The NBA preseason concludes with a busy 12-game schedule tonight. By far the most high-profile matchup of the evening is a tussle between the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets (8 p.m. ET Friday on TNT).
San Antonio and Houston met in the Western Conference semifinals in May of this year. The Spurs won the hard-fought six-game series, but the Rockets beefed up their roster in a major way this summer. They acquired perennial All-Star point guard Chris Paul in a sign-and-trade and added some versatile defenders in free agency.
San Antonio will definitely be without superstar Kawhi Leonard, who is nursing a quadriceps injury. Houston is probably going to sit Paul, who has a minor shoulder injury.
Which Western power will come out on top in this contest? We’ll explore some major points before analysing the betting lines from the best American online bookies and deciding this preview’s predictions and picks.
Does Dejounte Murray Have the Experience Necessary to Contend With Chris Paul or James Harden?
If Chris Paul plays, the Rockets have a major matchup advantage at point guard. San Antonio will start 21-year-old Dejounte Murray, who is entering his second NBA season. The young floor general has a bunch of potential, but he is still a prospect. Paul has an infinitely better basketball IQ than Murray, and is a much better shooter, passer and defender.
However, even if Paul does sit, Murray will have to contend with James Harden at point guard. Harden is much stronger physically than the lanky sophomore, and he has a similarly deep bag of tricks on the offensive end.
Can Murray use his length and athleticism to create chaos on both ends, or will the experience and savvy of Paul and Harden win out?
Can the Spurs Keep the Pace Under Control?
As we saw in last spring’s playoff series, these two teams have very different objectives when they play each other. Houston wants to shoot as early in the shot clock as possible, and the Spurs want to work for good shots in the half court.
The Rockets are probably the team that can better survive a pace that isn’t ideal for them, as they can play decently well in half-court offense. Meanwhile, the Spurs don’t have the team speed to play an up-and-down game for all 48 minutes.
If San Antonio can pound the offensive glass, be patient on offense and limit live-ball turnovers, the Rockets will have trouble getting out in transition. That will make things considerably easy for the Spurs.
Can the Rockets’ Small-Ball Approach Trump the Spurs’ Two-Big Configuration?
To be clear, the Spurs will probably play more small ball than usual this season. Their offseason additions and losses definitely skew toward a more perimeter-based attack.
However, their starting lineup still includes two very traditional big men, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. Both guys like to post up and prefer playing near the rim on defense.
Houston has a stretch 4 on the floor at almost all times, whether Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute or P.J. Tucker. When the front court is a combination of Gasol and Aldridge (or any two bigger Spurs post players), there will be a clash of styles for the two teams.
Will the Rockets take advantage by knocking down a bunch of threes, or will the Spurs’ bigs dominate the glass and score at will in the post?
Our Preview’s Spurs vs. Rockets Picks & Predictions Verdict
Both of these teams could realistically make more scratches before the game starts on Friday night. However, if both squads have similarly shorthanded groups, you have to give the edge to San Antonio. They have proven offensive and defensive system and a very cohesive bench unit that always seems to play well.
This game is in Houston, so that’s a slight advantage for the Rockets. But the Spurs, sans Kawhi Leonard and possibly some other key players, will at least keep things close.
- Although many sportsbooks don’t post spreads during the NBA preseason, there is one that has done so this year. San Antonio Spurs +5.5pts @ -115 with 5Dimes on the spread looks the smart bet.
- I think both teams will do a good job of dictating their desired pace in this game, which makes picking the over/under on the total of 209.5pts tough. However, with the potential for both teams playing only a few of their regulars, bet the under 209.5pts @ -115 with 5Dimes.