Inside the Paint – Thursday

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

Game of the Night (TNT, 8:05 p.m. ET)
L.A. Lakers (17-10 SU, 11-15-1 ATS) at Houston (12-14 SU, 10-16 ATS)

Despite a rough start to the season, oddsmakers are still respecting the Houston Rockets in this primetime matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. [...] sent out the Rockets -5 ½ with a total of 221 ½. NBA expert Tony Mejia provided his quick thoughts on the Western Conference matchup.

“While Houston faces an uphill climb after falling to the back of the pack in the loaded Western Conference, L.A. takes its act on the road for a four-game set that will open against James Harden, Chris Paul and their gang of underachievers. The Lakers have managed to overcome losing talented young wing Brandon Ingram and haven’t had Rajon Rondo back in the mix for weeks, but that hasn’t stopped them from winning six of seven since Nov. 29,” said Mejia.

“James has flawlessly played closer while ensuring that young co-stars Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball stay in rhythm throughout. Making sure both get going on the road will be his primary objective early on, but what we’re about to see what killer instinct LeBron has brought to Lakers, especially since a win over the slumping Rockets would increase the gap between the teams to six games if they’re able to get their road swing off to a strong start. Stops in Charlotte, Washington and Brooklyn will follow after that, so L.A. can go on a run that may see it in first place ahead of the Warriors when the teams meet for the first time on Christmas Day. The Lakers are just 6-6 on the road and have won only once away from Staples Center since Nov. 23, so the first quarter of this contest should be telling.”

As Mejia mentioned, the Golden State matchup is less than two weeks away and I’m curious to see how many points the Lakers will catch in that game. The reason for my interest is because L.A. has only been an underdogs six times this season and it’s gone 3-3 both SU and ATS, four of the instances (2-2) coming on the road. This is the most points that they’ve received this season and the spread hasn’t matter in any of the first six outcomes so perhaps a money-line (+188) on the Lakers may intrigue you more if you're leaning to L.A.

Houston just snapped a three-game losing skid on Tuesday with a 111-104 win over Portland as a 6 ½-point home favorite but a 6-5 SU and 5-6 ATS record at the Toyota Center is still shaky, especially for a team that went 34-7 at home in last year’s regular season.

This year’s squad has plenty of new pieces and Mejia noted how the team is still trying to find the chemistry that helped them dominate their way to the No. 1 seed in the West last year.

He added, “Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni made a switch to his lineup, placing top sixth man Eric Gordon in his first five to ensure another shooter is out there taking advantage when Harden or Paul is double-teamed. That tweak didn’t yield early results since the Rockets trailed the Blazers 19-10 when Paul was replaced by James Ennis midway through the opening quarter in Tuesday’s eventual 111-104 Rockets win, but we should see him stay in the lineup anyway since Ennis is out at least a week after straining his hamstring. Gerald Green and rookie Danuel House are expected to get more minutes off the bench as a result.”

In the first meeting between the pair on Oct. 20 from the Staples Center, the Rockets captured a 124-115 road win over the Lakers as 3 ½-point favorites. The game was marred with a late scuffle between Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram. No drama should be expected tonight, on the court at least, since Rondo and Ingram are both nursing injuries. Including that victory, Houston has won eight of the last 10 against the Lakers while going 6-4 ATS. Total bettors should note that the ‘over’ is on an 8-2 run in this series.

Along with the big matchup tonight from Houston, we have three other games on Thursday and below is my quick handicap.

L.A. Clippers (17-10 SU, 11-15-1 ATS) at San Antonio (14-14 SU, 14-13-1 ATS)

These teams met just under a month ago in Los Angeles and the Clippers captured a 116-111 win but the Spurs managed to cash as six-point road underdogs. Since that loss, San Antonio has gone 7-7 while Los Angeles has posted an 8-5 record but it limps into this game with losses in three of its last four.

San Antonio opened as a short favorite (-2) for the rematch and I thought the number should be a little bit higher knowing the Spurs have been much stronger at home (10-4 SU, 9-5 ATS). Plus, the Clippers are starting to show some flaws and they just lost the best bench player in the NBA in Lou Williams (hamstring) for at least a couple weeks. The Spurs have also shown more fight defensively at home (106.6 PPG) compared to their awful road numbers (118.1 PPG) and the Clippers (115.3 PPG) have shown less fight on the road as well.

Last season, the Spurs won and covered both games at the AT&T Center against the Clippers with the margins coming by 18 and 13 points. Since getting run by Houston (136-105) on Nov. 30, San Antonio has won and covered all four of its home games in December and every win was by double digits.

Chicago (6-22 SU, 13-15 ATS) vs. Orlando (12-15 SU, 15-12 ATS) - (Mexico City, Mexico)

The NBA Global Games will head to Mexico for this matchup and remain in the country for another game on Saturday when the Magic host the Jazz. Orlando opened as a four-point favorite and the early action moved the number up to 4 ½ at most books. It’s a tough game to bet due to the venue and even though the Magic are the more talented and deeper team, they’re not in great form (0-3 SU, 0-3 ATS) recently.

However, Chicago is a mess and they’re coming off back-to-back blowout losses at home by 56 and 19 points. They actually played well for the first 24 minutes in Monday’s loss to Sacramento (108-99) but they couldn’t buy a bucket in the second-half as they were outscored 63-33. The Bulls are ranked last in scoring offense (101.8 PPG) and maybe a change of scenery will change things up. It’s been reported that the Bulls are the second most popular team in Mexico behind the Lakers, largely due to many of the fans falling in love with the team during the Michael Jordan championship era.

This will be the first meeting between the pair this season but the recent encounters have leaned heavily to Orlando, who is 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS in the last eight games against the Bulls.The total on this game opened 207 ½ and jumped to 209 ½ quickly. The high altitude could play a factor and looking back at the past six games played in Mexico, we’ve seen an average combined scored of 207.3 PPG.

Dallas (15-11 SU, 17-9 ATS) at Phoenix (4-24 SU, 9-19 ATS)

Even though the Mavericks have been the best team for bettors this season, most of their damage has come at home (13-2 SU, 12-3 ATS) although they got squeezed late on Wednesday in a 114-107 win over Atlanta as a 10-point favorite. On the road, the Mavericks have been awful (2-9 SU, 5-6 ATS) and a lot of the covers have come in the role of an underdog. As a road favorite, Dallas is 1-2 and one of the losses came on opening night at Phoenix (121-100).

A lot has changed for the Suns since then and they’re still not expected to have Devin Booker (hamstring) available. Phoenix (+9 ½) did show some fight on Monday in a 123-119 overtime loss at home to the Clippers but that setback dropped them to 3-11 SU and 6-8 ATS at Talking Stick Resort Arena this season. Including the loss to L.A. and Tuesday’s 111-86 defeat to the Spurs on no rest, the Suns have dropped 10 straight games (1-9 ATS) headed into this matchup and the only cover during this skid came in the aforementioned contest to the Clippers.

If you’re looking for another angle to pass the game altogether or fade Dallas, you can point to its 0-3 record (1-2 ATS) when playing on no rest this season. Make a note that the Mavs defense has allowed 120.6 PPG in those games, which has led to a perfect 3-0 ‘over’ mark.

Chris David can be reached at