It’s a small slate for this NBA Thursday night but the Minnesota Timberwolves visiting the Houston Rockets is easily the marquee matchup. Houston is missing some key contributors tonight whether it be to injuries or suspensions, but they may get James Harden back for the first time in seven games. Thus, oddsmakers have made the Rockets -5 favorites for the 1/18 NBA free pick but is that where the value lies?
T’Wolves Need to Find Their Road Swag
Minnesota just finished rattling off five straight wins at home against quality opponents, but life on the road has been a different story lately. The Wolves are a ho-hum 11-11 away from the Target Center this season, but they’ve dropped three straight road contests. Two of those defeats came against bottom feeders (Brooklyn, Orlando) while the other one was an 84-91 loss at Boston. In the 1/18 NBA free pick Minnesota will be up against a Houston team that is 15-6 on their home court this year.
If the Timberwolves are going to pull out the win (or cover) tonight, they’ll have to rely on their defense. The Rockets are the 2nd highest scoring team in the NBA (114.6 ppg) but Minnesota hasn’t allowed a team over 110 points in regulation since December 1st. Only three of the last 10 T’Wolves opponents have even broken 100 points scored.
Are the Rockets Hindered by Harden’s Return?
The Rockets scored 110+ points in five of the seven games that Harden missed with a hamstring injury but how will the team respond if their all-star is back in the lineup tonight? It’s been since January 3rd since the Rockets have had Harden in the lineup and they’re just 4-3 over that span. Surprisingly though Houston was just 1-5 with Harden starting prior to his injury. With a player that handles the ball so much returning after a significant layoff, the Rockets offense could look a bit stale tonight.
While Harden likely joins Houston in the 1/18 NBA free pick, they’ll also be without Gerald Green and Trevor Ariza who are serving suspensions for their role in the locker room skirmish with the Clippers on Monday night. The Rockets will at least be playing on two nights rest compared to just one for Minnesota, which is where the advantage might lie for the home team. This is the first matchup of the year between the two teams who sit in 2nd and 4th in the Western Conference.
Luc Mbah a Moute to start for Ariza. Harden cleared, but with minutes restriction for Rockets vs. Timberwolves.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) January 18, 2018
1/18 NBA Free Pick – Betting
So the 1/18 NBA free pick comes down to Minnesota’s recent road woes against Houston’s makeshift lineup. 60% of the public bettors are backing MIN +5.5 in this tilt, not lending any credence to the boost the Rockets will get from Harden’s return. Minnesota is 5-1 ATS their last six overall and actually 4-1 ATS their last five on one days rest. Houston is surprisingly just 1-4 ATS their last five home games. The T’Wolves ML (+163) looks appealing but taking the points is even more comfortable.
Pick: Minnesota Timberwolves +5.5