NBA League Pass Picks: Denver Nuggets at Houston Rockets

Denver at Houston

Time: 7 PM CST (NBA LP)

Spread: HOU -8.5

Total: 230

Odds c/o 5dimes

The Houston Rockets are 14-7 at home this year where it hosts the visiting Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have won seven of its last 10, while Houston enters as losers of its last four. The Rockets are 8.5-point favorites, with the over/under set at 230 points according to NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes.

DEN NEWS & NOTES:

The Denver Nuggets are playing better, and as one would guess it mostly relates to a turnaround on the part of its star center Nikola Jokic. 

Some have criticized Jokic for his poor conditioning, but it is hard to ignore the fact that he continues to play good basketball overall while using his immense skills to more than make up for his slow feet. Jokic is averaging 19.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and a team-leading 6.4 assists per game while posting a PER of 24.80. He also recently posted a 47-point game, so while Jokic may never appear to do anything too quickly, he does make the right moves and can be a dominant center in an era that does not even favor big men.

The Nuggets are led in scoring by Jamal Murray, who many expected to make a still-bigger leap following his outstanding postseason performances in 2019.

Instead, Murray is the second-leading at 17.6 points per game, and ranking No. 2 in assists at 4.6 per. Will Barton continues to look like a poor man’s Kevin Durant, providing a lot of shooting on the wing and a fearless trigger. Barton averages 14.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game and is one of five Nuggets with a PER above the league average of 15 (17.17).

The Nuggets are a deep team on paper, but it is still really not testing out the talents of Michael Porter Jr that much, and Malik Beasley has seen his role decline this season as well. Gary Harris and Barton both see over 32 minutes per game, leaving the backups to fight over the remaining minutes, leaving some good talents to sit, naturally. Juancho Hernangomez has had his role decline, though he still averages four points per game in just 13 minutes a night. Michael Porter Jr. led the Nuggets in scoring last game with 19 points, and if he is able to come on strong and stay healthy, Denver could be “scary good.”

The Nuggets will eventually likely decided on a shorter rotation, but for the time being there are 11 Nuggets who play at least 14 minutes per game. It is a team loaded with talent, but both of its top scoring options are probably not true No. 1 options on a contending team, and that includes Jokic. The Nuggets have great team chemistry, but one wonders if its lack of true star power might not hurt it. While Nikola Jokic and Murray function quite well as a tandem, it seems Denver would be better delegating more responsibility to one or the other, to develop a true 1A option, especially late in games.

HOU

The Houston Rockets have lost four straight, now in a free fall, at 26-16 and seeded No. 6 in the Western Conference. It has just a two-game lead on No.7 Oklahoma City. The Rockets are hoping to turn it around with a slumping superstar guard James Harden.

Harden is averaging a silly 38.2 points per game on the season with 7.5 assists to his credit as well. He is connecting on 38 percent of his threes and 46 percent of his field goals while turning it over an “almost excusable” 4.7 times per game. It is excusable simply because Harden produces so much that it is a mere corollary of the ball being in his hands most of the time.

Westbrook has fared well as a Rocket, though. He is shooting 43 percent from the floor while posting per-game averages of 24.2 points, 8 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and 1.9 blocks/steals in 35 minutes a night. The Rockets thus far appear to have great chemistry, which was something that was both developed quickly and unexpected by many naysayers and pundits who mostly felt that Harden and Westbrook would be unable to share the ball well together. Due to the fact that both rely on having the ball in their hands to create offense, it remains to be seen how long and how well this pairing of Westbrook and Harden works.

The pair once was together in OKC, but neither is used to the role they respectively played during that time. Westbrook has averaged eight assists per game over the last two, and his minutes seem to be locked in at 33 to 35 per game, which should take some of the load off of it, in the name of the ever-present “load management.”

The Rockets have also got more offense out of center Clint Capela this season. He is averaging 13.9 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks/steals per game. PJ Tucker has seen his role offensively increase, and he is taking advantage, averaging 8.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Eric Gordon has seen his role change with Westbrook aboard, and he is not doing as much as he had in the past two seasons, either.

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