Houston at Sacramento
Time: 9:30 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: HOU -3.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
Sacramento’s season has been one of tanking, but also in the mix has been the development of dynamic point guard and Kentucky product DeAaron Fox. Fox is averaging 11 points and four assists per game in his rookie season, but showing many of the signs of a future star, at least according to the eye test. Veteran Zach Randolph leads the team in scoring but averages just 14.8 points per game, and Sacramento averages just 99 points per game as a team.
Former New Orleans Pelican Buddy Hield has failed to translate to a superstar in his sophomore season, averaging just 12 points per game and playing 23 minutes a night. Willie Cauley-Stein has shown some promise as a defensive cog and has his nights offensively, but Sacto largely struggles to score the ball without any developed stars on their team. Randolph was once that but has declined quite a bit.
Sure, he is still an effective power forward and puts up premium production for just 25.8 minutes a night, but Sacto will be on the lookout for a star with its probable high draft pick in 2018. Given that the team needs help at every position, any guesses as to who Sacto will chase in the draft are a bit of a crapshoot. Ostensibly, the team has its backcourt of the future, but its frontcourt could use major upgrades, and a premier scoring wing also ranks high on the team’s list of needs.
Either way, Sacramento is now missing the playoffs for the 11th year straight, and the rebuild rages on even if it seems to utterly lack any defined sense of direction.
Houston has been on fire. It had won 17-straight games until a 108-105 loss to the Toronto Raptors, but it followed that game up with a 105-82 blowout of the Dallas Mavericks. Everything seems to be clicking for Mike D’Antoni’s team, including its defense. The Rockets rank No. 9 in defensive rating, limiting teams to 106.7 points per-100 possessions, all the while maintaining the league’s best offense, ranking No. 1 in offensive efficiency with 115.8 points per-100.
The Rockets also, predictably, have the league’s best point differential, with a +8.9 mark, beating out the Warriors by a full point. It is time to take Houston seriously as a contender because nothing is guaranteed to the Warriors, despite having played in the past three NBA Finals. If there is a team to dethrone the Warriors as Western Conference Champions, it is Houston.
Of course, it is easy to credit the evolution of the team to one player, but it has not been all Chris Paul that has been behind the improvement. The defense is anchored by the young Clint Capela, who could be in line for a max contract this offseason. The Rockets felt confident enough in Capela to part ways with Dwight Howard, and that was a wise decision because he is far more impactful than the aged Howard is at this juncture in D12’s career.
Capela has averaged a double-double this season with 14.2 points and 11 rebounds per game, and a PER of 24.8. He may be in line for a max-contract this summer.
Beyond Capela, reserve Eric Gordon has found his niche as an NBA player. The sharpshooter is averaging 18.7 points per game off the Houston bench while shooting 9.1 threes per game. Houston as a team averages 42.2 threes attempted per game, which is an NBA league record.
The Rockets connected on 36.6 percent of those, which is the noted difference in what has become the most efficient offensive regular season in league history. The Rockets round out its rotation with some solid vets: Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the ageless Joe Johnson.
In addition to that, Ryan Anderson is a perfect starting-4 for Houston with his range and quick release. All signs point to Chris Paul and James Harden having the perfectly competent of shooters around them to really push this Rockets team deep into the playoffs, potentially far enough to usurp the Dubs’ place as Conference Champions.