The Houston Rockets are pretty darned good, but they may have just gotten even better. Will Josh Smith help or hinder the Rockets against the Memphis Grizzlies and the NBA odds this Friday night?
Jason’s record as of Dec. 25: 20-19-1 ATS, 1-3 Totals
The Houston Rockets are having an incredible season. But their 20-7 record (15-12 ATS) is only good enough for fourth place in the Western Conference coming out of the holiday break. There are so many very good teams out West – including the Memphis Grizzlies (21-7 SU, 14-14 ATS), who are still ahead of Houston in the standings despite losing three games in a row. The Rockets are going to need a boost if they’re going to achieve escape velocity and reach the NBA Finals.
Right on time, here comes Josh Smith. The Detroit Pistons waived Smith (14.2 PER) on Monday, leaving him free to sign with the Rockets; although it hasn’t yet been made official as we go to press, Smith told reporters Wednesday that he’d be taking his talents to Houston, where he’ll get a chance to start at power forward alongside his good buddy, Dwight Howard (21.4 PER). Will everything get done soon enough for Smith to play this Friday night (8:00 p.m. ET, NBA-TV) against the Grizzlies? NBA odds for this game were pending at press time.
It might be difficult to remember after Smith’s disappointing tenure in Detroit, but at one point, he was one of the hottest free agents on the market. The Grizzlies tried to sign him away from the Atlanta Hawks in 2008, but the Hawks matched the offer sheet. Then Smith signed with Detroit in 2013. But he was miscast as a small forward next to Greg Monroe (18.4 PER) and Andre Drummond (18.8 PER). New head coach Stan Van Gundy tried bringing Smith off the bench instead this year. It didn’t work.
In Houston, Smith will return to his natural position, and the Rockets hope Smith’s production level will return, as well. He was considered one of the best defensive players in the league, not to mention an athletic scorer who won the Slam Dunk title in 2005. In theory, Smith can still bring some of those hops to Houston at age 29. But he’s no longer the explosive dunker he once was.
Everything Must Go
He doesn’t have to be. The Rockets already have plenty of scoring with James Harden (26.0 PER); what they need from Smith is his defense, and also his passing touch – his 5.3 assists per 36 minutes this year is a career-high. It’s worth a shot. Houston will only have to shell out $2.1 million for Smith’s services, and if he doesn’t work out, Terrence Jones (19.1 PER) should be able to recover at some point from his peroneal nerve contusion and reclaim his starting gig.
In the meantime, the Rockets have to clear up a roster spot for Smith, and the holiday rumor mill had pretty much everyone on the lower end of Houston’s depth chart on the trading block. Tarik Black (11.9 PER) and Isaiah Cannan (12.7 PER) are two likely candidates. Getting all this paperwork done might mean that Smith won’t be available on Friday, though.
Run Run Randolph
His services weren’t required the last time Houston faced the Grizzlies. Back on Dec. 5, with Howard (strained knee) out of the lineup, six different Rockets scored in double figures as Houston prevailed 105-96, cashing in as a 5-point home dog. Black (10 points, 11 rebounds) was one of those players.
As it turns out, Memphis might also be down a power forward on Friday. Zach Randolph (20.5 PER) has missed the last two games with a swollen right knee and is listed as questionable to face the Rockets. The Grizz lost both games, including Monday’s 97-91 defeat at the hands of the Utah Jazz (+8 away). You’ll want to get fresh news on both Randolph and Smith before making your NBA picks, but we’re inclined to recommend Houston in this situation.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Rockets