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May 10, 2015 (Posted at 11:00 AM ET)

Take Houston Rockets at +7.5 spread against LA Clippers risking 3% of the bankroll.

Things have played out rather interestingly in this series thus far. The Rockets came in as the higher seeded and at least on the surface appeared to be on the receiving end of some good fortune when it was announced that Chris Paul has been ruled out of the first two games with a hamstring injury. What was thought to have been somewhat of a blessing for Houston however turned into a disappointing scenario as they currently find themselves down 2-1 in the series and in what many would consider a must win situation today. 

It may appear that the Rockets have been outmatched at the moment given the way LA has handled them in 2 of the three meetings but we don't feel that is the case. just because of a few poor performances. Game 4 tonight will likely define the Rockets post-season, a loss and they can consider packing up since only 8 teams have ever come back to win a playoff series down 3-1. Kevin McHale knows that and we therefore expect his side to give it their absolute all in this game. 

In a few games, it has appeared that the Rockets were either complacent or disinterested during certain intervals. Once with approx. 2 minutes left in Game 1 and then again in Game 3 in the 4th quarter when the Clippers completed a 23-0 run. While that is not something we are accustomed to seeing from this Houston Rockets team, this is something that is easily remedied. We expect the Rockets to come out and play with much more heart tonight. Heading into this series, the Clippers had the benefit of being in a tough opening round matchup and managed to knock off the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. That series no doubt instilled a huge amount of confidence in the Clippers players and allowed them to be much better prepared for this series. With some time to reflect on how they have been performing thus far, we do expect the Rockets to make the adjustments needed to remain competitive in this series. They have historically been at their near best when facing adversity this season and coming off a disappointing effort. We don't believe they will simply roll over and give up in this contest and expect a much more solid overall effort tonight. 

There is no question that the Rockets have struggled. They have veteran players like Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith and even James Harden who failed to perform up to their standards in this series. Their outside shooting has not been there either. Outside of James Harden there isn't another Rocket who is shooting with any sort of consistency from three point range. The Rockets as a team are shooting just 29%. Trevor Ariza is 4-17 in the series, Jason Terry 5-14, Corey Brewer 1-10, Pablo Prigioni 6-16 and Josh Smith 1-9. Those are some glaring numbers and a big reason for the Rockets struggles thus far but these aren't players that will continue to struggle to find their shot forever, at some point their shots will start falling and their production will increase and we expect that to happen tonight. James Harden is the unquestioned leader of this team and we expect him to come out and put this team on his shoulders and find a way for them to win. Harden hasn't taken much of leadership role in this series thus far, but we expect that to change in this contest. With Harden being the focal point and encouraging other players to step up, we expect to see a big change in character and motivation tonight from the Rockets.  

Something else that we expect to see improved tonight is the Rockets defense. They have been awful on the defensive end recently but have the right foundation. The Clippers are shooting just shy of 50% for the series! Out of the 11 guys that have played more than 10 minutes this series, seven of them are shooting above 50% from the field! Of those seven, three are shooting above 55%! What is more alarming is that that number could be even much higher if the Clippers ran the Chirs Paul, Blake Griffin pick-and-rolls every possession. The only time the Rockets manage to stop that play in Game 3 is when Griffin didn't catch the ball cleanly and turned it over. Turovers are something that the Rockets have not been able to take advantage of. That is simply unacceptable defense by the Rockets and we expect to see a much more improved effort tonight. 

Another advantage that Houston should have that has not made an impact in this series is their bench. The Rockets have a much deeper bench and yet it has been the Clippers bench that has had the much bigger impact. The Clippers are averaging 47.7 bench points this series while the Rockets have only managed 25.3 points. The Rockets bench is shooting 30.5% for the series with Brewer and Smith a combined 21-63 or 33.3%. We do expect the Rockets bench to have more of an impact on this game. Austin Rivers has been a huge lift for the Clippers bench, but we don't believe his success will continue to carry this team. Rivers will likely regret taunting James Harden in Game 3. 

There is no question that both teams want to get out and run, score a lot of points and ask questions later. When the Rockets were making their comeback in Game Three they passed into Howard in the post, swung it around and Jason Terry knocked down threes. That is a strategy that we expect them to employ again tonight. An added benefit of this type of game plan could be getting DeAndre Jordan to commit more fouls. Jordan currently has a killer 93 defensive rating. Having him play less minutes would be beneficial to everyone on the Rockets, especially James Harden. Harden has barely gotten to the line outside the free throw extravaganza that was Game Two. Getting Jordan into foul trouble equates to no shot blocking presence for the Clippers, which should equate to more James Harden being James Harden and a lot more rebounds and points for Howard as a result.

With their season essentially on the line tonight we expect this to be arguably the most competitive game of the series. Houston is fully capable of winning this game outright, which make getting these substantial amount of points simply too good to pass up. With their backs against the wall, expect to see an inspired effort from the Rockets. Even if they fall short, they should keep this game within this generous spread.

Other notable facts to consider:

  • Rockets are 13-3 ATS after a double-digit loss!
  • Clippers are a money-burning 4-11-1 ATS after a playoff win!
  • Rockets are 16-7 ATS when seeking revenge for a road loss.
  • Since 2012, Clippers are just 1-11-1 ATS after a playoff game in which they covered the spread!

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