NBA Picks: Rockets vs. Pacers

Jason Lake

Friday, December 20, 2013 1:03 PM GMT

The Indiana Pacers just lost to the World Champions, but they still have the best record in the Eastern Conference, both straight up and against the NBA lines. Next up: the Houston Rockets Friday night at the Fieldhouse.

Jason’s record on his final NBA picks for 2013, up to December 18 inclusive:

26-26 ATS

5-5 Totals

Be sure to check out our NBA Picks: Friday Value Plays.

Don’t mind the kids in the peanut gallery. The big MSM storyline going into Wednesday’s titanic battle between the Indiana Pacers (20-5 SU, 17-8 ATS) and the Miami Heat was more of a question than a story: Have the Pacers surpassed the reigning NBA champions? Not yet, at least in the short term. Miami won 97-94, although Indiana did cash in as a 4-point road chalk to add even more money to the biggest NBA betting pile in the Eastern Conference.

Here’s a more pertinent question: Have the Pacers already peaked in value? They’re 4-4 SU and ATS over their past eight games, and the very early NBA odds have them laying a big seven points at home for Friday night’s matchup with the Houston Rockets (17-9 SU, 14-11-1 ATS). That’s a lot of points against a very good basketball team.

About Last Night

On the surface, there’s nothing in particular about Wednesday’s loss that dooms Indiana to second-rate status in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers were ahead for most of the game, and while it’s tempting to pin the blame on center Roy Hibbert (18.1 PER) getting into foul trouble, he was on the floor when Miami made its fourth-quarter comeback. The bigger takeaway from this game is that Indiana can handle the World Champions and get paid even when Hibbert is on the bench.

Depth isn’t something that casual NBA fans pay much attention to, but the Pacers have it in spades. And it’s only going to get better: SF Danny Granger (18.6 PER in 2011-12) is expected to make his season debut on Friday after sitting out most of last year with patellar tendinosis. This is a very interesting situation for a team that has already seen SF Paul George (23.1 PER) reach elite status in Granger’s absence. 

The Pipes Are Calling

If the 30-year-old Granger can come close to replicating his former All-Star and Olympic gold-medallist status, there might not be any more questions about whether Indiana has overtaken Miami. Coach Frank Vogel has already diffused most of the talk about Granger’s place in the rotation; he told the Indianapolis Star on Tuesday that Granger would be playing “all the back-up wing minutes” going forward. 

Indiana supporters should be very happy to hear the news. Those wing minutes have been taken up by a collection of scrubs, mainly sophomore Orlando Johnson (7.2 PER) and rookie Solomon Hill (6.3 PER). Chris Copeland (16.8 PER last year with the New York Knicks) has barely even gotten off the bench since joining the Pacers; he might have been signed as a free agent just to keep him from joining the Heat. Whatever the case, Granger’s 15-20 minutes or so should be a welcome addition to the club.

[gameodds]5/250721/?r-1=43-19-349/us[/gameodds]

If I Had a Rocket Launcher

The Rockets, like the Pacers, are 4-4 SU in their last eight games, albeit at 3-5 ATS. They’ve had some issues lately with PG Jeremy Lin (17.9 PER), who missed the last two games with back spasms and another six games earlier this month with a sprained knee. Lin was able to practice Thursday and may be able to suit up on Friday.

There was some talk that Lin could be packaged with disgruntled center Omer Asik (10.6 PER), but Houston has reportedly put the brakes on any trade speculation for now. Asik hasn’t quite meshed with fellow big man Dwight Howard (21.7 PER) and is very unhappy with his reserve role. This is a bad situation going into Friday’s matchup (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) against a Pacers team that’s deeper than a 1960s French philosopher. The hermeneutics all point to Indiana in this contest.

NBA Pick: Take the Pacers –7 at Heritage