NBA Free Pick: Toronto Raptors vs. Houston Rockets
Toronto Raptors (36-14, 22-27-1ATS) vs. Houston Rockets (27-20, 22-24-1 ATS)
When: Friday, January 25th, 2019 – 8:00 pm ET
Where: Toyota Center – Houston, TX
By: Kyle Cash, NBA Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TOR -2.5/HOU +2.5 (Bovada)
Last Night in the NBA
The problem with being a night owl operating on an early bird’s schedule is, well, everything. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to go to the gym, work a full day, hang out with my wife, watch sports, get a good night’s sleep and consume other forms of media that society tells me I have to consume. So what do I do? I end up on a YouTube deep dive watching American Idol auditions with the Mrs. Before looking up and realizing I could’ve done literally anything else with my time. Oh well. A win’s a win, right?
Elsewhere in a quiet NBA, Portland continued their quiet surge, Russell Westbrook stuffed his stat sheet to the gills, and Stephen Curry scored 38 points on the Wizards without ever accelerating past a light jog. Just go away, Washington.
While I’m busy road tripping with the wife to parts unknown, the ESPN Friday night showcase will be in full effect. When a guy is averaging 50 points per game, you put him on television at every possible second, and we’re blessed to have it. The Houston Rockets will host the topsy-turvy Raptors team in a highly-anticipated but low-key lopsided contest. The visiting team is currently favored by 2.5-points over the Houston Hardens with the total set to 228 points. Let the scoring commence!
More NBA Picks: Hornets at Bucks
Kawhi’s Disappearing Act
Kawhi Leonard is nearly without equal. Ever since his mano y mano match-up versus the King in the NBA Finals in 2014, he’s been one of the most consistent and electric two-way players in the league. After taking control of the offense in San Antonio, Kawhi’s otherworldly skills have been on full display, and it’s rare to find a player who can both shut down the opponent’s best player while being the focal point of the offense on the other side. Unfortunately, avail-ability is not one of Kawhi’s many abilities, and his 9-game season coupled with his rest-plagued 2018-19 campaign is cause for concern. It’s easy to forget that the guy is only 27 years old, but I fear that this quad injury will eventually be his undoing.
When Kawhi is on the court, as he will be on Friday, Toronto is arguably the most complete team in the NBA. Even without a consistent rotation, the Raps have the most wins in the league to go along with the 4th best road record, and they’re in the running for home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs. In the vaunted Scotiabank Center with their crazy, Canadian fans, that’s a goal that could easily pay dividends in the hunt for a championship.
The Drakes are in the midst of a 3-game road trip, and after dropping a game to the Oladipo-less Pacers, they’ll be out for blood tonight. Against the Houston Rockets, there isn’t much of a gameplan. Kawhi – meet Harden. That’s it. That’s the end of my coaching. Despite his reputation of a “Harden Stopper,” the bearded one has historically still been able to put up numbers against Kawhi. Now that Harden has leveled up to Super Saiyan mode, Kawhi might finally have met his match. However, I just personally watched Corey Brewer victimize Harden like Regina George, and it’s very, very clear that if you cut off the head of Houston’s snake, there won’t be another one growing in its place. If the Sharktopus can wrap his tentacles around Harden, this is going to be an easy W for the Raptors.
The One-Man Band
Have I used that one before? All of these Houston games blend together. Harden iso into step-back 3, Harden iso into dribble drive for a lay-up or a foul, pick-and-roll into a lob or pocket pass for a dunk, Player X launches a 3. Lather, rinse, repeat. BORING! Houston’s offense is like if someone went up to the jukebox (jukebox – I swear I’m only 25 years old) at your local bar, deposited a $100 bill, and then used it to queue up “Don’t Stop Believing” 50 times in a row. Great song! But after the first three or four times in a row, you’ll be chugging your drink and calling an Uber to another spot. Come back, Chris Paul. We need a different song on the jukebox.
I really, really do not need to regurgitate any more statistics to you about James Harden’s incredible run of performances. His usage rate would currently make 2006 Kobe Bryant turn bright red, and then green with envy. In football, a team like the Steelers will run it with their 5th strong RB directly into the line of scrimmage, and then every Pittsburgh fan will say, “Why are they doing that? Just throw it to Antonio Brown every time.” That’s essentially Houston’s current offense. Remember the 14 shots per game we were giving to P.J. Tucker, Gary Clark and James Ennis? Let’s just give all of those to Harden and see what happens.
But has it really worked? The Rockets have traded off wins and losses in each of their past 10 games, and their only good win was versus a Nuggets team still nursing several of its key players back to health. Harden’s Paul McCartney act may work against the Knicks or the Cavaliers, but he’s going to need Ringo, John, George and maybe even Yoko in order to compete with this Canadian juggernaut. Buyers beware for the Beard tonight.
Have I hinted enough as to my thoughts on tonight’s match-up? Harden’s sorcery has completely pulled the wool over the sportsbooks’ eyes, and they’re completely snowed by his magic act. Vegas right now is the person that freaks out when they see Criss Angel walk on water; all of us are the smart people who realize everyone in the scene is a paid actor and he’s clearly walking on glass stands. I have to reiterate: Corey Brewer just completely took Harden out of his groove four days ago, and the Rockets were downed by 30 with ease. You know who is better than Corey Brewer? Everyone on Toronto. If my confidence level last night was a “3,” go ahead and max it out at a “10” for this one. Even if Harden scores 75, I can’t see Toronto losing this game with Kawhi and Lowry healthy and active. Big call, but I’ll make it: lock of the year. It’s free money. Load up on it, and if Harden drowns us – so be it.
Final Score Prediction: Toronto Raptors 118- Houston Rockets 102