Last night’s slate was made for those wanting a night off from the NBA to spend time with family. Thankfully, the schedule has followed up three awful games with eight tonight, most of which carry some level of intrigue.
While the Cavaliers vs. 76ers, Pistons vs. Celtics and Lakers vs. Clippers will be the leaders in entertainment, the value is in Houston where the Rockets host the Nets.
Nets (7-12) @ Rockets (15-4)
The Nets are bruised, battered, and playing the second night of a back-to-back. Their injury list of important role players keeps growing, and now they’re getting ready to play an on-fire Rockets team.
Though we have a tendency to err on the side of caution when favorites have a massive line, those doubts go out the window tonight with how the Rockets have played recently.
Since Chris Paul returned, Houston is 4-0 straight up and 3-1 against the spread with every win coming by 15 or more points.
Most 15-Point Wins in First 20 Games – NBA History
1969-70 Knicks 12
2017-18 Rockets 11
1966-67 Celtics 11
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 26, 2017
In those four games, the Rockets have produced a 119.9 offensive rating and a 95.9 defensive rating. Both would rank first in the league for the season.
The line opened at -16, and a substantial backing by the public early has pushed it out to 17.5. Even with the 1.5 points, I still like the Rockets to cover in a blowout at home.
Pick: Rockets -17.5
Are the Rockets being led by the MVP?
Many people – myself included – expected there to be teething issues with two ball-dominant guards sharing the court together. That doesn’t seem to be the case, with James Harden’s numbers still at an MVP-caliber level even when he plays alongside Chris Paul.
After playing the in the season-opener, Paul missed the next 14 games, which gave Harden the perfect launching pad for his MVP bid.
The Beard averaged 31 points on 44.4 percent shooting along with 10.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds in that time. He fended off a hot start to the season from Giannis Antetokounmpo and a typically brilliant opening month from LeBron James to be the favorite for the award.
Then came Paul, and all the questions about how the two would coexist were asked again. Surely Harden’s numbers would take a significant hit?
Well, after four games together, those questions are being answered emphatically. With Paul reintroduced into the lineup, Harden has actually managed to take another step toward the MVP trophy rather than away from it.
In the 4 games both Harden and Paul have played, they're 4-0, they averaged 123.5 points, they won by an average of 19.8 points and CP3 and Harden assisted on or scored 70.2 percent of their points.
— Kelly Scaletta (@KellyScaletta) November 23, 2017
In the four games Harden and Paul have played together since being reunited, the 28-year-old has managed to increase his scoring output to 33.8 points on 45.9 percent shooting while staying level in rebounds (4.3 per game) and taking the expected, but not so drastic, dip in assists (8.3 per game).
His numbers are undoubtedly MVP-worthy, and his +110 odds reflect that. But is it a sure thing?
For Harden, history suggests it’s not.
He’s been in the hunt for the last three years but has arguably been robbed in two of them.
In the 2014-15 season, he was beaten out by Steph Curry, only for the players to vote him the MVP of the league at the NBA Players’ Awards night.
Two years later, Russell Westbrook became the first player with fewer than 50 wins to claim the award since 1982. Who was second and arguably the rightful winner?
As obvious as it looks now, there’s a chance Harden is again overlooked for the award. But if he keeps up anything close to his current numbers and the Rockets hover around 60 wins, I’m all for getting on Harden to win the MVP at his current +110 odds.
Just in case the voters continue to ignore him, I’ll take a look at the next four players in line for the award tomorrow.