The Houston Rockets received some much-needed good news early Thursday morning, with ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reporting that tests on James Harden’s eyes revealed no corneal damage.
The Rockets fully expect Harden’s vision to be completely clear in time for Saturday’s Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors.
It’s a sigh of relief for a team that was due to catch a break after two close road losses to begin their Western Conference semifinals matchup. Harden was accidentally hit in the face by Draymond Green in the opening minutes of Game 2, resulting in what the Rockets officially dubbed contusions in both eyes. Harden also suffered a small cut above his left eye.
It was evident throughout the remainder of the game that Harden, whose eyes both appeared bloodshot and red, was struggling to even see. He told reporters as much after the game, saying he “could barely see” despite putting up 29 points on 9 of 19 shooting.
Harden’s Eyes Give Houston a Chance
It goes without saying, but Harden’s health is paramount to the Rockets getting back into the best-of-seven series. The Rockets have a steep hill to climb, and they’re facing +500 NBA betting odds of advancing past the Warriors, who are -670 to finish the series. Simply put, they not only need Harden; they need him at his best.
The MVP candidate is not only the Rockets’ best player, but the one player Mike D’Antoni has built the Rockets’ offense around. Houston has other scorers but the offense flows differently when Harden is active, engaged and healthy. Per Basketball Reference, the Rockets had an offensive rating of 118.2 with Harden on the floor in the regular season.
When he sat? Houston’s offense plummeted to 111.0 – still an excellent number but nowhere near the efficiency of when Harden was on the floor.
The Rockets have a fighting chance with Harden healthy. While Houston still faces incredible odds of knocking off the Warriors – they’ll need to win four of the next five games – losing Games 1 and 2 on the road wasn’t entirely expected.
The old adage says that a series doesn’t really begin until a road team wins a game, so the Rockets have a chance to take care of business at home and turn the series into a best-of-3 heading back to Oakland next week.
They’ve won their last 10 home games and 15 of their last 16 in Houston. Then again, that lone loss came at the hands of Stephen Curry and the Warriors in mid-March.
But oddsmakers believe the Rockets will come out firing in the comfort of their own building, listing Houston as 3.5-point favorites on 888Sport. A healthy Harden – who averaged 37.9 points and shot 38.2% from deep at home this season – is tough to beat.
Warriors Still in Control
Oddsmakers also believe the Warriors are heating up at the perfect time. Jumping out to a 2-0 series lead on the Rockets has given them a slight championship odds bump to -182.
They began this series as -300 to come out of the West, and since then have moved to -360. All those odds will only get larger, so if you’re a believer in Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, this is the time to put down a wager.
As far as their current series is concerned, don’t expect the Warriors to panic being underdogs for the first time since March 16 at Oklahoma City. Golden State was just 3-4 straight-up as an underdog this season, but that record should come with an asterisk.
All four losses came in November when Curry was injured. Since then, they’ve won three straight as underdogs, including two in March against the Rockets and Thunder.
It’s uncommon to see the Warriors as underdogs, especially in the postseason, but remember that Golden State had the league’s best road record (27-14) and the best road net rating (6.4).
They were better on the road than they were at home this season from that standpoint. Unlike most teams, there’s no drop-off when the Warriors hit the road. Then again, the Warriors aren’t like most teams.