The short-handed Houston Rockets just got through a tough loss in Oakland. Next stop: Sacramento, where the Kings will be without DeMarcus Cousins. Which of these teams belongs in your NBA picks?
Jason’s record as of Dec. 10: 15-14-1 ATS, 1-3 Totals
So close, and yet so far. The Houston Rockets, minus Dwight Howard and several others, went to visit The Oracle on Wednesday. They played a solid game against the Golden State Warriors, but they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter as the Warriors (–9) won 105-93. It was a matador cover for the favorites.
Houston won’t get much time to rest up before facing the Sacramento Kings in the nightcap of Thursday’s TNT doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET). The Kings had the day off, but they won’t be at 100 percent in this matchup – DeMarcus Cousins is recovering from viral meningitis. It could take a while. So which of these two supporting casts deserves to be our NBA pick for the evening? The NBA odds are on hold as we go to press, because Houston, but we’ll prep you up as best as we can.
First, the obligatory Dwight Howard Report: Not playing. Howard (20.1 PER) has increased his workload in practice recently, but he’s still not ready to return from the strained knee that’s cost him the past 10 games. Undaunted, the Rockets (16-5 SU, 11-10 ATS) have gone 7-3 SU and 5-5 ATS during his absence, including 2-0 SU and ATS playing the second of back-to-back games.
This has to catch up to them eventually, though. There was some concern that James Harden (24.7 PER) would miss Wednesday’s game with back spasms; he played anyway, and scored 34 points in 40 minutes. But Harden also got a little trey-happy late in the fourth, and when those shots stopped falling, Golden State went on a 16-4 run to close out the game. How will he respond against Sacramento?
And what about the rest of the Rockets? With his options limited, coach Kevin McHale leaned heavily on his starting rotation – Harden, Patrick Beverley (17.2 PER) and Trevor Ariza (12.4 PER) in particular. There’s a host of injured players who could return any day now to soak up some minutes, including Kostas Papanikolaou (plus-2.1 DBPM), but again, this is Houston. Clarity is not forthcoming.
License to Ill
Cousins (27.7 PER) is the only player missing from the Sacramento lineup on Thursday, but he’s no ordinary player. The Kings (11-11 SU, 13-9 ATS) are 2-5 SU and 3-4 ATS since Cousins was taken out of the lineup. The only victories were at home over the Indiana Pacers (+3) and the Utah Jazz (+5). And it took overtime for Sacramento to beat the Pacers 102-101.
In his last game before taking ill, Cousins had another one of his MVP-quality performances against the Rockets: 29 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and three blocks in 37 minutes. Sadly for the Kings, they didn’t have starting point guard Darren Collison (19.5 PER), and they ended up losing 102-89 as 4.5-point road dogs. Howard wasn’t in the lineup for Houston, although Papanikolaou, Francisco Garcia (plus-1.0 DBPM) and Isaiah Cannan (13.8 PER) were.
The Great Casspi
Sacramento isn’t totally bereft of talent without Cousins in the middle. Collison has played well since signing as a free agent, and Rudy Gay (21.2 PER) has rehabilitated his career after the famous Toronto Raptors trade. Omri Casspi (16.8 PER) has also stepped up his game in his second go-around with the Kings.
But Sacramento doesn’t yet have the same kind of thought-out game plan that the Rockets possess. Houston has continued to win with Tarik Black (12.3 PER) replacing Howard at center; the Kings haven’t been as successful with Ryan Hollins (11.3 PER) or Reggie Evans (plus-0.8 DBPM) subbing in for Cousins. We’ll place our NBA pick with Houston despite the freshness concerns, and may the sphere be with you.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Rockets