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Thu 11/05/2017 - 01:31 EDT

Can the Spurs put the Rockets with an injured Kawhi Leonard?

Can the Spurs put the Rockets with an injured Kawhi Leonard?
We have an elimination game on our hands, folks! The Houston Rockets host the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night trailing 3-2 in the best of seven series. Though they're seven-point favorites, should you bet on them? Or should you instead back the Spurs? Let's find out.

Back the Spurs to keep it close in Game 6

All betting lines brought to you by Topbet

Houston Rockets (-7) vs. San Antonio Spurs (+7)

Although the San Antonio Spurs won Game 5 in overtime on Tuesday night, their victory was not without collateral damage.

Kawhi Leonard injured his ankle against the Houston Rockets, a setback that was serious enough to sideline him at the end of the fourth quarter and through the overtime frame. The Spurs are known for playing the long game, but there's no way they go into an extra period without their best player against the third best team in the league with a playoff series on the line if they can stand it. Leonard had to have been in pain. He even needed Manu Ginobili's help getting off the court once the game was over.

Even so, Leonard declared his intention to play in Game 6. But head coach Gregg Popovich wasn't as definitive. And officially, the Spurs are listing Leonard as questionable. There is a real chance he doesn't play, which isn't just the worst-case scenario, but a nightmare scenario.

In the 133 minutes the Spurs have spent without Leonard on the floor during the playoffs, they're getting outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions—akin to the second-worst net rating of the postseason, according to NBA.com. San Antonio was admittedly a net plus without Leonard during the regular season, but the playoffs are a different beast. Rotations shrink. Stars play more. The Spurs don't have the luxury of pitting their above-average bench against other second-stringers.

Bake in how hard it was for them to defend the Rockets on the road, through Games 3 and 4, and there's potential for disaster if Leonard doesn't play.

At the same time, maybe not.

odds

With the way this series has unfurled, we shouldn't expect the Spurs to win Thursday night. Leonard or not, these two teams continue to trade punches. But San Antonio won't get clobbered in Game 6. Not this time. Not even without Leonard.

Popovich has made fantastic tweaks to the defense, making it easier for the team to defend James Harden-led pick-and-rolls and drive-and-kicks without Leonard. It also helps that Danny Green can take over defending Harden without the Spurs missing a defense beat. It helps even more that Jonathon Simmons has been serviceable on the offensive end, thus ensuring he can remain on the court for his defense.

Again, it's fine to worry. The Rockets are always one three-point barrage away from leaving the Spurs behind with Leonard. The prospect of playing without him is frightening.

But with LaMarcus Aldridge playing better, Ginobili turning back the clock as an on-ball playmaker, Patty Mills stepping up as a defender and Simmons answering the call to arms, the Spurs should have more than enough options to remain within striking distance of a Rockets squad that doesn't have to worry about potentially plowing on without its best player.

The Pick: San Antonio Spurs (+7)

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