Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets NBA Pick for January 25th
Prior to the beginning of the season, the Houston Rockets were getting plenty of championship buzz, while the Toronto Raptors were more of an unknown.
The Rockets had just taken the eventual champion Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals, while the Raptors had suffered yet another early playoff defeat at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
As of now, though, it’s Toronto that looks like more of a challenger to Golden State’s title. The Raptors have had the best record in the league for most of the season, thanks in large part to the aggressive offseason acquisition of Kawhi Leonard.
There’s no telling whether Leonard will decide to stay in Toronto on a long-term basis after the season ends, but he has helped transform the Raptors into the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference.
The Rockets have improved since struggling early in the season, but they’re still short-handed right now. Houston is without its second- and third-best players in Clint Capela and Chris Paul. Both are expected to return to action soon, but in the meantime, it’s James Harden’s show.
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|2019 ATS Home||12-13-0||14-9-1|
|2019 ATS Away||10-14-1||8-15-0|
|2019 O/U Home||14-11-0||15-8-1|
|2019 O/U Away||14-11-0||9-13-1|
Harden wasn’t given a great chance to repeat as the league’s Most Valuable Player this season, but if the season were to end today I imagine he would do just that.
Harden is currently in the midst of the best individual offensive stretch we’ve seen from a player in the NBA since the days of Wilt Chamberlain, which is incredible.
The reigning league MVP is now averaging 36.3 points per game on the year, which means he’s averaging about 7 more points per game than the next-best player (Stephen Curry). He’s doing this while also contributing 8.3 assists and 6.6 rebounds a night.
Harden has a vast array of offensive moves he uses to keep defenders off balance, but his most dangerous weapon is his step-back 3-pointer.
It’s a shot with an incredible degree of difficulty, yet Harden manages to connect on it with regularity. Harden is shooting better than 37 percent from 3-point range on the year, which is astounding when you consider just how difficult some of his heavily-contested attempts are.
Over his last 5 games, Harden is averaging an amazing 52.2 points per game. He scored 61 points at Madison Square Garden the other night, which tied Kobe Bryant’s record for most points scored at MSG by an opponent. Harden is averaging 45.3 points per game so far in January, and he has scored at least 30 points in 21 consecutive games.
He’s doing this without much help. Eric Gordon recently returned from his own extended absence, but Gordon has struggled to find his shooting stroke for most of the season. Harden is a willing passer, but his teammates haven’t been rewarding his generosity by actually making their shots.
The Rockets are shooting just 34.7 percent from 3-point range as a team so far in January, which ranks 21st in the league.
Whether the Rockets will be able to keep their heads above water with Harden doing so much by himself remains to be seen. Paul is set to come back within the next week, but there’s no telling how he’s going to play. CP3 wasn’t exactly lighting it up prior to his latest hamstring injury, so if he struggles again the Rockets could find themselves in real trouble.
Heading into play Friday, the Raptors are tied with the Bucks for the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 36-14. Toronto is 8-2 over the course of the last 10 games despite the fact that Kawhi Leonard has missed the last handful of games.
The Raptors have been cautious with Leonard after he battled a lingering quad injury all of last year as a member of the Spurs. Leonard has missed 4 straight games due to “load management,” but he’s listed as probable to play tonight in Houston.
Kawhi has been outstanding this season. He was named an All-Star starter on Thursday, which is obviously well-deserved. The San Diego State product is averaging a team-high 27.6 points along with 7.9 rebounds per game. He is still arguably the best perimeter defender in basketball, which makes him quite the unique weapon.
Nobody has been able to figure out how to check Harden to this point, but the Raptors have as good a shot as anybody at slowing him down. In addition to Leonard, the Raptors can throw other quality defenders like Kyle Lowry and Danny Green in Harden’s direction.
I’d still be surprised if Toronto was able to hold Harden to anything under 30 points, but I do like their chances of at least keeping him under 50. These days, that’s an accomplishment.
While the Rockets have been managing to string together wins thanks in large part to Harden’s individual exploits, the Raptors have been doing so all year long thanks to their cohesiveness as a team.
Toronto is ranked sixth in the league in defensive rating, as they’re allowing 104.4 points per 100 possessions. They’re also seventh in offensive rating (110.3 points per 100 possessions), which makes them one of just 3 teams (with Boston and Milwaukee) ranking in the top-10 in both offense and defense.
The Rockets have picked up some quality wins with Chris Paul sidelined, but they have also lost to legitimate contenders like Milwaukee and Philadelphia recently.
I don’t think we’ll see a massive blowout like we saw in Philly against the 76ers earlier this week, but the overall talent gap between the teams is pretty wide with Paul and Capela missing for the Rockets.
Houston playing at home tonight should also increase their chances of at least keeping this one competitive, but I think the Raptors stand a great shot at covering the spread here. What would the spread be if this game were to be held in Toronto? 8-10 points?
The Rockets playing at home is worth something, but I still like a full-strength Raptors team’s chances of covering the 3 here.
The Rockets have been struggling defensively of late, and Toronto’s array of weapons will prove tough to cover over the course of a full 48 minutes. Harden will get his, but I think Houston may just be overmatched in this one. So, give me the Raptors to cover the 3 point spread tonight in H-Town.
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