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Houston Rockets Vs. San Antonio Betting Tips
Take the Spurs in Seven
By Dan Favale
San Antonio Spurs (-240) vs. Houston Rockets (+200)
This second-round series between the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs is huge. They are both considered the two biggest threats to the Golden State Warriors, and the winner of this best-of-seven set will likely face the Dubs in the Western Conference Finals.
Though both are kind of on equal footing with regards to their dark-horse odds, the Spurs and Rockets could not be more different in their methods. The Rockets have decided the best way to beat the Warriors is to outshoot. They launch a ton of threes and are essentially banking on, by their own admission, catching fire for 20 made triples four times over the course of a seven-game series. The Spurs, meanwhile, slow things down by design. They chew through the shot clock with an efficient half-court offense and use a lockdown defense to displace run-and-gun teams from their comfort zone, forcing them to operate more and more in the half-court themselves.
In a vacuum, the Spurs are the superior squad. Gregg Popovich is able to coax elite-level defensive results out of lineups that include two, or even three, liabilities, and San Antonio deploys the deepest bench in the league—a valuable asset even in the playoffs, when rotations tend to shrink.
But this series isn't as easy as declaring the Spurs a better team. They have struggled in recent years against hyper-explosive and super-athletic squads. Most recently, in the second round of last year's playoffs, they crumbled against the Oklahoma City Thunder. There were even times in this year's first-round when they looked like the lesser-athletic squad against the Memphis Grizzlies.
That's a big problem. The Spurs might be able to slow the Rockets' fast-break attack, but they may not have the length and mobility to survive in the half-court.
The Thunder provided a blueprint for every team to defend the Rockets in the previous round. They trapped James Harden on pick-and-rolls and dropped their bigs back. They preferred to make the Rockets beat them at the rim, rather than let them constantly detonate from beyond the arc. They committed a ton of fouls as a result, and bench-heavy units weren't able to prop up that approach, but it largely worked.
Most of the Spurs' bigs and wings, however, are not as switchy as those from the Thunder. Kawhi Leonard and Dewayne Dedmon can make that schematic work. Danny Green, too. But if David Lee, LaMarcus Aldridge and/or Pau Gasol gets caught as the last line of defense against Harden, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams pick-and-rolls, San Antonio is liable to get beat.
Still, Leonard has been operating on another level during these playoffs. He has the best true shooting percentage in NBA history for a player averaging more than 30 points per game, and the Spurs' supporting cast began to provide more support toward the end of the Grizzlies series.
Nothing the Rockets throw at the Spurs on defense will be harder to combat. The Grizzlies weren't great defensively in the first round, but they were very good during the regular season. Their numbers suffered because the Spurs, methodical as ever, picked them apart in the half court. San Antonio should be able to do the same against Houston.
Indeed, if the Rockets are able to get off a ton of uncontested threes, this series might be theirs. And the Spurs' pick-and-roll defense for much of this year, including the regular season, has been underwhelming.
But the better team tends to prevail in seven-game sparrings, and like we said, the Spurs are the better team. They may have to embrace different lineups, ones that feature Dedmon at the 5 and Leonard at the 4 surrounded by shooters, but they have the personnel flexibility to make that work and, in turn, beat the types of teams they weren't fit to upend last season.
The Pick: San Antonio Spurs (-240) in seven games
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