After running off 14 wins in a row after a stretch of nine wins in ten games, Houston has lost two games in a a row heading into its Christmas Day matchup in Oklahoma City.
Mike D’Antoni’s team has given up 250 points in those two losses. The Rockets aren’t the only contenders to lose some funny games this week before the holiday. Boston and Washington have dropped some duds this week, as well as San Antonio out west.
So will Houston stress defense as it gets ready for the intense OKC crowd? The total is 215 for the 8 pm primetime showdown.
Reports have broken this week about Carmelo Anthony accepting his new role as an off-ball shooter. Look at the numbers or watch the game tape and you’ll understand that Melo’s isolation has slowed down OKC’s offense and generally hut the team (he isn’t the only perpetrator, however). Weeding some of those bad possessions out of the offense should help, but putting Anthony in a box ought not be a long-term solution and if it is, it’s poor coaching on the part of Billy Donovan. He has lost a step (and I’ve seen him getting stuffed at the rim on Reddit enough times in the last month to be sure of it), but Melo is still a difficult guard for most guys who would ever end up on him, one-on-one, in the league. He’s a weapon and one that will be criminally underutilized as a spot-up three-point shooter (plus the Thunder could have found somebody a lot cheaper if that’s all they wanted).
Of course, I’m assuming “spotting up” is just going to be him standing behind the three-point arc, waiting for a pass when his defender leaves to help on penetration. There are so many ways the Thunder can use Anthony without simply giving him the ball and letting him go one-on-one. He’s got a great body to set screens all over the floor, yet he has set enough screens to count on one hand this season. Why not get him in a pick and pop with Westbrook? Or at least get him on dribble handoffs around the elbow area? The answer could be that he has never played that way and won’t start now. That wouldn’t be Donovan’s fault, yet I’m sure there’s a coach out there who could get Anthony to reinvent a bit. It just doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of creativity or flexibility in the Donovan/Anthony dynamic to get the most out of the situation.
It’ll be all Russell Westbrook in this particular game, though. He likes going at Harden; and though he probably won’t get much one-on-one opportunities against him this time around with Chris Paul in the fold, he’s going to take a ton of shots and, naturally, commit a lot of turnovers too. That, combined with the Houston Rockets, makes this game an over play. Even if the Thunder can’t break 100, there’s a chance the Rockets win this game by 15-20 and take care of those missed points themselves.
Free Pick: Over 215
Carmelo Anthony • Chris Paul • Houston Rockets • James Harden • Oklahoma City Thunder • Paul George • Russell Westbrook