While the Nets are currently a half-game back of the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Rockets are 14th in the Western Conference. Not exactly must-see TV, right? Well, basketball fans are sure to tune in, anyway.
Nets star James Harden is making his highly-anticipated return to Houston. In spite of an ugly divorce that led to the Rockets trading “The Beard” to Brooklyn, there remains a sense of gratitude between the two sides.
Rockets governor Tilman Fertitta said the team would eventually retire Harden’s jersey, and the former MVP has been very vocal about his love for the city and the organization.
How will Harden be received? Will he make amends with John Wall? Do the Rockets spoil his homecoming?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the betting odds for Nets-Rockets.
NBA Odds: Nets-Rockets
Nets -9.5 (-116)
Rockets +9.5 (-104)
Over 228.5 points (-110)
Under 228.5 points (-110)
All odds obtained via BetOnline.ag
Why the Nets could cover the spread
Brooklyn has hardly missed a beat in Kevin Durant’s absence.
The Nets are 7-1 since Durant was sidelined with a hamstring strain. They were in a tough scrap with the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, only to outscore the Spurs 16-5 in the overtime period.
Harden had been going through a small rough patch in the last week, but he rebounded against the Spurs. He had 30 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds on Monday, shooting 12-for-23 from the field. Most importantly, he did not commit a single turnover. Pretty impressive, considering it came against a team that ranks 10th in defensive rating.
“The Beard” has shown a certain comfort in getting to the rim and exploiting DeAndre Jordan in pick-and-roll. His ability to get to the basket or find Jordan for lobs has made those actions exceedingly dangerous.
Another enormous development for the Nets has been the play of Bruce Brown in Durant’s absence. Brown is not a good shooter, but he is an excellent off-ball cutter and scraps for offensive boards. He also gets out and runs the break in transition, showing an ability to finish at the rim.
The 24-year-old has even proven himself capable of breaking defenders down off the dribble, giving the Nets a vital third scoring option. Brown has scored in double figures in each of the last five games, including a pair of 20-point performances. He is doing so in incredibly efficient fashion, shooting over 70 percent from the field in that stretch.
Brooklyn is becoming too difficult to handle offensively, even without Durant. Harden and Irving find cutters off the dribble and hunt lobs. Joe Harris looms as a sniper, and Jeff Green can also play the roll of a stretch-4. Brown is taking on a lot of scoring responsibility.
The Rockets have actually been fairly sound defensively. But they will have a hard time exploiting Brooklyn’s potential weaknesses. Houston does not rebound well, and the Rockets are struggling to score the ball.
Why the Rockets could cover the spread
Houston’s defense could come to the rescue.
The Rockets rank third in scoring defense and seventh in defensive rating. They have actually had success forcing turnovers, which is absolutely vital against Harden and Co.
Wall is sure to find some intrinsic motivation in playing against his former teammate, and Victor Oladipo can be big and physical with Irving.
Houston can also try to outrun the Nets. The Rockets rank third in pace, and might look to get out in transition. Of course, that could play into Brooklyn’s hands, given both Harden and Irving excel as playmakers in transition.
Realistically, though, it is hard to envision the Rockets covering even a 9.5 spread unless both Wall and Oladipo have Herculean performances and lock up defensively.
Final prediction and pick for Nets-Rockets
It is incredibly hard to pick the Rockets here, especially since the odds aren’t even all that tremendous.
Houston has lost 12 in a row. It cannot find efficient scoring options anywhere. Wall needs to make almost every play, especially with Oladipo shooting the ball as he is.
Conversely, the Nets are grooving. They have diverse scoring options and control the perimeter. As previously mentioned, the Rockets also do not have the personnel to possibly exploit Brooklyn on the glad. Not to mention, Houston could be without Eric Gordon and David Nwaba, both of whom are questionable.
Harden might have a very happy homecoming in what could well be another blowout loss for Houston.
FINAL PREDICTION & PICK FOR NETS-ROCKETS: BRK 127, HOU 103 (BRK -9.5)