At 17.00 for the NBA title, the Houston Rockets have dropped a little from the pre-season optimism which surrounded their championship challenge. But hopes may have risen from the most unlikely source: Josh Smith.
The arrival of the recently-dumped Detroit Piston may seem like the craziest gamble since Floyd Mayweather dropped $10m on the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl. After all, his former team wanted him out so badly that they’ve swallowed millions to terminate his stay.
But there is some calculation behind the bet that Houston have placed on tapping into the elite-level Smith rather than the airball-shooting, play-killing Smith that bedevilled Detroit.
After scoring 21 points on his debut – a win over Memphis – the forward may even get a start tonight when the Rockets travel to the San Antonio Spurs. Which, along side Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza, with the much-improved Donatas Motiejunas potentially moving to the bench, would give Kevin McHale an incredibly versatile front line to employ.
If Smith can be persuaded to lower his shot rate (or at least the ones from long range), then his other skills will come to the fore. He’s an under-rated passer, a plus for a side which ranked 28th in assists. He’s also averaging 8.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, not far below his best annual mark of 9.6.
And whether he or Motiejunas start at the four-spot, it can only help Houston’s bench which is dead last in bench scoring with 22.5 out of the team’s nightly total of 100.7 – something which might impact on their ability to come up trumps on third quarter spreads.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will likely return for the Spurs this evening but with Tony Parker set to sit out, the Rockets are certainly worth a punt to extend the hosts losing streak to three.
And with Houston presently fantastic value at 5.00 to win the Southwest Division, where they currently sit ahead of the Spurs, Grizzles and Mavericks, Mr. Smith could pay rich dividends in the crap shoot of the title race.
Best bet: Back Houston on the handicap of -2.5 over San Antonio