It’s been quite a season for the Houston Rockets thus far. The Rockets underwent a noteworthy transformation during the NBA’s abbreviated offseason when Daryl Morey, Russell Westbrook, and Mike D’Antoni all skipped town. James Harden reportedly asked the team to trade him shortly after Westbrook was moved, but Houston’s new general manager decided to wait and milk as much value as he possibly could out of the teams jockeying to trade for the former MVP.
So, the Rockets entered the season with a new head coach, a new GM, several new players, and a disgruntled star looking to get out. Needless to say, that’s not a recipe for success. Houston stumbled to a 3-6 start, and things came to a head with Harden following the team’s second-straight blowout loss at the hands of the Lakers on Tuesday night. Houston was never competitive in either game, which resulted in Harden essentially throwing up his hands and publicly waving the white flag in his postgame press conference.
Shortly thereafter, he was gone. The Rockets shipped Harden to Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon, which means the team will be seriously shorthanded tonight when they take on the Spurs in San Antonio. Houston only has nine active players on the roster heading into this game, with one of them (Eric Gordon) listed as questionable to play with a lower leg issue. Still, the Rockets are only seven-point underdogs to the Spurs in this one.
Who’s Left for Houston?
The Rockets nabbed Victor Oladipo from the Pacers in the Harden deal, but he won’t be eligible to make his debut with the team until he passes through the league’s extensive health protocols. Houston is also set to be without John Wall for this game due to left knee soreness, while Danuel House is missing from the lineup due to the NBA’s health guidelines. Newcomers Rodions Kurucs and Dante Exum aren’t ready to suit up yet, either.
So, Stephen Silas is working with a skeleton crew tonight, even if Gordon is able to play. Gordon would take on the role of primary playmaker if he’s healthy enough to play tonight, but the Rockets are incredibly short on guards either way. They’re going to have to give heavy minutes to the likes of David Nwaba and Sterling Brown tonight, while rookie Mason Jones could factor into the rotation by default.
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Gordon playing would certainly improve the Rockets’ chances of getting a positive result in this one. He has averaged nearly 23 points per game in games he has played without Harden on the floor since coming to Houston, including a stellar 50-point effort in a game last season against the Jazz.
Christian Wood, who has thrived in his first year in town since signing a $41 million deal over the offseason, will also get more offensive opportunities with the Rockets so shorthanded. The Spurs have generally been running a small lineup this season with LaMarcus Aldridge logging plenty of playing time at center, which is something that plays right into Wood’s hands. He’s not the beefiest center, which leads to some defensive struggles against some of the game’s burliest bigs.
The Spurs are in the midst of a rebuild after missing the playoffs for the first time in over two decades last season. Gregg Popovich has committed to developing some of the team’s younger stars while trying to play a more up-tempo style of offense than the team has typically played over the years. The results have been hit-or-miss to this point, but San Antonio does enter tonight’s game in good form. The Spurs have won four of their last five games, which includes very impressive wins over both LA teams at Staples Center last week.
San Antonio has played each of their last two games without DeMar DeRozan, who is officially questionable to suit up tonight. He’s been out due to personal issues, and his potential absence again tonight does leave the team with a dearth of scoring and playmaking on the wing. If he’s out, that means more offensive responsibility for the likes of Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, and Patty Mills for the Spurs in this game.
Murray has quietly been one of the most impressive two-ways guards in basketball over the past few years. He has dealt with injury issues of his own, but when healthy he looks like a potential All-Star. Through the first 11 games of the new campaign, the fifth-year guard is averaging career-highs in scoring (16.2), rebounds (7.0), and assists (6.1) while attempting nearly 15 shots per game. Walker has picked up the slack lately with DeRozan out of the lineup, scoring 25 and 24 points in each of his last two games, respectively.
What’s the Best Bet?
Could the Rockets come out motivated in their first game since the Harden trade? Certainly. Anything is possible. The problem is that they just don’t have their full complement of players. The potential absence of Gordon on top of Wall and Oladipo already being sidelined could mean the Rockets just have no playmakers in the lineup in this game. Who’s going to create the offense for this team?
The Spurs may still be without their own best player in DeRozan, but San Antonio just has a more trustworthy rotation of active bodies. Aldridge is still capable of carrying the offense if DeRozan misses another game, while Murray and Walker have been in fine form for most of the season.
Getting the Spurs at -7 feels like a bargain, especially given the uncertainty with Gordon. If he’s out, the line figures to move even further in San Antonio’s favor. That’s why you should jump on the current spread while you still can. DeRozan returning to the lineup would also tip the scales further toward the Spurs. Try as they might, it’s hard to expect the Rockets to keep this game all that close for the full 48 minutes. Bet on a Spurs cover tonight.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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