At 6-2 and currently in the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic are ahead of most expectations entering the 2020-21 NBA season. The Houston Rockets (2-4), on the other hand, are on a two-game losing skid and aren’t where they expected to be in the West.
In Friday’s home game at Toyota Center, the Rockets are hoping for both teams to start moving closer to their projections.
One big reason for Houston’s sluggish start has been injuries and absences. During two losses to start the season, John Wall, Eric Gordon, and DeMarcus Cousins weren’t available due to a mandatory quarantime.
Though they won their next two games, superstar guard James Harden sprained an ankle in the middle of that stretch and hasn’t been the same since. Starting small forward Danuel House Jr. has missed the last two games — both losses — due to back spasms, and he’s out for Friday, as well. And rising star Christian Wood, who averaged more than 23 points and 10 rebounds per game as the starting center to begin the season, missed Wednesday’s loss in Indiana and is questionable for Friday.
Rockets injury updates: Danuel House Jr. still out; Christian Wood questionable
With reinforcements uncertain, the Rockets need Harden to be the dominant scorer he was over three strong games to start the season — when he averaged 37 points on 52.5% shooting and 45.5% on 3-pointers — and not the version that has averaged 18.0 points per game on 32.3% FG (25.0% on 3-pointers) in losses to Dallas and Indiana this week.
The Magic enter coming off back-to-back home wins over Cleveland. In Wednesday’s 105-94 victory (box score), reserve guard Terrence Ross scored a team-high 20 points off the bench in just 22 minutes.
The lines, courtesy of BetMGM
Point spread: Rockets -5.5 (-110), Magic +5.5 (-110)
Moneyline: Rockets -225/Magic +180
Over-under: 227.5 (-110 O, -110 U)
Player O/U Scoring Props: TBD
Place your legal, online sports bets in CO, IN, MI, NV, NJ, PA, TN, and WV at BetMGM.
From NBA.com’s game notes, the projected starters for Orlando are Cole Anthony, Evan Fournier, Dwayne Bacon, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vučević. Meanwhile, Houston is listing Harden, John Wall, David Nwaba, PJ Tucker, and Christian Wood. Both Wood (sore left knee) and Fournier (back spasms) are questionable, and the Rockets could need Wood’s size in the frontcourt to combat Vučević and Gordon.
The Magic have several significant injury absences, including Markelle Fultz (torn ACL); Jonathan Isaac (torn ACL); Al-Farouq Aminu (arthroscopic knee surgery); and Chuma Okeke (bone bruise in knee).
Advice and prediction
Expect the Rockets to play with a heightened sense of urgency, since they have consecutive games looming on Sunday and Tuesday versus the Los Angeles Lakers. If they start 2-5 with two matchups against the defending NBA champions still to come — in which Houston would clearly be underdogs in both — that’s a bad spot for new head coach Stephen Silas as the organization works to try and restore Harden’s confidence that he can contend for a title with the Rockets.
Houston is likely to pull out all the stops to try and avoid a three-game losing streak, and it might mean bringing back Wood. The Rockets badly need a win, the Magic could be due for a loss after a hot start, and the point spread is fairly close because of each team’s surprising record to date. That could provide value in taking the home team to bounce back.
Houston is 2-1 at home this season and 0-3 on the road, and they’re hopeful that a return to Toyota Center can provide a spark.
Prediction: 118-108, Rockets
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Published: 2021-01-08 01:06:27
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