It’s a strange thing to tag any NBA team currently nestling with a top four spot in the Western Conference as under-performers. But there’s something not quite satisfying about the Houston Rockets.
Sure, they’re 19-7 going into tonight’s showdown with the Portland Trail Blazers, their fellow leviathans. Admirably, their defence has vastly improved to third overall in the league with just 96.3 points per game conceded.
But offensively, with an efficiency rating which sits just one spot above your miserable New York Knicks, these Rockets are less than the sum of their parts – especially when you consider James Harden is now number one is scoring in the NBA with 26.3 points per night after averaging 29 over his last 10 appearances.
That, however, illustrated Houston’s over-reliance on the Man who puts the O into defence. In successive losses to New Orleans and Atlanta, Harden has notched 19.5 and his numbers were certainly inflated by the extra opportunities available during Dwight Howard’s absence.
It’s arguably one reason why the Rockets pulled the trigger on a bench-helping trade that should see both Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved debut against the Blazers, with the pair combining for 20.4 points for Minnesota and Philadelphia respectively.
For a championship run – and their new club is 17.00 now for the title – Houston needs extra assistance, especially at home where they are a very average 9-5.
Portland is 2.35 for the win and that’s great value, considering their form and how they dismantled their foes in the playoffs last season.
LaMarcus Aldridge has averaged 24.8 points and 14.2 rebounds over his last five – all wins – with his numbers likely to stay up in the absence of Robin Lopez in the middle.
Howard may reap the extra benefits against the lesser powers of Joel Freeland and Chris Kaman. But with the Blazers on fire offensively, a points total of over 203.5, available at 2.50, seems very gettable, especially with hosts who just don’t quite cut it.
Best bet: Back Portland at -3.5 on the handicap over Houston at 2.85.