“It’s the NBA.” That’s the usual refrain after one of the handful of headscratchers that litter the NBA regular season scorecard. But it’s hard to just casually dismiss last night’s Rockets result. They lost at home to the Brooklyn Nets. James Harden and Dwight Harden combined for 42 points and played 75 minutes. There is literally NO excuse for dropping that game at home. The West is too deep to give away freebies and my long-lingering concerns about the Rockets that were supposed to be assuaged by last year’s Conference Finals appearance are definitely still in place. Fun fact, Brooklyn, who notched their first win of the season last night, also own a home loss to the Lakers.
Meanwhile, we notched a win last night as the Warriors did what they do; throttle teams by double-digits regardless of how good they are, hammering the Grizzlies 100-84. That now gives them a +66 point differential in two meetings with their Conference Semi-Final opponent from a year ago. They now own wins over the Clippers, @Houston and home and home wins over the Pelicans and Grizzlies. They are 9-0 win a +17.6 ppg differential and haven’t even played the East yet. Let the 73-win talk begin in earnest. And get used to it, we could be hearing it well into 2016…
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Today’s Free Pick:
Utah Jazz at Miami Heat -5 (Total: 183.5)
This game may not be glamorous to the casual sports fan, but if you love the NBA, this is must-see television. The Jazz have been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and have given some indications they may be ready to progress to the next level – Western Conference playoff team. They are 4-3 this season, but are fresh off a very impressive close loss at Cleveland and own double-digit wins against Memphis, @Denver and @Indiana. This is a solid ball club, and they get a chance to display it tonight against a perplexing Miami team.
Position by position, there may not be five teams better than the Heat in the NBA. Hassan Whiteside is off to a good start, averaging 15 and 11 with 4 blocks. Goran Dragic is a borderline All Star point guard (despite a sluggish 10 and 4 start) Bosh is back to his usual 18 and 10 self and Wade is getting 18 a night in reasonably efficient fashion. They have a decent bench with Gerald Green, Justise Winslow and Luol Deng.
So why is this team 5-3? They’ve won the games they are supposed to, and even have a nice win over the Rockets. But in their tests against playoff caliber teams; Cleveland and Atlanta, they came up short. Perhaps this team can challenge in the East, and perhaps they are destined to be a middling playoff team always hoping, praying, nervous about being healthy.
If they ARE going to contend, look for Justise Winslow’s role to continue to expand. This is an aging team and the infusion of defensive tenacity Winslow brings is absolutely electric. He may only be shooting 21.4% from long range (a problem for a team that already can’t shoot well consistently from distance), but the fact that their defensive points allowed per 100 possessions drops to 86.3 with Winslow on the floor (their 90.9 overall is second-best in the NBA) more than makes up for it. Towns and Porzingas are getting all the pub (Mudiay deserves some too), but Winslow might wind up being the most impactful rookie this season.
I like both teams to scuffle a bit offensively tonight. If you like good, sound, team defense, tonight is a good game for you. Two of the best shot blockers in the league patrolling the paint in Gobert and Whiteside, two athletic Duke wings locking up dribble drives – it’s going to be a good game. And likely a low scoring affair as well. Don’t be surprised to see the winner score less than 90 points.