The Houston Rockets’ James Harden already dismantled one MVP candidate in the first round of the playoffs: Russell Westbrook of OKC. He’ll face a different challenge in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs against Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs, who defeated the Grizzlies in six games.
Game 1 today should be an entertaining contest between a fast-paced squad versus a deliberate team and an offensive-minded unit versus a defensive-first group (9:30 p.m. ET Monday on TNT).
Houston, led by Harden, boasts one of the most dynamic scoring attacks in the NBA that focuses on draining three-pointers in bulk and spacing the floor. San Antonio likes operating in the half court, where it can rely on Leonard and the squad’s overwhelming size to bludgeon opponents.
The performances of certain players will be very important throughout the series, but especially in Game 1 coming off a longer layoff. Let’s dive into some questions regarding player performance on both sides for this preview, then get to our picks and betting predictions for this Game 1 clash.
Can Ryan Anderson Force the Spurs Away from their Big Ball?
None of the Spurs’ best lineups include a true stretch 4. Sure, Pau Gasol has really come on as a three-point shooter, but he’s more of a stretch 5 in that he’s too big and slow to chase smaller players around the perimeter. One of San Antonio’s biggest weaknesses is definitely its lack of quickness in the frontcourt.
Houston starts Anderson, a 6’10” sniper who can drain any shot on the court from 30 feet in. He has a compact release that helps him fire away before closeouts can distract the shot. He did shoot terribly in the first round, though (3-of-24 from three).
If Anderson is on, he could force the Spurs to guard him with one of their wings. In doing that, though, San Antonio loses its size and strength advantage inside. The 28-year-old’s shooting performance could be key in Game 1 and throughout the series.
Was Tony Parker’s First-Round Performance a Fluke?
If you were to rank the Spurs’ two best players of their first-round series against the Grizzlies, it would go like this: Kawhi Leonard, huge gap, Tony Parker.
Sure Parker didn’t play at a star or superstar level most of the series, but it says a lot that he was even the No. 2 guy for San Antonio after an underwhelming season. You could make the argument that he was as low as the Spurs’ eighth-most valuable player during the first 82 contests (he did rank eighth on the team in Basketball-Reference’s win shares statistic during the regular season).
Parker will likely be hounded by Patrick Beverley on the defensive end, which is one of the toughest matchups he’ll face. He’ll need to stay aggressive in getting to the rim in the pick-and-roll and taking advantage when he gets switched onto slow big men, because he takes a lot of pressure off of Leonard when he can use up possessions efficiently.
Will James Harden Regain His Three-Point Shooting Ability?
Harden might be the toughest player in the NBA to guard. He can shoot from the outside, slash inside against slower players, post up against smaller players and draw fouls basically on command with his bag of ref-baiting tricks.
That said, he shot just 12-of-50 (24.0 percent) from three-point range in the Rockets’ first-round series win over the Thunder. Since the All-Star break, he’s shooting only 31.5 percent from distance.
If Harden continues to struggle with his long jumper, San Antonio can repeatedly go under screens when Houston’s superstar is the pick-and-roll ball-handler. This detracts from all the playmaking he can do once he gets rumbling toward the rim, which limits the damage he can cause on San Antonio’s defense.
Our Preview’s Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs Game 1 Betting Picks & Predictions
Houston has had a couple extra days to prepare mentally and physically for this series. Also, the chances at a road win for the underdog are considerably higher in Game 1 than other contests. Teams have to feel each other out first and don’t have time to react to adjustments made by the opposing coach.
I think a fresh Rockets squad pushes the pace and keeps this one extremely close at the AT&T Center, maybe even winning the contest.
- Unsurprisingly Spurs are strong favorites in the betting lines here, and the spread with the USA offshore sportsbooks is either 5.5 or 6 points. I have a hunch Houston keeps it tighter than that, with it dictating the pace of Game 1. So the betting prediction is to support Houston +6pts @ -110 with 5Dimes or MyBookie. The next best option is -115 with Bovada for the same spread.
- So we come to my pick for the total points likely to be scored in this Game 1 and the mark is set at 213pts by the oddsmakers. That’s very low for a Rockets line and very high for a Spurs line, which makes sense. However, I did say Houston will push the pace, so bet the over. The game’s score will probably be something around 110-107. Go above 213pts @ best available odds of -110 with either MyBookie or 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.