Oklahoma City at Houston
Time: 7 PM (CT) TNT
Spread: HOU -8
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Houston Rockets obliterated Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1, winning 118-87 in a game which was close for most of the first half. The second half was all James Harden and the Rockets, as Houston outscored OKC 59 to 33 in the final two quarters. Game 2 will tip off tonight at 7 PM (Central) on TNT, with the Rockets coming in as 8-point favorites according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.
Harden had 37 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in game 1, but it was really Patrick Beverley who emerged as the unsung hero of sorts. Beverley held Westbrook to just 22 points on a dreadful 6 of 23 shooting night, while managing to put up 21 points himself. Beverley also had 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals, finishing with a +18 differential in the game. Widely reviled for his intense defense, Beverley has rightly emerged as a crucial player in this series. It is he who will draw the majority of the defensive assignment against Westbrook, and all indications point to the defensive pest being ready for the task.
Center Clint Capela also had a nice if underrated game with 14 points and seven boards, also blocking two shots and swiping a steal. While many bill Houston as a one-man show, that is only partially true. Yes, Harden set an NBA record for points created in a season (scoring plus assists), but Houston’s surrounding pieces are all not really given proper due. Ryan Anderson had a poor night shooting in Game 1, but it would be no surprise to see him and Houston’s other sharpshooters come out and light it up tonight. Trevor Ariza was also quiet with just four field goal attempts (making two), and it would be expected that Ariza, Anderson—or even Eric Gordon and Lou Williams off the bench—to have a huge game to complement Harden’s expected dominance.
Houston won 55 games in the regular season, but Coach Mike D’Antoni has never led one of his teams to the NBA Finals. Does that change this year? The Rockets play a high-paced game with a lot of possessions, but are not quite the poor defensive team that D’Antoni’s clubs are typically billed at. Or are they? Houston ranked No. 18 in defensive rating (109.0) and though it scored nearly 115 points per game, the playoffs are typically where defense takes the stage. Moreover, because Houston has lived by the three, can it count on such an attack working against another team that does the same, but better? Clearly that points to Golden State, which Houston will be able to avoid until the Conference Finals, but will likely eventually have to surmount to reach the NBA Finals.
Oklahoma City has a much tougher task given the lack of major scorers playing with Westbrook. The result of teams clamping down on Westbrook will likely result in a struggle for the Thunder. Victor Oladipo is the No. 2 option, but he is known to be both inconsistent and overly-reliant on the mid-range jump shot. Enes Kanter’s defensive shortcomings make it difficult to keep him on the court, as the only other major offensive weapon OKC even boasts. Steven Adams anchors a pretty tough Thunder defense, but with such a lack of weapons around Westbrook on the offensive end, it seems that the Rockets could plow through this series in a sweep. As 8-point favorites, tonight, expect Houston to both cover the spread and emerge with a 2-0 lead in the Best of Seven.