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Dropping NBA Dimes: Odds the Rockets win the West

Can James Harden and Chris Paul lead the Rockets past Golden State? Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The NFL celebrations have officially dissolved and the NBA All-Star weekend is now in the rearview. With teams having from 21-27 games left on their schedules, the race for seeding is getting tight. This year's Western Conference is currently overseen by two dynamic outfits. The Rockets are on a historic pace and have shown they can compete in the era of "super teams," while the defending champions are dominating as expected.

Flashback to last seasons All-Star break and Golden State sat at 47-9. Coming off the historic 73-9 campaign, the league-leading record had the feeling of being less than stellar according to the team's expectations. This year, the Warriors own a 45-14 record, their worse pace in three years. Even worse for the defending champions, they don't even hold the No. 1 seed in the West at the moment. Leading the way this year are the Houston Rockets at 44-13 ( played two games less than G.S.). The Western Conference seems to be a two horse race with the gap between the second and third seeds being 10 games. According to the playoffsatus.com, the Warriors and Rockets are 51% and 49% to win the top 2 seeds. The Timberwolves and Spurs are the next seeds, and both have less than 1% chance of catching the two front runners. After the No. 3 and 4, the drop off is also substantial on projected seeds, with Minnesota and San Antonio both having a greater than 30% chance of securing the 3 and 4 seeds while the next contenders have an 8% to end in the top 4.

Let's look at the similarities in the 2 leaders
2016-2017- Warriors
Offensive rating: 114.2 (1st)
Defensive rating: 101.6 (2nd)

2017-2018- Warriors
Offensive rating: 115.8 (1st)
Defensive rating: 107.7 (22nd)

2017-2018 Rockets
Offensive rating: 114.1 (2nd)
Defensive rating: 105.4 (12th)

As you can see, Golden State has increased their offensive scoring, but they have dropped off drastically on the defensive end.
The Warriors have the second best record straight up but ATS they have not been profitable, going 25-32-2  (26th).

Their nemesis Houston wins 77.2% of their games straight up and are dead even at 28-28-1 ATS (17th).

Getting home court advantage in the playoffs is paramount for the Rockets, where they have been majestic going 23-6. The only problem is the books have caught up to the success they are having and have made them an expensive buy, day in day out. For gamblers, Houston is 11-17-1 ATS only covering 39.3% of the games played at the Toyota Center. If these two juggernauts indeed face off in the playoffs, how many home games would Houston even be favored in? The last time they played in Houston, the Warriors opened as 3.5 point road favorites. Houston also holds the tie breaker and these teams have no games scheduled the rest of the regular season.

Here are some futures odds for the Western Conference:

To Win the West:
Golden State Warriors        5/12
Houston Rockets                  11/4
Oklahoma City Thunder     16/1
San Antonio Spurs               16/1
Minnesota Timberwolves   25/1
Utah Jazz                               40/1
Denver Nuggets                    80/1
New Orleans Pelicans        125/1
Portland Trail Blazers        125/1
Los Angeles Clippers          150/1
Los Angeles Lakers            250/1
Memphis Grizzlies           1000/1
Dallas Mavericks              2500/1
Phoenix Suns                    2500/1
Sacramento Kings            2500/1

At first glance, you might be enticed to jump on the Rockets to win the West at those odds. But an interesting fact to keep in mind is that the Warriors have the easiest strength of schedule in the entire West to close out the season. The Rockets, on the other hand, play the fifth toughest schedule in the conference down the stretch. If getting home court is a priority, Houston will have to keep the pace they are playing at and close out strong. Their final four games will all be against potential playoff teams, playing at Spurs, then finishing on a three-game homestand vs. the Wizards, Blazers and Thunder.

Golden State will have it fairly easier in the closing games of the season, where in their final six contests they get Phoenix twice, the Kings, Thunder, Pacers, and the Pelicans.

The race for the top seed will go come down to the final weeks, and the final stretch of games will be the deciding factor. If Houston wants to host the Western Conference finals, they need to continue the success this season.

For any questions or comments reach me at @JerryBoKnowz on twitter

 

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The clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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