The Pick: Spurs 101-98
In a battle for Texas, I expect the road team to be more competitive than you do. Listen, I’m not saying the Rockets are the better team or that Dwight Howard is going to have a better career than Tim Duncan, but I’m also not willing to sell my stock on the Rockets just yet and I do think they matchup well with San Antonio.
Duncan and Tony Parker are going to be Hall-of-Famers, but am I crazy to believe that Howard and Patrick Beverly can limit their effectiveness? Having your two best defenders line up against the two most important offensive players on the opponent is a good start, especially when neither is your best player.
James Harden’s defense shouldn’t be a major issue as he’s projected to guard Danny Green/Manu Ginobili, allowing him to do what he does best: get buckets. The Spurs don’t lose often, but their six defeats have come as a result of some star performances from star players: LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points on 64.7 percent shooting), Kevin Durant (24 points and 13 rebounds), Harden (31 points, seven rebounds and six assists), Paul George (28 points on 64.3 percent shooting), Chris Paul (23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists), and Russell Westbrook (31 points and eight assists).
I’m giving the Spurs a hard-fought W because I believe Kawhi Leonard is poised for a Paul George-esque breakout by season’s end, but expecting them to run away and hide isn’t happening. Chandler Parsons may not be able to defend Leonard, but I like his ability to provide a third option in the Rockets’ offense.
At the end of the day, the Rockets hold a sizable edge in two vital categories, advantages that I believe give them a chance to win this game. They attempt more free throws than any other team, giving them the opportunity to not only get easy points, but also get the Spurs in foul trouble.
In addition to the stripe, Houston relies on the long ball, an aspect in which the Spurs are simply average in defending (opponents make 36.2 percent). For the season, Houston averages 0.12 more points per field goal attempt, statistically giving them a great chance to keep this one close.