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  • Averaging 8.4 assists over his past five games, Luka Doncic is doing everything for the Mavericks right now.
By Zachary Cohen
December 20, 2018

11-4 over its last five nights in action, Three at 3 is back at it with a look at Thursday night’s two-game slate:

1. Houston Rockets at Miami Heat (+3.5)

2. Rockets at Heat (Total: 210)

8:00 pm ET

The Rockets have won five straight games and, just like that, are right back in the mix in the Western Conference playoff picture. A big part of the reason that Houston is playing so well is because James Harden is looking like his MVP self again. Over the last five games, Harden is averaging 38.6 points, 7.8 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 steals on 51.8% shooting from the floor and 41.2% from outside.

The problem for the Rockets tonight is that they are heading to Miami after a blowout win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Playing the second night of a back to back is never easy, especially on the road, and there’s something about South Beach that tends to sap some energy out of visiting players. The Heat also seems to enjoy playing tough competition, posting a 64-44 ATS record when playing as an underdog over the last three seasons. The Heat have also been ‘dogs in eight of their last 12 games, and they have covered in seven of those contests—while winning outright in five of them. One player to keep an eye on here is Kelly Olynyk. Hassan Whiteside is the starter for Miami, but Olynyk could see some big minutes at center in this game. His ability to shoot the ball can pull Clint Capela away from the rim, allowing Miami’s guards to have more room to attack the basket.

While Miami is a great bet to stay in this game—and possibly pull off an upset—the team is going to need to be smart about how it plays here. The Heat are still without Goran Dragic, which means they are lacking in firepower. Against a team like Houston, Miami has no chance of winning in an up-tempo shootout. Slowing things down has seemingly been a conscious effort for the team as of late, with the last three Heat games seeing both teams combining to score 195, 197 and 198 respectively. That most recent contest came against the Pelicans, who play a high-tempo game similar to the Rockets'. It’s also worth noting that the under is 10-0 when Miami is coming off back-to-back upset wins over the last three seasons. Look for this one to be played in the high 90s or low 100s.

Picks: Heat (+3.5), Under (210)

3. Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers (-4)

10:30 pm

On the season, the Mavericks are 7-0 against the spread when facing teams that average seven or fewer steals per game. Dallas is also 39-22 ATS when facing teams with winning records over the last two seasons. Also working in the Mavericks’ favor tonight is the fact that the Clippers have lost their mojo in recent weeks. Los Angeles has lost seven of its last nine games, and the team has only covered in two of the last nine as well. The Clippers are still playing extremely hard—they’ve outrebounded their opponent in five of the last nine—but they have somewhat fallen apart defensively. Los Angeles has now allowed four of its last five opponents to shoot better than 50% from the floor, and that is not a good sign heading into a meeting with the Mavericks. Luka Doncic got some much-needed help in the backcourt with J.J. Barea returning to the lineup last game. Barea allows Doncic to spend some time off the ball—and off the court—which keeps the phenom feeling fresh later in games. He should be able to have yet another big night for Dallas, as his remarkable playmaking abilities are starting to fully manifest themselves on the court. Over the last five games, Doncic is averaging 8.4 assists per game. That is something that scouts thought would carry over immediately in the league, but his passing took a couple months to get up to speed. It’s there now, though, and Doncic should be able to pick apart the struggling Clippers tonight.

Pick: Mavericks (+4)

Overall Record: 75-60-3