Miami Heat 1.57, Indiana Pacers 2.45
Are the Indiana Pacers the best team in the Eastern Conference, or indeed the whole NBA?
We may not still get a definitive answer to that poser if they face a Miami Heat team shorn of its brightest star.
LeBron James is a gametime decision for the reigning champions after spraining his ankle in Monday’s win over Utah. It would be the first absence for the MVP this term while it figures to have an impact for the Heat, they are surprisingly effective without his contribution.
According to NBA.com/stats, Miami’s offensive rating (their points per 100 possessions) with James off the floor drops only from 109.2 to 108.3. Opponents get marginally less change from three-pointers and more luck in the paint.
Of course, that is skewed by the fact that other sides use their bench much more when the Heat are giving their totem a rest. But when the Pacers defeated their rivals 90-84 last week, they held James to 17 points on .375 shooting, suggesting this may still be a close grind of a contest even if he is in street clothes. It may though give Paul George an easier ride and he’s 1.85 to score over 23.
Miami is 11-2 at home so far while Indiana comes off their first home loss of this campaign. Last time, the Pacers strength was limiting the Heat from long-range and more of the same will surely keep the total points below the line of 189.5. As for the winner, the hosts are -3.5 on the handicap. But don’t write them off, even if Number 23 is a mere spectator, with this battle for supremacy set to run and run.
Houston Rockets vs Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are going nowhere fast which is why trade talk is centring around both Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer. And while they’re still a solid defensive team, over a ten-game spell that has generated just three wins, there have been definite signs of regression. And over their last six, they’ve gone 1-5 by averaging 79.5 points.
That will make life difficult for them when they travel to the Houston Rockets, even if James Harden sits out. There’s enough offense there with the up tempo pace of the Rockets set to pose more problems for their visitors.
Best bet: Take Miami on the handicap over Indiana at 1.58.
Read more from Unibet columnist Mark Woods.