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Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dunks against the Washington Wizards during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dunks against the Washington Wizards during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)|Associated Press
NBA

NBA Friday: Greg Franks picks Rockets vs Nets, Pistons vs Bulls and Jazz vs Kings, and looks for a big game from Hield and Fox

Greg Frank

Greg Frank

1-1 Thursday night, 8-2 week, 10-5 overall.

Rockets (-3.5) @ Nets (240.5)

Pick: Rockets -3.5

This line feels short. Granted, Houston has not covered a point spread so far this season and we cashed a ticket fading the Rockets on Wednesday in DC against the Wizards. But, guess who else hasn’t covered a point spread yet this season? That’s right the Brooklyn Nets enter Friday 0-4 ATS. Three points and the hook is nowhere near enough for us to back a Nets team that appears to have started off on the wrong foot. Remember how irrelevant the Cleveland Cavaliers were when Kyrie Irving played there before LeBron James returned? Remember how Celtics seemed to play a more cohesive brand of basketball in the 2018 playoffs without Irving and got to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals at home? Remember how Boston got railroaded right out of the playoffs last year in five games by a superior Milwaukee team with better star power? Well it appears as if those concerns about an Irving-led team may be arriving in a new city as the Nets are off to a 1-3 start and while it’s only four games, when you lose to teams like Minnesota and Memphis and nearly allow the Knicks to come back against you on your home floor, there’s probably a few things that aren’t going right.

Let’s break down each of those concerns previously referenced involving teams built around Irving. When there’s not a second star playing with him, and there wasn’t in Cleveland before James returned, he tends to slow ball movement and try too hard to take matters into his own hands. He’s simply not as good as others like that in the NBA. Namely, the two guys Houston features in its backcourt in Russell Westbrook and James Harden. We’ve seen Harden and Westbrook carry teams to the playoffs by themselves. The impact of good role players gets minimized when Irving plays this way and that would explain why the Celtics looked better without him in the 2018 postseason. The Nets made the playoffs last year with lots of good role players but may wind up an identical sixth in the East this year, or potentially worse, with Irving in the fold. And while Irving is still going to get his fair share, we saw Giannis Antetokounmpo outperform him in the playoffs last year and in doing that, Giannis got more of his teammates involved. Houston has the better high-end talent and until Irving becomes less-selfish, it’s hard to see Brooklyn winning these kinds of games. There’s a reason there were locker room issues in Boston last season which likely contributed to Irving’s exit. The Nets will add the second star next year with Irving when Kevin Durant is healthy. But as for 2019-2020, we’ll probably be betting against them more than betting on them.

Pistons (+3.5) @ Bulls (217)

Pick: Pistons +3.5

How do you lay points with Chicago right now? So far this season the Bulls have lost to the Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Chicago has spent the last couple seasons in the cellar in the Eastern Conference so it’s not the kind of team we can trust to get going in the snap of a finger. It’s likely the Bulls just aren’t very good and are going to be playing the lottery again next spring. Detroit’s not very good either, but the Pistons did make the playoffs in 2018-2019 and winning enough of these kinds of games against bottom feeders can get you above the playoff cut line. Detroit will remain mediocre if it can’t defend better than the 113 points per game it’s allowing to start the season. However, these are also the games where mediocre defensive teams can look a little better in because there’s not enough offensive talent on the other end. The Bulls are averaging approximately 106 points per game and failed to eclipse 100 points against the lowly Knicks earlier this week. While Detroit might not be great defensively, the Pistons did manage to score 111 points against the Sixers earlier this year which is the most points Philadelphia, an elite defensive team, has allowed in any one game so far. I’d expect a lot of points in this one as the motivation might not always be there for either team to defend much, but rather than go over the total, I’ll take the 3.5 with the better team.

Jazz (-5.5) @ Kings (214)

Picks: Kings +5.5 and Under 214

There’s probably not going to be as many points in Sacramento as there will be in Chicago on Friday. The Jazz are No. 1 in scoring defense to start the season and Sacramento is near the bottom in points per game out of the gate. However, we’re willing to give the Kings a mulligan for their slow start as Sacramento comes in both 0-5 straight up and ATS. The Kings opened with a Phoenix team that seems to be playing all of its opponents tough early on, and then had three straight games against Portland, Utah and Denver. All three of those teams were in the top five of the Western Conference standings last year at the end of the regular season. Sacramento did lay an egg against Charlotte on Wednesday night, but the Kings are a young team that was a lot of fun to watch at different times last season. Having already seen Utah this season, we’re expecting Luke Walton’s team to be more prepared this time around and probably very eager to hit the floor again after losing to the Hornets. This feels like the kind of game where Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox draw the line in the sand and say enough is enough. The two guards for Sacramento are the best players on the floor tonight and the Kings get their first win in a low-scoring affair.

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