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Basketball can be mad during March, but you can always return to the tried-and-true NBA, where everything goes exactly how you expect it to.
All right, maybe the NBA can be pretty random at times, too. Today, we’ll be focusing on two of the league’s best in James Harden and Anthony Davis. Here are the five things you need to know for Houston (-7) at New Orleans. — Mark Gallant
1. All the Way Brow Creates Matchup Problems
Pick-and-roll containment: With Davis at the 5, the Pelicans have the length and guard tenacity to be able to adequately defend the dreaded Harden-Capela pick-and-roll. Davis can drop to maintain distance and contest on Harden if necessary, while disrupt the lob with those helicopter arms of his. Jrue Holiday can go over the screen to bother Harden on pull-up shots, and the Pels’ wing defenders can stay home. New Orleans has a real capacity to disrupt the Rockets’ primary mechanism.
Easy-bucket issues: The Pelicans are 17th in points per possession on transition buckets. You need to maximize those vs. Houston, because its half-court defense is actually really good (ninth league-wide via Synergy). New Orleans can’t waste transition opportunities because you have to keep up with the Rockets. You’re never going to wrangle them; you have to corral them long enough to outpace them.
Brow Buffet: The Rockets will use that Chuckwagon lineup with PJ Tucker at the 5 at some point, and Davis should feast then. They’ll use Nene a little bit … and Davis should feast then. There just aren’t a lot of good counters for Houston. However, the Rockets have guys who are great at digging down to disrupt with a double-team. How Davis manages that will be interesting, because the Pelicans are sixth-best in the league at cut points per game. They have good cutters. But if you turn the ball over vs. the Rockets, you’re getting the Eurostep-And-1 from Harden. — Matt Moore
2. It’s True: The Pelicans Can’t Afford to Give Up Points in Transition
Both teams rank in the top-five in effective field goal percentage on the season, and the Pelicans have especially excelled shooting the ball in their first two meetings this year. The Pels posted eFG% marks of 68.2 and 60.4 percent, respectively — both in the top-15 percentile of games this season.
Both of the teams’ previous contests included DeMarcus Cousins, who has increased the Pels’ eFG% mark while on the floor this year and is out for the remainder of the season. One underrated storyline is who can win the battle in transition: The Rockets rank 27th in transition defense; the Pels rank dead last. In their first two meetings this year, the Rockets added 11.1 points in transition (96th percentile) and 8.8 (91st percentile). The main unit of Rajon Rondo-Holiday-E’Twaun Moore-Nikola Mirotic-Davis has been especially brutal, ranking in the eighth percentile in transition defense this season. — Bryan Mears
3. Historical Trends Favor the Rockets ATS
The Rockets opened as seven-point favorites. Since 2005, teams favored by more than three points on the road against an opponent with a winning record late in the season (March-April) have gone 56-42-1 (57%) ATS.
This marks only the sixth time since 2005 a road team has been favored by seven or more points against an above .500 team down the stretch. — John Ewing
4. Davis Is a DFS Must-Roster Without Cousins
Davis has put together an unreal stretch of basketball recently. Excluding two matchups against the Spurs — who are Davis’ DFS kryptonite — he’s averaged approximately 72.77 FanDuel points per game over his past 11 games. The Rockets have been a strong defensive team this season, ranking seventh in defensive efficiency, but they’re going to have their hands full trying to contain him. Holiday has also seen a nice bump in value since the injury to DeMarcus Cousins, averaging 40.25 DraftKings points per game in 20 games with the stud center out of the lineup. — Matt LaMarca
5. The Rockets Could be Due for Defensive Regression
For just the second time under Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets have allowed fewer than 100 points in three consecutive games (December of 2016 was the last time). Entering the weekend, the Rockets own the second-best offensive efficiency in the NBA behind just the Warriors, which creates an interesting trend . . .
Since 2009, teams that have an offensive efficiency above 110 and have allowed fewer than 100 points in three consecutive games are just 82-110-4 ATS (42.7%), including 21-36-1 ATS (36.8%) over the past four seasons. It’s possible the betting market could be overvaluing an unsustainable defensive surge for the Rockets. — Evan Abrams
Photo via Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports