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Feb 29, 2020

Saturday's NBA Essentials and Angles - Rockets at Celtics

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Top Game: Rockets at Celtics (-2, 230.5), 8:35 p.m. ET, ABC

Houston (38-20 SU, 29-29 ATS) was staring a three-game losing streak that would’ve matched its second-longest of the season in the face when it squared off against Boston (41-17, 36-20-1) on Feb. 11. The Celtics came into Toyota Center on a seven-game winning streak but were turned away in one of only two losses they’ve suffered during an 11-2 run that began on Jan. 28.

The Rockets haven’t lost since that 116-105 win, carrying a five-game winning streak into TD Garden thanks to a small-ball approach they’re calling “microball” that has been fortified by the additions of Robert Covington, Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook have done the bulk of the work. Westbrook has scored 30 or more points in nine of 11 games while the league’s leading scorer, Harden (35.2 ppg) has topped 30 points in eight of 11. Both were dominant in Wednesday’s 140-112 rout of the Grizzlies.

Although Houston’s All-Stars have been exceptional of late, you won’t find many arguments that the player currently enjoying the best form entering this matchup is Celtics’ forward Jayson Tatum, who has shined against LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and other peers over the past month, emerging as one of the league’s best just before he turns 22 years old on March 3.

With Kemba Walker sidelined by knee soreness, Tatum has had the ball in his hands more over the past few weeks and has averaged 30.5 points in February, shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent of 3-point range, tossing in an average of 4.4 makes from beyond the arc per contest. He’s scored 30 or more in six of 11 games and has made at least four 3-pointers eight times.





Look for Covington and Danuel House to be on Tatum duty, but it remains to be seen how the Rockets handle coverages since he’ll be motivated to bounce back from a 15-point effort in the loss at Houston that is by far his worst outing of the month. Tatum went 0-for-7 from beyond the arc at Toyota Center but should be more comfortable at home. Walker isn’t expected back until Tuesday’s game against Brooklyn, which means Marcus Smart is likely to remain in the starting lineup and should team with Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and key reserve guard Brad Wanamaker to try and slow Harden and Westbrook down.

Houston’s All-Star duo combined for 78 points in the win over the Celtics but know they must be wary of revenge here since their 23-5 mark at home ranks fourth-best in the NBA behind the 76ers, Bucks and Heat. They scored 141 points against the Clippers there on Feb. 13 and own a seven-game winning streak in their building, last losing on Jan. 18 as the Suns pulled an upset.

Boston has covered in 10 of its last 13 games, including each of its last five. Houston is 4-1 ATS over its last five and has won three of four on the road.

Although Walker won’t play, the Celtics may get back the services of reserve big man Robert Williams, who has been sidelined since early December due to a hip injury. The ‘over’ is on a 4-1 run in games involving Boston and has prevailed in three of the last four contests featuring the Rockets.

Best of the Rest

Nets at Heat (-7, 223), 7:35 p.m. ET

Brooklyn (26-32, 27-31) got rocked in Atlanta on Friday, surrendering 79 points in the second and third quarters to fall 141-118 after leading early by double-digits. The Nets have lost three straight and have fallen to No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind Orlando. Ninth-place Washington remains five games back, so the Nets are still in a good spot to reach the playoffs without the injured Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but their stint should be brief with it looking increasingly likely that the Bucks will be their first-round foe. They’ll have to overcome landing in South Florida from Atlanta with enough time to take in some of Miami’s night life, so be on the lookout for that.

Miami (37-22, 31-27-1) has lost seven of 10 despite snapping a two-game losing streak by beating Dallas 126-118 on Friday, rallying in the fourth quarter to overcome surrendering a 38-point third. Perimeter defense continues to be an issue for the Heat, who gave up 21 3-pointers (out of 50) against the Mavs, who saw Seth Curry connect on eight of nine attempts. Miami spoiled Luka Doncic’s 21st birthday and caught a break as he attempted to play through a thumb injury, but it hasn’t won consecutive games since Feb. 1-3. These teams split their two meetings in Brooklyn and will be playing in South Florida for the first and only time this season. The AP’s Tim Reynolds reports that this will be the first “Leap Day” home game in Heat history.

Lakers (-6) at Grizzlies, 8:05 p.m. ET

It remains to be seen whether LeBron James will suit up in Memphis (28-31, 30-28-1) in order to send a message to the team that would be the Lakers’ first-round opponent if the playoffs opened today. Los Angeles (45-12, 31-25-1) plays in New Orleans on Sunday to close out its three-game road trip and currently views them as the more formidable foe given the Grizzlies’ depleted state, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see James give his sore groin an extra day of rest before returning. He sat out Wednesday’s 116-86 rout of the Warriors. Anthony Davis played through a sore elbow and is expected to suit up against a Grizzlies team missing their top two power forwards, Jaren Jackson, Jr. and rookie Brandon Clarke.

Lakers guard Danny Green is listed as doubtful with hip soreness, so expect more minutes for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso, who have both been x-factors of late. Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant had 20 points and 11 assists against the Kings on Friday night but Memphis still lost 104-101. The Grizzlies have dropped five consecutive games and have seen their lead over the Pels for the No. 8 spot shrink to just two games. Dillon Brooks scored a season-high 32 points and Jonas Valanciunas had a career-best 25 rebounds in the loss to Sacramento, so we’ll see what the shorthanded Griz have left in front of what should be a sell-out crowd. L.A. won in Memphis 109-108 on Nov. 23 and beat it by double-digits at Staples in October and most recently on Feb. 21, winning 117-105 behind 32 points from James. Jackson missed the second half due to knee soreness, part of Memphis’ big issue during this slide.

Magic at Spurs (-2, 220), 8:35 p.m. ET

Orlando (27-32, 26-31-2) has won three straight games and can match its longest run of success this season by pulling off this road upset. San Antonio (24-33, 24-32-1) is running out of time to extend its streak of making the playoffs that dates back to 1997-98, so this is a monumental game for both teams despite neither coming in with a winning record.

The Magic picked up a 136-125 win against Minnesota on Friday night behind 33 points from reserve Terrence Ross, 28 points from Nikola Vucevic and a triple-double from Aaron Gordon, who is playing his best basketball of the season after his Slam Dunk contest letdown.

San Antonio won’t have LaMarcus Aldridge in place due to a shoulder strain, so the Spurs will have to rely on DeMar DeRozan as the primary catalyst in order to avoid the season sweep against Orlando, which prevailed at home back on Nov. 15, 111-109. The Spurs have won 15 of 20 in the series between these teams, including eight of the last 10 at AT&T Center. The Magic have seen the ‘over’ prevail in six straight contests. The high side is 6-2 in the last eight involving San Antonio.

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

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