Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Thursday's Essentials

Editor's Note: NBA Member leader Antony Dinero (+2030) went 6-2 on Wednesday and is 9-3 on totals this week. He's on a 42-31 run (57%, +840) on member plays since Feb. 22. He led VegasInsider in guaranteed profits (+2809) and totals (+2423) while finishing second overall (+1760) in 2017-18. Don't miss out on more winners from him this basketball season on Click to win!

Game of the Night - Denver at Houston (-5, 218), 8:05 ET, NBA TV

The Rockets’ loss in Milwaukee was disappointing for much more than the perception it might cost James Harden the MVP trophy. He likely wasn’t going to get enough first-place votes as it is, but shooting 1-for-9 from 3-point range as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks wrapped up a season sweep probably swung anyone on the fence. Houston matched its second-lowest point total of 2019 in a 108-94 loss that helped knock it down to fourth in the Western Conference when combined with Portland’s easy win in Chicago on Wednesday.

Denver is running second in the West despite nearly blowing a 27-point lead against Detroit, holding on for a 95-92 result that clinched its first 50-win season since 2013. The Nuggets are in the midst of a stretch that has them playing six of seven on the road, wrapping it up with another tough test in Oklahoma City on Friday. Of the nine games they’ve got left, seven will be against playoff teams, which makes surpassing Golden State for the West’s top record and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs unlikely.

These teams would love nothing more than to see one another in the Western Conference semifinals, the earliest they’re likely to meet, because it means they would be avoiding the Warriors until a potential conference finals. The Nuggets are 3.5 games up on the Trail Blazers but considering their tough remaining schedule and the fact they still have to go through Portland on April 7, nothing is a given.

Denver has won seven of eight but has failed to top the 100-point mark in consecutive games for the first time this season. Worse yet, nearly blowing a huge lead against Detroit was another example of the Nuggets coasting home and failing to display killer instinct. They’ve covered in only two of their last six wins and are just 3-8 in their last 11 games as an underdog, which they’ll be tonight at the Toyota Center. Although they share the NBA’s top home record with Milwaukee, the Nuggets are a rather ordinary 19-17 outside of Colorado. Following Tuesday’s win, head coach Mike Malone said “I never know which team is going to be out there from quarter to quarter.”

The Rockets have to capitalize on Denver’s erratic form if they’re going to have any chance to pass them down the line since a victory here would be worth two games considering it would clinch a 3-1 season series edge. James Harden is averaging 28 points per game through their first three meetings but hasn’t shot over 44 percent in any of the three games. The Nuggets won the most recent meeting between these teams 136-122 on Feb. 1 despite Harden hitting half of his 14 3-point attempts. After falling behind 43-35 following a fast-paced first quarter, the Nuggets outscored the Rockets 48-28 in the second quarter to take control.

Malik Beasley led the Nuggets with 35 points, hitting five 3-pointers in a start with both Jamal Murray and Gary Harris sidelined. Nikola Jokic had 31 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists and has averaged 23.0 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists against Houston, so any thoughts of an upset will have to start with him being more aggressive. Paul Millsap grabbed just one rebound in Denver’s most recent win over the Rockets and has racked up just four boards in the three games. He’s been playing his best basketball of late, averaging 14.0 points and 8.3 boards this month.

Houston scored 70 first-half points in its most recent win in this series, which has seen the last two meetings surpass the posted total after high-scoring opening halves. The ‘under’ is 11-2 in Rockets’ games this month and has prevailed in 14 of the last 16 games involving Denver since action resumed after the All-Star break.

Beasley was away from the team for the birth of his first child and is questionable to return for this contest. The Rockets will be without Kenneth Faried (knee) and Gerald Green (groin), which means Danuel House should play major minutes and Iman Shumpert will continue to get time on the wing.

Best of the Rest

Brooklyn at Philadelphia, 7:05 p.m. ET: The Nets finally got back to the east coast after losing their 148-144 double-OT thriller in Portland on Monday and will conclude their seven-game road trip up the road in Philly in a potential playoff preview against the 76ers. The teams would meet as the 3-6 matchup in the Eastern Conference if the playoffs were to begin based on the current standings. Brooklyn snapped a three-game losing streak with its epic D’Angelo Russell-led comeback from 25 down in Sacramento and then went out and beat the Lakers, so a 2-4 run on this roadie has been respectable when you consider it lost at the buzzer to Lou Williams’ Clippers and fell to the Blazers in another game where they displayed an ability to rally.

Kenny Atkinson’s team goes hard and won the most recent matchup between these teams at Wells Fargo Center 127-124 back on Dec. 12 behind Spencer Dinwiddie’s 39 points. Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 33 points and 17 rebounds. Ben Simmons is set to return from a stomach issue that kept him out against Orlando in a loss in which his team missed his play-making skills, failing to produce a field goal for nearly a quarter’s worth of action. Mike Scott (back) and James Ennis III (quad) might miss this contest, which would bump up Jonathon Simmons and Jonah Bolden in Brett Brown’s rotation. Brooklyn is going in search of a 3-1 series victory over Philly that would certainly fuel its confidence if the teams were to meet in the playoffs. Allen Crabbe (knee) is out again. The 76ers had a streak of five consecutive ‘overs’ snapped by Orlando and have seen their last two encounters with the Nets top the posted total.

Orlando at Detroit, 7:05 p.m. ET: The Magic’s six-game winning streak is the team’s longest since 2011 and has them atop the Southeast Division and just one game behind the sixth-seeded Nets, who would do hold the tiebreaker if the teams wind up even. Orlando would leapfrog the Pistons with a win here and would tie the season series up, so it’s a huge game for both teams. Detroit has dropped three straight, closing their longest road trip of the season with four consecutive covers but just a 1-4 mark overall to fall back to .500 for the first time since March 3. This is the wrong time of year to be going backward and with the schedule over the next week featuring a home game against Portland a home-and-home with Indiana and a visit to Oklahoma City, the need to get back on track tonight makes this a must-win.

The Pistons have won nine consecutive games at Little Caesar’s Arena, last losing on Feb. 2. Andre Drummond is averaging 17 points and 18.7 rebounds against the Magic, while Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic is averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds against Detroit. Vooch made the All-Star team over Drummond and these two haven’t seen each other since, so the matchup in the middle figures to be serious. Orlando has been among the NBA’s stingiest teams since the All-Star break and have dominated on the boards, leading to a 12-3 run for the ‘under’ in their games.

Dallas at Miami, 7:35 p.m. ET: The Heat lost to Orlando at home on Tuesday to slide out of the eighth spot in the East and only have home games against the Celtics and 76ers left after tonight, so losing again would really dampen hopes of a Dwyane Wade farewell ending in the postseason. Miami has won nine of 13 and hasn’t dropped consecutive games since just after the All-Star break, so it has been reliable over the past few weeks as Erik Spoelstra has found the right blend to make the most of a suddenly healthy roster. The Mavericks have scored 118 or more points in five of the last six games and followed up a huge blowout win at Golden State with a 125-121 loss in Sacramento. Luka Doncic’s knee looks like less of an issue than it did last week, so the Mavs are quite capable of playing spoiler.

The Heat could be without Josh Richardson (heel), who is listed as questionable, and won’t have Justise Winslow or Rodney McGruder. It’s ironic that Dirk Nowitzki will be in town for a game that Dwyane Wade badly needs in order to avoid an early retirement. He scored a game-high 22 points in Miami’s 112-101 win in Dallas on Feb. 13. The Heat have already clinched a losing home record by falling to 17-21 in the loss to the Magic, but the Mavs are the league’s second-worst road team, coming in 7-30.

L.A. Clippers at Milwaukee, 8:05 p.m. ET: The Clippers celebrated making the playoffs by breaking out the champagne, so we’ll see how hard they partied after beating Minnesota on Tuesday night. This will be the first-ever visit to Fiserv Forum for all the Clippers except Landry Shamet, who saw a handful of minutes back on Oct. 24 when the 76ers lost in Milwaukee. He’s questionable with an ankle injury that kept him out of the win over the Timberwolves. Fellow starting guard Patrick Beverley is dealing with a hip pointer but intends to play, which means L.A. will have a healthier roster than their hosts, who won their third in a row on this current homestand against the Rockets on Tuesday.

Milwaukee will look to sweep the four-game stretch despite being without Malcolm Brogdon (heel), Nikola Mirotic (hand) and Tony Snell (ankle), all key members of Mike Budenholzer’s usual rotation. Pau Gasol (ankle) and rookie Donte DiVincenzo (foot) are also out, so Sterling Brown has joined the starting lineup, Pat Connaughton has taken over the sixth man role and Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill and D.J. Wilson round out the bench. Considering they’re facing the team with the NBA’s most productive bench, averaging a league-high 53 points per game, this could be a dangerous game for the team with the NBA’s best home record (31-6).

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

We may be compensated by the company links provided on this page. Read more