Boston Celtics at Houston Rockets (-2.5, 205.5)
The road has not been very kind to the Boston Celtics so far. A three-game trip starting at the Houston Rockets on Friday is going to make it tough to change their fortunes. The Celtics have won four straight at home after surviving the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday but have dropped four of their last five away from TD Garden. The Rockets have been much better at home and appear to be getting their defense under control.
Houston had surrendered an average of 113.6 points in its previous eight games before settling down in a 99-93 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. The Celtics will provide a stiffer offensive test, with point guard Rajon Rondo playing well and Paul Pierce coming off his highest scoring total of the season. It’s likely that both Rondo and Pierce and perhaps a few others will take turns guarding Houston leading scorer James Harden, who scored 31 points in his return to the lineup Wednesday after missing a game.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, CSNNE (Boston), CSH (Houston)
ABOUT THE CELTICS (12-9, 8-11-2 ATS): Boston has been getting better on the defensive end the last two weeks, having held six straight opponents below 100 points before a 117-115 double overtime win over the Mavericks on Wednesday. The Celtics forced 28 turnovers in that game, including three in the final 1:07 of the second overtime. Boston’s improvement on the defensive end has given the offense a chance to gel. Pierce is leading the team in scoring at 19.9 points but had been held below 20 in five of the previous six before exploding for 34 against Dallas. The one consistent threat on offense has been Rondo, who has reached double figures in assists in all but one of his starts and has pulled down 10.3 rebounds in the last three contests.
ABOUT THE ROCKETS (10-11, 9-11-1 ATS): Houston has had its own problems on defense and ranks last in the NBA in points allowed, surrendering an average of 104.8. The offense, which puts up 104.2, has been able to bail the team out at times but could not keep up during the recent losing streak. Wednesday was a switch in the other direction, as the Rockets held the Wizards to 39.3 percent shooting. Harden, who sat out Tuesday’s 134-126 overtime loss to San Antonio with a sprained ankle, returned to the lineup with 31 points in the win over Washington. Harden has pulled out of a lengthy shooting slump by connecting on 50 percent or better from the field in each of the last three games.
* Under is 6-1 in the last seven meetings in Houston.
* Celtics are 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings in Houston.
* Underdog is 7-2 ATS in the last nine meetings.
* Road team is 9-2 ATS in the last 11 meetings.
1. Rockets PG Jeremy Lin, who exploded for a season-high 38 points without Harden on Tuesday but was back down to 10 on 4-of-8 shooting Wednesday. Lin has been held to 10 points or less in four of the last five contests.
2. Pierce has averaged 21.6 points in 24 career games against Houston.
3. Boston had taken three straight in Houston before dropping its last trip, 93-77, on Mar. 18, 2011.