Rockets-Thunder Betting Preview: Will Houston Cover as a Road Favorite?
Photo credit: USAToday Sports. Pictured: James Harden and Paul George
Betting Odds: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder
- Spread: Rockets -2.5
- Over/Under: 230.5
- Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
- TV Channel: TNT
>> All odds as of 2:30 p.m. ET. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and live win probabilities on your bets.
With playoff matchups hanging in the balance, James Harden and the Rockets will travel to Oklahoma City to take on Paul George and the Thunder. What’s the motivation for these teams late in the season? Is there any matchup edge?
Our analysts dive into those questions and more.
What’s At Stake
The Rockets are a half game back of the Nuggets for the 2-seed in the West.
This is Houston’s final game while Denver is in Utah tonight then hosts the Wolves tomorrow night. This is important because the Rockets own the tiebreaker, which means that if Houston wins tonight and Denver loses one of its final two games, the Rockets can get the 2-seed, ensuring home court until the Western Conference Finals.
The Thunder have a huge range of outcomes and could still be slotted anywhere from the 5-seed to the 8-seed. If they win both of their remaining games, they’re guaranteed at least the 6-seed. They’ll perhaps have some say in their first-round opponent tomorrow depending on what happens tonight, but they should at least be motivated in this matchup to win. — Bryan Mears
Betting Trends to Know
Since 2005, favorites at the end of the season (Games 81 and 82) have gone 215-176-6 (55%) against the spread. If the team is favored on the road, like Houston is in OKC, the ATS record improves to 61-40 (60.4%). – John Ewing
The Rockets have won six consecutive games entering Tuesday. This season, teams are 22-33-1 (40%) ATS after winning at least six games in a row. — Evan Abrams
Moore: Who I’m Backing Tonight
OKC has given the Rockets trouble the past two seasons. Steven Adams’ ability to hit the push-shot floater gives Clint Capela a lot of problems, and the Thunder are one of the only teams that have the length to contest both Harden on the drive and recover to shooters.
The Rockets shot their sixth-worst mark league-wide against the Thunder this season. The Thunder are able to apply pressure all over the floor with a rim protector inside, and that combination makes it difficult for Houston, which has averaged just a 102 Offensive Rating against the Thunder in three matchups.
There’s value to be found on the Thunder given how they’ve matched up over the past two years. — Matt Moore
Mears: How I’m Handicapping Tonight’s Game
Thankfully we at least know that, in this matchup, both teams should be incentivized to play starters and try to win — that removes a lot of the uncertainty around a ton of other games tonight and tomorrow.
Matchup-wise, Matt is right: The Thunder have historically played the Rockets very well.
The Thunder have gone 2-1 and posted a +7.5 point differential against the Rockets — the second-best mark against Houston other than Milwaukee. The Thunder have also held Harden and Co. to a 102.7 Offensive Rating and a 50.4% effective field goal mark.
Most of that is in the half court, too, which is quite impressive.
In half court sets, the Rockets have scored only 86.8 points per 100 possessions. For reference, on the season they’re tied for second in half court efficiency, scoring 100.4 points per 100 half court plays (per Cleaning the Glass).
A big part of that is Paul George’s defense on Harden, who has struggled with efficiency in each of the teams’ first three meetings this season. Per NBA.com, Harden has scored just 38 points on 113 possessions defended by PG and hit just four of his 13 three-point attempts.
It’s clear that the Rockets go as Harden does: Stats-wise, they’ve been 8.1 points/100 better with Harden offensively. They’ve increased their eFG by 3.0% and have gotten to the foul line 5.8% more.
Harden is in the midst of a historically great offensive season, so it’s no surprise that bottling him up is the key to slowing down Houston.
Stylistically, the Rockets are set in stone on their strategy, which is half court basketball with Harden playing pick-and-roll or getting into isolation sets. It works against nearly every opponent, but PG is one of the rare individuals who can give Harden some problems on those possessions.
All that said, the Thunder are in the midst of a stretch of some uninspiring basketball over the past month or so of the season. Some nights, the offense has struggled; other nights the defense has fallen off a cliff.
This matchup favors the Thunder, but it’s difficult to trust them.
I’ll be staying away from the spread, but I will be keeping an eye on the total. It’s moved up to 230.5 from opening behind 75% of bets and 94% of money. If this game is truly like a playoff setting and PG is able to slow down Harden, the under could be intriguing.
It’s also possible bettors are overreacting to recent offensive explosions from both teams: The Rockets put up 149 on Phoenix in their last game; the Thunder put up 132 in Minnesota.
According to Bet Labs, the under is a good play in the game after a team goes for 130-plus. With both teams doing it, it’s no surprise the total has ballooned.
That said, that discrepancy between the bets and money on the over indicates sharp money — and it’s been wise to follow that historically.
It’s still very early and there haven’t been very many bets on the game.
If the discrepancy evens out and it looks like the over is just a public bet instead of a sharp one, I’ll likely go against the grain and take the under. — Bryan Mears
Editor’s note: The opinions on this game are from the individual writers and are based on their research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.