In the latter half of an ESPN doubleheader, the NBA on ESPN gives us a glimpse into a potential playoff series. When the Rockets travel to face the Clippers, we know we’re in for an amazing game! The best part of this game… load management has not been announced!
When and Where
Tipping off at 10:30 PM EST, some late-night NBA on ESPN action for all of us to enjoy. The 11-4 Houston Rockets will battle the hometown 10-5 Los Angeles Clippers.
Why We’re Watching
Put aside the potential playoff series between these down the road and focus on the right here and now. Tonight on ESPN, we have a full healthy Rockets team facing a 90% healthy Clippers team (sorry Landry Shamet, but you have to sit this one out). The “good” news with Shamet missing this game is that he’s actually done more harm than good for the Clippers this season. With a PER of 6.43, the Clippers were helping the opposition by having Shamet on the court.
But, no one truly cares about that! We want to see Paul George and Kawhi Leonard duke it out with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. This is going to be the worst possible defense for Harden to face this season. With George and Leonard being regarded as 2 of the best defenders in all of basketball, Harden will have little room for open shots tonight. Then again, there’s the possibility that the Clippers assign the pesty Patrick Beverley to guard Harden. If that’s the scenario we get, then Harden will launch all the shots he wants while also drawing fouls. Beverley is a good defender in the sense that he plays defense like that dude in a pick-up game that belongs on the football field. That doesn’t necessarily work when facing Harden and his ability to draw a foul when someone breathes on him. Plus, maybe with no one guarding him, Eric Gordon can finally get going. <insert c’mondosomething.meme>
As for the Clippers offense, we’ll finally get a sense of what this starting unit can accomplish on the court together. I like the chances that Leonard and Ivica Zubac can get the pick-n-roll going early as the Rockets struggle to defend both men and the potential kick-out to George. So far this season, we’ve seen Leonard excel in running the 2-man game with Zubac. Once they add another wrinkle into the fold byways of George, this offense is even more dangerous. They will have to avoid rim protector Clint Capela though, which is huge for this Rockets team. With the Rockets playing at one of the fastest paces in NBA history, it’s entirely possible that both Leonard and George score 30+ points each tonight.
That being said, Harden will likely outscore both men. I know what you’re thinking, how is Harden going to score with such good defenders shadowing him? Well, he’s James Harden that’s how. Harden is averaging over 38(!) points per game this season, a mark that was only bested by one man in NBA history: Wilt Chamberlain (50.36 ppg and 44.83 ppg between 1961-1963). Harden takes nearly 25 shots per game and I see that number crossing the 30-mark tonight. He’ll want to single-handedly prove that he can beat LA, but that will damage this team. This needs to be a glorified 2-on-2 game between potential and former MVPs. Russell Westbrook is going to need to create open shots for Harden by driving and kicking the ball around the arch.
Betting Done Quick
In order for Houston to remain competitive in this game, they’ll need Harden and Westbrook to get Leonard and George into foul trouble early. Although it is entirely possible, I still won’t take Houston on the moneyline. This is a statement game for the Clippers at home and I feel that they cover the 5.5 point spread (-110). With the high-total of 226.0 coming in fo this NBA on ESPN game, I like the OVER at -105. In order to avoid letting the Clippers defenders settle in, the Rockets will keep up their historical pace of play and fire shots early in the shot clock. I also feel that Rockets will get plenty of free throws tonight which helps the total.
Leading Scorer: James Harden