The Houston Rockets gave the Golden State Warriors all they could handle in Game 1 of their Western Conference final. The NBA odds haven't budged for Thursday's Game 2.
Jason’s record as of May 19: 77-78-5 ATS, 15-19 Totals, plus-0.15 units ML, 6-2 Series (plus-4.0 units)
How close were the Houston Rockets to upsetting the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night? The Rockets were up 16 points in the second quarter, but with Dwight Howard in and out of the game after suffering a bruised left knee, the Warriors were able to mount their seemingly inevitable comeback, winning their Western Conference Finals opener 110-106. Houston still handily beat the basketball odds as a 10.5-point road dog on the closing line. Score another one for the good guys.
Did we say “bruised” left knee? As we go to press, the results of Howard's MRI have just been announced, and the results say he's got a strained left knee. That's a little bit more serious than originally believed. Howard is listed as questionable to play in Thursday's Game 2 (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN), and at this point, there's not much use speculating about his status until the shootaround happens. So we'll give you two scenarios to consider for your NBA picks: Howard plays, or he doesn't.
Scenario 1: Howard Plays
Our entire premise of betting on the Rockets in Game 1 was that they had all of their Four Horsemen available: Howard (19.2 PER), James Harden (26.7 PER), Terrence Jones (18.3 PER) and Josh Smith (15.2 PER). We saw the damage this team could do against the Warriors in the opener. Harden (28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, four steals) came within an eyelash of a triple-double against the NBA's top defensive team. Even in limited action, Howard grabbed 13 boards, including four on the offensive end. Smith tied the room together with 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
The Warriors were still the better team in Game 1 – but just barely. They shot 46.7 percent from the floor to Houston's 46.5 percent. Each team pulled down 14 offensive boards and dished out 27 assists. The Dubs made a smart in-game adjustment and went small with Draymond Green (16.4 PER, plus-4.0 DBPM) at center, which proved very effective with Howard on the limp. Even so, Houston outscored Golden State 27-26 in the fourth quarter without Howard.
The basketball odds at press time for Game 2 still have the Warriors laying 10.5 points, and the early action (before Howard's MRI) was 68 percent on Houston. In a situation where Howard plays, we like sticking with the same wager. If he can provide the same gimpy 26 minutes he did in Game 1, that will give the Rockets enough flexibility to go small or large as need be. Clint Capela (12.1 PER, plus-1.0 DBPM), however raw, is proving to be no slouch in limited minutes, as well.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Rockets
Scenario 2: Howard Doesn't Play
Now we've got a problem. True, Howard was a minus-4 in the opener, and he wasn't terribly effective after getting injured in the first quarter. But minus-4 would be just fine if all we're talking about is covering the +10.5 spread. If Howard can't play, that takes away Houston's flexibility. Either they'd have to play small more often than they'd like, or they'd have to give more minutes to Capela and/or Joey Dorsey (11.1 PER, plus-2.1 DBPM). That's probably not going to cut it over the full four quarters.
In this scenario, especially with the NBA betting odds staying where they are, we're completely fine with switching sides and taking the Warriors. Naturally, those odds are likely to shift before game-time if Howard can't play. You could in theory get some value now and blindly bet on the Dubs without that advance knowledge. We prefer the patient route here at the home office.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Warriors at Bovada