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Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs Betting Lines Analysis
Back the Spurs in seven games
By Dan Favale
There will be some people who are surprised by this series' betting lines. The San Antonio Spurs wrapped the regular season with the NBA's second-best record, trailing only the Golden State Warriors, but they've recently struggled against quicker, more explosive teams.
Look no further than their first round loss to the then-faster and more furious Los Angeles Clippers in 2015. Or their second-round exit at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016. Heck, look at certain stretches from this year's first-round victory over the Memphis Grizzlies; San Antonio at times appeared overmatched athletically against a squad that is anything but.
This is hardly ideal, because the Houston Rockets pose a more difficult challenge than any of the three aforementioned teams. They get up and down the floor, attack the basket and shoot a ton of threes—more than any team in NBA history, in fact.
That three-point deficit alone has to concern the Spurs. The Rockets averaged five more made triples per game during the regular season—a difference of more than 15 points every night.
With the Spurs being so good defensively, as well as hyper efficient in the half-court, they can win some games without emerging victorious from beyond the arc. But they cannot afford to routinely forfeit the long-ball war. That's a recipe for not only elimination, but an earlier-than-expected implosion.
Fortunately, the Thunder provided a defensive blueprint for the Spurs. They trapped James Harden off pick-and-rolls while dropping their bigs back. That ultimately invited drives and a ton of fouls at the rim, but it limited the number and quality of the Rockets' three-point looks.
To wit: The Spurs are actually averaging more made threes during the playoffs (9.8) than the Rockets (9.6). This a small sample size, but you have to like San Antonio's chances of taking control of this matchup if it's able to even match Houston's three-point prowess.
There's no reason to expect otherwise. The Spurs' three-point defense is as good as it gets in the league. They should be able to let the Rockets launch more threes without relinquishing too many more makes than the Thunder. Their ability to run away will come back to how they defend pick-and-rolls overall.
If they drop back like the Thunder, they need Dewayne Dedmon to play a huge part. He can switch, rotate and just generally move better than David Lee, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. And if the Spurs are using both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to snuff out Lou Williams', Eric Gordon's, Patrick Beverley's and Harden's pick-and-rolls, they'll need to consider only deploying one big at a time—again, preferably Dedmon.
There is value in displacing the Rockets from their four-out and five-out comfort zone by hitting the glass hard, slowing things down and forcing them to operate predominantly in the half-court. And if Houston is going to ride Ryan Anderson at the 4, this gives San Antonio someone to stash its weakest frontcourt defender on.
But Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni will inevitably surround one of Clint Capela or Nene with four wings and guards. He might even roll out a five-wing lineup. The Spurs need to figure out how to counter that punch.
Traditional frontcourts won't be the answer, even if they're confident in everyone's ability to be a stationary rim protector. Dedmon and Aldridge will have to spend time as the sole big at the 5, and the Spurs will have to play with a little more switchability, and potentially more pace, to keep the Rockets at bat
Though the Spurs haven't embraced this style all year, they have the personnel to adapt and adjust. Head coach Gregg Popovich has no doubt put something up his sleeve to combat versatile offensive teams after what's happened in each of the previous two years.
Trust in the Spurs' depth and own versatility getting the job done, even if it takes a full seven games.
The Pick: San Antonio Spurs (-240) in seven games
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