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Howard returns to L.A. Wednesday night
By: Brian Graham - StatFox
Published: 2/19/2014  at  5:24:00 AM
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HOUSTON ROCKETS (36-17)

at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (18-35)

Tip-off: Wednesday, 10:35 p.m. ET
Line: Houston -8.5, Total: 213

Having not lost a game in nearly a month, the Rockets hope to remain hot when they open the second half of the season with five-game road trip that begins Wednesday with a visit to the Lakers.

Since an 18-point blowout loss to Memphis on Jan. 25, Houston has reeled off seven straight victories (5-2 ATS), thanks to an offense scoring a whopping 109.0 PPG on 50.6% FG (39.4% threes) during this win streak. This includes three away victories, which makes the Rockets 14-10 SU (12-12 ATS) on the road this season. This game also includes the sideshow of C Dwight Howard's first visit against his former team. Los Angeles is in quite a rut, losing 10 of its past 12 games (6-6 ATS) and three in a row (1-2 ATS). The club hasn't won a home contest since Jan. 3, going 0-7 SU (2-5 ATS) at Staples Center since that win. Since Dec. 1, the Lakers are a pathetic 2-13 SU (5-10 ATS) in front of their fans, making them 8-16 SU (12-11-1 ATS) at home for the season. These clubs have split the first two games of their season series, which both occurred in Houston. L.A. won 99-98 as a 13.5-point underdog on Nov. 7, but the Rockets got their revenge with an easy 113-99 victory on Jan. 8. That gives these teams an even 6-6 SU split in the past dozen meetings overall, with Houston holding the 8-4 ATS advantage. However, the Rockets are just 3-11 SU (5-9 ATS) in their past 14 trips to Los Angeles. Houston has been a strong wager with at least two days of rest this season, going 6-3-2 ATS, but the Lakers have been even better in this scenario with an 8-2 ATS mark, including 5-0 ATS with at least three days of rest. The Rockets will still be missing PF Greg Smith (knee), but PG Patrick Beverley (abdominal) is expected to play. The Lakers continue to be ravaged with injuries, but PF Pau Gasol, who has missed the past six games with a groin injury, has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable for this matchup. PG Steve Nash (leg) is also questionable for Wednesday, while SG Kobe Bryant (knee), SG Nick Young (knee), SG Jodie Meeks (ankle), PG Jordan Farmar (calf) and SG Xavier Henry (knee) all remain out indefinitely.

Can the Rockets add to the Lakers' long home losing skid? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. The five StatFox experts have been sizzling with a 61% ATS record (19-12-1) since Feb. 10, making them 53% ATS (144-129-7) since Dec. 1. StatFox Zach has a stellar 59% ATS mark (31-22-3) on Best Bets since Dec. 1 and is 54% ATS (42-36-3) on Best Bets for the season. StatFox Dave has a strong 59% ATS (33-23-1) Best Bets record since Dec. 1 and is 54% ATS (43-37-1) on Best Bets for the season, while StatFox Brian is catching fire, going 74% ATS (14-5-1) since Jan. 25 and 60% ATS (29-19-1) in Best Bets since Dec. 12.

Houston's offense has been outstanding all season, scoring 105.5 PPG (3rd in NBA) on 47.4% FG (4th in league) and 9.0 made three-pointers per game (5th in NBA) despite a subpar 35.0% clip from behind the arc. However, the team has had its problems with ball-handling, dishing out just 20.4 APG (6th-worst in league) and 15.4 turnovers per game (3rd-worst in NBA). This club rebounds pretty well with 44.9 RPG (8th in league) and a +2.9 RPG margin (7th in NBA), and although it allows a mediocre 101.4 PPG (19th in league), the Rockets hold opponents to 43.7% FG (5th in NBA) and 34.6% threes (7th in league) thanks in large part to their 5.8 BPG (3rd in NBA). C Dwight Howard (18.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 1.8 BPG) has played well in this series so far with 17.5 PPG, 13.5 RPG and 2.0 SPG in two meetings, but he will be hearing a chorus of boos throughout Wednesday night's game after a tumultuous campaign with Los Angeles last season. However, he could have a field day in the paint if Pau Gasol cannot suit up, and Howard is playing great basketball right now, averaging 25.8 PPG (62% FG), 14.5 RPG and 2.5 BPG during a four-game streak of double-doubles. SG James Harden (23.9 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.7 RPG) should also be able to take advantage of the depleted Lakers roster. He has exploded for 36.5 PPG (49% FG), 6.5 RPG, 4.5 APG and 4.5 SPG in the two meetings this season. Harden has also played very well this month with 25.4 PPG (46% FG, 38% threes, 96% FT), 3.8 APG, 3.6 RPG and 1.6 SPG in five contests. SF Chandler Parsons (17.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.1 SPG) has been wildly inconsistent during the win streak with his offense, scoring 6, 26, 7, 19, 8, 20 and 18 points in the seven victories, but he entered the All-Star break with a monster performance of 18 points, 12 boards and six assists in a narrow 113-112 win over the Wizards. Parsons has faced the Lakers once this season, scoring 16 points on 6-of-11 FG in the Nov. 7 defeat. PG Jeremy Lin (13.3 PPG, 4.5 APG) is a big reason his team keeps winning, averaging 14.0 PPG (49% FG, 39% threes), 6.1 APG and 4.0 RPG in the past seven games. However, he needs to take better care of the ball versus the Lakers, as he has seven assists and seven turnovers in the two meetings to go along with 14.5 PPG and 2.0 SPG.

Los Angeles is an average offensive team with 100.5 PPG (15th in NBA) on 44.2% FG (20th in league), but the club shoots an impressive 37.1% from three-point range, good for eighth-best in the NBA. However, rebounding has been a huge problem all season, as its minus-6.3 RPG margin ranks last in the league. This has led to a ton of easy baskets for the opponent, as the Lakers allow the second-most points in the NBA (105.6 PPG) despite holding teams to a respectable 45.3% FG (16th in league) and an excellent 34.2% threes (6th in NBA). The slew of injuries to the team has allowed C Chris Kaman (10.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and PG Kendall Marshall (10.3 PPG, 9.5 APG) to really shine lately. Kaman is averaging 23.7 PPG (52% FG), 11.3 RPG, 4.3 APG and 2.0 BPG in 33.2 MPG over his past three contests, while Marshall is coming off a monster game last Thursday against the Thunder when he had 14 points, 17 assists, seven rebounds and just three turnovers in 44 minutes of action. PG Steve Blake (9.5 PPG, 7.6 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG) has made only 31% FG in six games since returning from a thigh injury, but he has drained 39% of his threes and averaged a strong 8.5 PPG, 7.2 APG and 5.7 RPG during this timeframe. If PF Pau Gasol (17.0 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.5 BPG) is unable to play on Wednesday, the Lakers will continue to ask forwards Wesley Johnson (9.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG), Ryan Kelly (7.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG) and Shawne Williams (5.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG) to help Kaman provide the points in the paint. Johnson has responded to increased playing time with 15.3 PPG (47% threes) and 5.2 RPG in 38.5 MPG over the past six games, while Williams has started the past two contests where he has averaged 13.0 PPG (42% threes), 7.5 RPG and 2.0 BPG.

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