The Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks might finish with the two best records in the 2019-2020 NBA season. One of them is going to start the year below .500 when they meet in Thursday night’s opener.

Houston is a 2.5-point favorite at home, according to the latest betting line at OddsShark. The over/under is 229.5.

The Bucks went 2-0 against the Rockets in the 2018-2019 regular season. Milwaukee’s defensive strategy of funneling James Harden toward the basket and attempting to limit his step-back three-point attempts ultimately worked.

Harden did manage to score 42 points in their first meeting, though the Rockets’ 116-109 loss snapped a 10-game home winning streak. The 2019 MVP runner-up was held to 23 points on 26 shots when the Rockets were defeated 108-94 in Milwaukee on March 26.

Chris Paul didn’t play in the first matchup between the Rockets and Bucks. He scored 19 points on 18 shots in the second meeting.

Paul won’t be on the floor Thursday because he was traded for Russell Westbrook in the summer. The deal might not propel the Rockets over the hump in the playoffs, but it will make Houston very, very difficult to beat over the course of 82 games.

Westbrook isn’t nearly the same shooter as Paul, but his athleticism brings a different challenge to opposing defenses. At least at the beginning of the year, he’s likely to take a backseat to Harden and play the role of being a distributor and the Rockets’ second or even third scoring option at times.

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Harden has been the NBA’s best regular-season player over the last five years with four top-two MVP finishes. The guard averaged a career-high 36.1 points per game. He made 36.8 percent of his 13.2 three-point attempts per game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 23 points per game against the Rockets last season. Houston would probably sign up for that kind of production from the reigning MVP in the season opener.

Khris Middleton scored 28 points on 37 shots against the Rockets a year ago. Those kinds of numbers won’t cut it Thursday. The same goes for Eric Bledsoe, who totaled 33 points on 30 shots in two meetings with Houston.

The Rockets have gone 65-17 at home in the last two seasons. That’s a difficult assignment to start the year, even for arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Prediction: Houston over Milwaukee, 121-112