The Pick: Rockets 105-96
Both of these teams are going to be a bit tired as they are both on the second night of a back-to-back, so I’m more than happy to lay the point for a team that I feel is considerably better. This figures to be an interesting one as neither team matches up well defensively, not that either squad really likes to play defense in the first place. That being said, the Rockets figure to be better at exploiting those mismatches as they are the much more efficient team. Consider this: Houston is taking 5.3 fewer shots from the field per game than the Knicks, yet they are scoring 14 more points on a nightly basis.
James Harden (foot) figures to suit up tonight (not many superstar players who are listed as “day-to-day” sit out a game at The Garden) and the fact that he has only played one game in the last five days should have him rested and ready to attack the porous interior of the Knicks’ defense. The Rockets play the same game as the Knicks (they actually average more made three pointers per game) while also having a strong paint presence and ability to get to the free throw line (rank 1st in the league in FTM per game with 25.3 while New York ranks 29th at 12.9). Not only do the Rockets have a huge edge in the paint, but their point guard tandem (Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly) has been playing well. Lin appears to have his swagger back which means plenty of turnovers (13 in the last two games), but it also means buckets in bunches (65 points in those two games) and a truckload of triples (12-for-21 this week and 51.4 percent for the season).
Fun Fact: The Rockets are averaging a quarter of a point more than the Knicks per shot this season and are scoring nearly 115 points per game on the road.
The Pick: Thunder 108-104
The schedule favors the Warriors in this one, as Oklahoma City is on the second night of a brutal back-to-back while Golden State played at home on Tuesday and was able to rest last night. That being said, I am never betting against Kevin Durant when he is playing at an elite level and getting points. Golden State has given up the third most FTA (28.6 per night) in the NBA, and there isn’t a single more concerning trend when opposing the Thunder. OKC attempts the third most freebies per game (30.1) and shoots it at an incredibly efficient 83.4 percent. As I mentioned on Twitter, Durant has made 85 free throws and only Dwight Howard has attempted at least that many.
I’m aware that this matchup could go either way, but for the sake of argument let’s call Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook even. Thabo Sefolosha is a very solid perimeter defender that figures to lock up the versatile Andre Iguodala. Durant would then defend the sharp shooting (but offensively limited) Klay Thompson, and I expect his long arms to give him fits. Serge Ibaka is a rim protector that is athletic enough to stick with David Lee while Kendrick Perkins and Andrew Bogut will battle in the paint. The Thunder have seven players who average better than ten minutes a night with a PER of at least 12.6 while the Warriors have four. The advantage in depth is a big reason why I think the Thunder (who don’t lose two games in a row very often) can rebound after a physical loss last night. Golden State has faced two superstars this season, the same number they’ll face in this game, and have been unable to stop them from dominating. Chris Paul tallied 42 points (while attempting 17 free throws), handed out 15 assists, and notched six thefts. Kevin Love poured in 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds while notching six dimes.
I believe this game is won (or lost) at the free throw line in the later stages. The Warriors take nine fewer freebies per night and shoot only 70.6 percent (fourth worst in the league). It’s also worth noting that the Thunder are the fifth highest scoring fourth quarter team (27.1 points) while the Warriors are the fifth worst (21.6).
Scary Stat: The Warriors rank as the top defense and the second best offense in three point shooting in terms of percentage.