By Mark Strotman | | 4 mins
Should You Jump On Shrinking Rockets NBA Title Odds Now?
No team did more to help their NBA title chances through the first six days of the NBA restart than the Houston Rockets. Behind their unprecedented small-ball lineup and some James Harden heroics, they began the restart with impressive wins over the Mavericks and Bucks before falling to the red-hot Blazers on Tuesday.
Even with that close loss, oddsmakers are beginning to warm up to the idea of Harden and the Rockets finally getting over the postseason hump. Though they’re a distant fourth to the Lakers (+250), Bucks (+250) and Clippers (+310) in the latest NBA title odds, Houston’s odds have shortened to +1400.
Now may be the time to grab them.
The Rockets get another litmus test on Thursday night on TNT against the Lakers, a team they beat in Los Angeles back in February, in what could be a Western Conference Finals preview. Though the Lakers have wrapped up the 1 seed, this feels like a spot for them to keep momentum rolling, try different rotations and continue gearing up for the postseason.
The Rockets, meanwhile, still have a shot to grab the 3 seed (meaning avoiding the Lakers in Round 2). Expect Houston to come out firing like it has thus far in Orlando, another reason we like them as a sneaky NBA futures play in an this unprecedented playoff format.
Harden, Westbrook Lead Dynamic Offense
Offense wins championships, and the Rockets are ramping up as the postseason nears. Harden has averaged 32.0 points on 51% shooting in three games, Russell Westbrook has chipped in 25.7 points of his own, and the Rockets have climbed all the way up to second in offensive efficiency. Performances like this one help:
Beard was a BEAST!— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) August 1, 2020
? 49 PTS
? 14/20 FG
? 9 REB
? 8 AST
✔️ Comeback Win pic.twitter.com/84u5RwYZ8J
Harden has shrunk under pressure in the postseason, but perhaps the change of scenery, the lack of crowds, travel, and external noise will keep him locked in and allow him to flourish. Also, Westbrook has played at an All-Star level this season but he was brought in to do damage in the postseason.
When focused, there may not be a more lethal 1-2 punch in the league given their supporting cast and style of play. Superstars win titles, and the Rockets have two of them who are playing incredibly well. That’s why we like their +1400 odds at DraftKings.
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Small-Ball Has Worked Thus Far
When the Rockets traded Clint Capela and shifted P.J. Tucker to center, it marked an unprecedented moment in this era of NBA history. The Rockets do not have a player in the rotation taller than Tucker or Robert Covington at 6-foot-7, playing an ultimate brand of small ball that works wonders as a spacing offense but is incredibly risky on the defensive end.
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The good news? It’s working out. Since dealing Capela and bringing in Covington, the Rockets are 10-7, including wins over the Lakers, Bucks, Celtics (twice), Jazz, and Mavericks. That record may not be eye-popping, but consider that in that stretch they’re a respectable 15th in defensive rating, similar to what they were pre-trade.
It’s made them much more versatile as an offense without affecting the defense. Having athletes like Harden and Westbrook and elite defenders in Tucker and Covington mean the defense should do just enough to let their offense carry the load. Speaking of which …
Rockets Still Firing Away
Offenses were supposed to lag in the bubble – which would have been bad news for Houston – but instead there has been an outburst of scoring. The Rockets are averaging 125.0 points in the bubble compared to 118.1 prior to the shutdown. That included a 153-point effort (139 in regulation) against the Mavs and 120 points against the Bucks’ top-ranked defense.
Houston is averaging 19.7 made 3-pointers in the bubble at a 36.4% clip, good for 13th in the league. The bubble and worries about offenses and shooting-heavy teams struggling hasn’t come to fruition.
The Rockets offense is rolling. It’s always susceptible to cold streaks, and it’s the main culprit for why Harden hasn’t been able to lead them to the Finals, but perhaps those concerns will shrink in the bubble. This setting feels like one in which a team with the build of the Rockets could thrive. Oddsmakers are certainly buying in. And so are those who know NBA betting.