Charlotte at Houston
Time: 7 PM CT (NBA TV)
Spread: HOU -9.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
HOU TEAM NOTES:
Though the Rockets have really come together late this season. The team has won eight of its last 10 overall and is now situated No.3 in the Western Conference. It has also won its last eight to pull within 2.5 games of No.2 Denver.
The team lost Trevor Ariza over the offseason, hoping that replacing him with Carmelo Anthony would solve its problems. It did none of that, and the team has taken many steps back defensively, which ultimately is the reason it has failed to succeed at the rate it did a year ago. Houston is surrendering 111.1 points per game and scoring 113.2 itself, which yields just a 2.1 positive, point differential.
The Rockets must tighten up its defense significantly to rejoin the realm of Western Conference contenders, which many are feeling can still happen.
Clint Capela had been making a strong bid to be an All-Star and it is easy to see why Houston felt comfortable releasing Dwight Howard to clear the way for Capela.
Truth be told, he has a little of young Dwight, in him and his game. Capela averages 17.6 points, 12.9 rebounds and 1.88 blocks per game while posting the second-best PER on the Rockets. He has proven to be the anchor of a defense that greatly needs perimeter improvement, and it is hardly all the fault of Harden as the narrative often goes.
Harden is playing passing lanes well, coming up with 2-plus steals a game, while heading the offensive attack in his usual masterful way. Harden’s averaging 33.9 points and 8.6 assists per game.
The Hornets have elevated Kemba Walker to the role and purpose of a superstar, but the team seems to have stalled and there are few reasons to expect Charlotte to be radically better moving forward than it has been for the duration of the season. The Hornets have dropped seven of its last 10, and at five games under .500 it would not even be considering postseason aspirations if in the West (never mind that Charlotte is just 7-16 against Western Conference teams).
Walker does now have the look and feel of a franchise player, but with Charlotte lacking secondary options, it stands to reason that it could be something of a mirage. Walker has averaged 25.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists while playing just under 35 minutes a night this season. His PER (average in the league is 15) is 21.13, which highlights some inefficiencies given that he has full reigns and a green light: Walker is shooting 43 percent from the field and he turns it over 2.6 times per game.
Fortunately, Charlotte takes good care of the ball as a team, averaging just 12.1 turnovers per game. Jeremy Lamb is the No. 2 scorer at just 15.3 points per game, and after the ho-hum production of Marvin Williams (10.4 points per game) and Cody Zeller (10.2), the Hornets lack scoring options in a major way.
Small forward Nicolas Batum has about fallen off the face of the earth, once a model of efficiency and intangibles. Batum is playing 32 minutes a night but averaging under 10 points per game. He shoots well (46 percent FG; 40 percent threes), but is attempting just 7.7 field goals per game and his assist production has fallen to 3.4 per night as well.
Perhaps the biggest source of potential improvement lies in 2017 lottery pick Malik Monk, who was billed as a tremendous source of shooting and scoring but is averaging under 10 points per game this season in just 17 minutes per game. The Hornets are still a team now centered around Walker, but while Walker is an All-star and premier talent, he is not good enough to transform an entire team and offense. The Hornets average 111.2 points per game, which is solid, but when it comes to stopping this team in crunch time opponents need not to worry much about Walker’s lackluster supporting cast.