Super Bowl Sunday in the NBA brings its own “super” matchup, as the league’s leading scorer, James Harden of the Houston Rockets, goes up against perhaps the most punishing defender to enter the league since Patrick Ewing 25 years ago, according to Sports Illustrated. Of course, that player would be the league’s 2019 top overall draft pick, Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans.
“Unbelievable talent to have that size, that speed and that mobility,” Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni said prior to Sunday’s game between the Rockets and Pelicans at Toyota Center, as quoted by SI. The coach added that Williamson will be “a star for a long time.”
But D’Antoni must find a way to cope with Williamson for one game on Sunday, as the Rockets’ undersized lineup led by Harden and his 35.6 points per game — along with Russell Westbrook’s 26.5 — will attempt to spread the floor to draw out Williamson and the Pelicans defense to allow the two top scorers to sneak to the rim, according to the plan revealed to SI by the Houston coach.
In just five games, Williamson has already made a major impact, shooting a lights-out 62.5 percent. Williamson has hit four of six attempts from three-point territory as well, according to stats posted by Basketball Reference.
The 20-29 Pelicans, who remain four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies in the final NBA Western Conference playoff spot, have won three games in a row with Williamson playing under 30 minutes per game — including a convincing 123-108 domination of the Boston Celtics one week ago.
The slumping Rockets have won only four of their last 10, and are rumored to be packaging their first-round draft pick in 2020 for immediate help, possibly in the form of Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertrans.
Nonetheless, the Rockets have been installed as 5 1/2 point favorites in the home game against New Orleans, according to odds published by USA Today. In the moneyline odds, the Pelicans are +170 underdogs — meaning that a wager of $100 would pay off a profit of $70 if Williamson and the Pelicans take the upset victory.
Against the spread, however, New Orleans has put up a good record of 9-1-1 in their last 11 games as underdogs, and 7-1-1 in their most recent nine road games, according to USA Today.
But with P.J. Tucker starting at center, as he is expected to do on Sunday, the Rockets have won two and lost none.
The Pelicans-Rockets game tips off at Toyota Center at 1 p.m. CST at Toyota Center in Houston. That start time is 2 p.m. EST, 11 a.m. PST — meaning the game will be over well before the Super Bowl kicks off. The ABC network has the national telecast of the featured NBA Sunday game.