The Rockets have had a little time off after an accolade-filled first month of the season.
Mike D’Antoni was named the NBA’s Western Conference Coach of the Month for October/November, while James Harden snagged Player of the Month. For purposes of end-of-the-month awards, the NBA bunches the games played in October in with November.
The announcement came in the middle of Houston’s little three-day vacation granted by the NBA’s schedule-makers. The Rockets played their last game on the 29th of November.
And the last time they played, the Rockets extended their current winning streak to six games, their second such streak of the season. The last one ended at six but if it hadn’t, it would be 13. The Rockets’ last loss, to Toronto, is all that separates the last six-game winning streak from this one. They’ll try to make it seven straight, and 13 out of 14, tonight in their first game of the new month in Los Angeles.
The Rockets are 12-point favorites on the road at the Staples Center. A lot of what I mentioned in the open has to do with why. Houston is well-rested and on a roll. Not only are the Rockets winning almost every game these days, they are blowing out the opponent — and covering. Houston is 9–4 against the spread during its 12–1 run. Two of those losses have come in the last three games when the Rockets were 18 and 18.5-point favorites against the Nets and Knicks, respectively, and won by 14 and 15. Blowouts are now the expectation.
Chris Paul has been back for a couple of weeks now and he’s proven to be what last year’s team was missing: somebody who can run the offense when Harden is on the bench. Harden and CP3 start and finish each half together but in the middle their minutes are staggered. Now, the Rockets are outscoring teams, and outscoring them badly, when Harden sits because Paul comes in and plays like the number one guy he’s been most of his career. There is no opportune time to come at the Rockets now; the opponent has to win in earnest, which is also becoming increasingly more difficult as Clint Capela molds into a star and the front office continues to solidify the bench.
The Lakers wouldn’t be getting quite so many points on their home floor had they not played a game in Denver last night. Going to Denver is grueling and Luke Walton had his team running extra in the shoot around to acclimate to playing in the altitude for the first time this season. That acclimatization was paying off until the last four-and-a-half minutes of the game when Denver went on a 15–0 run to win by 15. The Nuggets were playing without their starting big men: Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler.
It was another frustrating loss for the young Lakers after taking Golden State to overtime in the previous game, only to lose in the end. It’s going to take some resiliency to come back tonight and hang in against a Rockets team that’s making everything look easy.
But while the Lakers haven’t physically or mentally matured yet, they have some of that perseverance and hunger. Luke Walton has a finger on his team’s pulse and will likely have the right words for his guys ahead of this game. When you’re a double-digit dog at home, the most important fact — and sometimes the only one — is a willingness to play hard and try to win. I think the Lakers will give that sort of effort tonight in a nationally televised game.
Free Pick: Los Angeles +12