Even with all the excitement of Thursday’s trade deadline, the real fun lies in California’s capital for Wednesday night’s game between the Kings and Rockets.
Houston limps into tonight’s matchup in desperate need of the All-Star break. Every day it seems like someone new gets hurt. First, it was Chris Paul, then Clint Capela, and now Eric Gordon is dealing with knee soreness. However, both Paul and Gordon are expected to play through their injuries tonight. Despite the rash of injuries, the Rockets remain in the playoff race thanks to James Harden’s outstanding play. The MVP candidate is currently averaging a jaw-dropping 36.5 points to go along with 8.0 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game. This will be the Rockets’ fourth game in six days and the final game of a four-game road trip. Houston will play on one day’s rest (19-13 in such situations).
Midway through a crucial six-game homestand, Sacramento will look to continue its 3-0 run on Wednesday night. While De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield continue to lead the steadily improving team, Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley’s progress have highlighted the homestand. Giles had a career-high 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting against the Hawks. Additionally, Bagley is averaging 16.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks over his last five games. The Kings could be a scary team down the stretch if these two keep improving. Sacramento is 19-9 on one day’s rest.
Playing their fourth game in six days, fatigue will set in for the Rockets. The extended minutes Houston’s healthy players have logged due to injuries will finally catch up to them in the road trip’s final game. The Kings are at full strength, riding a winning streak, and playing on ideal rest.
The leading force behind the NBA’s analytical revolution, Houston’s offense is generated through three-point shots and free throws. The Rockets lead the NBA in three-pointers attempted per game (44.3) and percent of points from beyond the arc (40.7). Just for reference, the Bucks attempt the second-most threes per game, and they still shoot seven fewer per game. Houston is fourth in free-throws attempted per game (25.9) and third in percentage of points from free throws (17.9). Conversely, the Rockets rank dead last in percentage of points from mid-range (3.4).
Due to injuries, Harden has handled a Herculean workload. He has the highest player usage in the league (39%) and is playing an NBA-high 37.5 minutes per game. Essentially a one-man offensive show, Houston is forced to play at the league’s fourth-slowest pace (98.01). Chris Paul’s return will help ease the burden that’s been bestowed on Harden’s shoulders.
Defensively, the Rockets’ biggest strength is their ability to guard the three-point line. With a roster comprised of wings and mobile big men, Houston has no problem defending the perimeter. The Rockets rank third in opponent three-point percentage (33.8) and second in opposing points from three-pointers (29.5). Houston has also done a decent job of defending in transition, ranking 11th in opponent fast-break points per game (13.1).
Possessing the league’s fastest player (Fox) as the catalyst, the Kings love to run and gun. With fresh legs, Sacramento’s youthful roster is perfectly suited to play an up-tempo pace. The Kings play at the league’s second-fastest pace (104.08) and are fourth in possessions per game (106.7). Sacramento also ranks first in both fast-break points per game (21.5) and percentage of points from fast breaks (18.9).
On the defensive end, the Kings do an excellent job of defending three-point shots and scoring off turnovers. Sacramento is seventh in opponent three-point percentage (34.3) and fifth in opponent turnovers per possession (15.6%). The Kings’ ability to force turnovers fuels their offensive attack. Sacramento ranks second in points off turnovers per game (20.3) and third in percentage of points off turnovers (17.9).
The Rockets are currently running on fumes, so a matchup with the fast-paced Kings couldn’t have come at a worse time. Sacramento’s speed will disrupt Harden’s inclination to save his energy and play at a deliberate pace. This will also affect Paul, who recently returned from a hamstring injury. Furthermore, Houston’s fatigue is evident in the way its transitional defense has slipped. Over the last three games, the Rockets have gone from giving up 13.1 fast-break points a game to 18.3. Poor transition defense is a recipe for disaster against the Kings. Additionally, the Kings do a good job of defending the Rockets’ biggest strength (three-pointers).
The line for this matchup opened at -2 Houston. The Rockets have received 71% of the public betting action placed on the spread, and the line has shifted up to -3.5. Thus far, the sharp bettors have shown little resistance to the line moving in Houston’s favor. Containing two superstars, the Rockets remain one of the betting public’s favorite teams. I expect them to keep hammering Houston’s line.
This line serves as a perfect opportunity to fade the public. The public action backing Houston should only increase throughout the day. Subsequently, there will be a prime opportunity to grab Sacramento’s points at its peak later in the day.
The Kings are healthier, better rested, and will play a fast-paced style of basketball that will tire the road-weary Rockets. Take the Kings at +3.5 in a game they have a great chance of winning outright.