How Bettors Should Approach Warriors, Rockets Down Stretch
A rematch of last year’s NBA Western Conference final – and a potential preview of this year’s – takes place tonight (March 13) in Houston as the Houston Rockets square off against the Golden State Warriors.
Surprisingly, with three weeks left in the regular season, these two teams are trending in opposite directions. And even more surprising is that the arrow is pointing up on the Rockets, and down on the reigning two-time NBA champions.
The Rockets are Red-Hot
It has been a turbulent season in Houston but the Rockets are hitting their stride as the postseason nears. There isn’t a hotter team in basketball; the Rockets have won nine straight and gone 5-3-1 against the spread in that span, making them an intriguing NBA betting proposition.
Of course James Harden and his league-leading 36.1 points per game have led the way, but Houston’s rise has been just as much about its defense as its lethal offense.
In that nine-game span Houston ranks sixth in efficiency, ahead of some defensive standouts like Oklahoma City, Toronto and Orlando. Part of the cure – Houston ranked 22nd defensively before this stretch – has been a slower pace; the Rockets rank 26th in pace during their hot stretch.
There’s a misconception that 3-point shooting automatically means a fast pace. That hasn’t been the case for Houston. Slower games have the Rockets to manage their defense better.
It also helps, of course, that Clint Capela and Chris Paul have returned from their injuries. Harden was fun to watch as a one-man wrecking crew in December and January, but the Rockets as a whole are much better at full strength.
Add in supporting role pieces P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Kenneth Faried and you’ve got the makings of a powerhouse in the West.
Had it not been for Paul’s hamstring injury, Houston likely would have beaten the Warriors in the Western Conference final. And the way they’re playing against some of the top teams in the league – their win streak has included games over Golden State, Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia – the Rockets will be an incredibly tough out in the postseason.
It’s time to take a long look at their continually rising NBA Finals betting odds – at +1000 on 888Sport – to win it all.
James Harden for MVP?
The two-man race for MVP is a hot topic. Giannis Antetokounmpo has to be considered the favorite with what he’s doing for the 51-17 Milwaukee Bucks.
Then again, that could make Harden’s +125 odds good value for NBA MVP betting. If he can continue this run and the Rockets can catch either Denver or Golden State – with an incredibly rare season sweep of the latter – it’d be hard not to give him the award for a second straight season. He has work to do but he is still in the race.
The Warriors are Ice Cold
Meanwhile, things are not going well on the West Coast. As the Rockets beat everybody in sight the Warriors are having serious difficulty figuring their group out. Golden State has lost six of 10– and is 2-8 against the spread – since Feb. 13.
And these haven’t been good losses either: The Rockets without Harden, the Magic and the Suns all knocked off Golden State, and the Celtics handed them a 33-point home loss, the franchise’s worst under coach Steve Kerr.
In that span the Warriors somehow have the No. 18 offense in the NBA, behind the Magic and Suns among others. Their defense? Just as bad, ranking No. 22 behind teams like the Hawks, Hornets and … the Knicks. Seriously.
That combination has given Golden State the No. 26 net rating in that span. In the past month only the Knicks, Lakers, Hornets and Mavericks have been worse. As wild as it sounds, the Warriors have been one of the worst teams in the NBA.
Then again, oddsmakers don’t seem at all concerned. The postseason is a different animal and it’s still hard to see a team beating the Warriors four times in a seven-game span.
We have plenty of evidence that this team turns it on when they get on the biggest stage. So Golden State’s ridiculous -225 odds on 888Sport to win the 2019 NBA title haven’t changed despite the team’s awful stretch of basketball.
And if we’re being real, while there isn’t great value in that pick, it’s the one that makes the most sense. Something would have to go wrong for the Warriors not to win it all.
Bet Rockets Over Warriors
And wouldn’t you know it? The two teams square off tonight (March 13) in Houston. Since Jan. 19, a nearly two-month span, Houston is 8-2 at home and has won its past five at Toyota Center by an average of 11 points.
The Rockets also have the clear mental edge over the Warriors, having knocked them off twice this season. A regular-season sweep would look significant.
And Kevin Durant’s absence with an ankle injury is even more reason to like the Rockets to cover as a 3.5-point favorite at home. The Warriors will eventually figure it out but they’re struggling in a big way right now and the Rockets look unbeatable.
About the Author
Mark Strotman is a veteran sports journalist who has covered the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for NBC Sports Chicago since 2012. His work has also appeared on ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, The Chicago Tribune, Yahoo Sports and NBC Sports. He covered the NBA Playoffs in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 as well as Team USA Basketball in 2014 and 2016. He has also covered high school football and was nominated for a Midwest Emmy in 2016 for his work on a documentary featuring local Chicago product and NFL prospect Miles Boykin. Strotman graduated from Marquette University in 2012 and during his time there reported on the men’s basketball team, covering both the Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament in 2011 and 2012.