It’s the second time in five nights the Houston Rockets will tip-off against the Denver Nuggets. Their previous outing was on Saturday night when the Rockets in Dwight Howard’s return beat the Nuggets 108-96. Howard, who missed the last 12-games prior to Saturday scored a game high 26-points, with 13-rebounds and 3-blocks. James Harden tacked on a triple-double with 24-points, 10-rebounds and 10-assists.
Wednesday night’s contest in Denver might be a little different as Howard is listed questionable. After the last game Howard felt some tightness with his right knee strain on Sunday, but was listed a go for tonight’s game, however, after Tuesday’s practice he was downgraded to questionable.
If Howard does sit out the Rockets will turn to Harden, who is coming off a Western Conference Player of the Week. Harden averaged 34-points, 7.3-assists and 7.0-rebounds for the Rockets last week. Currently, Harden is fifth in the league in minutes playing 37.5-minutes per game. Teammate Trevor Ariza is tied for second at 38.1-minutes. Both players may see more action tonight with Jason Terry being ruled out as his wife gave birth to their new-born baby.
The difference in Saturday’s game was on the defensive end. We have seen the Rockets improved defense all season, as they rank third in opponents field goal percentage at 42.8%. Denver has been averaging 102.6-points per game, which is eighth best in the league. Saturday they were held to 96-points on 37.5% shooting. The score could have been a little more lopsided if the Rockets hit their free throws, as they went 20-34 from the line.
In their previous game Denver did not fare well. They fell to the San Antonio Spurs 99-91/ Like the Rockets, the Nuggets continue to be besieged with injury. It’s yet to be determined how well Denver will perform given these on-going struggles. Unlike Houston there are no true franchise stars on Denver, rather they have multiple talents with depth at every position. Therefore, until coach Brian Shaw can put a fully active roster on the court we won’t know how successful his strategies will be or how many wins they could accumulate within that structure.
Rockets are coming into tonight’s game on three days’ rest and the Nuggets are on two days’ rest. Both teams will have their legs to begin the game, so expect a very up-tempo game to start. It’ll be interesting to see which team plays at a faster pace, and if Howard is out, we’ll see a lot of perimeter action.
Keys to the game:
- If Howard does miss the game, the Rockets will need to get back to finding Donatas Motiejunas in the post. They succeeded with the Lithuanian’s post-game in Howard’s absence.
- With the Nuggets still dealing with their own injuries, attacking the rim will be key strategy for the Rockets forcing Denver to go deep into their bench.
- Get the ball out of Ty Lawson’s hands and make others make plays. This task will be in the hands of Patrick Beverley, who will need to deny Lawson the ball, almost with full-court pressure.Lawson is one of three-point guards in the league averaging double-digit assists with 10.3 per game.
Rockets: Howard as mentioned is questionable with tightness, and Terry will miss the game as he attends to his wife and new-born. After Tuesday’s practice Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou were upgraded to questionable. Canaan’s return would be timely given the shortage of guards. Terrence Jones and Francisco Garcia are still listed as out with no timeline on their returns. Jones was putting up shots Tuesday, however, he did not practice. Rockets also assigned Clint Capela to Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League.
Nuggets: Kenneth Faried (ankle) and Danilo Gallinari (knee) both practiced Tuesday and are a go for tonight’s game. Wilson Chandler is dealing with an illness. He is Expected to be in the lineup and get the start. JaVale McGee (leg strain) and Randy Foye (quad strain) are both expected to miss the game.
Guards: James Harden/Patrick Beverley vs Ty Lawson/Arron Afflalo
Lawson got the better of Beverley in the last game, and the Rockets will need that to change tonight. Beverley has to find some way to get the ball out of Lawson’s hands to break up the flow of the Nuggets offence. Lawson had 12 assists on Saturday against the Rockets. Harden got the best of the guard match-up with his triple-double. The Rockets are hopeful Harden can put up similar numbers. Afflalo is coming off a 31-point performance against the Spurs, but shot 4-17 against the Rockets.
Edge: Rockets. Let’s just say Afflalo’s 31-point performance was a fluke. He has struggled all season and unless he found his stroke, don’t expect 31 from him tonight. Also, Beverley only took four 3-point shots last game, but his season average is 6.4 attempts per game, so his attempts are likely to increase tonight.
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Front Court: Trevor Ariza, Donatas Motiejunas, Dwight Howard vs Wilson Chandler, J.J. Hickson, Timofey Mozgov
As Howard is questionable the Rockets still have a small experiment if their all-star big does play. They enjoyed the success of Motiejunas in the post, though he has been known for his outside game as a big man. Many believe with Howard back the Rockets will get away from Motiejunas in the post, but expect the Rockets to include both players.
Ariza continues to impress on both ends of the floor, producing despite his high minutes. If Chandler plays, Ariza will have a big advantage as Chandler is dealing with an illness. Ariza should look to attack the rim more in this game, granted, as long as Ariza remains committed on defense the Rockets will be satisfied with his three-point shooting coupled with the occasional paint drive.
Denver remains hopeful Chandler can play. If not, look for Gallinari to possibly get the start. Either way the Rockets will be facing guys who are not 100%. Mozgov struggled guarding Howard on Saturday as he was limited to 14 minutes, with no points and only 4 rebounds. The Nuggets will need a better performance from him. They got a double-double out of Hickson, though, it is not everyday Hickson gets a double-double. Since he averages 7.9-points and 7.1-rebound per game.
Edge: Rockets. It’s clear with Howard the Rockets have the bigger advantage. They have no one who can defend the all-star as he is huge force in the paint. Howard has been known to draw fouls, hence putting teams into foul trouble and that was an issue last game for the Nuggets
Bench: Tarik Black, Nick Johnson, Joey Dorsey, Isaiah Canaan, Kostas Papanikolaou vs Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Alonzo Gee, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, Nate Robinson
The Nuggets have a lot more depth than the Rockets, even with all the injuries. The Nuggets can turn to many people when matching up with opponents, while the Rockets run a set rotation. With Terry out the Rockets will really need multiple players to fill in or to fulfill his output. The Rockets bench can out-rebound and defend the opposing teams, but that means you’re asking for a lot minutes out of your offensive players like Harden, Howard and Ariza. Nick Johnson is a guy the Rockets hope can help offensively. The rookie has really done his part to keep his rotation spot and a career game from him would be huge.
Denver will need their bench to step it up tonight. Not having that superstar, they’re in need of team efforts night after night. Playing as a team has been the major reason for the past success, so having their bench step it up will be key in tonight’s game.
Edge: Houston. When two teams who like to score the ball square-off it comes down to which side plays defense. The Rockets defense has been one of the league’s best, so the edge if given to their bench. They did a good job slowing down the Rockets last game, and it’ll most likely be the case again tonight.
Pick: The Rockets took one from the Nuggets at home, so it’s no doubt the Nuggets will have a chip on their shoulder to try to protect their home-court tonight. However, Harden has been unstoppable lately, making it a tough contest for the Nuggets. Rockets are 9-2 on the road, so they have done a solid job away from Houston. The Nuggets, 6-5 at home this season are hoping a stronger defensive effort will stop Harden and the Rockets.