Rockets Begin Life Without James Harden at Magic on Wednesday

james harden

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 8:05 PM UTC

Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 8:05 PM UTC

It’s a potential trap game for the Houston Rockets on Wednesday as they visit struggling Orlando without injured superstar James Harden.

Houston Rockets at Orlando Magic (+7.5, 219.5)Free NBA Pick: Magic +7.5Best Line Offered: BetOnline

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Wednesday is the first meeting of the season between the Rockets and Magic, with Orlando heading to Houston on Jan. 30. Last year, the Rockets won both. They averaged 114.0 points on 47.4 percent shooting, while the Magic averaged 98.5 ppg on 44.7 percent from the field. James Harden averaged 19.5 points and 11.5 assists in the two games but shot just 30.6 percent. Serge Ibaka averaged 22.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for Orlando in the series before being traded to Toronto. Nikola Vucevic put up 11.5 points and 15.5 rebounds per game.

Overall, the Rockets have taken eight of the past 10 in the series. Houston is only 2-6 ATS in its past eight trips to Orlando, though.

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James Harden always inventing new ways to get fouled pic.twitter.com/y4YiMtmcJf

— YourSports (@YourSports) January 1, 2018
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Harden’s Loss Can’t Be Overstated

There was probably little chance Houston (26-9) had of beating out the Golden State Warriors for the West’s top seed, but even that slim opportunity probably is gone in the wake of Harden being ruled out at least two weeks with a Grade 2 strained hamstring suffered in Sunday’s 148-142 double-overtime victory over the Lakers that ended Houston’s five-game losing streak. Harden had 40 points before leaving late in the fourth quarter.

Some Grade 2 strains can take 4-6 weeks to recover from, which could ruin Harden’s MVP chances. He was the NBA betting favorite as he’s No. 1 in the league in scoring (32.3 ppg), 3-pointers made (145), free throws made (319) and attempted (368) while ranking third in assists (9.1 apg). So, yeah, he’s good. Houston is 16-2 this season when both Harden and Chris Paul are in the lineup. Harden has missed only two games dating back to 2014-15: last April at Phoenix with a virus (Rockets won 123-116) and March 3, 2015, at Atlanta due to a suspension (Rockets lost 104-96).

The Rockets are 14-0 when Paul plays more than 26 minutes and 12-9 when he plays 26 or fewer or doesn’t play. Paul will have to carry a bigger load now as will reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, who will move into the starting lineup – thus weakening the bench significantly. One piece of good injury news from the Lakers game was the return of starting center Clint Capela. He had missed the previous two with a right orbital fracture.

The Magic (12-26) have lost 11 of 12 – we looked at their issues last week here at SBR. They are off a 98-95 defeat in Brooklyn on Monday. Orlando is without maybe its best player in Vucevic, who is expected to miss at least six weeks with a fractured left metacarpal on his left hand. He was averaging 17.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.

Bismack Biyombo has seen a huge jump in playing time since Vucevic went out on Dec. 23 and is working on a string of three straight double-doubles. He’s essentially limited offensively to putbacks and dunks, etc. Two other Magic players, rookie Jonathan Isaac (ankle) and Terrence Ross, are out indefinitely due to injuries.

The Verdict

This smells like a game the Rockets might be looking past and toward Thursday’s home matchup with the Warriors – the first meeting between the teams since opening night. Sadly, we might not see full-strength Houston vs. full-strength Golden State until the playoffs now because they play again on Jan. 20 and that’s it for the regular season. It also likely will take some time for Houston to adjust to no Harden. Thus, I’m taking the points. The Rockets have failed to cover their past six overall.

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