Warriors @ Rockets January 4 Free Pick


Miami’s win over Detroit last night gave us a W to start 2018 and extended our winning streak to four games, dating back to last year. It helped that Andre Drummond was a late scratch with a rib injury, though Boban Marjanovic played well with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

There are just two games on the card tonight as part of a TNT Doubleheader and three of the four teams in action are on the second night of a back-to-back. The Golden State Warriors survived in Dallas last night when Stephen Curry hit a game-winning three just before the buzzer. They will play the Houston Rockets, who won in Orlando behind a huge game from Gerald Green off the bench. The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Lakers in Los Angeles last night and will return to the Staples Center to play the Clippers in the late-night game. The Clips won their fourth in a row on Tuesday night.

We’ll go for five straight in the first game, where the two best in the West to head-to-head.

Free Pick

The Rockets had a couple of days off after James Harden was diagnosed with a hamstring strain and advised to sit down for two weeks, so last night’s win in Orlando was his first “DNP” of the season. The report is that Harden is actually out “at least” two weeks and could miss as many as six. That means he will miss at least six or seven games, which will hurt his MVP case, but not kill it like six weeks would. Harden has been the front-runner because of the gaudy numbers he’s put up, in large part due to all the minutes he’s played, somewhat unnecessarily. It’s yet another reminder — whether assessing MVP candidates or identifying title contenders — that the NBA’s regular season is all about setting an appropriate pace.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers — how many points a guy is scoring, or how much one team is blowing out all of its opponents. Those numbers matter, but not if they aren’t sustainable, or even able to improve as the playoffs draw nearer and eventually begin. It’s only the people who realize this who understand how dominant the Warriors actually are. Not only do they have the best record in the league; not only are they the strongest team by most peripheral and predictive numbers; but Golden State is doing such without trying to maximize its domination right now.

Thirteen of Steve Kerr’s players average double-digit minutes per game, compared to ten Rockets. No one averages 35 minutes on the Warriors; both Harden (before his injury) and Trevor Ariza average over 36 for the Rockets. And 12 different Warriors have started a game, compared to just nine Rockets. Watch the two teams throughout the regular season and the difference is conspicuous to the eye, too. Golden State plays to win the game and then set the team up to win the next one. Houston, more so, plays to win and then win by more. It is why the Rockets were “ahead” of the Warriors for a lot of the season that has already passed by record and regular season statistics, but those variables don’t help to predict postseason results.

Anyway, Houston picked up Gerald Green three games ago because Harden and Chris Paul and Clint Capela were all banged up. Paul and Capela are back and Green looks like he could be in Houston to stay. He’s gone for double-figures in all three games he’s played, including 27 on seven three-pointers last night. He grew up in Houston and sounds both happy and confident in his current situation. That won’t likely continue for the entire season, but who’s to say the marriage can’t stay this way for a couple more weeks? That said, he might help the Rockets score some points tonight, but won’t do much in the form of resisting the Warriors. Golden State has an opportunity to hand Houston another loss and I expect it to do just that.

Free Pick: Golden State -4

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