NBA Basketball - Miami Heat at Houston Rockets (-3, 183) 9:00 PM EST
Miami has openly stated for some time that getting back to .500 was a goal of the team before the All-Star break. Winning seven of last eight games has allowed them to reach the magic number.
With Shaquille O'Neal and coach Pat Riley back in the fold, the Heat feel as if they are ready to move up in the standings and become a real force in the Eastern Conference. First they will have to get past a Houston team that has delusions of grandeur of its own.
Pat Riley returns from right knee surgery and hip replacement surgery, and has taken over as of Monday's practice. Two areas of improvement Riley will be seeking immediately are for the offense to have more balance without Dwyane Wade having to carry the load.
Miami is 20th in the NBA at 96.5 points a game. Forward Jason Kapono is the league leader in three point accuracy at 52.2 percent and is 20-31 since the Big Fella has returned. This signifies the importance of Shaq as a threat that must be taken seriously. Udonis Haslem and James Posey quietly do their work, which is appreciated even more when they are not forced to give more then they are capable. The other area will come somewhat naturally with O'Neal back on the hardwood; in fact it is occurring already. On the season Miami has allowed 98 points every time out, in the last eight games this figure has been lowered to 89 PPG.
Don't expect Houston to just play meekly for the defending champs. The Rockets are positioned in the fifth spot right behind San Antonio. Houston has played the role of an underdog with Yao Ming out, rallying with a 17-8 record. Though this has built their confidence, the team realizes that when the playoffs commence, the action slows down, making Ming an even a greater force. The defensive style of play is something this roster looks to be more comfortable then previous groups. The league's number one defense in points allowed and shooting percentage is 8-3-1 ATS the last dozen times as a favorite.
The early line favors Houston as a three point favorite at sportsbook.com, with a total of 183. The Rockets have been deplorable home favorite with 18-33 ATS record over the last two seasons. This is further exacerbated by Houston being 5-16 ATS after playing a game as a home underdog.
The Heat have been particularly hot when the underdog of late with 8-1-1 against the spread record and 9-3 ATS in road games. For good measure they are 3-0 SU and ATS when playing with three or more days rest.
Miami was destroyed at home 94-72 back on November 11, and would like to continue the same success they have had at the Rockets with 6-3 SU and ATS mark.
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