NBA Picks: Rockets Defensive Game Against Thunder’s Bench Screams ‘Under’

Mark Lathrop

Sunday, April 3, 2016 12:00 PM GMT

Our NBA handicapper analyzes this nationally televised matchup that is more important for one team than the other. Which way does that make him lean as he makes his NBA Pick?

With the #3 seed all but locked up for the Oklahoma City Thunder (53-23), they travel to the Houston Rockets (37-39) in a matchup that the Rockets simply must win if they are to stay in the playoff race in the Western Conference. The line is fairly tight in this game considering the difference in season win-loss records, with Oklahoma City a small 4.5-point road favorite. The O/U total reflects the high-powered offenses in this game, with an opening number of 223.5 on the board currently.

The Rockets are coming off of a disappointing 103-100 home loss to the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, after being up 9 points in the 4th quarter. The loss put them into 9th place in the Western Conference and one game back of a playoff spot. Bench play was a serious issue for the Rockets in this game, as the Bull’s outscored Houston’s 67-31 in the game. In an interesting statistic relevant to the game versus OKC, the Rockets fell to 23-35 while allowing more than 100 points. They have allowed the Thunder to score 105, 116, and 111 points on them in games this year while going 1-2, so the ratio roughly works out here.

Oklahoma City is fully in cruise control at this point, and barely won on Thursday night against a Clippers team missing Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and J.J. Redick. Much like the game the Pistons took from OKC earlier in the week, it was the A team against the B team. But in this case, it was OKC that had to overcome the lighter squad to finally win the game, 119-117. The Clippers needed a blistering hot performance from 3-point range to get it that close though, as they hid 55.2% (16-29) of their shots from behind the arc.

These teams last met about ten days ago, as the Thunder beat the Rockets at home, 111-107, while failing to cover a 9-point spread and going under the total of 226. The typical players were the scoring forces for each team, as James Harden and Dwight Howard scored 24 and 16 points, respectively, for the Rockets, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 23 and 21 points, respectively, for the Thunder.

My concern with backing the Thunder in this matchup is that they are firmly in their playoff spot, and could find it tempting to rest starters, or at least let the bench play considerable minutes. This is at direct odds with a Houston team playing for their playoff lives. The home teams have also held serve in this matchup all year, with this game being in Houston this time around. OKC does have the edge in every major statistical category on the year though.

Instead of making a call on which team is more motivated, or guessing if starters will play or not, I’m going to concentrate on the NBA Odds Total of 223.5 here. And in this case, we have some very strong trends indicating the under is the way to go – especially if starters sit for the Thunder in any case. The under is 6-1 in the Rockets last seven games and 6-0 after allowing an opponent to score more than 100 points in their prior game. The Thunder are 7-1 on the under after allowing a previous opponent to score 100. Looks like the defense is playing a little ham-and-egg here with these teams. I’m expecting a sluggish offensive effort from the Thunder, and a max defensive effort from the Rockets in this game, so take Under 223.5 as one of your Sunday NBA Picks.

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Free NBA Pick:  Thunder Under 223½
Best Line Offered:  at BetOnline