The Houston Rockets had their hands full in Denver Wednesday night. It should be an even tougher test Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans, who have beaten the NBA odds in five of their last six.
Jason’s record as of Dec. 17: 19-16-1 ATS, 1-3 Totals
Well, that was a hell of a basketball game. The Houston Rockets were extended to overtime Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets, courtesy of a last-second 3-pointer from Aaron Afflalo. But that turned out to be a good thing for Houston supporters, as the Rockets (–3) ended up winning 115-111, turning a push into a payday.
Short-term gain could be long-term pain, though. The Rockets have a very short turnaround before Thursday night’s tilt (8:30 p.m. ET) at home against the New Orleans Pelicans, who were idle Wednesday. The basketball odds for this matchup are still pending as we go to press, but we might be inclined to pick the Pelicans anyway. Let’s riggidy-roll.
I’m Totally Tired
The Rockets (19-5 SU, 14-10 ATS) are awesome, don’t get us wrong. James Harden (25.3 PER) continued his early MVP candidacy in Denver with 41 points and 10 assists, while Dwight Howard (21.9 PER) had another excellent game in his return from a strained knee, dropping 24 points with 16 boards and four blocks, and even hitting 10 of his 15 freebies. But all five of Houston’s starters played at least 42 minutes to compensate for their thin bench. That’s going to be a problem come Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans (12-12 SU, 13-11 ATS) should be fresh after a three-game homestand, capped off by Tuesday’s 119-111 win over the Utah Jazz (+10 away). It was the first time in six games that New Orleans failed to beat the NBA odds. Anthony Davis (33.6 PER) had one of his best games of the year thus far with 31 points on just 12-of-15 shooting, adding nine boards and three blocks for good measure. This was while wearing a flak jacket after sitting out one game with a chest contusion.
New Orleans Follicles
It’s amazing how little attention Davis gets, even though he’s arguably the best player in the world at this very moment – Davis leads the NBA in Win Shares (5.0) as well as Player Efficiency Rating as we go to press. Playing with the small-market Pellies is part of the equation. But we took an informal poll here at the home office, and we think it’s the unibrow. It’s difficult to look at.
Which suits us just fine. The harder it is for people to accept Davis as a leading MVP candidate, the more money we can make off the Pelicans. They’re No. 20 on the public NBA Picks money charts this year, behind other regional teams like Milwaukee and Atlanta. This is despite New Orleans coming in fifth on the offensive efficiency charts at 107.8 points scored per 100 possessions.
Alas, the Pelicans are also giving up 107.8 points/100, which ranks No. 27 overall. Davis (plus-2.1 DBPM) and Omer Asik (17.7 PER, plus-0.6 DBPM) have been stout enough down low, as has back-up center Jeff Withey (21.7 PER, plus-1.0 DBPM) in limited minutes. But all the other guys on the New Orleans roster are playing below-average defense.
Then there’s the Eric Gordon Problem. It’s been a rough ride for Gordon (8.7 PER) ever since he joined New Orleans three years ago in the big Chris Paul trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. Gordon’s been plagued by injuries ever since, and his play has suffered as a result – his 14.8 PER in the Big Easy is below the indexed league average of 15.
Even so, the Pellies are having trouble replacing Gordon, who’s out until January with a torn labrum. Luke Babbitt (7.1 PER) is starting for now, but he’s awful, and so are Austin Rivers (11.0 PER) and Jimmer Fredette (3.2 PER). We’ll put New Orleans in our NBA picks anyway, but only because Houston should be exhausted. May the sphere be with you.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Pelicans