Thunder Catching Points In Must-Win Situation At Houston Saturday

Westbrook harden

Jay Pryce

Saturday, April 7, 2018 5:58 PM UTC

Saturday, Apr. 7, 2018 5:58 PM UTC

The Thunder can either finish in the top half of the Western Conference playoff race or miss out entirely with just three regular-season games remaining. They are catching 6.5 points at the Rockets Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET) in a must-win game. Can OKC pull off the upset? Our thoughts:

Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets (-6.5)

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Free NBA Pick: Houston -6.5Best Line Offered: at Heritage Thunder (45-35 SU, 32-46 ATS)

Defense missing Roberson; Poor play against the West’s best

The Thunder’s playoff picture is quite muddled headed into Houston, currently sitting sixth in the West with three games to play: at the Rockets (Saturday), at the Heat (Monday) and a home date to close out the regular season against the Grizzlies (Wednesday). They can finish anywhere form fourth to ninth in the standings and need to right the ship quickly. OKC has dropped five of its last seven games, tipping off the betting favorite in each. It’s covered the spread once in this span.

A porous defense is the primary issue. The unit is missing specialist Andre Roberson badly, the 6-foot-7 guard/forward going out for the season in late January due to a ruptured left patellar tendon. Arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, the Thunder allow 100.9 points per game on 45.3-percent opponent shooting in 39 contests Roberson played. Missing additional time to a sprained left ankle and knee tendinitis earlier in the season, OKC yields 107.8 points per contest on 46.3 percent from the floor in 40 games the defensive specialist sat out. Roberson ranked fourth in defensive Real Plus-Minus at the time of his season-ending injury.

Whether Roberson is in the lineup or not, OKC is struggling to compete against the best in the West of late. Since the New Year, it is 4-11 SU and ATS versus conference opponents with a positive point differential. The Thunder are failing to cover a -0.2 average line by 4.4 points per game. A stagnant offense is partly to blame in this situation. Posting 107.0 points per game on 43.6 percent from the floor, OKC has surpassed its projected team total in just five of the 15 contests, aided by overtime in one.

Rockets (64-15 SU, 41-37 ATS)

Toyota Center streak; Healthy Rockets full of confidence

Owning the best record in the NBA (64-15), Houston clinched the top seed in the West and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs over a week ago. It is currently second choice to win the Finals at +130 odds behind reigning champion Golden State. Good value when you consider the Rockets enters Toyota Center with a 20-game home win steak, matching the longest in franchise history.

Confidence is soaring to say the least. When healthy, the team is nearly unbeatable. When the trio of James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela suit up, Houston is 41-2 SU and 25-18 ATS on the year. They are torching opponents by 12.1 points per game. Bettors are cashing in when the market expects a close game. The Rockets are an eye-catching 20-6 ATS when the betting line is in the single-digit range.

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The Rockets shoot a whopping 42.3 three-pointers per game, seven more than the next closest NBA team (Nets, 35.3). Limiting opportunities from long range is the best chance at beating them. With Harden in the lineup, Houston has dropped 12 games. Nine of those came when tossing up fewer than its season average from downtown.

Pick

The Rockets have accomplished all their goals in the regular season, so it’s tough to predict whether they show up for the full 48 minutes or not. Expect they will. The record-setting home win streak is motivation, as well as Harden looking to lock down MVP votes in a tight race against LeBron James. Houston is 10-1 SU all-time against the Thunder when the betting favorite with The Beard in the lineup, covering five of seven with a line under 7 points. Rockets win by double digits: 116-102. Lay the 6.5 points.

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