NBA Playoff Pick: Rockets vs. Spurs Game 5 Prediction

by Kevin Roberts
on May 9, 2017

Things are officially interesting in the Western Conference playoff series between the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs. James Harden put the finishing touches on a blowout home win in game four on Sunday, tying up their series at 2-2 and putting the pressure back on the Spurs as we head to a decisive game five in San Antonio.

Momentum is presently residing with the Rockets, but it’s worth wondering if outside circumstances could derail their progress. Big man Nene Hilario is one key casualty of the playoffs, as reports have emerged that the versatile post bruiser due to a left adductor tear.

That doesn’t seem like a huge loss on the surface, but Hilario was huge for the Rockets in their first round series and provided size, post scoring and rebounding against a big San Antonio lineup. The 35-year old was a fiery presence for a team trying to make serious noise and suddenly the Rockets are left a little thinner down low.

That puts even more pressure on young big man Clint Capela to perform and also shifts sharp-shooting power forward Ryan Anderson to the bench:

With Hilario gone, Anderson looks to provide a scoring spark and rebounding off the bench, while small forward Trevor Ariza will slide over to the power forward spot and try to man the four in a new small ball lineup. Eric Gordon will also enter the starting lineup, which could give Houston an offensive boost in their main lineup.

The timing is awful as Harden and the Rockets just stole back home court advantage in this series and also seemed to be discovering a wrinkle in San Antonio’s defense beyond Kawhi Leonard. Whatever momentum they had, however, could take a hit with a big depth loss that is already sending shockwaves through the starting five.

To make matters worse, defensive ace Patrick Beverley has been dealing with the death of his grandfather and will continue playing with a heavy heart and distracted mind:

Despite the unfortunate passing of his grandfather, Beverley figures to suit up in game five and isn’t expected to miss any time in this series.

Houston could still be okay as we approach Tuesday night’s game five in San Antonio, but the fiasco with Hilario may make the Spurs’ own loss of Tony Parker a bit of a wash. Beyond the injury woes, both of these teams are in position to take control of a tight series and NBA bettors are in limbo as to which side to roll with. Let’s break this matchup down and see where your NBA betting loyalties should lie:

Houston Rockets (+5.5)
San Antonio Spurs (-5.5)
Total: 214

This has been a very back and forth series in just about every way, as both teams have a road win and both teams have experienced injuries, offensive lulls and defensive lapses. It’s been surprising to see Houston actually step it up defensively in two wins, while the Spurs have been shaky on that end despite being one of the most efficient units all year.

San Antonio continues to have two huge tasks: stopping James Harden from erupting offensively and also limiting his ability to create. To this point, the only way to hope to do the former is to put Kawhi Leonard on Harden and keep it a one-man game. Harden might still get his points, but his scoring is then less likely to translate into offensive success for outside shooters. With no double-teaming, the Spurs are likely to have better luck at closing out on outside shooters.

Game five shifting back to San Antonio should help the Spurs, as well, as they’ll be a little more comfortable in front of their home crowd and should exercise more discipline at the defensive end of the court. The other issue lies with the Spurs handling Houston’s pick-and-roll offense. LaMarcus Aldridge was at his best defensively in a game three road win, but he has not enjoyed a great series at both ends of the court. Ridge needs to be much more aggressive offensively in game five, while also not allowing Clint Capela to have his way in the paint.

Capela might actually be the biggest key to this game and this entire series, too. He’s really done a great job at both ends to this point, but if he suddenly falters or deals with foul trouble, the Rockets could be in a real bind. He no longer has the insurance or assistance of Nene Hilario to bail him out, while Ryan Anderson sliding into the second unit could dramatically limit Houston’s rebounding and defense to get games going.

That is precisely where Ridge and Pau Gasol need to take advantage of this Rockets defense, as they will now have less resistance down low.

We can talk about Harden, Houston’s shooters, Ridge and anyone else, but this all really hangs on Kawhi Leonard. He needs to step up on his home floor and live up to all of the MVP chatter. Leonard does a lot on his own, but that is what is expected of superstar players. Leonard has shown has can stifle Harden and he’ll need to tap into that ability again tonight, while also carrying San Antonio’s offense. He’s failed to do that twice in this series, but with a massive game five going down on his home floor, this won’t be a time he can afford to come up short.

Everyone should brace for a great game and possibly even OT, as neither of these teams are going to back down in this one. This series has surprisingly not been that competitive on a game-by-game status but we could be headed for a gem in this one. It is very easy to go either way in this one, but we’re siding with Vegas here and backing the Spurs. San Antonio is at home, plays better defense by the numbers and could really exploit the loss of Hilario.

Ultimately Leonard will step up and have a huge game and the Spurs should find a way to go up 3-2 at home in this one. The over feels like a mild reach but this series has been unpredictable. I think we get an intense game where both teams show up and Leonard ices it late. That being said, this spread is thick enough to target the Rockets as an ATS play.

Betting Value: Houston is the obvious value play (+190 at Bovada) but we like the Spurs at home.

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