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Paul's injury clouds remainder of Rockets-Warriors series

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

May 25, 2018 12:23 AM

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Chris Paul was the hero for the Rockets, but may have aggravated a hamstring injury late in the game.
© USA Today Sports Images

Houston Rockets do it again! But Chris Paul may have aggravated a hamstring injury. A dramatic weekend awaits in the NBA Playoffs. Time to set the stage in VSiN City!

NBA Playoffs: Houston disrupts Golden State again to win virtual replay
The celebration after Houston’s Game 5 win over Golden State Thursday night was tempered by the look of worry and sadness on Chris Paul’s face as he walked off the floor. That wasn’t the expression of a man who was dealing with a temporary hamstring cramp. You’ll know more when you read this than we do as we write it…but it looked more like an integral player dealing with the knowledge that he might have to miss some time. 

Paul missed time during the regular season with a hamstring injury. Then, in the final moments Thursday, he had to exit after suffering an injury while forcing up a shot in the paint. He left the game without returning. He left the floor without smiling while confetti fell on an ecstatic crowd. 

If it’s a “day-to-day” issue, Houston could tank Game 6 Saturday at Oracle in hopes he’ll be fresh for Game 7 Monday night back in Houston. If Paul is out for the playoffs, getting the series clincher is going to be tough. Houston only played seven guys Thursday night. You don’t beat Golden State with six, particularly with Andre Igoudala’s possible return.  

Houston (plus 8) 98, Golden State 94 
2-point Pct: Golden State 48%, Houston 46%
3-pointers: Golden State 10/26, Houston 13/43
Free Throws: Golden State 20/23, Houston 27/32
Rebounds: Golden State 41, Houston 40
Turnovers: Golden State 16, Houston 10
Pace: 94.0 (for the series, 98.4, 99.8, 95.1, 91.4, and 94.0) 

The Rockets won Game 4 95-92. With 10 seconds to go in Game 5 it was 95-94. Not exactly a clone because Golden State shot better inside and made more free throws. But Houston won turnovers 16-10 in both games, made three additional treys in both games (12-9 and 13-10), made more free throws in both games (23-13 and 27-20), and shot 46% on two-pointers in both games. It was certainly one team following its game plan to the letter twice in a row, against an opponent that didn’t make any meaningful adjustments. 

It’s not beautiful basketball by any means. But the key to grinding out success is often finding a way to disrupt the beautiful basketball (or soccer, or football) played by an elite opponent. Houston was “built” to battle Golden State. Fans and bettors are getting a better sense of what that means. So are the Warriors!

*Don’t let Golden State run (pace factors around 105 in the New Orleans series are down to the mid-90s or lower the past few games vs. Houston).

*Run clock yourself to shorten the game and keep the Warriors from getting into rhythm. 

*Don’t let Golden State go crazy from 3-point land (Warriors have won the category only once vs. Houston)

*Make Golden State force up guarded shots rather than ricocheting the ball around to open shooters. 

*Keep your poise (and make some shots) late in the naibiters. 

It’s easier to say all that than to do it. The rest of the NBA will be watching tapes from this series all summer to see how Houston fleshed out those bullet points with specific on-floor tactics. Textbook basketball continues to evolve before our eyes. 

Another Under, pushing the mark to 80% in this series and the full conference finals (Boston/Cleveland is also 80% Under). The last three games of Houston/GS have landed on 211, 187, and 192, staying Under by 15.5, 40, and 27.5 points. Game 5 of Celtics/Cavs stayed Under by 25 points. The market has really misread strategic flow and progression of late.

Game 6 will be Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET on TNT. Same time and channel for Game 7 if needed Monday night. Be sure you watch VSiN programming Friday for the latest word on the status of Chris Paul and Andre Igoudala. 

NBA Playoffs: Boston gets two chances to eliminate Cleveland in the East
We’ll know who will be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals the next time we’re together here in VSiN City Monday morning. Game 6 is set for Friday night in Cleveland. Should the Cavs force Game 7, that will be back in Boston Sunday night. 

Boston at Cleveland (8:35 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN, Boston leads 3-2)
Game 1: Boston (plus 1.5/204) 108, Cleveland 83
Game 2: Boston (-1/205) 107, Cleveland 94
Game 3: Cleveland (-6.5/207) 116, Boston 86
Game 4: Cleveland (-7/204) 111, Boston 102
Game 5: Boston (-1/204) 96, Cleveland 83
Game 6: Cleveland -7, total of 201.5

On one hand, the home teams have been so dominant that it’s easy to assume the Cavs will take care of business Friday. On the other, many observers felt the Cavs lost the will to battle late in Game 5 as they watched their head coach get check-mated through the evening. Will they bring peak intensity Friday if they don’t really believe they have a shot on the road Sunday?

We’ll run all the weekend numbers for you Monday morning. Let’s quickly review our estimate of “market” Power Ratings. We’ve been doing that on Fridays through the NBA postseason.

90: Golden State 
87: Houston
85: Cleveland  
82: Boston 

No change from last week. Still looks like four points for home court advantage is the better number than three in these two matchups. We’ll have to see what kind of adjustment is made for the absence of Paul. Barring injuries in the East, it looks like Cleveland will close around -7 Friday night, with Boston then being around -1 at home in a seventh encounter. (Still a few days away from pinning down our first look at WNBA numbers.) 

MLB: Astros beat Indians Thursday in opener of four-game weekend set
We wanted to spend some time today on this marquee matchup in Major League Baseball. It’s the defending World Champions playing on the road against a possible playoff opponent. Both teams lead their divisions. Though, as we’ll discuss in a moment, Houston leads a much superior division. 

Let’s start by running the numbers from Thursday’s series opener…

Houston (-120) 8, Cleveland 2
Total Bases Plus Walks: Houston 23, Cleveland 11
Starting Pitchers: Morton 6 IP, 2 ER, Clevinger 5.1 IP, 5 ER
Bullpen: Houston 3 IP, 0 ER, Cleveland 3.2 IP, 3 ER

Dominant outing from the superior team. Houston was better at everything, consistent with the first quarter of the season. The win pushes the Astros to 33-18 atop the AL West. Cleveland falls back to the .500 mark at 24-24 atop the AL Central. Worth noting that Houston would be 7.5 games ahead of Cleveland if they were in the same division. The Indians would be in FIFTH place in the AL West!

Before we run some pitching numbers for the next three meetings, a quick look at offense. If you were with us last year, you know we like to find ways to de-emphasize the impact of home stadiums on offense. A great shortcut for that is to look at “road only” hitting stats. We have enough of a sample size already to draw conclusions, partly because the difference here is so enormous that a small sample size will capture it. 

Runs Scored per Road Game
Houston 5.5, Cleveland 3.9

On-Base Percentage in Road Games
Houston .352, Cleveland .289

Slugging Percentage in Road Games
Houston .442, Cleveland .385

Houston had a historically great offense last season (helped by a juiced ball), which was partially hidden by playing 81 home games in what has been an extreme pitchers’ park in recent years. Cranking out 5.5 runs-per-game with what appears to be a more normal ball in 2018 is going to win you a lot of games. 

So, Houston enters the series with the much superior offense. A quick look at bullpen ERA shows Houston at 2.76, Cleveland at 5.51. Good vs. horrendous. Cleveland better hope it gets great stuff from its starting pitchers this weekend. 

Friday: 7:10 p.m. ET
Dallas Keuchel: 6.3 IP/Start, 1.14 WHIP, 3.67 xFIP
Corey Kluber: 7.2 IP/Start, 0.84 WHIP, 2.91 xFIP
Our article in Point Spread Weekly this week goes more in depth on indicator stats in pitching. We’ve included xFIP today because we talked about it so much last season here in VSiN City. If you’re not familiar with the stat, it’s a “fielding independent” measure that’s designed to express the approximate talent of a pitcher on a scale similar to Earned Run Average. If you grew up on ERA, xFIP is a more accurate reflection aligned to a scale you already know instinctively. 

Kluber does have a big edge over Keuchel in the stats that matter most thus far in 2018. And, that 7.2 innings pitched per start is HUGE by this year’s standards. Can he counteract Houston’s other edges? 

Saturday: 7:15 p.m. ET on FOX
Lance McCullers: 5.9 IP/Start, 1.14 WHIP, 3.25 xFIP
Carlos Carrasco: 6.6 IP/Start, 1.07 WHIP, 3.43 xFIP
Very similar numbers in WHIP and xFIP, though Carrasco is likely to go deeper into the start. That would be more important if Cleveland’s bullpen was reliable. Might not matter all things considered here. Houston has so much starting pitching that it will be tough to keep the Astros out of the playoffs. McCullers grades out as fifth best in the rotation…and he’s way above the other #5 starters across the Majors. Houston’s almost slump-proof. 

Sunday: 1:10 p.m. ET
Gerrit Cole: 6.7 IP/Start, 0.83 WHIP, 2.41 xFIP
Trevor Bauer: 6.5 IP/Start, 1.15 WHIP, 3.51 xFIP
The acquisition of Cole made a great team greater. Maybe Houston isn’t going to win 110-120 games because it’s division isn’t rolling over and hiding in a corner. Those are ace caliber numbers for a deep roster with no meaningful weaknesses. Bauer is having a solid season, but is more than a run worse in xFIP. 

Cleveland will have a chance to battle. Will the Indians give the Astros any reasons to worry about October? 

A quick update before we leave baseball for the day. Thursday was the first “Over” day of the week after a slew of Unders. Let’s update the chart from yesterday. 

Sunday: 6-9 to the Under
Monday: 2-7 to the Under
Tuesday: 3-11-1 to the Under
Wednesday: 3-12 to the Under
Thursday: 5-3 to the Over

Now 19-42-1 to the Under for the week. 

College Football: Sharps liked Texas Longhorns at “Game of the Year” openers vs. USC and Oklahoma
South Point Sports Book Director Chris Andrews posted his official “Game of the Year” lines Thursday morning Las Vegas time. Way too many to list here in VSiN City. David Purdum of ESPN posted the openers in this article if you want to see where all the games started off. A subsequent article mentioned major line moves toward the Texas Longhorns in two marquee matchups.

The other day, we talked about projected win percentage adjustments on a few of the Week 1 matchups. Thought it would be fun to do the same thing on those two Texas newsmakers. We’ll try to do a better job of that through this coming season in both college and pro football. All points aren’t created equal in the marketplace. It’s important to remember that when evaluating moves. 

September 15: Texas moves from plus 1 to -3 vs. USC
A flipping of favorites doesn’t always mean much. Games don’t land on zero in college football because of overtime. And, not too many games land exactly on one point. But the fact that this game moved all the way to the key number of THREE and stayed there is important. In win percentage terms. Texas went from 49% to win all the way up to 57% to win according to market perceptions of that game. 

Imagine Texas had only moved from plus 1 to -2. Even though that’s four points counting the zero, it’s only a move from 49% to 53% in win percentage. A one-point move by itself from two to the key number of three is worth four percentage points. 

Sticking on the three without meaningful buy back (which might come at some point) is a sign that respected early bettors really liked Texas at anything under a field goal. 

October 6: Texas moves from plus 12 down to plus 6 vs. Oklahoma
The annual Red River Shootout is usually a crowd pleaser. Those same bettors who liked Texas vs. the Trojans also thought the Horns had a good chance to compete here. Remember last year’s game was close…and last year featured Baker Mayfield’s Sooners!

Through the win percentage lens, Texas rose from an 18% chance to win the game up to a 34% chance to win. This is still seen as OU’s ballgame to win on a neutral field. But early bettors thought Texas was almost twice as likely to win as Chris believed with his opener. The magic number of three wasn’t involved, but key numbers seven and 10 were crossed in the process of this move. 

A reminder that Regular Season Win totals for college football will go up Sunday. Watch live coverage of that excitement on VSiN at 11 a.m. Las Vegas time, 2 p.m. ET. If you’re in town looking to make some investments, the limits will be $1,000 per bet, with a maximum of three bets before you have to move back to the end of the line. Expect a crowd for this weekend opportunity.  

VSiN Business Center
*Point Spread Weekly is now year-round! Sign up now for $149.99. Be sure you check out this week’s “Total Handicapping” article on indicator stats for MLB pitchers. We’re also contributing box score summaries for Arena Football. If you’re in the mood to handicap some live football, the AFL is calling your name. 

*If you haven’t yet enrolled for your FREE subscription to the VSiN City newsletter you’re reading right now, click here to do so. Soccer’s World Cup is fast approaching. Wait until you see our estimated “market” Power Ratings for that popular betting event. 

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Have a great weekend. See you Monday for the latest in the NBA, and to preview the much-anticipated NHL Championship showdown matching the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals. 

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