Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rocket
Live on Sky Sports Main Event, Arena
Are the Warriors in trouble? Probably not, but their recent record is giving some hope that we may get a real fight for the championship this summer.
Up until now there’s been a consistent assumption that Golden State’s recruitment of DeMarcus Cousins alongside their big four would let them stroll through the regular season and on to another title. The only question some had was whether they could go through the four rounds of the playoffs without dropping a game.
And up until the All-Star break, things looked to be going to plan. Cousins recovered from the injury that ended his previous season in New Orleans, slid into the team seamlessly, and they ripped through a few hapless schmoes before the midseason week off.
But since then they’ve tailed off. There’s been a few knocks, Klay Thompson most significantly, but they’ve started dropping games they really shouldn’t in the last few weeks. The Warriors are 4-6 in their last ten, with Orlando, Miami and, worst of all, Phoenix in their last game collecting unlikely wins.
It’s possible the Warriors are just a bit bored. They’re still top of the West, their eyes are on the knockout phase of the season now and not getting injured, and they really don’t need to worry too much about the rest of the regular season.
Remember, this team has put together as dominant a run as the league has seen. If they take a breather on the way fourth title run in five years, who could blame them? Teams get tired, and conserving effort now could help when they are tested later in the season.
Tonight’s game though is one where you’d like to see the Warriors click back into form. If they don’t, maybe there is something more going on, and teams like the Houston will only take encouragement from any slackening on the part of the champions.
The Rockets started the season as Golden State are ending theirs. They had the best record in the West last season, but any hope of repeating that feat was all but lost through the first month of the season. Luckily James Harden went on his extraordinary scoring run to pull them back up the standings and they now sit third in the West, 3.5 games back on tonight’s opponents.
They’re also on a nine-game unbeaten streak that started with a win in the Bay Area over the Warriors. That’ll give them hope they can cut Golden State’s advantage here. A win tonight and they’ll be the first team since 2015 to sweep Golden State in a four-game regular season series since 2015.
The recent Rockets blast has pushed them into the favourite’s role tonight. Thompson’s return from injury looked to have corrected the Warriors rough run – until the Phoenix game. There should be a reaction to that from the Warriors, though whether it’ll be enough to bring the Rockets back down to earth is another question. Kevin Durant has been ruled out too with an ankle sprain, and that won’t help the Warriors dig out their first win over these opponents this season.
This should be a fast-paced, high-scoring game. Durant missing obviously hurts, but it’s still more appealing to look at the total than to pick a side between two teams who will likely meet again in the postseason. I would take the over on 228.5 when the line is available at 10/11.
Basement battle in Atlanta
It can’t all be top seeds clashing in possible Conference Final rehearsals though. Two lottery candidates also go through the motions in Atlanta tonight, though their recent results suggest this could be a decent game.
For the level of experience they have, the Hawks are exceeding many expectations, not least those of the bookies, as they’re just one victory shy of topping their preseason win-total and have 14 chaances remaining to surge past it. They’ve become a difficult team to play against too, with Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter the bones of a team that could be interesting to watch in the next couple of years provided the front office builds around them.
At the end of February, they put together a 4-4 run, where they beat a few bad teams and also played the playoff-bound Pistons and Rockets hard. That may not sound like much, but given they opened the season 3-16, it looks like title form by comparison.
Rather than the gradual climb of Atlanta, Memphis’ season trajectory would look more like a big U. From
a hot start of 12-5, they plummeted through December and January down the Western Conference. They’ve evened out in their last 14 games, going 7-7, and have won five of their last seven, including three-in-a-row over Portland, Utah and Orlando.
The recent upturn for both of these teams has seen them pick up against the spread too. Memphis are 6-1 in their last seven and 13-5-1 in their last 19, while the Hawks have covered nine of their last 12.
That’s some solid form on both sides of this match-up, though I’m inclined to side with Memphis, as they’re 10-4 against the spread on two days rest or more, while Atlanta, on the rare occasions they’ve been home favourites, have gone 2-5. They’re among the worst teams in the league on the spread at home too. The Grizzlies +1 at 10/11 is the pick.
Suns on the rise
Anyone looking to cash in on the Suns tanking in the last few weeks would’ve likely shipped some heavy losses. Phoenix looked prime candidates for early shutdown, but their recent improvement will have scuppered many bettors who blindly opposed them.
In fact, as hard as it may be to believe, Phoenix are one of the in-form teams in the league at the moment. They’re 5-2 in their last seven, beating not just the Warriors, the best team in the West, but also the team topping the table in the East, the Bucks, during their streak.
Devin Booker is showing his All-Star talent. Keeping him healthy will be huge next season if the Suns are to progress, while Deandre Ayton at center and Kelly Oubre, traded from the Wizards mid-season, have stepped up during this run too.
Utah would prefer not to be going to face them right now. The Jazz have lost three in four and are now sit as eighth seeds in the West. That means they’re on course for a meeting with the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs and early elimination in a season where many thought they could be challenging Golden State at the top of the standings.
They can move up still though. They’re just a game out of the sixth spot, and their upcoming road trip sounds tough with four games to be played out East, but Washington, New York, Chicago and Atlanta shouldn’t present too much resistance really.
And, despite the Suns run, this game looks like another game they should win. They’re seven-point favourites despite the contrasting fortunes of past weeks. I’d be tempted to oppose them on that front, but my preference is for the under on the total of 222.5, with Utah failing to meet the mark in five of their last seven, and Phoenix similarly falling short of expectations four times in their five most recent outings.
Source: US Sports