Remember when some people speculated that the Miami Heat could win 70 games this season now that the championship pressure was off LeBron James’ back? Well, the Heat still can – as long as they finish the season on a 47-2 run. Actually, the Heat aren’t even very good right now, although they remain NBA title favorites at every book. Miami scored a season-low 77 points in Tuesday’s 10-point loss at Indiana. It was the Heat’s fourth loss in their past seven games and third in the past four on the road – the only away win in that stretch was a two-point overtime win at a Magic team that is among the worst in the NBA.
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As for Portland, the Blazers are streaking. They beat those same Magic in overtime on Monday, scoring a season-high 125 points in the process. It was the Blazers’ third straight victory, eighth straight home win and 11th in 14 games overall. A big key has been the play of forward Nicolas Batum. He was struggling with a bad back and had back-to-back games of just five points in losses to Indiana and Sacramento on Dec. 5 and 8, respectively. But the Frenchman has been terrific since, which coincides with that strong 14-game stretch for Portland. In the past 10 games, Batum is averaging 16.9 points, 6.4 assists -- a huge number for his position and for a team with a great rookie point guard in Damian Lillard -- and 5.2 rebounds. With the injury problems and struggles of No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis or New Orleans, Lillard is clearly the Rookie of the Year front-runner right now.
This is the first of two meetings between Miami and Portland this season and the second of a season-high six-game road trip for the Heat.
Heat at Blazers Betting Story Lines
The Heat still have clearly the best trio of players in the NBA in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – they combined for 66 of the team’s points Tuesday, and LeBron has scored at least 20 points in every game this season. He is 12 games from tying Hall of Famer George Gervin’s record in the 1981-82 season of 45 games with at least 20 points to start a season. But Miami has one major flaw: rebounding. The Heat were outrebounded by 19 against the Pacers, and Indiana outscored Miami 23-6 in second-chance points. In Friday’s home loss to Chicago, the Bulls upset Miami by outrebounding Miami 48-28, including 19-4 on the offensive end.
The Heat are second-to-last in the NBA in rebounding at 39.0 per game, just ahead of last-place Boston. Miami’s rebounding differential is minus-2-8. The Heat have managed to win four games this year when outrebounded by 15 or more, but no team has won the NBA title with a negative regular-season rebounding differential since the 1995 Houston Rockets. But can Portland take advantage of it on Thursday? The Blazers are No. 22 in rebounding (41.3 per game) and have a minus-1.3 differential.
There’s really only one injury to be aware of as of this writing, and it’s to Portland star big man LaMarcus Aldridge. He has been bothered by a right wrist injury, but X-rays were negative Tuesday and it was called a sprain. Aldridge, who will play Thursday, has been playing through it and hasn’t seemed affected. He had 27 points (54.5 percent from field), 10 boards and five assists against the Magic. Aldridge was one of four Blazers with a double-double against Orlando, along with Batum, Lillard and J.J. Hickson. It was the first time since December 2006 that a team had two players with 15 points and 10 assists and two different players with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Because of the lockout, the teams met just once last season, in Portland. The Heat won 107-93 thanks to 38 points 11 rebounds six assists, five steals and no turnovers from LeBron and 33 points and 10 assists from Wade. In an interesting stat, no NBA player had a game with 35 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five steals and no turnovers previously since the league starting keeping individual statistics in the 1977-78 season. Bosh missed the game due to a death in the family, yet the Heat still outrebounded Portland 41-36. Aldridge led Portland with 20 points.
The road team has won the past five games in the series. LeBron had 44 points in Miami’s 107-100 overtime win at the Rose Garden the previous season. Portland hasn’t lost consecutive games to Miami since losing ﬁve straight in the series between Jan. 7, 2005, and Feb. 13, 2007. The Heat are the only NBA team that the Trail Blazers have a better record against on the road than at home.
Heat at Blazers Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BetOnline, Miami is a four-point favorite with the total at 196. The Heat are 16-17 ATS (5-9 on road) and 15-18 “over/under”. Portland is 15-18-1 ATS (8-7-1 at home) and 16-17-1 O/U.
The Heat are 4-0 ATS in their past four against the Western Conference. Miami has covered six of its past eight Thursday games. The Heat are 1-6 ATS in their past seven games overall and 0-4 ATS in past four on road. Portland is 6-0 ATS in its past six against teams with a winning record. The Blazers are 2-5 ATS in their past seven after a win. The over is 7-0 in Portland’s past seven against teams with a winning record. The over is 7-1-1 in the past nine meetings in Portland. The Heat have covered in seven of their past nine visits.
Heat at Blazers Picks and Betting Predictions
If it’s close, that favors Portland, which is now 10-2 in games decided by six points or fewer, and 5-0 in games that go to overtime. The Blazers are 13-1 when they shoot better than 45 percent, and 12-2 when they score 100 points or more. And history says it should be close and high-scoring. Prior to last season’s 14-point Heat win, the previous four games in the series had been decided by less than 10 points. The winning team in this series has scored 100-plus points in the last seven meetings and in nine of the past 10, according to the Blazers’ team site. Take Portland to cover – unless by some miracle Aldridge sits -- and the over.
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