Saturday’s Playoff Tips

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Western Conference Semifinals – Game 3 (Warriors lead 2-0)
Golden State at Houston (ABC, 8:35 p.m. ET)

Many pundits believed that this could be the year that the Rockets finally get over the hump and defeat the Warriors. After back-to-back wins by Golden State at home, Houston faces a 0-2 hole and knows that Saturday’s Game 3 at the Toyota Center is a must-win situation.

After losing a tightly contested 104-100 decision in Game 1 on Saturday, the Rockets came out flat on Tuesday and suffered a 115-109 setback in Game 2. NBA expert Tony Mejia believes Chris Paul and James Harden have to find the right balance to keep the Warriors from getting too comfortable on the defensive end since isolations can make Houston easier to guard and can lead to stagnant play due to lack of ball movement.

“In attempting to get Harden going, Houston hasn’t done Paul any favors in terms of helping him find a rhythm as a shooter or playmaker. The All-Star point guard who was brought in to take some of the pressure off Harden in order to keep him fresher, but he’s shooting 27 percent from 3-point range this postseason (11-for-41) while averaging just six assists and 4.7 turnovers per game. Even if Harden wasn’t dealing with an eye issue, he’d need more help than he’s been getting. It might be time for Mike D’Antoni to let Paul run the offense and let Harden play decoy since it might help other Rockets get going at home. The first quarter will be telling, especially with Clint Capela expected to remain in the lineup despite being such a liability in Oakland against the “Hamptons Five” that Steve Kerr is riding as his primary group. We might see Danuel House and Austin Rivers replace Capela if the Rockets look to match up by going small, which could lead to even more 3-pointers flying, so keep that in mind for totals purposes.”

The eye issues for Harden aren’t expected to be an issue at least that’s what the oddsmakers believe. After catching +6 and +5 in two games at Golden State, the Rockets are listed as -3 ½-point home favorites for Game 3.

The nine-point swing from Oakland to Houston certainly opened up my eyes and going back to the 2015 NBA Playoffs, the Rockets haven’t been favored by more than 2 ½-points over the Warriors in their last three postseason matchups. Is the line telling us that Houston’s the play?

Houston went 31-10 in the regular season in front of their fans and 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs against Utah. For our purposes, Houston has gone 25-17-2 against the spread and that includes a 2-1 mark in the postseason versus the Jazz.

Despite being the reigning two-time defending champions, Golden State was an underdog seven times this season and it went 3-4 SU and 4-3 ATS. The Warriors did close the season with three consecutive wins and four straight covers in this role.

Golden State went 3-0 on the road in the first round against the Clippers while covering two of those games. In the first meeting (Game 3) at the Staples Center, the Warriors put on a display and captured a 27-point win (132-105) while taking the crowd out of the game quickly.

Was it a coincidence or a trend? Kevin Rogers of dug up a solid nugget on Golden State and he answered that question for us.

He said, “The Warriors have fared well in Game 3’s of a playoff series since 2017, compiling an 8-1 record both SU and ATS. That includes a 7-1 SU and ATS record away from Oracle Arena. The only defeat in this stretch came at New Orleans last season in the second round, 119-100 as five-point favorites. In three Game 3’s against Houston in the postseason dating back to 2015, the Warriors are 2-1 both SU and ATS, including a 115-80 rout of the Rockets in the 2015 conference finals as a short underdog. Houston and Golden State have split eight playoff games at Toyota Center since 2015, while the underdog has covered five times.”

After watching Game 1 easily go ‘under’ (224), bettors chasing the ‘over’ in Game 2 (222) caught a big break with a 67-point fourth quarter and 27 of those were posted in the final three minutes. Total players have certainly seen that movie before and the opening number of 222 for Game 3 has held steady as of Saturday morning.

Houston watched the ‘under’ go 2-0-1 at home in the first round versus the Jazz and those results could be overlooked since Utah (93.6 PPG) couldn’t buy a shot on the road. In last year’s Western Conference Finals versus the Warriors, the ‘under’ went 3-1 in the four games. Houston averaged 119.5 points per game in its two wins but just 99 PPG in the losses. Golden State has watched the ‘under’ go 9-3 in its last 12 road playoff games.

It’s rare to see teams get three days off in the middle of a playoff series and Houston actually struggled in these spots this season. The Rockets went 1-2 when playing on three plus days of rest and the offense only averaged 105.7 points per game. Meanwhile, the Warriors were 2-0 in these situations and they averaged a blistering 133 PPG.  

Sticking with other trends, Houston owned an 11-5 record on Saturday this season while Golden State was 9-4. For those of you following the NBA this season, you’re probably aware of ABC’s primetime coverage on Saturday. They had eight nationally televised games and Houston and Golden State were a participant in seven of them. The Rockets went 2-1 while the Warriors went 4-1 and the loss came on Feb. 23 at home to the Rockets (118-112). The ‘under’ cashed in that game and the low side was 6-1 in the seven contests involving the pair.

Considering Golden State can essentially end Houston’s hopes with a victory, VI’s Mejia believes it’s worth thinking ahead entering such a defining game.

“The Warriors can really send a message with a victory here since it would put the Rockets in a massive hole while dispelling all talk of the two-time defending champs being vulnerable. The series price opened at -225 and is now at -700, so the only series future bet worth making would be to take a shot at the Rockets +500 if you believe they’re capable of getting back in the series by winning on Saturday night,” Mejia said. “There’s no way Golden State is losing four straight games, so this might be the spot to get in on the Dubs as the West champ at -400 or NBA champ at -200 considering Houston really appeared to be its biggest threat in preventing their threepeat bid. It’s hard to imagine Denver or Portland pulling off an upset in the conference finals, while the East representative will have walked through some serious flames in reaching June before encountering their biggest challenge.”

Mejia added, “The current futures at Westgate involving the Warriors winning the West and the NBA title are the same as they were entering the playoffs, and I can’t imagine you’re going to find better odds going forward if Golden State prevails here and you already failed to get in just after the lost Game 5 at home against the Clippers.”

The pair will meet again from Houston on Monday in Game 4.

Chris David can be reached at