Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Inside the Paint - Thursday

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If you bet the favorites in the NBA last night, then accept our congratulations as the ‘chalk’ went 10-0 straight up and 8-1-1 against the spread. The ‘over’ went 7-3 and that combination usually buries the folks behind the counter.

Tonight’s card isn’t easy but we’re focusing on a quality matchup between Houston and Utah, who met in the second round of last year’s Western Conference playoffs.

(Straight Up – SU, Against the Spread – ATS)

Game of the Night (TNT, 10:35 p.m. ET)

Houston (11-12 SU, 9-14 ATS) at Utah (12-13 SU, 12-13 ATS)

With a quarter of the season in the books, I don’t think many pundits would’ve expected both Houston and Utah to sit below .500 but that’s the case when the pair meet from Salt Lake City on Thursday. Injuries have played a toll on both teams and NBA expert Tony Mejia believes both clubs will get things together before the season really picks up in 2019.

He explained, “Donovan Mitchell hasn’t been healthy for most of the season and has had so many off nights that you might think he’s got a touch of Markelle Fultz’s Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He opened December by shooting 1-for-7 from beyond the arc in a 102-100 loss to the Heat in which he missed 16 of 24 shots. Last season’s Rookie of the Year runner-up has had games where he’s gone 1-for-11 and 0-for-7 from 3-point range, so bouncing back to shoot 4-for-6 in Wednesday’s blowout win over the Spurs is a great sign for the Jazz, who have to be hoping this early-season slump comes to an end here shortly. Mitchell scored a season-best 38 points, hitting 14-for-25 shots in 100-89 win on Oct. 24 over Houston.”

“That outburst is a big deal because Mitchell only won one of nine games against Houston as a rookie, largely struggling as the Rockets swept the regular-season series before winning the Western Conference semifinal series 4-1. Getting their shooting guard going to ensure Chris Paul and James Harden have to work on the defensive end will determine whether the Jazz will hold serve at home and it bodes well that he’s done his best work thus far. Mitchell is shooting 35 percent from 3-point range in Salt Lake City as opposed to 29 percent on the road, so keep that in mind if you’re considering riding the Rockets or the under,” Mejia added.

The Rockets were listed as one-point underdogs in the October meeting Paul was suspended for that game due to his run-in with Rondo and the Lakers. For the rematch, Utah opened as a two-point home favorite and considering it was catching 4 ½ and six points in last year’s playoffs, it shows you the respect given to the Jazz from the oddsmakers or the lack of respect for the Rockets.

As Mejia mentioned, Houston got the better of Utah last year and that included a perfect 4-0 record both SU and ATS from Vivint Smart Home Arena. While that mark is impressive, the Rockets limp into this matchup with a dreadful road record (6-7 SU, 5-8 ATS) and that includes a 1-4 run heading into this game. On Monday, Houston dropped a 103-91 decision at Minnesota and it was only able to muster up nine points in the fourth quarter.

Backing Utah at home has been a great investment (3-6 SU, 3-6 ATS) but it is coming off 139-105 win over San Antonio on Tuesday as an eight-point ‘chalk’ while drilling 20-of-33 (61%) bombs from 3-point land.  That victory improved the Jazz to 5-1 versus teams below .500 and while Houston is still considered a contender, it’s currently a losing club as noted above.

The total on this game opened 218 and dropped quickly to 216 ½ and I was surprised by the move. Utah has been a great ‘over’ team at home (8-1) and Houston has started to regain its form as an ‘over’ club too. Despite the scoring drought in the final 12 minutes against the T-Wolves on Monday, Houston was averaging 121.6 points per game in its previous eight games and that led to an 8-0 ‘over’ run.

After this game, the Rockets head to Dallas on Friday while the Jazz get a quick rematch at San Antonio on Sunday.

There are two other games on tap for Thursday and based on the opening numbers from [...], oddsmakers are expecting a pair of blowouts.  

New York at Boston (-12 ½, Total 218 ½)

Quick revenge game for the Celtics, who lost to the Knicks 117-109 on Nov. 21 as 14 ½-point home favorites. Since that setback, Boston has won and covered four of its last five and the offense is finally coming together. The unit is averaging 117.6 PPG during this stretch and that’s helped the ‘over’ go 4-1. Despite owning a lowing record (8-17), the Knicks have returned profits for bettors (14-10-1 ATS) this season. The issue for New York is its defense (114.4 PPG) and if you’re taking the points, then you better hope they get into the 110-120 range offensively. Backing Boston as a home favorite (6-3 SU, 5-4 ATS) hasn’t been a smart decision but they have covered in five of their six wins. As a double-digit favorite this season, the Celtics have gone 2-2 both SU and ATS. Including the aforementioned upset at TD Garden a couple weeks ago, the Knicks are 1-5 SU and 2-3-1 ATS as double-digit underdogs. Total bettors should note that the ‘over’ has gone 5-1 in those games and we’ve seen the number for the rematch open a few points higher (218 ½ from 215 ½).

Phoenix at Portland (-14, Total 215)

I try not to back an underdog with the points unless I believe they can win the game outright and right now, I don’t see how you can justify taking Phoenix in this spot especially with both Devin Booker (hamstring) and TJ Warren (ankle) on the sidelines for the Suns. Portland could be missing CJ McCollum (ankle) as well tonight and making a case for the Trail Blazers is next to impossible. The club has dropped eight straight games ATS and they’re 2-6 straight up during this span. Portland has better home numbers (8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS) but its current form should have most passing tonight. For what it’s worth, the Suns have gone 1-7 SU and 4-4 ATS as double-digit underdogs this season. The Blazers have won seven straight against the Suns in this series but they’re just 3-4 ATS.

Chris David can be reached at [email protected]

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