Cleveland at Houston
Time: 6:30 PM CT, NBA LP
Spread: HOU -14
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Houston Rockets are just six games above .500 as we enter the mid-mark of the season. Houston has posted a 14-6 mark at home where it will host the Eastern Conference’s worst team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Houston is heavy 14-point favorites in the game, which will air at 6:30 PM CT on NBA League Pass. NBA oddsmakers have set a 217 point total for the affair.
Though the Rockets have struggled this season, the team has won seven of its last 10 overall and still is situated No. 7 in the Western Conference. 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 109.3 points per game and scoring 110.7 itself, which yields just a 1.6 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.
But it cannot be all Clint Capela’s work, despite the outstanding season the center is putting together.
Capela is 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.
Chris Paul has fallen off in a noticeable way, but he has also played through some injuries and is declining as expected as he ages. The Rockets really need a power forward of the defensive mindset, and losing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is as much to blame for the team’s defensive decline as losing Ariza. Few are factoring in the value of strong defensive role players and the Rockets roster is nearly bereft of such talents now.
From Austin Rivers to Gerald Green, the second unit is full of defensive liabilities.
Starting 4-man PJ Tucker has his moments of looking like an NBA caliber player, but he lacks offense on a team with plenty of it. The Rockets really shot itself in the foot when it parted with key reserves, and few expected it to impact the team as drastically as it did.
Ostensibly, no one is going to “just count out” a team with talents like Harden, Paul, Capela, and Eric Gordon, but without getting some defensive standouts to fix the issues on the perimeter, can Houston reclaim the form it had last season? It is tough to assume it can.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost eight of its last nine overall, and now it will be without Larry Nance for the next 2-3 weeks. Though Nance averages just eight points and seven boards, the Cavs are not resplendent in talent to replace his services, and his intangibles. Ultimately, the team is not winning anyway. But it just one more thing to go wrong in this rebuilding season that ultimately will see Cleveland likely finish with the worst mark in the Association.
The Cavs fans can turn their attention to a talented draft class, but as for this season, the theme will continue to be developing the existent young talents on this roster and trying to find a semblance of chemistry between rookie Collin Sexton and the several notable offensive talents the Cavs still possess. Kevin Love is still good for 19 points and 11 rebounds a game, but he is never going to be back to the level of production he showed in Minnesota before Joining LeBron James. Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood are both good scorers, but neither should be a team’s No. 2 and No. 3 options—not if the goal is winning basketball games. Sexton has been everything the Cavaliers hoped he would be, but he still is facing the typical issues of rookie point guards, which includes hardly getting any calls.
Veteran forward Tristan Thompson is averaging a double-double, but it is clear he has capped his potential and is a role player at best. The Cavaliers will simply hope that a talent such as Zion Williamson can change its fate when it drafts in the summer. Because there is precious little to be gained from a season derailed by not only injuries but a sheer lack of talent with the subtraction of James, who simply made a lot of rag-tag performers play far above their usual levels. Remove the best player in the game, and this team is right where most figured it would be, in the cellar.