BY: KYLE ADAMS
The Houston Rockets (19-14) host the Philadelphia 76ers (20-13) tonight as they put the capper on a four-game homestand before the All-Star break this weekend.
The Sixers are in first place in the East’s Atlantic Division, but they have lost four straight games, including Tuesday’s bout in Memphis. For both the surging Rockets (7-3 in their last 10 games) and the reeling Grizzlies, this is a pivotal game tonight.
STINGY SIXERS: Philly is the best in the NBA in points allowed per game, surrendering a stingy 87.3 per contest. Andre Iguodala is their designated ball stopper, guarding the other team’s best backcourt scorer. He is having a bit of a down year in scoring, averaging just 12.4 points to his career number of 15.5, but he is the leader of this team on offense and defense, being named an All-Star for the first time in his career this season. He leads the team in assists at 5.3 per game, and steals at 1.8 a game. I expect him to shut down Kevin Martin, and hence bring forth more frustration and doubts before the break to accompany all the trade rumors thrown Martin’s way.
Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams is the Sixers’ leading scorer, surprising most with 15.9 points a game to go along with 3.8 assists and 2.2 rebounds in only 26 minutes, which is shocking. I know Jrue Holiday is the bigger, younger point guard, but Williams this year has been the better player and should be rewarded with more minutes.
The Sixers also have some talented big men in Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand, and Thaddeus Young. All pose tough defensive assignments for the likes of Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson and Samuel Dalembert. Hawes is 7-foot-1 and averages 1.5 blocks per game to go along with 8.3 rebounds and 10.5 points. I think he will give Dalembert a tough time on both ends of the court, and you might even see him go up against Scola if Brand or Young struggle. Brand is also averaging 1.5 blocks per game, so I think he will be tough for Scola to get around.
A TOUGH ROUND FOR HOUSTON: The Sixers will be a tough matchup for the Rockets all across the board. The Rockets will need Kyle Lowry and the bench to lead them to victory, since those are aspects where they are significantly better. I think Courtney Lee could have a big game for the Rockets off the bench defensively and offensively. He’s averaging 9.9 points per game to go with 1.2 steals and shooting 41 percent from 3. The Rockets will need him to help Lowry and Chandler Parsons keep the Sixers’ backcourt at bay, as they have a lot of scorers in the starting lineup and off the bench.
I would look for Patterson to also have a big game, taking minutes away from Scola just like he did in the Memphis win Monday night. The more minutes he takes from Scola, the faster Scola is more secure on the trading block. Patterson has shown a lot of promising potential, and I think eventually he becomes the starting power forward. He’s averaging 7.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and shooting 47 percent on mostly jump shots. I think his shooting percentage will go up as he gets more experience down low.
I also expect to see more of big man Greg Smith. With Dalembert struggling lately, and Hasheem Thabeet never seeing the floor, the Rockets’ front office and coaches will want to see what he can do against the tough and strong NBA centers. His first game against Utah Sunday, he showed a lot of promise, getting four blocks. But his last game, the only numbers he tallied were his 11 minutes and five fouls. Look for him to contribute more against the Sixers’ frontcourt.
Will we finally get to see prized rookie Marcus Morris get some playing time? I hope so, but I don’t expect it in the last game before the break, unless there’s a player who goes out with an injury, or it’s a blowout. The Rockets are unlikely to throw him into the fire against Philly’s wing threats.
THE OUTCOME: I think it will be a close game. Each team will be playing its heart out, fighting to win the last game before the stars take the stage this weekend. This is the only meeting between the two teams this year, so that only adds to the excitement. Whoever does come out with the win will be relaxing all weekend, watching the All Star festivities. The other team will be grinding its teeth, pacing around, waiting for the next chance to step on the court.
Rockets win in a nail-biter.