New Orleans at Houston
Time: 7 PM (CT), NBA TV
Spread: HOU -12.5
- Odds c/o 5dimes
The Houston Rockets sit atop the Western Conference at 20-4, and it has won its past nine contests to continue its placement over reigning champion Golden State in the early season standings. The Rockets will host visiting New Orleans at the Toyota Center at 7 PM (Central) on NBA TV Tonight, and Houston is 12.5-point favorites over the 14-13 Pelicans.
Houston has only become a more impressive team since the return of Chris Paul. Paul gives the Rockets essentially a second point guard on the floor, with James Harden still commanding plenty of the offensive workload, both in terms of Beard’s scoring and his creation for his teammates. Mike D’Antoni is one to basically master engineer an offense, and Houston does rank No. 2 in the West in scoring at 114.4 points per game.
Most impressively, however, Houston’s defense has been strong and stringent, allowing just 103.3 per game and helping Houston maintain the league’s best point differential (+11.2). Houston is absolutely rolling, and the only naysayers are questioning the team’s ability to maintain this in the postseason, as D’Antoni’s teams are known to be regular season juggernauts. With a pairing like Paul and Harden, the passing has been crisp and the Rockets are clicking on the strength of its array of three-point shooters, all finding easy looks with Harden attacking and finding so much resistance in the form of double teams.
Houston basically has a formula for offensive dominance, and the only real remaining question is whether the team is strong enough on “D” to slow a team like Golden State and contend for the Conference Title.
James Harden has been absolutely incredible and is the leading MVP candidate at this point probably. His averages of 32.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 9.2 assists go along with his 1.71 steals per game, as he plays off the defense around him to play passing lanes and get the Rockets out in transition. Harden’s PER is 31.3, nearly double the league average, and Paul has been quietly reinventing himself with 14.3 points and 11.2 assists per game, averaging a double-double for the first time since his days as a New Orleans Hornet so many years ago.
Shooting guard Eric Gordon and power forward Ryan Anderson are the perfect sharpshooters to offset the play of Harden and Paul, while Clint Capela has become a real force at the 5-spot. Capela was said to be “Two years away from being two years away” on draft night, but he has emerged far quicker and even made Dwight Howard expendable to the Rockets two seasons ago. The big man is averaging 13.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.67 blocks per game in being a real difference maker with Houston’s defensive attack. The potential for the Rockets to walk away from this season as title winners is not unfathomable with the way the role players complement its two main stars.
New Orleans, meanwhile, is an assortment of talent that hardly seems to click like things do for D’Antoni’s Rockets. Despite having two of the league’s premier big men in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans have plodded around .500 simply because the team lacks complementary parts at nearly all other positions.
Combo guard Jrue Holiday has been too quiet to comprise a realistic “Big Three” as New Orleans hoped he would, and though his play has been solid, it has been nevertheless very unspectacular. Cousins and Davis have thrived, but the Pelicans lack scoring on the perimeter and really have no starting-caliber small forward at all. Instead, the team has used E’Twaun Moore and Holiday often on the wing, but neither brings the defensive presence required to stop the big bodies that the team encounters so frequently.
That leaves Davis and Cousins scrambling to do so, and the result often is that one or both end up in foul trouble. When teams can find a way to even remove one of those two stars (by attacking the rim), it renders New Orleans in a world of trouble simply because the team really is a two-man squad. One hates to break the argument down to matters so simple, but the Cousins experiment will likely end a relative failure, if only because expectations were simply too high to begin with.
In some senses, it is an exciting treat to see two gifted big men like the Kentucky bigs playing together, but that does not mean the formula is necessarily that of what it takes to build a contending team. Even if New Orleans could re-sign Cousins, adding the right pieces around he and Davis, and Holiday, is a monumental challenge to Dell Demps, and one that the GM has yet to come close to solving.