Is there value in placing NBA picks on the Houston Rockets as underdogs in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors in their Best-of-7 series?
Like the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs, the Western Conference Finals—which begin on Tuesday night at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) with Game 1 of the best-of-7 (2-2-1-1-1) series—will be a meeting between the conference’s top two seeds, the Pacific Division-winning and conference’s No. 1-seed, and the team with the NBA’s best record and the NBA’s MVP (Stephen Curry), the Golden State Warriors, and the Southwest Division-winning and No. 2-seeded Houston Rockets and their star, James Harden. Oddsmakers have obviously made the Warriors big -500 favorites in this Western Conference Finals with Houston lined as +400 underdogs (Paddy Power). The odds for Tuesday’s opening Game 1 in Oaktown see the Warriors set as healthy 9-point favorites with the game’s Total set at 217. The Warriors are -500 favorites in the Moneyline marketplace with the Rockets priced at +375 on the takeback (Paddy Power).
Game 2 in this Western Conference Finals series will be played on Thursday (May 21), also at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, while the series will then shift to Houston and the Toyota Center for Game 3 (Saturday, May 23) and Game 4 (Monday, May 25). And, if necessary, a potentially pivotal Game 5 will be played back in the Bay Area (Wednesday, May 27); a potential Game 6 will be held in H-Town (Friday, May 29); and, if it somehow needs to come down to it, a decisive Game 7 would be held in Oakland (Sunday, May 31). All games in this highly-anticipated Western Conference Finals will be televised on ESPN and will tip off at 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT/6 p.m. PT).
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #2 Houston Rockets (Regular Season statistics)
Golden State Warriors SU Records—67-15 ~ Home: 39-2 ~ Away: 28-13 ~ Conf: 42-10
Houston Rockets SU Records—56-26 ~ Home: 33-19 ~ Away: 22-19 ~ Conference: 33-19
Golden State Warriors ATS Records—46-34-2 ~ Home: 26-14-1 ~ Away: 20-20-1 ~ Totals: 39-43
Houston Rockets ATS Record—48-34 ~ Home: 26-15 ~ Away: 21-19 ~ Totals: 40-41
Golden State Warriors: 110.0-99.9
Houston Rockets PF-PA: 105.9-100.5
Regular Season Season Series: Warriors 4-0 SU, Warriors 4-0 ATS, Totals: 2-2
Series Price: Warriors -500, Rockets +400 (Paddy Power)
Game #1 Odds: Warriors -9, 217; Moneyline: Warriors -500, Rockets +375 (Paddy Power)
Western Conference Odds (Best): Warriors -700 (Ladbrokes), Rockets +600 (BetVictor, Betway)
NBA Championship Odds: Warriors -162 (Boylesports, Ladbrokes, BetVictor, Paddy Power), Rockets +1400 (14/1) (Boylesports, Stan James)
The Skinny: Golden State, The Splash Brothers (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) and Head Coach Steve Kerr had an absolutely incredible 2014/2015 NBA Regular Season (67-15), one which saw the Warriors (W4, 8-2 L10) finish with the best record in the NBA, an ABA-like average 110.0 ppg on Offense, a much-improved Defense under former Chicago Bulls guard Kerr and just 2 losses at Home (Spurs by 3, Bulls by 2 in OT) at the now popular and shaking Oracle Arena in Oakland. In Round 1 of the 2015 NBA Playoffs, Golden State swept the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed, the New Orleans Pelicans (4-0), and then The Best Basketball Team In The West then proceeded to take out the upstart No. 5-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (4-2) to get to this point and this Western Conference Finals meeting with the Rockets (W3 7-2 L10 in Regular Season). Houston defeated its Lone Star State-rivals, the Dallas Mavericks (4-1) in Round 1 and then completed a remarkable comeback in its Round 2 series on Sunday in Game 7 in Houston by eliminating the Los Angeles Clippers (4-3), who had a 19-point lead at home in Hollywood (close enough) in Game 6 in the 3rd Quarter only to see Houston miraculously rally in the 4th Quarter and end up winning the game, 119-107, and with it, the series’ oh-so valuable Momentum. The Rockets became only the 9th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit and advance.
Projected Starting Lineups Against Each Other—(Warriors vs. Rockets)
C—Andrew Bogut (6.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg) vs Dwight Howard (16.3 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.4 bpg)
PF—Draymond Green (11.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) vs. Josh Smith (11.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
SF—Harrison Barnes (10.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) vs. Trevor Ariza (12.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
SG—Klay Thompson (21.7, 43.1% 3s) vs. James Harden (27.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 7.0 apg)
PG—Stephen Curry (23.3 ppg, 7.9 apg, 42.0% 3s) vs. Jason Terry (6.7 ppg, 1.9 apg)
Regular Season Meetings and ATS/Totals Results
Game 1—@ Houston (November 8): Warriors 98 Rockets 87 (Warriors -3½, Total: 209)
Game 2—@ Golden State (Dec. 10): Warriors 105 Rockets 93 (Warriors -9, Total: 204½)
Game 3—@ Houston (January 17): Warriors 131 Rockets 106 (Rockets -2, Total: 214½)
Game 4—@ Golden State (January 21): Warriors 126 Rockets 113 (Warriors -8, Total: 214½)
Season Series: Golden State Warriors 4-0 SU, Golden State Warriors 4-0 ATS, Totals 2-2
Injury Realities, Perceived Positional and Bench Edges and Head Coaches
With both Head Coaches—Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Houston’s Kevin McHale, both former players (Kerr, most notably the Chicago Bulls and McHale, the Boston Celtics)—being pretty even in the whole scheme of things, looking at the Injuries, Starting Fives, Benches and Confidence will help handicapping this seemingly blowout series, despite it being a meeting between the Western Conference’s two top seeds. But the 4-0 SU and ATS mark the Warriors put up against the Rockets reveals much (115.0-99.8 ppg average), as do the edges in FG percentage (50% to 40%) and 3-Point FG percentage (38% to 30%) Golden State held over Houston in those four Regular Season meetings. Winning by 15 is what this team does best. And besides the obvious Confidence edge the Warriors gained going 4-0 against the Rockets, Golden State also holds the home court advantage (by way of its conference-best record and No. 1 seed), the Starting Five edge, and a slight edge in the Benches. Big plusses.
On Houston’s below-average Bench are C Joey Dorsey (2.3 ppg), SF Kostas Papanikolaou (12.4 ppg), SG Corey Brewer (12.4 ppg), PG Pablo Prigioni (1.3 ppg)—who has actually played pretty good this postseason and is a big reason the Rockets ousted the woe-is-me Clippers—PF Terrence Jones (12.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), C Clint Capella (0.0 ppg) and SG Nick Johnson (2.7 ppg). For Golden State and Head Coach Kerr on the pines, there’s C Festus Ezeli (4.0 ppg), PF/C Marreese Speights (10.9, 4.5 rpg), enigmatic PF David Lee (8.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg), SF Andre Iguodala (7.8 ppg), SG Justin Holiday (4.3 ppg), PG Shaun Livingston (6.0 ppg. 3.0 apg), PF James Michael McAdoo (3.8 ppg), SG Brandon Rush (0.8 ppg) and PG Leandro Barbosa (7.1 ppg). So, as you can sort of see if you think about it, these two teams both really rely heavily on their Starting 5s, and an injury to a starter at this crucial point in the NBA season would be seriously devastating.
And when we’re talking Injuries, it has to be said that this is where Houston’s chances of pulling off the monumental upset here against the mighty Warriors may have vanished with starting PG Patrick Beverley (left wrist) and second-team PF Donatas Motiejunas (back) both being out for the season. Rockets third-string SG KJ McDaniels (elbow, 0.3 ppg) will likely to miss the rest of the postseason, but not having Beverley (10.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.4 apg) and/or Motiejunas (11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) at Rockets Head Coach McHale’s disposal for this series means he and his Houston team are simply playing with a short deck. Missing all those minutes and the average 22.0 ppg of scoring is devastating and few teams can deal with losing their starting Point Guard at any point in a season. But luckily for Houston, it had a guy in Terry who sort of fit the role and has effectively (at least) led them so far to this NBA Western Conference Finals. For the Warriors, the Injury concerns are like 11x less than the Rockets, with C Ognjen Kuzmic (ankle, 1.3 ppg) maybe missing the rest of the NBA Playoffs and PF Speights (calf) currently listed as Day-to-Day. The injuries to Houston’s Beverley and Motiejunas should loom large in this series, and actually make the possibility of a Warriors sweep a that much greater, despite the fact this team has now been playing without the two for some time and has adjusted admirably.
Western Conference Finals Conclusions
The reality that Houston gets just 1 day of Full Rest—and it may be traveling—combined with the Warriors remarkable 43-3 Home Record this season (39-2 Regular Season, 4-1 NBA Playoffs), means that both Games 1 and 2 will more than likely go to the host Warriors, and the Money line odds—Warriors -500, Rockets +375 (Paddy Power)—for Tuesday evening’s Game 1 reflect this disparity in the two teams. So, that Game 3 in Houston could be really huge, but seeing players like the Rockets’ Howard and Smith perform consistently has been a pipe dream for too long and this team will have to play lockdown defense in order to have any chance. Toss in the fact that everyone outside of the nation’s 4th-largest city (Houston) will be pulling for The Splash Brothers to make it to the NBA Finals (June 4), the fact the Warriors rolled in the Season Series, (4-0 SU) and have the Homecourt Advantage with some of the most raucous fans in the league now, and this could be a Golden State sweep. And, Golden State has played 10 games so far in this postseason while the Rockets have already played 12. And again worth noting for Game 1 from a handicapping standpoint: Houston will get just that 1 aforementioned full Day of Rest (Monday) while the Warriors—who wrapped up their series with the Grizzlies on Saturday—will have 2 Days of Rest and that nice luxury of waking (and sleeping) in their home beds (literally lying in wait) before Game 1. Hush little baby don’t say a word, Papa’s gonna buy you a Mockingbird.
And again, without Beverley and the oft-forgotten Motiejunas, the NBA odds underdog Rockets just don’t have the right players to create enough havoc Offensively to make Golden State that play wear-’em-out Defense they’ll need in order to try to pull off the upset here. Therefore, the Warriors should be left with plenty of energy to expend on Offense—what they like to do best. Splish splash. Like it was in the Regular Season, expect Golden State to breeze past the triple-digit mark in the 4 or 5 likely games in this Western Conference Finals series, while the Rockets struggle to get to 100. This may just be one NBA Playoffs series to seek out, find and make a Prop NBA picks on a Series Sweep for Golden State when those odds are released at sportsbooks on Monday.
Western Conference Finals Game 1 Pick: Under 217 (Paddy Power)