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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 8:46 PM

Even though Linsanity shook the basketball world last season, it was in danger of falling off the map almost entirely here in the Auturm of 2012. Jeremy Lin had relocated to a Houston Rockets team that was seen by some as expansion caliber. It was like “Tebowmania” on the hardwood! A superstar sensation disappears from relevance with a change in scenery.

Sports bettors who were planning on fading the Houston Rockets out of the gate (starting with TONIGHT’S game in Detroit that will be available on the League Pass program through various cable companies) got quite a surprise this past weekend when James Harden was acquired in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden is seen as a true impact player who could lift any team immediately with his scoring and his passing (though not his soft defense!). Houston climbed the Power Ratings just on principle. Some pundits thought he might be worth as many as TEN additional wins simply because Harden lifted the Rockets above the bottom level of dreck that’s little more than window dressing at the moment in the NBA.

Here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK, we believe in staying ahead of the curve whenever big trades like this are made. Like everyone else, we plug in a few numbers to outline expectations. But, what really sets us apart is that we study the games as they’re played so that we can see with our own eyes exactly what’s happening. Theories are great. But, SEEING is UNDERSTANDING…and UNDERSTANDING is WINNING when it comes to beating the oddsmakers. They simply don’t know how to evaluate teams as well as we do…and the key to profiting from big trades like this is to read and react properly as events unfold.

We’ll certainly be doing that with this early schedule for Houston…


Tonight: at Detroit

Friday: at Atlanta

Saturday: vs. Portland (in a back-to-back)

November 7: vs. Denver

November 9: at Memphis

November 10: vs. Detroit (in a back-to-back)

November 12: vs. Miami

That’s far from an easy schedule given the number of projected playoff teams in the mix. But, Detroit shows up twice, and the travel schedule isn’t brutal. We’ll learn a lot in these first few days about how good the Rockets can be…and about how well Lin’s knee holds up to the rigors of back-to-back spots on the schedule. The city of Houston will be extremely excited about Miami’s only trip into town on Monday Night November 12.

Here are the keys we’ll be looking for:

*BALL MOVEMENT: You would expect this to be a strength with both Lin and Harden on the floor at the same time. But, the Rockets will have to avoid the temptation to just stand around and watch the guy with the ball. This is an early headache in a log of trades. Everyone in a new lineup is too polite, and there’s not enough teamwork. As you watch the games on TV, study ball movement to make sure the Rockets are getting good looks. When you read the boxscores, look at assist totals, shooting percentages. The people who are excited about this trade are focusing mostly on OFFENSE. If the offense isn’t clicking, then the improvement isn’t going to be there.

*TEAM DEFENSE: Lin wasn’t a great straight up defender even when healthy because of his footwork. He did have good anticipation skills for picking off passes because he’s a smart player. You can’t say though that defense was a strength. Now he’s recovering from knee surgery which slows him down even more. Harden’s main defensive weapon used to be flopping, which he’d use to draw fouls. The league is trying to cut down on that this year, which will make it harder for Harden to be a plus on the defensive side. Houston did bring in some size too in the off season. Size matter less if nobody’s guarding the perimeter. Be sure you’re watching rotations on defense on TV, and studying shooting percentage allowed and three-point shooting dynamics in the boxscores.

*MINUTES PLAYED: Lin is recovering from surgery, and Harden is used to coming in off the bench. How many minutes per game will the Rockets be getting from each man? How does the team play when one is out, or when both are out? Truly elite NBA handicapping involves knowing what happens when the starters aren’t playing. That’s more true now than ever because so many teams are cautious with their high-priced investments. Evaluate how well the Rockets play when their starters are on the court…and how well they play when those guys are sitting and watching. This is going to matter A LOT vs. the playoff contenders Houston is facing in these first few weeks, and in those two back-to-back spots.

Of course, the Rockets aren’t the only team affected by the trade. Oklahoma City is in shellshock themselves after losing one of their big three superstar contributors. Here’s OKC’s upcoming schedule…


Thursday: at San Antonio (on TNT)

Friday: vs. Portland (back-to-back)

Sunday: vs. Atlanta

Tuesday: vs. Toronto

November 8: at Chicago (on TNT)

November 9: vs. Detroit (back-to-back)

November 11: vs. Cleveland

November 12: at Detroit (back-to-back, 4th in 5 nights)

That’s two high profile TV games coming up in short order…as the defending Western Conference champions cash in on their notoriety. Most importantly to us is the THREE back-to-back spots coming up between now and November 12. It’s not a brutal schedule in terms of opponents…but there’s a chance that OKC will play some tired basketball at the tail end of that listing.

Of course, Harden was the Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA last season, which means you want to focus on bench play for the Thunder. How does the team perform when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are taking a breather? Can the team hold on to double digit leads in the fourth quarter? Do the offensive numbers take a meaningful hit with Harden erased from production and question marks filling the void?

We know many of you are football fans, and you’re the type to wait until football slows down before you jump into the baskets. Well, we think that’s a big mistake! Early season NBA is always vulnerable to great handicapping because the oddsmakers are also giving football short shrift. They pay so much attention to pro and college football that basketball barely registers. They’re slow to react to injuries…they’re slow to react to good and bad surprises…they’re slow to react to coaching controversies. And, JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK is there to take advantage.

You can sign up for our basketball service right here at the website. Seasonal packages include college hoops action as well…which will be starting before you know it. If you have any questions about basketball or football packages, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you Thursday to begin our next set of stat previews for prime time football showdowns. The current schedule for the NOTEBOOK:

Thursday: Kansas City at San Diego in the NFL

Friday: Sneak Preview of Alabama at LSU in the BCS race

Saturday: Oregon at Southern Cal

Sunday: Dallas at Atlanta in a huge NFC battle

Monday: Philadelphia at New Orleans in a battle of 2012 train wrecks

Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY so you know what’s REALLY happening in the world of sports. And, link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG JUICY WINNERS in basketball and football!

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