• There’s no denying that the Spurs have been disappointing this season, but San Antonio has dominated at home, which should help it against the struggling Clippers.
By Zachary Cohen
December 13, 2018

Here are Three at 3’s best bets for Thursday night’s NBA action:

1. Los Angeles Lakers at Houston Rockets (-5.5)

8:00 pm ET

Houston’s performance against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday sent a message to the league: The Rockets might not be the same team that won 65 games last season, but this group is ready to battle. In that game, the Rockets went down 27-12 late in the first quarter. Houston could have rolled over and accepted the beatdown—which is something this team has done too often this season—but instead the Rockets rallied back and cut the lead to three by the half. They then dominated the second half and ended up winning by eight. All in all, the Rockets covered on 49.4% shooting from the floor while also holding the Blazers to just 43.7% shooting. It was their best defensive performance since a 107-86 win over Golden State on Nov. 15. Now Houston will have to channel that same energy in a meeting with the red-hot Lakers. Los Angeles has won six of its last seven games coming into this one, and the Lakers are clicking on both ends of the floor. Over that seven-game stretch, Los Angeles is 11th in the NBA in offensive efficiency rating and fourth in defensive efficiency rating. The problem is that the Lakers don’t match up well with the Rockets. When these teams met at the Staples Center on Oct. 20, the Rockets came away with a 124-115 win as 3.5-point road favorites. Defensively, P.J. Tucker has the ability to body up LeBron James as well as anybody in the league. And Houston has a competitive advantage at almost every other position. It’s also worth noting that the last time these teams met, James Harden scored 36 points on only 19 shots. The Lakers don’t have an answer for the reigning MVP, who should have a big game tonight.

Pick: Rockets (-5.5)

2. Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs (-2.5)

8:30 pm ET

The Clippers are just one game out of the top spot in the Western Conference, but Los Angeles has lost four of its last six games and failed to cover in five of those contests. The Clippers could be experiencing a little fatigue after a four-game road trip earlier this month, and they’re also missing Lou Williams, who has a hamstring injury. The Clippers aren't talented enough to lose anybody important. Meanwhile, the Spurs are starting to play some good basketball. San Antonio has won and covered in three straight coming into this one, and two of those wins came against the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz. For all its struggles, San Antonio has made the most of its homecourt. The Spurs are just .500 overall, but they're 10-4 straight up and 9-5 against the spread when playing at the AT&T Center. It's worth noting that the Spurs are 10-1 against the spread when trying to avenge a loss to an opponent this season. So expect Gregg Popovich to make all the necessary adjustments in this one.

Pick: Spurs (-2.5)

3. Chicago Bulls at Orlando Magic (-5.5)

9:30 pm ET

Here we go again. We’re advising you to back the Bulls, who are easily the worst team in the Eastern Conference this season. That approach has backfired on us this season, but Chicago is 13-15 against the spread this season. That’s not nearly as bad as the team’s 6-22 straight-up record. The Magic aren’t exactly playing great basketball right now having lost three in a row both straight up and against the spread, and seven of their last 10 straight up. Meanwhile, the Bulls are 7-1 straight up and 6-2 against the spread when facing the Magic over the last three seasons. That historical dominance can do a lot for a team's confidence. Chicago is also healthy. Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, and Bobby Portis are all ready to play bigger minutes for this team. Markkanen is arguably Chicago's best offensive player and Dunn is one of the better defenders on the roster. And after a string of embarrassing defeats, the Bulls are due to show up with some pride and put forth a solid effort.

Pick: Bulls (+5.5)

Overall Record: 64-56-3

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)