It’s always fun when two former superstar teammates face off against each other. The NBA is providing us with today’s great Christmas Day duel between James Harden and his 25-6 Houston Rockets and Russell Westbrook and his 18-15 Oklahoma City Thunder (8 p.m. ET on ABC).
Both guards used to play for the Thunder, but they’ve each taken many steps forward since being separated. Westbrook narrowly beat out Harden for last season’s MVP award, and now Harden is the favorite with the major online sports betting outlets for this season.
The Rockets have certainly outperformed the Thunder this season, behind the steady superstar play of Harden and more consistent offensive play.
Houston does have more injury concerns for this game, though, and the squad has lost two in a row after a 14-game winning streak. Can Oklahoma City make it three losses in a row for the Rockets? We will break down the game’s storylines and then make our predictions and picks with reference to the betting lines.
What are the Conditions of Chris Paul and Clint Capela?
The Rockets will definitely be without forward Luc Mbah a Moute off the bench, which is a blow to the team’s depth and defense.
Houston also has two other major injuries to worry about. Star point guard Chris Paul has been a fantastic fit with the team so far, and the squad is 14-0 in games he has started and finished without an injury. Against OKC, he is doubtful with a leg injury.
Capela is nearly as important as Paul. The 23-year-old has turned into one of the league’s top young centers with his finishing around the rim, shot-blocking and rebounding. He has a heel injury and is questionable for today’s game.
If one or both of these players are out, it could be just the boost Oklahoma City needs to win this contest at home.
Will Carmelo Anthony Keep Draining His Threes Accurately?
Four months ago, most people thought Anthony would end up with the Rockets. However, the Thunder obviously ended up acquiring him. Unfortunately for OKC, he has been a poor fit offensively and is averaging career lows in points per game (17.5) and true shooting percentage (50.2).
As of late, though, Melo has been a three-point assassin off the catch. He is 13-of-27 from downtown in his last three contests. Unfortunately, he’s just 6-of-22 from two-point range, but at least he’s taking a bigger portion of threes than twos.
Houston is very dangerous three-point shooting. Melo is one guy who can get insanely hot from outside, though, and can help the Thunder keep pace with the Rockets offensively.
Can the Thunder Bench Supply Enough of an Offensive Lift?
This challenge for the Thunder gets much easier if Chris Paul and Clint Capela both can’t play. Those absences would force the Rockets to put more of their offensive weapons in the starting lineup instead of off the bench.
However, OKC still has a very defense-heavy bench that struggles to provide enough offense sometime. Alex Abrines is a solid shooter, but Jerami Grant, Raymond Felton, Patrick Patterson and Josh Huestis are all better on the defensive end than offense. The squad’s top scorer off the bench is at just 7.8 points per game (Grant).
The Thunder starters have been very inconsistent on offense this season. If the bench can provide a lift on that end, it would be a major help in this game.
Our Preview’s Houston Rockets at OKC Betting Picks & Predictions
If Paul and Capela are out, this game seems to lean toward the Thunder. If just Paul is out, this seems like a pretty even matchup considering how much better OKC is at home. The Thunder are now 10-3 in December and are finding chemistry with the whole team healthy. Expect them to pull out a tight win, if not lose by a very small margin.
- Houston is the favorite by 2.5 points in most places. Given the uncertain injury statuses of Paul and Capela, OKC seems like the safer bet. Pick the Thunder +2.5 @ -115 with BetOnline. The next best option is +2pts @ -110 with Intertops, Bovada or Bookmaker.
- The Rockets’ defense has been faltering recently, while the Thunder offense is finding its groove. The potential losses of defensive presences in Paul and Capela means OKC could really find an offensive rhythm. Put money on this game’s total going over 216.5pts @ -110 with Intertops or 5Dimes.