Before betting on Hornets vs. Rockets, check out our free pick. Understand that Charlotte will be playing without All Jefferson as they travel to Houston as big underdogs on NBA odds.
Hornets Have Little Sting
The Hornets were a surprise playoff team last season and expected to be even better this year after signing free agent Lance Stephenson away from the Indiana Pacers. A Top-4 seed in the very weak Eastern Conference didn't seem out of the question.
Instead, Hornets are just 10-22, although Coach Steve Clifford doesn't appear to be in any trouble. If the team simply plays .500 ball the rest of the way that still might be enough to grab the No. 8 spot in the East. The Hornets enter Wednesday having lost three straight, all by at least eight points. The team fell at home 104-94 in overtime against Milwaukee on Monday. Charlotte rallied from an early 21-point hole and led 83-81 late in regulation, but the Bucks' Brandon Knight sent it to regulation with a layup with 16 seconds left. Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 28 points in a season-high 49 minutes, but he was just 7-for-22 from the field. Charlotte shot 36.7 percent overall.
That loss was very costly as the Hornets' best player, center Al Jefferson, left after aggravating a groin injury. The Charlotte Observer reports he is going to miss at least a month with a strained adductor muscle in his left groin. The injury has been bothering Jefferson for a while. He was averaging just 11.6 points in the past five games. He leads the team in averaging 18.0 points overall and 8.2 rebounds overall. Bismack Biyombo will move into the starting lineup. He has no offensive game whatsoever. This makes Charlotte much more perimeter-oriented because the team runs its offense through Jefferson in the post. So look for Walker and Gerald Henderson to shoot much more. The playoffs are now a longer shot.
Stephenson won't play Wednesday, either. He has missed seven straight games with a pelvic injury and has been a bust. The Hornets would love to trade him. Charlotte, which is 3-11 on the road, is 13-17-2 against the NBA betting spread this season and 18-14 'over/under.'
Josh Smith Uneven in Houston
The Rockets got a gift when Detroit cut talented but inconsistent forward Josh Smith last week, and Smith opted to sign with Houston over a handful of other teams because he has long wanted to play alongside good friend Dwight Howard. The Rockets also guaranteed him a starting spot, something Dallas couldn't do, for example. That means former starting forward Terrence Jones will move to the bench whenever he returns. He hasn't played since Nov. 3 because of a nerve problem in his leg and doesn't appear close to coming back yet.
Smith still has game but for some reason keeps taking terrible shots, mostly from 3-point range. If the Rockets can keep him around the paint, Smith remains an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker. He and Howard could do so major damage defensively. Smith had a nice first game with Houston last Friday with 21 points and eight rebounds in a win over Memphis. However, the Rockets have since lost two straight and Smith has totaled eight points and eight turnovers in those two.
Both losses were to good teams as the Rockets fell 110-106 in San Antonio on Sunday and 104-103 on Monday at home vs. Washington. James Harden had 33 against the Wizards -- Houston's first loss this season in 12 games where Harden had more than 30 -- and he now has a comfortable lead over Kobe Bryant to win his first scoring title. Harden and Howard are both nursing minor injuries but listed as probable.
Houston, which is 10-6 at home, is 16-14 against the spread overall and 12-18 'over/under' on NBA odds.
Houston won both games by double digits and has won seven in a row overall against the Hornets and nine straight at home. Harden averaged 26.0 points in the two games last year, while Howard averaged 13.5 points and 18.0 rebounds. Walker led Charlotte in averaging 17.0 points, while Jefferson was at 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
The Hornets are 3-11-2 ATS in their past 16 after a loss. Houston is 7-3 ATS in its past 10 after a loss. Charlotte has failed to cover its past six in Houston. The under is 5-1 in the Rockets' past six vs. teams with a losing record. It is 4-0 in Charlotte's last four against teams over .500. I generally don't like giving that many points in an NBA game, but the Hornets players are likely to be reeling with the Jefferson news.
NBA Free Picks: Houston -12 on NBA odds and 'under' 198.5 points at 5Dimes Sportsbook