James Harden reminded the betting world of a central tenet on Thursday: Beware of lines that look too good to be true. The Nets were already missing Spencer Dinwiddie due to injury and Kyrie Irving due to ... whatever it is that's going on with Irving right now, and the massive, four-team Harden trade deprived them of Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs as well. Yet entering their Wednesday battle with the Knicks, the second night of a back-to-back for Brooklyn, they were still favored. Many jumped on the Knicks and got burned for it. Sometimes, the books just know better than you do.
The Harden trade will have a significant impact on two games Thursday night. Indiana is the obvious team to stay away, as they've played plenty of games without Victor Oladipo in the past. Houston is the "too good to be true" opportunity. Don't let what happened to Knicks bettors scare you off of San Antonio, but don't rush to bet against Houston either. Vegas wants you to get hasty. The Nets are proof of the dangers in doing so.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs, 7:30 p.m., TNT
The Rockets of the past three years have largely held their own in games James Harden has missed, going 9-9 in that span. Those teams have Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, though. This one doesn't. The second star slot is currently occupied by John Wall, who started the season out hot, but is averaging just 12.7 points on 38.9 percent shooting in his past three games. It's unclear how much of that was physical, how much of it was luck, and how much of it was the strain of playing through the Harden rumors, but asking him to carry an offense with so little supplementary ball-handling right now seems risky.
That's where the absence of Harden hits, well, the hardest. This isn't a team built to be without him. Oladipo will ease those concerns, but a good chunk of Houston's roster is built to flow out of Harden's singular brilliance. How effective will Christian Wood be in pick-and-roll without Harden feeding him easy buckets? How many open shots will the role players get?
If you're picking the Rockets, you're essentially picking Wall to have a big game. That's far from impossible, but it's not all that likely if you buy into the notion that he's physically struggling physically with his workload. San Antonio's offense has so many more ways of generating points, and even if Wall does his part, relying on Houston's backups to keep the Rockets afloat when he rests just isn't wise. The Nets lost their non-Durant minutes by five points in their Tuesday victory. Houston's outcome will likely be worse, and Wall, despite his flashes, is no Durant. Pick: Spurs -7
Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets, 10 p.m., TNT
The Nuggets have the worst record against the spread in all of basketball so far this season. They're 3-8 in their first 11 games, and most of the problems that have doomed them so far will only be exacerbated by Golden State. If Gary Harris is out again, they have nobody to chase Stephen Curry around the floor. That's a problem for a team already ranked No. 25 in defense. Historically speaking, the moment to beat Golden State is when Curry goes to the bench at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters. Denver's bench units have gotten killed this year.
It's a tiny sample, but even Denver's traditional home-court advantage has been mitigated this season, as the Nuggets are 2-4 in their own building. Fully healthy over a seven-game series, Denver would be able to figure this Warriors team out. On a regular-season Thursday with multiple absences? The Warriors are a nuisance that Denver will struggle with. Pick: Warriors +5