Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Thursday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Dallas at L.A. Clippers (-3.5, 221.5), TNT, 10:35 ET

DeAndre Jordan was coveted by the Mavericks (15-14 SU, 17-12 ATS) for years and finally jumped ship this offseason, ending the “Lob City” era in L.A. With Blake Griffin following Chris Paul out the door last season, Jordan became the final link over last season’s disappointing last few months, which ended in a 10th-place finish out West.

After 10 seasons of service that featured an All-Star appearance in and an All-NBA First team nod, he’s quite deserving of the ovation he’ll receive tonight in his return to face the Clippers (17-13, 16-14) for the first time since signing with Dallas on a lucrative one-year deal.

While neither team was expected to finish above .500 this season, both are currently in the mix in a loaded Western Conference over one-third of the way in, which makes this second meeting of the season all the more interesting.

Jordan finished with 16 points and a season-best 23 rebounds in a 114-110 Mavs’ win the first time these teams met back on Dec. 2, so you count on him being plenty motivated to face Doc Rivers and his former teammates. He should be rested too, having fouled out in just 27 minutes trying to contain Denver’s Nikola Jokic in a 126-118 loss on Tuesday night.

Between Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic and Montrezl Harrell, Rivers will attempt to keep him busy and off the boards after watching him so positively impact the first matchup. Dallas managed to win without standout rookie Luka Doncic, who sat out his only game of the season with a hip strain. The Clippers will get their first look at him tonight as he comes off dishing out a career-best 12 assists in the loss in Denver.

Over the past five games, the 19-year-old Slovenian prodigy has averaged 19 points, 7.6 rebounds and 8.4 assists. Dallas will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak and won’t know if starting guard Dennis Smith, Jr. will be able to play after missing six of the last seven games due to injury. He’s listed as questionable, a designation he shares with forward Maxi Kleber (toe), who also missed the first meeting between these teams to open the month.

Harrison Barnes scored 30 points in the win over the Clips, shooting it 28 times with Doncic sitting. He matched that season-high in Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets in a far more efficient 10-for-16 shooting night. Backup point guard J.J. Barea, back after being hobbled by an ankle sprain, scored a season-best 24 points off the bench to serve as the x-factor against the Clippers last time out and should again play a major role. Dirk Nowitzki has played in Dallas’ last three games since finally making his season debut.

The Clippers have dropped six of seven games and are badly missing Lou Williams, who remains out with an injured hamstring. They’ll be looking for Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari to key an offense that finally got back on track in Tuesday’s 131-127 loss after being held to 104 or fewer points in the team’s previous five losses.

Game of the Night II -- Houston at Miami (-3.5, 209.5), TNT, 8:05 ET

The Rockets set an NBA record with 26 3-pointers to capture their fifth consecutive victory on Wednesday night, crushing the Wizards 136-118. Eight of the 10 players who attempted to knock a shot down from beyond the arc connected as the team nailed 47.3 percent of a staggering 55 attempts to run Washington out of Toyota Center.

Houston (16-14, 13-16-1) is now looking to establish its longest winning streak of the season in Miami (13-16, 15-14), looking to capture a game on the second night of a back-to-back for the fourth time in six tries. The hope is to extend a run that has it back above .500 for the first time in a month and in the mix atop a Southwest Division where all five members are all closely stacked together, four of them within a half-game of one another entering tonight’s action.

A Rockets team easily identified as this season’s most disappointing team given their slow start has really taken off. Carmelo Anthony didn’t fit, but played the scapegoat’s role early because he wasn’t the sole reason the team’s defensive efficiency went down the drain. Chris Paul is just now getting healthy again. Last season’s defensive coordinator, Jeff Bzdelik, who retired abruptly, was brought back after Thanksgiving.

Suddenly, sole possession of first place in one of the NBA’s toughest divisions is in with the grasp of a team you would’ve been wrong to write off prematurely.

Rockets star James Harden has been on a tear during this run, averaging 38.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 7.8 assists. In last week’s Thursday night win that extended the streak to two, he threw down a dunk on Lakers’ 7-footer JaVale McGee and then drained a 3-pointer while being fouled by Josh Hart to key the game-clinching final run. He screamed “I’m back” and snarled, flexing with intensity. It was strange to that he declared himself back to normal despite not missing a game since Nov. 2, but clearly, he felt something was off over the previous month-plus and has now rediscovered his rhythm.

Harden hit a team-high six 3-pointers in the win over the Wizards, finishing with 35 points and nine assists. With small forward James Ennis nursing a hamstring injury, the Rockets have been starting former top sixth man Eric Gordon and have rediscovered their chemistry, though you should be wary of the minutes and usage piling up since P.J. Tucker has been nursing a back injury, Paul isn’t truly back and Ennis remains out. There’s no inkling that he won’t play, but this would only be Paul’s third complete back-to-back if he laces them up.

The Heat will be without their normal starting point guard, Goran Dragic, for at least two months following knee surgery. He’s been in and out of the lineup, so this will be nothing new going forward as Tyler Johnson is likely to start and Dwyane Wade will help run the offense on the second unit. With shooting guard Josh Richardson taking more of a playmaker role, James Johnson being such a good passer and Justise Winslow improving, Miami has the personnel to overcome an injury to Dragic and still be a factor in the East playoff race. The Heat has displayed a tendency to disappear offensively, so we’ll see whether they’re able to keep up here.

Miami’s 5-9 home record is tied for fifth-worst in the NBA, so we’ll see if the presence of Harden brings out the best in the Heat as it looks to avoid a third straight loss at the hands of the Rockets. Houston won 99-90 at home in January and won the most recent meeting in South Florida last season back in February, getting a 41-point night from Harden in a 109-101 win. Dragic and Richardson scored 30 points in the loss. Wade didn’t play.

The Heat are looking for its first three-game winning streak of the season. The ‘under’ is 7-2 over Miami’s last nine games.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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