One of the most hyped matchups of the NBA season takes place today as the 19-9 San Antonio Spurs visit the 22-4 Houston Rockets (9:30 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN).
These two squads met seven months ago in the Western Conference Semifinals in a highly entertaining series. San Antonio ended up winning in six games despite losing Kawhi Leonard to an ankle injury in Game 5.
Both teams look a bit different this season. Houston added Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute and now looks stronger than ever. San Antonio raced out to a 19-8 start while Leonard recovered from an injury led by LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Kyle Anderson. Now, the squad has Leonard back and is close to healthy.
Houston has been excellent this season, but do the Spurs have the Rockets’ number? We’ll dive into some storylines and then decide how this marquee matchup will play out, culminating with our betting predictions and picks in a bid to get the best of the American-friendly online sports betting sites.
How Many Minutes Will Kawhi Leonard Play?
Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard played his first game of the season on Tuesday due to a lingering bout of quadriceps tendinopathy. He was solid, scoring 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting in just 16 minutes. He sat out the entire fourth quarter.
The 16 minutes there is key, and it tells us about Gregg Popovich’s caution with players recovering from significant injuries. Leonard averaged more than 33 minutes per game last year, and he played less than half of that on Tuesday.
Against the Rockets, I could see Leonard potentially playing anywhere from about 15 to 28 minutes. Obviously, that’s a huge range. If he’s on the lower end of the spectrum, the Spurs will have trouble mustering enough defensive and offensive firepower to keep up with Houston.
Can Anyone on Spurs Contend With Eric Gordon’s Scoring Off the Bench?
Gordon started for the Rockets for much of the early season in Chris Paul’s absence. It helped him gain a rhythm offensively and now he’s making a very positive impact as a big-minute reserve for Houston.
The veteran shooting guard has averaged 17.6 points per contest on a 62.7 true shooting percentage in December. This is despite his three-point shot being very inconsistent.
San Antonio has solid reserves, but none of them is quite as consistent a bucket-getter as Gordon. Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili and Bryn Forbes all have the potential to go off on any given night, especially Gay. Can one of them go toe to toe with Gordon’s production and even surpass what the Rockets’ sixth man provides?
Can Spurs Run Rockets Off Three-Point Line?
Houston absolutely loves firing up threes from all over the court. The squad has great shooting personnel and coach Mike D’Antoni uses it very well. The Rockets are on pace to smash the record for most threes made in a season, which was originally set by last season’s Rockets.
When teams can force Houston off the line, which is rare, the Rockets’ chances at winning go down. The Rockets are 18-1 when they attempt at least 40 three-pointers. When they don’t reach that number, their ledger falls to a mortal 4-3.
San Antonio was able to limit Houston’s three-point game pretty well in last spring’s Western Conference Semifinal series by slowing down the pace and playing energetic perimeter defense. Can they replicate that performance against a stronger Rockets squad this year?
Our Preview’s San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets Betting Picks & Predictions
The Rockets are just on fire right now, with a winning streak that has reached 11 games. Despite the Spurs usually matching up well against them, they are taking on the big task of reintegrating Kawhi Leonard right now. While he is back in the lineup, he is not 100 percent yet.
San Antonio has also had a lot of trouble shooting threes on the road this season. If the Spurs don’t drain a bunch of threes in this game, they could be in charge.
- The Rockets probably won’t blow the Spurs out, but they should take this by a considerable margin. That margin will be bigger than the 7.5 points they are favored by. The smart play here is Rockets -7.5 @ best odds of -105 with Bovada. It is -110 with others, including 5Dimes, Bookmaker and MyBookie.
- Though the Spurs probably won’t win, they usually do a great job of playing at their pace. Kawhi Leonard is not playing at full speed yet, so San Antonio will be very patient with its offensive sets so Leonard doesn’t get winded. 5Dimes, Bookmaker and MyBookie all give you best odds of under 213.5 total points @ -110.
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.