The top-seeded Houston Rockets (65-17) will try to pick up where they left off during an extremely successful regular season Sunday, when they host the eighth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35) as huge home favorites for Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
The Rockets are coming off a meaningless loss in their regular-season finale but had won 14 of their previous 16 games. The Timberwolves qualified with a 112-106 overtime victory against the Denver Nuggets to secure the West's final postseason spot.
NBA betting pick, via OddsShark computer: 106.6-97.8, Rockets. NBA picks on every game.
Why the Timberwolves Can Cover the Spread
Minnesota was fortunate to see leading scorer Jimmy Butler return for the last three games of the regular season following a knee injury, as the team had to win all of them to make the playoffs.
Butler averaged 22.2 points per game in his first year with the Timberwolves and proved to be the perfect leader for a group of young players searching for an identity under head coach Tom Thibodeau, who helped develop him when they were together with the Chicago Bulls.
With a healthy Butler, they may have won the Northwest Division and gotten a more favorable matchup, but the team cannot complain after getting back to the postseason for the first time since 2004.
Why the Rockets Can Cover the Spread
Houston continued to play great down the final stretch of the regular season despite not having much to gain, finishing seven games ahead of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors for the best record in the West.
Led by MVP favorite James Harden, the Rockets also had the biggest scoring differential in the NBA at plus-8.5 points, playing underrated defense to complement the league's second-best offense.
Dating back to 2014, Houston has gone 14-1 straight up in its past 15 meetings with Minnesota and covered the spread in all four games between the teams this season, according to the OddsShark NBA Database.
Smart Betting Pick
The Timberwolves will likely need to stay within double digits in order to cover the closing number, something they did just once against the Rockets during the regular season. That happened in the meeting on March 18 when Minnesota lost 129-120 as a seven-point home underdog and still failed to cover.
However, Houston has gone 1-6 ATS in its past seven games. Look for Butler to keep his team in Game 1 and for the Timberwolves to play better than expected to cover their fifth straight game overall.
NBA Betting Trends
Minnesota is 4-1 ATS in its past five games.
Houston is 1-6 ATS in its past seven games.
The total has gone under in seven of Houston's past eight games.
All NBA odds and betting trends according to Bleacher Report's official odds partner, OddsShark. Check out OddsShark on Twitter and Instagram or head to YouTube for more betting picks and analysis on this week's top games. You can also download the free odds tracker app.