Indiana at Houston
Time: 8:30 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: HOU -10
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Indiana Pacers are struggling. As losers of seven of its past 10 it travels to face the Houston Rockets, who are currently situated No. 3 in the Western Conference. Houston is 22-7 at home and will be 10-point favorites in the matchup, which is set to air at 8:30 PM (CT) on TNT as part of a three-game broadcast by the network.
The over/under is set high at 231 points, a reflection of Houston’s league-leading pace which allows the Rockets to average 115.2 points per game.
Houston has been basically smashing its opponents using a singularly smart approach of James Harden’s brilliance leading to a lot of open triples. Of course, stacking the deck by adding yet another shooter in sixth man Louis Williams only furthers this approach. Williams had 27 points in his first game off the bench as a Rocket, and along with marksman Eric Gordon, the Rockets have plenty of heat both in the starting lineup and the second unit.
Outfitting Mike D’Antoni with this much offensive talent can only lead to good things, and Houston maintains a +6.9 point differential, in holding its opponents to 108.2 points per game. The Pacers, meanwhile, have a -1.0 point differential and surrender 106.3 points per game while managing to score just 105.3. The potential for Houston to really put up numbers against this Pacers team is real, which again, is why the over/under is set at a generous yet fair, 231 points.
Harden, for his part, has been the league’s most dominant guard this season—and that statement stands even with one Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double. It is Harden who leads the league in assists, and Houston still is 7.5 games ahead of Westbrook’s OKC Thunder in the standings. While a large part of that credit goes to the coaching of D’Antoni, it is Harden who has helped maximize the talents around him, including Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and the aforementioned Gordon.
Houston hits 14.7 threes per game while attempting over 40 a night, connecting on 36.5 percent as a team. The Rockets boast five shooters (with more than 1 attempt per night) with better than 35 percent averages from downtown, and Harden is the lowest of those at 35.3 percent on 9.1 attempts per night. Harden is averaging 11.3 assists per game to go with his 28.9 points, and at this point he has to be considered on the same level of Westbrook and nearly that of Kevin Durant.
The fact that the trio once inhabited the same roster with a productive Serge Ibaka at the 4-spot will have to haunt the Thunder for the next decade, as another in the everlasting series of “NBA What if’s.” While it is difficult to guess at the dynasty OKC could have built, Houston was basically gift-wrapped Harden. And credit GM Daryl Money for finally surrounding him with the right alloy of team components for this Rockets machine to thrive.
While Houston may not be given the same credit as Golden State or San Antonio as a true contender, it will take only a dominant postseason performance from Harden and company to change that perception. Taking care of the struggling Pacers should prove scarcely a challenge for a team as hot-shooting as Houston, and Patrick Beverley (wrist) appears to be relatively unhindered, despite a reduction in his minute-load last game for Houston.
The Rockets sport sufficient depth behind the defensively-minded Beverley to make any time he misses a near non-issue. His defense will prove vital in the postseason, particularly in any potential matchups against the loaded Warriors, but for the time being Houston need only coast to its eventual and likely No. 3 seed in the West. D’Antoni will fight for Coach of the Year honors, but the real test for his crew will come in the postseason.
Remember, D’Antoni has never coached a team to the Finals, despite the offensive brilliance and success of his Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire-led Phoenix Suns teams. This is a chance for redemption for D’Antoni, and for Harden, who similarly has yet to experience great success in the postseason. In fact, the Beard has largely struggled in the playoffs, a black mark on his otherwise very impressive Hall of Fame-caliber resume.
The Pacers lost 113-95 to Miami last time out, the seventh loss in its last eight games SU. Indiana is all but bracing for the eventual loss of franchise player Paul George to free agency in 2018, but in the meantime it can seek to develop second-year big man Myles Turner.
The Pacers may be on the verge of a transition, not truly a rebuild, and that has been signaled by the team’s relative underachievement in the 2016-17 season. This ideally is a team constructed to win 50 games, but Indiana is plodding along just one game above .500, and the litany of reasons why include an underachieving Jeff Teague at point guard, not to mention a bench filled with washed up castaways.
George, too, has been playing uninspired basketball. While still averaging 21.8 points per game, he is coming off a career year which saw him tally 23.1 points, seven rebounds and four assists a year ago—all marks which are better than his performance this season.
The sixth-year All-Star has been even worse the last 10 games, averaging a humble 18.4 points per game while barely shooting 40 percent from the field. In order for Indiana to make any kind of surge, it is going to take a revitalization from George, who seems so apathetic towards any such movement actually occurring. Teague has to take some of blame, as a clear downgrade from former starting point guard George Hill (who has absolutely thrived as a member of the Utah Jazz—while healthy, anyway).
But the Pacers overall lack of quality reserve, too, is beginning to rear its head. Former Golden State Warrior Monta Ellis appears to have little to nothing left as an NBA guard, and center Al Jefferson is slower than he was in his already-slow prime.
Neither are effective NBA players anymore.
Factoring in replacement-level swingmen like Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles does little to improve the picture, and perhaps the shiniest spot off the bench is 2017 Slam Dunk Contest winner Glenn Robinson III.
The son of former NBA player Glenn “Big Dog,” he is seeing 21.8 minutes per game and averaging 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. His defensive impact has been big, and along with Turner it gives the Pacers another young player to structure its future efforts around. But one thing is clear: the experiment has run its course in Indy, and perhaps the Pacers need to consider each trade offer rather closely for George, rather than lose his services for nothing two summers from now.