Underdog Rockets carry hot ATS run into Staples Center to face Paul George, Clippers on Friday

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul George
Los Angeles Clippers' Paul George (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
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The Clippers and Rockets headline a busy Friday NBA betting slate, and this has the potential to be one of the best games we’ve seen all year. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden and Russell Westbrook are expected to play.

Let’s break down the heavyweight Western Conference matchup and give you some other Friday plays on the oddsboards.

Rockets at Clippers (-5, 227)

So, um, George doesn’t have any rust whatsoever? OK then! In four games since returning, PG13 is averaging more than a point per minute. His numbers: 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 27.8 minutes per game. That’ll play.

The Clippers are 3-1 since George’s return, and the lone loss came without Leonard. But Los Angeles beat its last two opponents – the Celtics and Thunder – by five combined points. The Clippers demolished the Hawks before that, but most of their games with George have been close.

Leonard has been struggling, by his standards. He’s played five games in November and has shot higher than 40% from the floor only once. He’s shooting 35.6% from the field for the month and hasn’t looked particularly explosive; his knee seems to be bothering him, and the Clippers have held him out of games because of it.

It will be fascinating to see how Los Angeles chooses to guard the Rockets, because it has three elite perimeter defenders in George, Leonard and Patrick Beverley. But it feels like Leonard will get the easiest assignment based on his health. Look for George to guard Harden, with Beverley checking Westbrook (insert popcorn GIF here).

The consensus line crept from LAC -4.5 to -5 as of Friday morning, with money coming in on the fully-healthy Clippers. But the Rockets have been profitable for bettors as of late.

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It starts with Harden, who has an outside chance to average 40 points per game this season. Say what you want about him in the playoffs, but he’s outrageously good in the regular season. After failing to cover a spread in their first six games of the season, the Rockets are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 and 4-1 ATS in their last five. The defense was atrocious early on, but in typical Rockets fashion, they have become respectable on that end after a couple of embarrassing performances. Houston is 15th in the NBA in defensive rating but ranks third since Nov. 4.

You’re going to win a ton of games and cover a ton of spreads pairing that level of defense with any offense; when you have Harden and Westbrook, it becomes unfair.

But the Rockets lost to fellow Western Conference contender, the Nuggets, by 10 as 1-point road underdogs earlier this week. And the Clippers are better than the Nuggets, so you can see why this number is where it is.

Our ATS pick: Rockets

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Heat (-4.5, 216.5) at Bulls

The Bulls are home underdogs as they host the Heat on Friday night, and Chicago is coming off of one of its best games of the season, a 20-point win over the Pistons. Public bettors are all over Miami with 90% of tickets on the road favorite, per SportsInsights. Perhaps Shaquille Harrison was just the jolt the Bulls needed – he scored 15 points and snared 11 rebounds in his first start of the season and is an elite defensive player.

Our ATS pick: Bulls

Celtics at Nuggets (-4.5, 206.5)

Denver has won three straight ATS, including one against the Rockets as previously mentioned. The Nuggets are 9-3-1 ATS in their last 13 November games and are quietly the No. 2 seed in the West. The Celtics are coming off a tough overtime road loss to the Clippers.

Our ATS pick: Nuggets

Rest Friday’s NBA betting lines

Hornets at Wizards (-6.5, 234.5)
Hawks at Pistons (-6, 224)
Kings at Nets (-1, 213.5)
Lakers (-4.5, 211) at Thunder
Spurs at 76ers (-7.5, 221.5)
Cavaliers at Mavericks (-10, 221.5)
Warriors at Jazz (-15.5, 209.5)

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