Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Inside the Paint - Saturday

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Game of the Night (ABC, 8:35 p.m. ET)
Oklahoma City (35-19 SU, 31-23 ATS) at Houston (32-22 SU, 25-28-1 ATS)

The Western Conference will be featured on Saturday night as the Thunder and Rockets square off from the Toyota Center. Houston has been installed as a two-point favorite for this game and to no surprise, the oddsmakers are expecting a back-and-forth game with a total of 235 ½. NBA expert and contributor Tony Mejia weighed in on the clash between these contenders.

He said, “The Thunder and Rockets are running third and fifth in the West and figure to be locked in a race to ensure they avoid the Warriors in the conference semifinals. Considering they’ll meet on the final night of the regular season and have split the first two matchups, these teams are going to remain tied together.”

“Houston has won 15 of 22 meetings between these teams but have really struggled from beyond the arc over the past eight meetings, making over 35 percent of their 3-pointers only twice. Oklahoma City has shot 28-for-100 over its past three contests against the Thunder, so keep those numbers in mind before the presence of elite scorers like (James) Harden and (Paul) George has you thinking ‘over.’ The first meeting produced just 178 points and the most recent encounter on Christmas surpassed the posted total by a half-point thanks to the foul game being implemented by OKC down the stretch in its attempted comeback.”

As mentioned by Mejia, the first meeting on Nov. 8 between the pair was ugly as ever and can be tossed out for handicapping purposes as Oklahoma City humbled Houston 98-80 at home. This was when the Rockets began the season 4-7 and the chemistry wasn’t close to connecting.

The offensive units showed up for the holiday matchup as Houston rallied past Oklahoma City 113-109 as a one-point home underdog. The Rockets didn’t have Chris Paul active and James Harden carried the team with 41 points. The total (221 ½) barely cashed and it was fortunate to do so as neither team was clicking in either the first quarter (44 points) or the fourth (48). Paul George led the Thunder with 28 points while Russell Westbrook added 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the loss.

For the third installment, Paul is back in the lineup for the Rockets but they won’t have big man Clint Capela (thumb) and Eric Gordon (knee) is ‘questionable.’ Newly acquired Iman Shumpert from the Kings could be available for Houston on Saturday.

Since the rugged 4-7 start, which includes a 0-5 record at home, the Rockets have posted a 28-15 mark. At home, the club has gone 19-4 straight up and 15-7-1 against the spread. One of those losses came in their last home game, a 121-116 decision to New Orleans as a 13 ½-point favorite.

After that setback, the Rockets began a four-game road trip which saw them go 3-1 (2-2 ATS). Playing the first game back from a long roadie is never easy but they’ve been off since Wednesday and hopefully that break will have them ready.

Coming out flat against OKC could cost you, especially this year’s team. The Thunder were a pedestrian road team (21-20) last season but they’ve turned that around. This year’s squad is 16-12 both SU and ATS as a visitor and they’re just one of three teams (Warriors, Clippers) in the West that can boast a winning road record. They’ve had some clunkers (Hawks, Mavericks) along the way, yet they’ve been competitive in losses which includes their last road setback to Boston (134-129) on Super Bowl Sunday.

Including that defeat, Oklahoma City enters this game with a 9-1 record in its last 10 games and the offense has been humming, averaging 122.9 points per game. That production has helped the ‘over’ go 7-3 during this span.

The Rockets (31-23) and Thunder (28-25-1) have both leaned to the ‘over’ this season and most of those results have come at home for the pair. For instance, Houston is 18-9 (67%) to the high side at the Toyota Center while OKC has watched the ‘under’ go 16-12 on the road. The Thunder play the fastest pace in the league, averaging 93.2 shots per game while the Rockets attempt the most 3-pointers (44.4). Based on those tendencies, these teams both eclipse 120-plus points if the shots are falling.

This will be the fourth week that ABC is providing national coverage in the Saturday night slot. So far, we’ve seen home teams go 2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS while the ‘under’ is 2-1. The Warriors captured the lone road win (115-111) over the Celtics a couple weeks ago. Houston kicked off the schedule on Jan. 19 with a thrilling 138-134 overtime win over the Lakers as a seven-point favorite.

While wishful thinking could have you leaning to another shootout tonight, I’m hesitant to go down that road based on Oklahoma City’s trends as an underdog. The Thunder are 7-6 SU and 8-5 ATS when catching points this season, which are solid numbers but the ‘under’ has gone 11-2 in those games.

Both clubs will play in this spot again before the season ends, coincidentally they’ll both face the Warriors.

Back-to-Back Spots

There are eight other games on tap for Saturday and while none of them measure up to the headliner, we do have six clubs playing on no rest and some have been good while others have struggled.

New Orleans at Memphis: The Pelicans have been terrible in these spots, going 1-8 SU and 3-6 ATS. They have covered their last two in this role but they likely won’t have Anthony Davis available after last night’s win at home versus Minnesota. The ‘under’ has cashed in three of the last four games for the Pelicans on no rest.

New York vs. Toronto: Exactly like New Orleans, the Knicks are 1-8 SU and 3-6 ATS on no rest. What’s surprising is that five of the games took place at Madison Square Garden, where they went 0-5 SU and 1-4 ATS. The last three losses came by 18, 12 and 16 points.

Washington at Chicago: Both clubs dealing with fatigue in this matchup and Washington (7-2 SU, 7-2 ATS) has looked better in this role than Chicago (2-6 SU, 4-4 ATS). The Wizards have won and covered four straight games on no rest and the United Center hasn’t treated the Bulls well when facing these situations. Chicago is 0-3 at home (1-2 ATS) and two of those losses were by 56 and 39 points to the Celtics and Raptors respectively.  Make a note that Chicago is off a win at Brooklyn and is has only won back-to-backs games once this season.

Cleveland at Indiana: As expected, the Cavaliers have struggled to a 2-8 record on no rest this season. However, Cleveland has managed to go 6-4 ATS. Make a note that it hasn’t covered in three straight games on no rest and the ‘over’ has gone 3-0 due to some poor defensive numbers (132.3 PPG).  

Milwaukee vs. Orlando: The Bucks have gone 5-2 SU and 4-3 ATS on no rest and that includes a 2-1 record on the road. One of those wins came on Oct. 27 versus Orlando, a 113-91 win as a nine-point home favorite.

Chris David can be reached at [email protected]

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