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The mystery of Game 6 and the disappearing Rockets

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

May 12, 2017 09:53 AM
Even James Harden couldn't explain himself after the series-ending loss to the Spurs.
© USA Today Sports Images

Wow! Without Kawhi Leonard or Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs humiliated the Houston Rockets to wrap up their second round playoff series Thursday night.

NBA: Shorthanded Spurs Obliterate Rockets!

If you didn’t watch the game…the best way to describe James Harden’s horrible performance is to say that he played like he had suffered a groin strain that he didn’t want to tell anyone about. He could run on the balls of his feet, but not fast. He could get in the air, but not with any real lift. His shots and passes lacked their normal force. He wasn’t exactly a shadow of his normal self…but the end result of everything he did was a shadow of what we’re used to seeing.

Harden in Game 6

  • Shooting: 2 of 11
  • Treys: 2 of 9
  • Turnovers: 6
  • Personal Fouls: fouled out while not defending well

The man known for flying at the basket attempted only TWO two-point shots all night! He had little accuracy on his long-range shots. He kept fouling people because he was a step slow. And, some of his passes were so far off it was ridiculous.

We’ll either find out soon he was playing hurt (maybe, by the time you read this), possibly an injury suffered before his similar no-show in the fourth quarter and OT in San Antonio back in Game 5. Or, it was simply a matter of the horse that head coach Mike D’antoni rode too hard all year finally falling down. That’s D’Antoni’s history whether it’s long term with Steve Nash, or a short-term sprint with “Linsanity.” 

Gregg Popovich’s history is to build a strong bench of complementary skill sets that are surprisingly able to handle injuries to key San Antonio Spurs players. Kawhi Leonard, the best two-way player in the NBA, sat out. All added up to this... 

San Antonio (plus 7.5) 114, Houston 75

  • Two-Point Pct: San Antonio 62%, Houston 24%
  • Rebounds: San Antonio 60, Houston 37
  • Turnovers: San Antonio 7, Houston 13

And it looked worse! Houston, who supposedly “had more talent” than San Antonio if you took away each team’s star player (according to a few TV pundits), was out-fundamental-ed from start to finish. The Rockets only made NINE two-pointers all night (on 37 attempts).

San Antonio wins the series 4-2, advancing to face Golden State in the Western Finals. Their control of pace helped key their straight up and ATS success vs. Houston.

  • Houston’s wins: paces of 103 and 99 (average 101)
  • San Antonio’s wins: paces of 88, 96, 90, and 92 (average 91.5)

Houston’s wins averaged 227 points (both Overs). San Antonio’s wins averaged 200.8 in regulation (would have been 1-3 to the Under if not for G5 overtime). 

Can San Antonio slow down Golden State? They’ll need a healthy Kawhi Leonard to do so. More on that next week. 

Check out Matt Youmans' piece on the coaching job by Pop in this series.

NHL: Conference finals ready to start

Very little down time between those dramatic Game 7s back on Wednesday night in the NHL and the start of the Eastern and Western Conference finals...

  • Friday: Nashville at Anaheim at 9 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network
  • Saturday: Ottawa at Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. ET on NBC

To get you ready for both Game 1’s, let’s review our key indicator rankings from the regular season.

Nashville vs. Anaheim

  • Series Price: Nashville -125, Anaheim 105
  • Game One Price: Anaheim -115, total of 5 (Over -130)
  • Offensive Ranking: Nashville #11, Anaheim#18
  • Defensive Ranking: Nashville #15, Anaheim #3
  • Pace Estimate: Quick (Nashville ranked #5 in combined shots per game, Anaheim #12)

You might be struck by the paradox of Anaheim being a slight favorite in Game 1 at home, but Nashville being the series favorite even though four of the seven would be played in Anaheim if it goes the distance. How does that happen? Anaheim’s home games will be priced as virtual coin flips, while Nashville will be a more emphatic favorite in its three home games. Add it up THAT way, and you get Nashville for the series with an estimated 2-1 record in their three home games, then 2-2 in the Anaheim coin flips (mentally giving or taking some fractions).

The regular season stat rankings don’t make it clear why Nashville would suddenly catch fire in the playoffs. They were a nice team…but not a force of nature. Anaheim was the third best defensive team in the NHL during the regular season. Let’s see what’s changed in the playoffs.

First Round

  • Nashville swept West favorite Chicago 4-0 (outscoring the Blackhawks 13-3)
  • Anaheim swept Calgary 4-0 (outscoring the Flames 14-9)

Second Round

  • Nashville beat St. Louis 4-2 (outscoring the Blues 15-11)
  • Anaheim edged Edmonton 4-3 (getting outscored by the Oilers 21-24) 

Nashville went 8-2 vs. the tougher schedule, with a 28-14 goal advantage. Anaheim was 8-3, but with a disappointing goal advantage of only 35-33. Six of Anaheim’s eight wins were by one goal against the friendlier slate. And, Anaheim’s defense sure fell back to earth under playoff pressure. It’s Nashville’s defense (keyed by a hot goalie) that has driven this playoff surge, with just 1.4 goals allowed per game.

If you’re a believer in recent form, and the benefit of getting extra time off during the playoffs, then Nashville is going to be a very appealing side. 

Saturday in the East…

Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh

  • Series Price: Pittsburgh -320, Ottawa 260
  • Game One Price: Pittsburgh -210, total of 5.5 (Under -125)
  • Offensive Ranking: Pittsburgh #1, Ottawa #22
  • Defensive Ranking: Pittsburgh #17, Ottawa #10
  • Pace Estimate: Fast (Pittsburgh ranked #1 in combined shots per game, Ottawa #8)

Pittsburgh was the superior team in the regular season. We’ve compared them to both the Houston Rockets (great offense and average defense) and the San Antonio Spurs (efficient playoff offense without taking a lot of shots) in recent days. Ottawa did have the better defense during the regular season, but a bottom third offense.  

First Round

  • Pittsburgh beat Columbus 4-1 (outscoring the Blue Jackets 21-13)
  • Ottawa beat Boston 4-2 (outscoring the Bruins 15-13)

Second Round

  • Pittsburgh beat East favorite Washington 4-3 (outscoring the Caps 20-18)
  • Ottawa beat the NY Rangers 4-2 (getting outscored by NYR 19-20)

That’s a 41-31 goal edge for the Penguins from the “quadrant of death” in the 16-team NHL playoff field. They’re playing at a very high level right now. Ottawa was only plus one goal overall vs. Boston and New York…which is impressive for a two-time series underdog…but not close to what Pittsburgh accomplished. 

It’s tough to back Pittsburgh for value at the very high series price. Particularly with the possibility of flat early efforts off the Washington survival. Watch the Overs, as both of these teams seem to enjoy fast-paced play. 

Given that both series may see a fast pace create more scoring opportunities and variance, it’s worth considering bets at -1.5 goals at favorable returns. Those can be very tough to win in playoff hockey when both teams are playing tight to the vest. Open things up, and two or three goal victory margins become more likely. Something to think about in those bounce-back spots where either the superior team, or the host is in a must-win spot and laying -1.5 goals will get you a nice payoff. 

If you’re thinking about playing some Over/Unders, here are the results from the second round:

  • Nashville went 1-4-1 to the Under vs. St. Louis
  • Anaheim went 5-2 to the Over vs. Edmonton
  • Pittsburgh went 3-4 to the Under vs. Washington
  • Ottawa went 3-1-2 to the Over vs. the NY Rangers

We mentioned Nashville’s defense has launched them into the championship picture. They’re the only team skewing way Under. Here are the early odds to win the Stanley Cup at the South Point. 

Odds to win the Stanley Cup

  • Pittsburgh 7 to 5 (plus 140)
  • Nashville 5 to 2 (plus 250)
  • Anaheim 5 to 2 (plus 250)
  • Ottawa 6 to 1 (plus 600)

Why do Nashville and Anaheim have the same price when Nashville is a series favorite head-to-head? Among the reasons:

  • Within the math lies the fact that Anaheim would have home ice over Ottawa, but Nashville wouldn’t (as pointed out to us by South Point Sportsbook Director Chris Andrews).
  • *Money from Anaheim bettors is slightly more likely to hit the South Point for geographic reasons.
  • That series is close enough to pick-em anyway that there’s not much significant difference. 

Offshore sites that offer Yes/No options are a bit more liquid, and do show a difference that’s in line with the series price. Thursday afternoon at Pinnacle…

  • Yes on Nashville to win the Stanley Cup was 278, while No was -316
  • Yes on Anaheim to win the Stanley Cup was 305, while No was -350

We’ll review a big weekend of conference championship hockey for you Monday here in VSiN City.

Preparing for the Preakness

In-depth horse racing coverage resumes next week as we get ready for the Preakness at Pimlico. That will be run a week from Saturday and be televised again by NBC. Here’s a taste from the track to get you ready. 

You longtime VSiN visitors may remember that Michael “Roxy” Roxborough was Gill Alexander’s very first guest on “A Number’s Game” when the network debuted. Thursday, Roxy posted his “fair value” estimates for the Preakness field on twitter. When posting these for the Kentucky Derby a few weeks ago, Roxy’s guidance was “If I find higher, would bet.” Let’s take a look…

  • Always Dreaming 6/5
  • Classic Empire 6
  • Cloud Computers 8
  • Lookin at Lee and Hence both 15
  • Conquest Mo Money and Gunnevera both 18
  • Royal Mo 30
  • Senior Investment and Multiplier both 50
  • Term of Art 70

Keep those handy as we bolt from the gate next week.

MLB: Home run pace continues to rise

Earlier this week, Ben Lindbergh at “The Ringer” updated readers on his efforts to determine whether or not a “juiced” ball was behind the surge in home-run rates that began at the All-Star Break back in 2015. If you’re a bettor, the “cause” isn’t as important right now as the REALITY that you have to handicap with home runs in mind.

Whatever is behind the continuing surge that seemingly began with a finger snap at the ASB in 2015, it’s very much in play at the moment because there’s no evidence anything is going to snap back. 

That means:

  • Don’t invest in home run prone pitchers because they’re in trouble
  • Do invest in pitchers who have established that they can discourage the long ball
  • Do bet on offenses with multiple home run threats, particularly in good HR parks
  • Do bet on Overs if two home run-capable offenses are facing each other in the same game, particularly if home run prone pitchers are on the mound, or the park encourages home runs. 

Which ballparks have increased home run counts the most so far this season? According to the park effects page at ESPN (thru Wednesday’s games)…

  • Yankee Stadium: increasing HR’s by 76% so far (!)
  • Progressive Field (Cleveland): increasing HR’s by 64% so far
  • Chase Field (Arizona): increasing HR’s by 59% so far
  • Coors Field (Colorado): increasing HR’s by 36% so far
  • Citizen’s Bank Field (Philadelphia) increasing HR’s by 28% so far

Which have decreased home runs the most?

  • Citi Field (NY Mets): reducing HR’s by 51% so far
  • Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City): reducing HR’s by 44% so far
  • AT&T Park (San Francisco): reducing HR’s by 44% so far
  • Safeco Field (Seattle): reducing HR’s by 32% so far
  • Rogers Centre (Toronto): reducing HR’s by 23% so far

In high home run eras, sharp handicappers pay attention to fly-ball rates of both hitters and pitchers, and do their best to position themselves to exploit scoring tendencies. It’s been awhile now…but it took FOREVER for the market to believe that what is now called “the steroid era” wasn’t just some sort of short-term offensive fluke that was going to go away. 

(PS: if you keep backing teams whose bullpens fall apart in close games, do some research to see if HR issues are a factor). 

MLB: Thursday’s Interleague recap

A short sweep for the AL, thanks to a dramatic ninth inning rally by the Texas Rangers. 

Thursday’s IL trio

  • Boston (-140) beat Milwaukee 4-1
  • Texas (-140) beat San Diego 5-2
  • Baltimore at Washington was postponed

The American League is now a dozen games over .500 early in the season. 

Interleague records (through Thursday) 

  • American League 32, National League 20
  • Adjusted for money lines: American League plus 10.7 units
  • American League at home: 17-6 (plus 10.1 units)
  • American League on the road: 15-14 (plus 0.6 units)

We’ll likely pick up IL coverage again next Tuesday when there will be multiple matchups to consider. This weekend, the only IL series is San Diego at the Chicago White Sox. (Plenty of tickets still available!)

Golf: Favorites don’t impress at TPC Sawgrass, but still in the hunt

It was a hot (mid 90s) and breezy day in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. William McGirt and Mackenzie Hughes share the first round lead at 5-under. Popular betting choice Jon Rahm was in a group one shot back at 4-under. 

Here’s how the four main favorites we discussed yesterday performed…

Pre-tourney odds, Thursday’s performance

  • Dustin Johnson 5 to 1, 1-under, just outside the top 30
  • Rory McIlroy 10 to 1, 1-over
  • Jordan Spieth 12 to 1, 1-over
  • Sergio Garcia 15 to 1, 1-over, just outside the top 65

Sergio needed a hole-in-one on the fabled island green on #17 to rally back into the mix after a slow start. All four are within striking distance with three rounds to play, on a course where anything can happen.

Updated odds heading into Round 2 as posted late Thursday on Jeff Sherman’s twitter account (Westgate)…

  • Jon Rahm 6 to 1
  • Dustin Johnson 13 to 2
  • Rickie Fowler 12 to 1
  • Jason Day 15 to 1
  • Adam Scott 18 to 1
  • Rory McIlroy 20 to 1

Before we call it a week, here’s a link to a fun story about our own Brent Musburger as told by Bob Costas today on Rich Eisen’s show (hat tip to the twitter feed of Chris Andrews). Just a few minutes long, and it will start your weekend off with a smile. 

Back with you Monday to recap a busy sports weekend. Keep those questions and comments coming! We’ll do our best to touch on all the requested topics in the coming days. If you have any thoughts on the newsletter or VSiN programming you’d like to share with us, please drop us a note.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to VSiN City to receive this free newsletter in your morning inbox every weekday, you can take care of that right now. Don’t forget to follow us on twitter so you can stay abreast of all industry and programming developments. 

Have a great weekend! 

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