Houston Rockets vs. LA Clippers Pick
Houston Rockets (49-28, 36-36-3 ATS) vs. LA Clippers (47-31, 45-32-1 ATS)
When: Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019 – 10:30 pm ET
Where: STAPLES Center – Los Angeles, CA
By: Kyle Cash, NBA Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: HOU +1.5/LAC -1.5 (Youwager)
Last Night in the NBA
What else is there possibly to say? That I regret my Russell Westbrook slander from yesterday? Yes. That I am worried my “Trae Young might be ROY” argument went up in flames? Sure. That I’m afraid that Denver will end up covering the spread against the Warriors? You betcha. But I’m not saying any of that, and you can’t make me. I do regret my Russ slander, though. I’m #TeamWestbrook for life, yo.
Our penultimate NBA Wednesday kicks off with a Boston-Miami brawl down in South Beach and is punctuated by a possible playoff preview as the Houston Rockets travel to the City of Angels to take on the Best NBA Team in Los Angeles. Despite Houston employing the reigning MVP in the midst of one of the five best scoring seasons of all time, they are still a 1.5-point underdog at bookies like Youwager, to the Little Clippers Team That Could with the total set to a compelling 229 points. Please, please play Patrick Beverley! NBA Twitter needs you!
Always the Bridesmaid
Since the second “half” of the season began post All-Star break, the Houston Rockets have played 20 games and won 16 of them. James Harden has played in 19 of those games, has led the team in scoring in 17, and has scored 40 or more 6 different times. Those are the facts of the case, Your Honor, and they are indisputable. While the gaudy numbers are eyebrow-raising, there lies another in the East who is performing a similar magic trick with the box scores – the Daenarys Targaryen of the NBA, if you will. To me, the definition of the Most Valuable Player is as follows: it’s the player who contributed the most towards the success of a team that achieved success in the regular season. Russell Westbrook achieved individual success in 2016, but his team’s lackluster performance should have rendered his case null and void. But throughout history, the best player on the best team has been rewarded, and I feel comfortable to say that those qualifications align firmly with Harden’s competitor. Sorry, James. Why don’t you go win an NBA title instead?
And in order to do so, the Bearded One may have to cross paths with these very Clippers. The playoff match-ups are still fluid heading into the final week of the season, and Houston could land anywhere between the 2- and the 6-seed. But assuming things stay relatively the same, Houston will draw either the Jazz or the Clippers – neither of which they should be excited about seeing in Round One.
To build some confidence for the battle ahead, Houston would be wise to throw down the gauntlet and show the Clippers who’s boss. Both of the Clippers’ victories came back when Carmelo Anthony was still on the Rockets, or what is equivalent to a lifetime ago by NBA standards. With two entirely different teams on the floor, we can throw those games out and look at the teams we have today. Houston has climbed all the way up 2nd in Offensive Rating, and they lead the NBA in 3-pointers attempted. Unfortunately, this style plays directly into LAC’s hands. While opponent 3-point shooting has an element of luck to it, the Clippers still lead the league in 3-point defense, and when combined with their efficient scoring, it becomes a deadly combination for Houston to contend with. If SGA and Pat Bev can contain Harden long enough for Lou Will and Trez Harrell do their thing, the Rockets could find themselves staring down the barrel of a defeated season to a playoff opponent. In the words of the immortal Scooby-Doo: Rut-roh.
The One with the Clip Show
Explain to me how this makes sense: the LA Clippers had won 30 of their 45 games with their go-to borderline All-Star player Tobias Harris, good for a 55-win pace. They then traded the aforementioned superstar for a bag of spare parts and some future compensation – and then won 17 out of 23, good for a 60-win pace. How does that happen? What kind of deal with the devil does Jerry West have? Is it the same one that Coach K signed when he started recruiting one-and-done players? Is there an Eyes Wide Shut-esque underground cult of co-conspirators in the NBA that state there must at all times be a competent team to root for in Los Angeles? Life’s greatest unanswered questions, man. I miss you Landry Shamet! (But thanks for Tobi and Bobi).
To combat the top-heavy Rockets, the Clippers will continue to do what they have been doing: playing basketball the way that it was meant to be played. Gallinari and Lou Williams trade off scoring responsibilities and the rest of the team hustles, defends, and works as a unit to create a winning formula. It’s impressive and awe-inspiring and for the first time in living memory: Everybody loves the Clippers.
But they may be about to sprint headfirst into a wall Wile E. Coyote-style. The best way to beat the Rockets is to push the pace, force turnovers, and rebound the living crap out of the ball. While LAC is one of the quicker-footed teams in the NBA, their defense isn’t exactly full of a ton of active hands, and their rebounding numbers have trended down as the season has gone along. Their starting backcourt is still in diapers, and I think the only way that my boy Landry is going to be able to guard Harden is if we give him a cattle prod. If Beverley is unable to give it a go, this may be the game that Harden passes Kobe’s 81-point night, and I think that the record ATS of team’s that allow 80+ points to one player is probably 0-2. Keep that in mind if you feel like backing the Clippers.
While April NBA basketball isn’t usually the apple of my entertainment eye, consider me curious about the results of this game. We’re approaching the time of the season when Harden’s legs typically start to get a little bit wobblier; he’s closing in on 3000 minutes for the season. Even more impressively, he’s also closing in on 3000 points, and scoring 1 point per minute played is something that I’m sure Elias Sports Bureau would tell us doesn’t happen often. I don’t doubt the Clippers’ ability to keep this game interesting and probably even steal it, particularly as Houston is coming off of a back-to-back at Sacramento. But the Rockets have been one of the better teams on no rest this season and are an elite 7-4 on the second half of a back-to-back. The Clippers may have been able to keep the MVP contender at bay back in October, but he’s played himself into shape over the course of the season and he’s due for one more big game on national television. Consider this it. Let’s get ready for the playoffs, baby.
Final Score Prediction: Houston Rockets 123 – LA Clippers 118
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