The NBA All-Star break is set for this weekend, but we still have a few games to go before the league takes a brief hiatus. One of the most fun matchups of the season will take place tonight in Houston. For the first time since leaving the Rockets in January, James Harden returns to H-Town as a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
The two teams have gone in completely different directions since the trade. The Rockets got off to a bright start in the post-Harden phase, but things have quickly taken a turn for the worse. Houston enters tonight’s game riding a 12-game losing streak, which includes an embarrassing 49-point defeat against the Grizzlies on Sunday. The Rockets have plunged all the way to 14th in the Western Conference at 11-22. That still puts them five games ahead of Minnesota for the worst record in the West, but things have gotten dark in a hurry for this team.
The Nets, meanwhile, look like the real deal. Brooklyn is 23-13 on the year, and Harden’s new team enters this one as winners of nine of their last 10 games overall.
The Nets have played all but one of those games without Kevin Durant, which makes the streak all the more impressive. Harden earned Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for February after averaging 25.6 points, 10.7 assists, and 8.8 rebounds in his first full month with his new team.
The Nets are currently listed as nine-point favorites over the Rockets, per the latest odds from BetOnline.
The Rockets came close to winning a couple of titles during the Harden era, but the team was never able to get over the hump in the end. Harden ultimately decided to ask for a trade before this season began. Houston wasn’t able to find the right deal during the offseason, which led to the awkward scenario involving Harden playing for a team he wanted to leave.
He essentially threw up his hands and gave up in January, which led to his trade to Brooklyn shortly thereafter. Harden has looked rejuvenated since arriving in New York, and his presence takes the Nets from a potential contender in the Eastern Conference to prohibitive favorites.
Most of the Rockets he’ll be facing tonight weren’t his teammates for very long, but something tells me Harden will want to put on a show in his return to Houston. This is a pace-up spot for the Nets with the Rockets currently ranked third in the league in pace. The extra possessions should do wonders for Harden’s individual numbers. The Beard is also second on the Nets’ all-time triple-doubles list with seven despite having been on the team for less than two months.
Harden added to his ledger on Wednesday in Brooklyn’s overtime win in San Antonio. He put up 30 points, 15 assists, and 14 rebounds without a single turnover in 44 minutes of action. He became the first player since 1977 to post 30-plus points and 15-plus assists without a single turnover in a game, which is a remarkable feat.
Brooklyn is 19-17 so far this season against the spread. The Rockets are now a league-worst 11-22 ATS.
The Rockets are expecting to have John Wall and Victor Oladipo in the lineup tonight, but there are quite a few other issues for this team. Christian Wood and David Nwaba are both out, while Eric Gordon and Danuel House Jr. are questionable. The Rockets have been a total mess for weeks now. Without Wood, this team has absolutely no interior presence on either end of the floor.
Houston hasn’t just been losing games during this skid. They’ve been getting blown out consistently. Of the Rockets’ 12 consecutive losses, nine of them have come by double digits. Houston hasn’t kept a game within 10 points since losing by five to Philadelphia back on February 17.
That game against the Sixers was also the only one in which Houston has covered a spread over the course of their losing streak. They’ve been beaten by at least 20 points five times, including that aforementioned 49-point embarrassment over the weekend against Memphis. Two of the Rockets’ last four losses have come against a Cavaliers team that has been one of the worst in the league in recent weeks.
Wall has played well in his first year with the team, but his availability has been dicey. The same can be said of Oladipo, who already seems to be looking ahead to free agency. In 14 games as a Rocket, Oladipo is averaging 19 points on 18.5 shot attempts per game. He’s converting just 39 percent of his looks, and a paltry 29.7 percent from three-point range. He has been terrible.
Frankly, I have no idea how you don’t take the Nets to cover in this spot. The Rockets may feel extra motivated to try and stick it to Harden, but I’m not sure they have enough firepower for that to matter. In fact, the only rotation players here that were teammates for more than a few games with Harden are Gordon, House, and PJ Tucker. The vast majority of Houston’s rotation consists of players in their first season with the franchise.
In the end, Harden will be the most motivated player in this game, and he actually has the talent to back it up. Harden puts on a show here and leads the Nets to an easy win on the road. Bet Brooklyn to cover the nine points tonight.
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