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Leonard-led Spurs hope to be in long series

By Matt Youmans
VSiN senior editor

May 3, 2017 10:44 AM
kleonard
Kawhi Leonard totaled 21 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in Game 1, but the Spurs still were routed by the Rockets.
© USA Today Sports Images

It was just one game, yet one really lopsided game that showed the San Antonio Spurs need a lot more than just Kawhi Leonard to survive this series.

In recent years, the NBA game has transitioned into a 3-point shooting contest. Big men who are incapable of stretching defenses by shooting from the perimeter are becoming dinosaurs, and even old-school coaches such as Gregg Popovich might need to adapt to a new style.

It was just the first game of the series, but the Spurs appeared too old and were thoroughly embarrassed on their home floor Monday by the hot-shooting Houston Rockets, who hit 22 of 50 3s in a 126-99 win that never was close after the first quarter.

San Antonio went into its Western Conference semifinal series as a minus-300 favorite. Houston goes into Game 2 on Wednesday as the new series favorite (minus-130).

“We’ve been talking about this all season. I’ve been telling people for the past two months, ‘I hope Houston plays San Antonio because I think the Rockets are going to roll those guys,’” Westgate sports book manager Jeff Sherman said. “I would be surprised if the Spurs win this series.”

Of course, it would be no surprise if the Spurs bounce back to even the series. San Antonio is a 5½-point home favorite, and Sherman recommends laying 2 points in the first quarter.

“I would expect the Spurs to come out with a ton of energy,” Sherman said.

Popovich’s team probably will come out with a different look and rotation. The Spurs were run off the floor in the opener mostly because their weak transition defense allowed the Rockets open looks to fire away from long range. San Antonio is not a team built to outrun more athletic and offensively talented opponents like Houston and Golden State.

The Spurs are relying too much on Leonard to make plays and getting away from fluid ball movement on the offensive end. Dumping passes into the low post to power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is not the answer. Aldridge was useless in Game 1, scoring four points in 25 minutes.

“It’s just Leonard and the other guys, and they’re not playing as a unit,” Sherman said. “Aldridge doesn’t fit into this series. I really think Popovich needs to go to a smaller lineup and more of a jump-shooting lineup.

“The Rockets are a younger, more athletic team. If they shoot like they did, there’s not a team in the NBA that’s going to beat them.”

There’s also the chance Mike D'Antoni could crash back to reality as his quick-triggered Rockets cool off. Houston hit only 17 of 72 3-pointers in the final two games of its first-round series against Oklahoma City. Jump-shooting teams can seem invincible when the shots are falling. But there are two sides to that story.

Still, hoping for misses from James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams is not going to be Popovich’s game plan. Expect the Spurs to defend better in transition and utilize a smaller lineup around Leonard that matches up with the Rockets’ personnel.

At this point, it’s already obvious San Antonio was way overpriced as a 3-1 series favorite, and the Spurs are hoping to get to Game 7 on their home floor.

Wizards will test profitable NBA series trend

Overtime is where ‘dogs go to die, and that was the case Tuesday with the Wizards, who were 5-point underdogs in a 129-119 OT loss at Boston. Washington returns home facing a 2-0 series deficit. Teams in this situation have been 10-0 against the spread — when betting the first quarter and first half — in these playoffs. (https://www.vsin.com/trail-blazers-extend-a-hot-nba-betting-trend-to-10-0/)

As expected, oddsmakers are adjusting the numbers. The Wizards, 5-point favorites in Game 3, are laying 3 points in the first quarter and 4 in the first half. Washington held first-quarter leads of 38-24 and 42-29 on the road in the first two games.

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