The Thunder are healthy right now and are off to a 3-0 start, while the Rockets are 0-3 and have lost every game by exactly 20 points. Do not look for correction yet in Houston Monday.
What a difference a year makes as the visiting team looks like it is ready to return to the NBA elite level with a full roster right now, and going on the road Monday night may not matter when those revitalized Oklahoma City Thunder (3-0, 2-1 ATS) pay a visit to the struggling Houston Rockets (0-3, 0-3 ATS) at the Toyota Center in Houston, TX at 8:05 ET on a game available on ROOT.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Oklahoma City as a moderate road favorite for this contest with the current line at -4 with odds of -106.
Both Teams Off of Back-to-Back
Both of these teams played on Sunday, although in the case of the favored Thunder, the back-to-back factor gets lessened a bit by the fact that their starters sat out the fourth quarter of a 117-93 blowout win over the Denver Nuggets. Oklahoma City thus got a chance to show off its depth this season, as it ended up with seven players scoring in the double-digits with the team shooting 52.3 percent from the field overall.
While that victory brought the Thunder to 3-0, the Rockets are on the opposite end of the spectrum as they were the losing NBA picks for the third time in three games to begin this season to the Heat in Miami last night 109-89, and not only is Houston 0-3 but all three losses have come by exactly 20 points! Unbelievably there was a 41-point turnaround in Miami after the Rockets once led by 21 points and still led by 19 points at halftime.
Durant & Westbrook Together Again
You may recall that Kevin Durant suffered a broken foot that limited him to just 27 games last season, and that was after Russell Westbrook missed the beginning of last year while recovering from a torn ACL, so the Dynamic Duo hardly got a chance to play together. Well, both are healthy now and the Thunder look like the Thunder again under new coach Billy Donovan, ranking third in the NBA with 98 field goal attempts per game as a team.
The Thunder are a joy to watch when they are running the floor and the Big Two are making their shots, which has been the case with Westbrook averaging 32.0 points through three games while making 50.0 percent of his shots and Durant now too far behind at 30.0 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting. And having their two superstars on the court at the same time has made the entire Thunder team better, with every member of the starting five averaging double-digits.
Oklahoma City is not all about scoring though with a couple of tough defenders in the lineup like Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter, and as usual the 111.7 points per game the Thunder are allowing is very deceptive as it is a direct function of the pace at which they play. After missing the playoffs last year despite Westbrook putting up MVP-type numbers in Durant’s absence, this once again now resembles one of the premier teams in the NBA at full strength.
Poor Defense Even by Houston Standards
On the flip side, the Rockets have resembled nothing like the Western Conference Finalists that they were last year, when in reality they were probably not as good as their record anyway and took advantage of a pretty weak playoff draw after the seeding rules that gave division winners an automatic top-four seed resulted in Houston facing the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, perhaps the worst of the Western Conference playoff teams.
That will not happen again with the NBA thankfully abolishing that rule and now seeding playoff teams purely by record, but before thinking that far ahead, the Rockets have to start defending someone. Anyone!
Yes, we realize that defense was never a strong suit in Houston except for Dwight Howard, who sat out last night’s first game of this back-to-back. That absence could have contributed to the Heat outscoring the Rockets by an incredulous 65-26 in the second half while Miami shot 48.8 percent for the game. But unfortunately that is where the Houston defense is averaging even with Howard playing, ranking 28th early on in field goal percentage allowed at 48.4 percent.
Furthermore, James Harden has not been able to find his shooting stroke so far either despite averaging 18.0 points per game, as he is doing so on a dismal 22.2 percent shooting overall including 9.4 percent (3-for-32) from beyond the three-point arc.
No Rest, No Problem
Finally, even setting aside the fact that the Oklahoma City starters did not play in the fourth quarter last night, the Thunder do not mind playing with no rest even under normal circumstances as they are 9-3 ATS on the last 12 occasions they were on the second of a back-to-back. Meanwhile, the Rockets are 1-4 ATS in their last five games following a loss, 2-6 ATS their last eight after an ATS loss and 0-4 ATS their last four after allowing over 100 points.
While the Rockets are probably better than they have shown so far (or we would certainly hope so), now does not appear to be the time to expect some correction with Houston showing no effort on the defensive end, so go ahead and lay the relatively small spot with NBA title hopeful Oklahoma City as a road favorite on Monday.
NBA Pick: Thunder -4 (-106)