & Total: Indiana -10 & 182
The Pacers go for their third straight win when they host the recently improved Knicks on Thursday night.
New York has played much better lately and has done so with its commitment to defense, going 5-1 SU (4-2 ATS) in its past six games by allowing only 92.2 PPG on 43.5% FG (26.4% threes). But Indiana has not allowed an opponent to reach 100 points in 13 straight games, going 10-3 SU (9-4 ATS) during this stretch. The Pacers also have a significant rebounding advantage in this matchup with a +4.5 RPG margin (2nd in NBA), while the Knicks have a minus-2.9 RPG margin (26th in league). These teams met earlier in the season on Nov. 20 at Madison Square Garden, where Indiana prevailed 103-96 in overtime, improving the club to 7-3 SU (6-4 ATS) in the past 10 meetings. New York has lost six straight trips (1-5 ATS) to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but is still 10-10 ATS in its past 20 visits to Indianapolis. The Knicks are a solid 11-8 ATS (8-11 SU) on the road this season, and 20-9 ATS (69%) over the past two seasons when revenging a loss where an opponent scored 100 or more points. But the Pacers are 19-1 SU (14-6 ATS) at home this season, and are a strong 21-9 ATS (70%) as a favorite.
New York has been solid on defense this season, allowing just 98.2 PPG (8th in NBA), but they struggle to score the basketball with just 95.4 PPG (25th in league) on 43.8% FG (24th in NBA). The Knicks saw their five-game win streak come to an end when they lost 108-98 to the Bobcats on Tuesday. SF Carmelo Anthony (26.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG) has been excellent this season, but he has really struggled with his shooting over the past three games (39% FG, 3-of-13 threes). He shot poorly against the Pacers in their Nov. 20 meeting (10-of-28 FG, 36%), but still finished with 30 points, 18 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Since coming to New York, Anthony has averaged 25.1 PPG and 7.7 RPG in 10 regular-season meetings with Indiana, but has made just 42% FG and 29% threes (16-of-55). His matchup with Paul George will be crucial in determining the outcome of this game. The Knicks will also need a big performance from PG Raymond Felton (11.1 PPG, 5.3 APG). The point guard spot is the weakest in the Pacers’ lineup, so Felton could really help the Knicks if he is to outplay George Hill. Felton missed the first meeting this season with an injury, but wasn't great against Indiana last season, averaging 11.3 PPG (41% FG) and 4.7 APG in 29.9 MPG. He will need to attack the basket and open up the floor for his teammates. PF Andrea Bargnani (13.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG) could be an X-factor in this game. The Knicks brought him in this offseason as a way to get bigger in hopes of better defending David West and Roy Hibbert. Bargnani struggled badly in the first meeting though, tallying just 10 points (4-of-16 FG) and eight rebounds, but he got good looks and if he knocks them down this could be a different game. Bargnani is currently on a hot shooting streak, averaging 12.2 PPG on 53% FG in his past six contests.
Indiana has the best record in NBA because it is the league’s best defensive team, allowing 88.1 PPG, 40.9% FG and 32.6% threes, leading the NBA in all three categories. Offensively, the club scores only 97.4 PPG (20th in league) on 45.6% FG (11th in NBA), 35.8% threes (15th in league) and 20.8 APG (17th in NBA). But they are coming off a season-high 116 points in Tuesday's win, where they knocked down 55% of their field goal tries. SF Paul George (22.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG) had been slumping in 2014 with 16.5 PPG on 34% FG (22% threes) in his first six January games, but he exploded against the Kings with 31 points on 10-of-18 FG (4-of-7 threes). He has thrived against Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks over the past two seasons with 23.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 5.2 APG in five meetings, tallying 35 points, five boards, four assists and five steals in the Nov. 20 victory. PF David West (12.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG) has been hot recently with 18.0 PPG (67% FG) and 8.0 RPG over the past two contests, and had 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting between these teams this season. West's strength usually gives the Knicks problems when they play, as he's averaged 14.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG over 22 career meetings. C Roy Hibbert (12.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.6 BPG) will also need to anchor the defense against this hungry Knicks team. Hibbert had just eight points and eight rebounds in the first meeting this season, which was actually an improvement from his horrible numbers against New York last season when he scored just 5.5 PPG (42% FG) with 6.3 RPG. But Hibbert shined against the Knicks in the playoffs last May with 13.3 PPG (47% FG), 10.3 RPG and 3.2 BPG in the six-game series. PG George Hill (10.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.3 APG) has mediocre numbers over his 13 career games in this series (9.5 PPG, 41% FG, 3.2 APG), but poured in 23 points with eight rebounds in the first meeting between these teams this season. Raymond Felton must do a better job of preventing open looks for him.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (28-10) at HOUSTON ROCKETS (26-14) Line & Total: Houston -2.5 & 207.5
The Thunder will attempt to end their three-game road losing streak when they visit the surging Rockets on Thursday night.
Oklahoma City has been playing just .500 basketball (5-5 SU) since PG Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury, including three losses in their past four contests. The Thunder were defeated by a score of 90-87 as 1.5-point underdogs on Tuesday night against the Grizzlies despite a big game from SF Kevin Durant (37 points). Houston has won five of six January games SU (2-3-1 ATS) and extended its current winning streak to three games with a tight 103-100 win in New Orleans on Wednesday night. The Rockets barely edged out the Pelicans as they outscored them by 10 points (29-19) over the final quarter. Oklahoma City has been a solid 12-7 SU on the road this season, with a slight ATS edge (10-9) in those games, but will have a very tough task ahead as Houston has gone 15-5 SU (9-8-3 ATS) when defending its home court. The two teams met earlier this year in Oklahoma City on Dec. 29 with the Rockets suffering an embarrassing 117-86 loss. The Thunder shot an impressive 57.3% from the field that night while holding their opponent to a putrid 31-of-85 shooting (36.5% FG). Oklahoma City also won a playoff series between these two teams last season in six games (4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS) as part of its 7-3 SU (6-4 ATS) advantage in the past 10 meetings with Houston. The Under is 6-1 in the past seven matchups. As far as injuries go, the Thunder will continue to be without star PG Russell Westbrook (knee) until around the All-Star break, but SF Kevin Durant (wrist) is probable to suit up. Houston has been without C Omer Asik (thigh) and PG Patrick Beverley since December, with its only recent injury being PG Aaron Brooks (knee) who is questionable for Thursday.
The Thunder have been a strong offensive team this season with 104.7 PPG on 46.3% FG (both rank 6th in NBA) but have seen their offensive output decrease recently and are averaging only 94.3 PPG on 39% FG (26% threes) over their past four contests. Their defense, on the other hand, has remained consistent all season, allowing only 97.8 PPG (7th in league) on 42.0% FG (2nd in NBA) and 34.1% threes (5th in league). SF Kevin Durant (29.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.5 SPG) is by far the league’s top scorer this season and has 30+ points in each of his past four games where he's averaged 37.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 5.0 APG. He lit Houston up the first time they played with 33 points (11-of-17 FG), 13 rebounds and five assists, and has averaged a robust 24.7 PPG (48% FG, 39% threes) and 6.4 RPG over 23 career games against them. PF Serge Ibaka (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.4 BPG) has averaged 12.0 RPG and 3.3 BPG over his past three contests, but has not been able to increase his offensive output after the loss of PF Russell Westbrook (21.3 PPG, 7.0 APG, 6.0 RPG), as Ibaka has averaged only 12.4 PPG in the nine games he has played since the injury. Ibaka has been effective against the Rockets in 15 career games though, scoring 10.7 PPG (63% FG) while grabbing 7.1 RPG and rejecting 2.7 shots per game, but did little to help the Thunder this season in the matchup (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks). PG Reggie Jackson (12.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.7 APG) has stepped in as the starter for Westbrook, and is coming off a game where he scored 17 points while dishing out only three assists and turning the ball over seven times. In seven games spanning the month of January, Jackson has nearly as many turnovers (27) as assists (28). But he had a huge game against the Rockets last month when he tallied 16 points (7-of-12 FG), eight assists and zero turnovers.
Houston has been one of the more steady offenses in the league this season with 105.2 PPG (4th in NBA) on 47.4% FG (3rd in NBA) plus a league-high 31.9 free throw attempts per game. The Rockets enjoy playing at fast pace, and are allowing opponents to score 101.7 PPG (19th in league) on a meager 43.4% FG (5th in NBA). In six games this month, they have allowed more than 100 points only once, giving up 96.8 PPG on 40.7% shooting. SG James Harden (24.6 PPG, 5.2 APG, 5.0 RPG) has developed into a superstar while averaging 27.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 5.3 APG through six January games. When he faced the Thunder last month, it was Harden's worst offensive game of the season as he scored just eight points on 2-of-9 shooting (0-for-3 threes) and contributed little else (3 rebounds, 3 assists). He did much better against his former team last season though, averaging 29.3 PPG (11-of-20 threes) in three meetings. C Dwight Howard (18.1 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 1.8 BPG) is looking more like his old self lately and has a double-double in four of the past five games (20.4 PPG, 10.6 RPG). Just like Harden, Howard played very poorly against Oklahoma City the first time around, going 4-for-13 from the field while grabbing nine rebounds and making only one of his seven free throws. He has netted 19.7 PPG (58% FG), grabbed 13.5 RPG and averaged 2.3 BPG over 20 career games against the Thunder. SF Chandler Parsons (17.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.6 APG) has played well over the last couple games (15.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG) after missing the previous three to a knee injury. He has averaged only 12.1 PPG (44% FG, 26% threes) in seven career games in this series, while putting up 15 points (5-of-12 FG, 2-of-6 threes) and only two rebounds this season against them.

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