Preview: Spurs take on Rockets in rematch of double-overtime thriller

DeMar DeRozan of the San Antonio Spurs.(Photos by Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images)
DeMar DeRozan of the San Antonio Spurs.(Photos by Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The San Antonio Spurs travel to Houston tonight to face the Rockets in a rematch of one of the best games of the season in the NBA.

Their come from behind, double-overtime win over the Houston Rockets has been the highlight of the season so far for the San Antonio Spurs. From the intensity that the whole team played with to breakout performances by up and coming players there was a lot to like about the Spurs best win of the season.

Following what is now a season-long trend, the Spurs have been inconsistent since they last beat the Rockets. They followed up their win over Houston with another close overtime victory over the Sacramento Kings. Then, nearly a week later, they were embarrassed on their home court by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Finally, they just took down the Phoenix Suns in another overtime game.

All in all, the Spurs four most recent games have all required overtime. That set an NBA record for most consecutive overtime games. Every team would prefer to wrap up a victory in regulation time but as San Antonio fights to return to the top eight in the conference they will take wins any way they can.

If the Spurs can replicate the defense that they exhibited in their first matchup with the Rockets in tonight’s game they should be in good shape. In the first duel between the two teams, Rockets star James Harden was able to put up 50 points but the route he took to get to that figure is what was important. The Spurs went at Harden all night, from Lonnie Walker to DeMar DeRozan it was a total team effort to limit his impact on the game.

The tight defense that the Spurs played forced Harden into an 11 for 37 shooting from the field. He was able to supplement his scoring by hitting all 24 of his free throws but he’s going to get to the line at a high rate regardless of how aggressive the defense is. If San Antonio can make him uncomfortable and push him away from his preferred spots they’ll live with the trips to the charity stripe.

Another key for a Spurs victory tonight is for San Antonio to do everything they can to force the ball into Russell Westbrook‘s hands. Like Harden, a brief look at Westbrook’s stat line from game one is misleading. Sure, he got his triple-double but it came on a 7 for 30 shooting performance from the field and 1 for 6 from behind the arc.

Westbrook is getting putting up stats in areas we expect him to, but he’s also been having one of the worst seasons of his career. He’s shooting 23 percent from behind the arc, his assist percentage is down, and his turnover percentage is at one of the highest points of his career. Adjusting his play-style to fit next to Harden was always going to take some time but even still it’s been a tough season for Westbrook.

There are no great options for defending the Rockets. Forcing the ball out of Harden’s hands puts it in control of another former MVP. But it’s the lesser of two options and is the strategy that the Spurs should take in tonight’s game.

Playing the Rockets brought out the absolute best in Lonnie Walker last time. It will be interesting to see if Gregg Popovich relies on Walker to again be one of the primary defenders on Harden throughout the night. He’s been seeing more consistent playing time since his breakout game and could be in for another heavy load of minutes tonight.

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Gameday bets and prediction

Spread: San Antonio Spurs +10

Over/Under: 232

All betting information is courtesy of The Action Network.

The +10 spread is heavy but I think San Antonio can cover it. Dejounte Murray looked very comfortable in his return to the starting lineup on Saturday and can build off of his solid all-around performance tonight.

Houston will be coming into tonight’s game with a little bit of extra motivation. The denial of their protest in the aftermath of the double-overtime loss surely had to sting a little. To be fair, the Rockets did deserve the two points for the blown call on James Harden’s dunk but that wasn’t the deciding factor in the game.

The Rockets have two of the best guards in the league and the Spurs have been torched on the permitter all season long. This game could get ugly but San Antonio has shown more resolve as of late and should be able to keep things close.

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This week doesn’t get any easier for the San Antonio Spurs. With games against the Brooklyn Nets and LA Clippers, the Spurs will certainly have a tough few days ahead of them. An impressive win tonight would be the perfect way to start the week off.

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