Christmas Day NBA Picks ATS: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets

Kawhi Leonard leads San Antonio in scoring and PER this season.
Kawhi Leonard leads San Antonio in scoring and PER this season.

San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets
Time: 7 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: SAS -7
Total: 200.5

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The San Antonio Spurs are quietly having a superb season, but few have noticed in wake of the Golden State Warriors’ dominance. Gregg Popovich and his crew have likely tuned that all out, sitting at 25-5 and No. 2 in the Western Conference.

The Spurs will travel to face a disappointing Houston Rockets squad coming off of a loss Wednesday night to the Orlando Magic.

The Spurs are 7-point favorites in the game which will air at 7 PM Central on ESPN.

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San Antonio trails Golden State by three games for the top spot in the West, but with the hype machine what it is, few are even considering the 2014 champs as the threats they really are. San Antonio has more depth and more talent possibly than it has before, accented by its 2015 free agent acquisition LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge’s stats have fallen off joining a balanced Spurs team, but his focus on getting a ring is likely stronger than ever with a team that can now do so. He is averaging 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 47.2 percent from the floor and posting a PER of 19.8. In other words, his stats are still a good bit above the average forward (15), but the fall off from the dominance in Portland is pronounced loudly enough.

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The Spurs are led offensively by 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. The strong defensive forward is averaging 21 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while posting a team-high PER of 27.6. Leonard is capable of impacting a game in a number of ways, but understated with his increased scoring is his lockdown defensive capabilities.

“The Claw” may draw the assignment of James Harden if Pop wants to try to frustrate Harden with his team’s best defender. Harden has been doing more than ever, which may be why the Rockets are struggling. Dwight Howard has commented he is noticeably out of his flow, but also said he wants to remain in Houston and that was why he chose the Rockets in free agency three seasons ago.

Even so, this is a Rockets team that made the Western Conference Finals and is just 15-15. It has already seen its head coach Kevin McHale fired, and J.B. Bickerstaff has not done worlds better as the new skipper. Harden’s scoring figures are still sky high at 28.8 points per game, but Howard cannot be averaging under 13 points per game as the No. 2 option.

Dwight is attempting just 8.4 field goals per game, and in his heyday in Orlando he shot upwards of 20 per game. He is still an efficient scorer and is shooting 58.7 percent from the floor, but he needs more touches and Harden knows that.

The Rockets also lack scoring options outside of Howard and Harden. The Ty Lawson experiment has failed miserably and the former Denver Nugget is likely to hit the trade market in February. Lawson is seeing just 6.1 shot attempts per game in 25 minutes a night, and is shooting just 34.1 percent from the floor and under 30 percent from three.

The fall off seems so pronounced that to call it anything other than a failure is simply being too kind. What is more is that beyond Lawson there are really no major scoring threats coming off the Rockets’ bench. Marcus Thornton is having a nice season, but he contributes little more than shooting. He is hitting 38 percent of his triples, but the Rockets are shooting just 33.5 percent as a team on 31.3 threes attempted per game.

The live and die by the three method may turn out to be mostly death, and the Spurs should have no problems taking care of the Rockets before a national audience today.

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