The teams of the top two MVP finishers from last year, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, open their preseason slates against each other today (8pm ET Tuesday).
Unfortunately the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook is still recovering from knee treatment, so MVP runner-up James Harden from the Rockets will be the only one of them playing tonight.
Regardless of the status of Westbrook, this should be an exciting game to watch. It will be the first game in new uniforms for three stars, Chris Paul of the Rockets and Paul George and Carmelo Anthony for the Thunder.
How will the new-look Westbrook-less Thunder fare against the reloaded Rockets? Let’s discuss some X-factors for the game and make some betting predictions and picks against the USA online betting lines.
Will Any of the Thunder No-Names Step Up?
It’s not just Westbrook missing for the Thunder. Big man Patrick Patterson and wing Alex Abrines are also sidelined with knee injuries, though they are minor. Patterson and Abrines could eventually be the team’s two first players off the bench, so missing both of them and Westbrook is a big deal.
OKC is not a deep team, and these injuries could expose that. Their best bench players in the absence of Patterson and Abrines are likely Raymond Felton and Jerami Grant. No one else really stands out as an impact player.
The Thunder will give some minutes to the likes of no-name players like Isaiah Canaan, Markel Brown and Dakari Johnson. Can these undeveloped or unheralded players make a positive difference?
Which Team Has the Bigger Personnel Adjustments to Make?
Both the Thunder and Rockets made significant roster moves over the summer.
For the Thunder, acquiring Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton means two new starters and four new rotation players in total. George and Anthony, in particular, are ball-dominant scorers who are used to being their team’s No. 1 options.
Even without Westbrook in uniform tonight, George and Anthony need to get used to playing with each other, and their teammates need to get used to them too.
Houston has one major difference from last season’s team, which is bringing in point guard Chris Paul. This singular addition is probably more impactful than any individual move made by the Thunder, since Paul is the point guard and used to being a floor general who is in charge of all operations on offense. That was Harden’s job last year, as The Beard led the NBA in assists.
Paul and Harden are looking forward to playing together, which is half the battle. Houston also added defense-first guys like P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute and Tarik Black, but those guys should fit in pretty easily, if they all play.
Which Team Gets Its Big Men Involved More?
Houston and Oklahoma City both project as teams that will feature its perimeter play on the offensive end of the floor. Neither squad will post its big men up frequently.
However, keeping big men involved is still important. The Rockets’ Clint Capela and Nene and the Thunder’s Steven Adams should still be utilized in the offense, even if it’s not with traditional post-ups.
When big men get fed for easy looks, they tend to rebound more aggressively and play stiffer defense. The team that keeps their bigs happier and more motivated will have a significant leg up for tonight’s game.
Our Preview’s Rockets vs. OKC Betting Picks & Predictions
These teams should be pretty evenly-matched down the line, but the losses of Westbrook, Patterson and Abrines will loom large for the shallow Thunder roster. So far, Houston has no major injury absences, though some could surface at game time.
- The Rockets should win this contest pretty easily, even having to integrate Chris Paul into real game action with the rest of his squad. In this particular game, Houston has more superstar power and much more depth. Most sportsbooks are understandably nervous about posting odds on the preseason games, but 5Dimes is braver and first with their lines. Bet on the Rockets -2.5pts @ -120 with 5Dimes Sportsbook.
- This contest’s over-under is set at 217.5pts with the only bookie with odds at the time of writing. Both teams got better both defensively and offensively during the offseason. However offensive chemistry often takes a bit more time to establish than defensive chemistry. With Westbrook and his pace-pushing ways out, this could be a lower scoring game than many people expect. Bet the under 217.5pts @ -120 with 5Dimes.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.