- The Timberwolves have been one of the best defensive teams in the league since acquiring Robert Covington, but the Rockets have found their groove with Chris Paul back in the lineup.
Here are our three top plays for Monday night’s NBA action:
1. Oklahoma City Thunder at Detroit Pistons (+2)
7:00 pm ET
The Pistons are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, having won nine of their last 11 games straight up. Detroit has gone 9-2 against the spread in that span, with its most recent win and cover coming against the defending champion Warriors. The Pistons were four-point home underdogs in that game but won 111-102 against a Golden State team that had Steph Curry in the lineup. The issue for Detroit tonight is that its opponent is also playing particularly well. Oklahoma City has won 14 of its last 17 games straight up, and the Thunder have covered in all but four of those games. Ever since Russell Westbrook got healthy, the Thunder have played like an elite basketball team, and that shouldn’t change tonight. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, the Pistons are just 19-36 against the spread when the line is +3 to -3. Meanwhile, the Thunder enter this game with the league’s best defensive efficiency rating. Considering the Pistons have only the 13th-best offensive efficiency rating, they could have a hard time scoring here. Oklahoma City also has an enormous advantage at point guard. Westbrook is far better than his former backup, Reggie Jackson, on both ends of the floor. Look for the 2016-17 MVP to absolutely dominate this game, and don’t be shocked if Paul George goes off as well. On the inside, the Thunder's Steven Adams should be able to hold his own against Andre Drummond. That means that the Thunder will be fine as long as Blake Griffin doesn’t go for 50, which he actually did against the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in the year.
Pick: Thunder (-2)
2. Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves (+1.5)
8:00 pm ET
What Minnesota has done since trading Jimmy Butler is remarkable. The Timberwolves traded one of the league’s top-20 players and have only gotten better since doing so. Robert Covington is a big part of the improvement. The versatile forward has come in and given this team an identity on the defensive end of the floor. Minnesota now looks like a legitimate threat to reach the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, the Rockets are going to be the hungrier team tonight. Houston has found its groove since getting Chris Paul back on the floor, and the team knows the work it has to do moving forward. The Rockets dug a huge hole for themselves in the Western Conference, so they can’t afford to take games off anymore. Over the past three seasons, Houston is 34-15 against the spread when playing on the road after a home game. The Rockets seem to have figured things out on both ends over the last two games, too. In wins over the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls, Houston shot 50.0% from the floor and held its opponents to an average of 44.8% shooting from the field. That’s not exactly an impressive number, but with the Rockets’ offense, it’s good enough. Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns has been a monster since Butler was traded, but Houston's Clint Capela has the speed and quickness to stick with him. And the Timberwolves have little chance of shutting down both Chris Paul and James Harden. This should be close, but the Rockets will pull it out.
Pick: Rockets (-1.5)
3. Los Angeles Clippers at New Orleans Pelicans (-2)
8:00 pm ET
Since the start of last season, the Pelicans are 34-18 against the spread versus teams that force 14 or fewer turnovers per game and 14-4 against the spread when facing teams that average seven or fewer steals per game. Both of those stats apply to the Clippers, despite the fact that they have been the Western Conference’s best team this season, and the Pelicans are due for a good run soon. New Orleans is also the only team with Anthony Davis and having the best player on the floor will be especially valuable in this game. Considering Tobias Harris is the Clippers' top offensive threat, it’s not exactly a good thing that he tends to play the same position as Davis. The Brow is one of the best defenders in basketball, and he’ll certainly spend some time checking Harris. That could disrupt Los Angeles’s offensive rhythm. And while rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been great for the Clippers, the Pelicans' Jrue Holiday is the superior player on both ends of the floor. He should be able to help make sure that New Orleans takes care of business in this game.
Pick: Pelicans (-2)
Overall Record: 52-44-3