The Houston Rockets travel to Mile High to challenge the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on Monday, December 28, 2020.
Houston nearly pulled off the upset against the Portland Trail Blazers in their opening game. The Rockets played with only nine players and were without DeMarcus Cousins, and John Wall who are quarantined up to Wednesday. Meanwhile, like the Rockets, the Nuggets are in search of their first win of the season. Denver has dropped its first two outings and is trying to regain the form that sent them to the 2020 Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets have lost their first two home assignments.
The last time these teams played was on January 26, 2020, in Denver. The Nuggets won that game 117-110. However, the Rockets won the previous two meetings by at least 16 points, although both games were played at the Toyota Center.
You can say what you want to say about James Harden. The former MVP may have had a controversial offseason and is still requesting to be traded from the Rockets. But his off court issues did not affect his performance on opening night. From starting training camp late and looking out of shape during the preseason, Harden’s been the topic of criticism and even ridicule. However, Harden put up 44 points and 17 assists in his season debut and the depleted Rockets nearly toppled the Portland Trail Blazers.
Houston played minus John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Gordon who are quarantined until Wednesday. Despite the absences, the Rockets got 31 points and 13 rebounds from Christian Wood while Jae’sean Tate added 13 points off the bench. The Rockets shot 51% from the field and led for the majority of the game before eventually falling in OT to the red hot shooting of C.J. McCollum who finished off the rockets with a game-winning three-pointer with 6.9 ticks left on the clock.
The Denver Nuggets were looking to build on their success in the 2019-20 season where they reached the Western Conference Finals. But after two games so far, they have not been able to replicate their efforts. The Nuggets came up short against the Sacramento Kings in their season opener, losing on a Buddy Hield buzzer-beating tip-in at the end of the overtime period. Then Denver got clobbered by a revenge-seeking L.A. Clippers team on Christmas Day to fall to 0-2 on the season.
Nikola Jokic barely missed a triple-double on Christmas Day with 24 points, nine rebounds, and 10 assists against the Clippers. Jamal Murray added 23 points after putting up just nine in his season opener. Meanwhile, Will Barton led the Denver bench with 15 points in a losing effort. The Nuggets’ defense faltered in the first half against the Clippers as they allowed their opponent to take a 17-point lead which they could not overcome. Denver is giving up an average of 122.5 points per game in their first two assignments and more than offense, they need to step up on defense if they wish to return to their old form.
Houston is 0-5 SU in their last five games played. The Rockets are 1-7 SU in their last eight games played on the road, and 0-5 SU in their last five games against the Western Conference. Denver is 1-6 SU in their last seven games played. The Nuggets are 0-2 so far in two home games, 10-2 SU in their last 12 Monday games, and 13-7 SU in their last 20 games as the betting favorites. Head to head, Houston is 12-3 SU in their last 15 games played against the Nuggets.
Jamal Murray was the breakout star in the Orlando bubble tournament as he led the Nuggets all the way to the Western Conference finals where they were beaten by the eventual champions Lakers. But Murray shot just 1-9 from the field and scored nine points in their OT loss to the Kings. He bounced back with a 20-point effort in the loss to the Clippers.
Houston will be without John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Kenyon Martin Jr., Mason Jones, and Ben McLemore.
James Harden is coming off a smoking hot debut of 44 points and 17 assists in a losing effort against Portland. He is expected to carry much of the load again in this game.
The Nuggets haven’t looked like themselves in their first two games of the season. However, Jamal Murray looked better in their second games after a terrible season opener. Meanwhile, the Rockets still gave the Blazers a good fight despite playing with only nine personnel. James Harden has been the subject of criticism during the offseason but the off court issues did not affect his level of play, at least during the season opener. If Houston were playing with a complete team here, I would give them a shot to win. But without Cousins and Wall, I think the Nuggets will win their first game of the season.
Prediction: Denver Nuggets
The Rockets are 1-4 ATS in their last five games played. Houston is 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games played in December, and 1-5 ATS in their last six Monday games. The Nuggets are 0-2 ATS in their two home games played so far this season, 0-6-1 ATS in their last seven December games, and 4-2 ATS in their last six games against the Southwest Division. Head to head, the Rockets are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games played against the Nuggets.
You can argue that the Rockets went toe to toe with the Blazers before losing the game in OT. However, in this particular matchup, Houston doesn’t have the size to defend Denver’s main man Nikola Jokic. The Rockets have not covered their last four games after taking a one day rest. Meanwhile, the Nuggets got a better game from Jamal Murray the last time out. He should have his confidence back for this contest. Denver is 9-4-1 ATS in their last 14 games as home favorites. Denver can’t afford to go 0-3 even if it’s a long season. I think the player absences will hurt Houston here.
Prediction: Nuggets -7.5
The total has gone under in seven out of the last nine games played by the Rockets. The under is 9-4 in Houston’s last 13 games played against the Northwest Division. The total has gone over in each of the last five games played by the Nuggets. Denver has seen the total go over in each of their last five games played against the Western Conference. Head to head, the total has gone over in six out of the last 10 meetings between these two teams.
Despite missing their big guns, the Rockets still scored 126 points in their first game as they shot over 50% from the floor. James Harden scored 44 points and issued 17 assists in that game and with the Beard trying to prove himself after a circus offseason, Houston is still a potent offensive team. Denver has allowed 122.5 points per game in their first two games and they will be facing an undermanned Houston team that will try to beat them on offense. With a complete lineup, I expect Denver to outgun Houston in a high-scoring contest.
Prediction: Over 224
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