It’s finally here…………. the Houston Rockets season and home opener tips-off this evening at the Toyota Center at 8:00 P.M. EST.
Since it’s the first game of the season there is plenty of anticipation as the Rockets begin their pursuit of a title. Through the first few games of the season we are bound to see some rust and players grabbing at their shorts as they round into shape. Sure, they’ve had 8 preseason games, training camp and practice to help prepare them, but nothing replaces real regular season minutes.
To that end the following offers up your first Houston Rockets pregame preview of the season. Below you’ll find a breakdown of which players to focus on, keys to winning and what to expect from the opponent: the Denver Nuggets. As the season progresses up to date stats will become available, but for today we’ll stick to a basic breakdown:
Last season the Rockets swept the Nuggets posting wins of :
Notably in the March 19th game James Harden registered his first 50 point game (which he accomplished again later in the season) and grabbed 10 rebounds. Though Dwight Howard played the Nuggets well averaging 25 points and over 14 rebounds in the 2 games he was healthy for, it’s a moot point since he’ll be serving his one game suspension picked up in the playoffs for exceeding the number of technical fouls allowed in a season. Heading into tonight’s game it was thought Ty Lawson may have to serve a game or more suspension for his second D.U.I. however there have been no reports on this occurring, so perhaps his stint in rehab erased the potential for a league mandated suspension.
- Jusuf Nurkic – knee, targeting November return
- Wilson Chandler– right hip strain
- Randy Foye – hamstring, game time decision
- Dwight Howard (serving one game suspension)
- Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery
Grading the Match-ups:
Point Guard – Mudiay vs Lawson:
Certainly both players will have something to prove as they battle each other tonight. Denver’s rookie Mudiay will be looking to get his feet wet and prove why his name has been atop the rookie prospects garnering the most attention for ROY. He’s had issues in preseason when he guarded point guards who can move quickly laterally and with speed. Facing Chris Paul he turned the ball over 8 times and had a negative plus/minus of -14 (box score). Against Steph Curry he cleaned things up a bit lowering his turnovers to 2. When he matched up against Westbrook again his turnovers rose to 5, but he scored 22 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists in 31 minutes, granted Russell posted 17 points, 12 assists and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes!
Lawson will represents similar issues for Mudiay due to his speed and versatility on offense. As with any player who gets traded Ty will want to show his old squad what they’re missing. Not to mention there is the lingering issue of comments made by Denver management regarding Lawson’s tenure immediately after the trade.
Edge: Lawson takes this one, though everyone is excited to see Mudiay in action (including many Rockets fans)
Shooting Guard – Garry Harris vs James Harden
The big news here is Harris who averaged only 13 minutes in 55 games of his rookie campaign beat out Randy Foye to earn the starting spot. That may not seem like a big issue given it’s Foye , but it does highlight the type of coach Mike Malone is. Allowing players to earn their position and playing time sends the message to the entire team they’ll be rewarded with effort.
As for the position match-up, with all due respect to Harris not only is Harden going to dominate the night he has the added incentive or what Stephen Curry did in his opener Tuesday ( 24 points in the first quarter/ 40 in the game).
Edge: Harden dominates
Small Forward – Danilo Gallinari vs Trevor Ariza
Prior to his knee injury Gallinari was arguably the Nuggets best player and go to guy. Last season he was still rounding back into form and through this preseason has looked closer to the player he was prior to injury. Ariza known as a one of the Associations’ premiere 3 and D guys looks like he’s already in mid-season form and ready to up his offensive output.
Edge: Ariza’s defense trumps Gallo’s offense but I’ll call this one even
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried vs. Terrence Jones
Faried who was one of the main players pushing for Shaw’s exit and part of the much maligned vacation planning squad on court. Reports are he has apparently returned to his Manimal-like tendencies. Malone won’t put up with any nonsense, so it’s good Faried is dialed back in or he could find himself with a plane ticket headed elsewhere.
Jones remains the most intriguing player of the Rockets given his potential ceiling and the qualities he brings to the court. When healthy he provides inside scoring, rebounding, the ability to mix up his offense and intangibles. The question is how much has he improved defensively facing athletic bigs and how much has his shooting range and consistency improved.
Edge: Faried – not that I don’t believe in Jones, but Faried has something to prove to Malone and besides if I don’t give at least one category to the Nuggets I start looking like a homer.
Center – Joffery Lauvergne vs. Clint Capela
With Dwight Howard serving his suspension the timing of this game proves to be opportune since the Nuggets are an inferior team to the Rockets depth-wise, but their improving big man Jurkic is also out with an injury. Enter the two young European back-up centers: Lauvergne looked great in preseason until he had an issue with his back. He’s slated to play, but how much will the back issue affect his production tonight especially considering he’ll be tasked with keeping Capela (who has looked strong in preseason) off the boards .
Slight Edge: With Lauvergne nursing that back Capela takes this one
With Howard and Motiejunas both out and none of the tryouts filling the 15th roster spot expect to see the Rockets employ Ariza at PF and Jones at center running a small ball line-up for part of the game. Due to this hole up front Harrell will likely get some minutes which has many of us wondering whether he’ll get minutes against Faried (no doubt someone he styled his game after). As much as the Rockets are lacking depth up front they are loaded for bear on the wings and at guard.
Edge: Rockets depth and small ball will take the night
- Mudiay’s first game and Lawson’s first time seeing his old team is bound to be discussed ad nauseam until the tip.
- The Rockets have won 5 of the past 6 meetings versus Denver
- In their 4 wins last season the Rockets beat Denver by a 10 point average
- Last time out James Harden scored 50 against the Nuggets
- In their last meeting at half time the Rockets honored the back to back Clutch City Champions, with the emphasis on ‘Pursuit’ of a title, could Denver unknowingly become part of the Rockets history again
- Mike Malone didn’t spend very long unemployed after getting fired by the Kings (and deservedly so). He is a likable, talented coach who is sure to get the most out of his players and won’t abide fools.
Keys to Winning:
- Both teams push the ball finishing 2nd (Rockets) and 4th (Nuggets) in pace rating last season. Look for that continue this season, so whoever does the better job of transition defense will take a huge edge in the game
- Denver has a bunch of speedy players therefore controlling the pace and limiting turnovers is crucial
- Denver ranked 6th in rebounding last season so the Rockets will need to make crashing the boards imperative
- Maintain emotions – both teams want to prove their naysayers wrong and both have vested interest in beating the other based on the trade.
The odds makers favor have Houston by 10.5 points. Not surprising given the roster depth and experience of the two teams. Therefore let’s stick with history: Rockets by 10
So that’s it, we’ve reached the day we’ve all been waiting for: the 2015-16 Houston Rockets season opener and now the count down to tip-off begins. Wishing all H-Town fans the best for this season as the Rockets begin their Pursuit of the title .
Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the early season. Below you’ll find the links to the Rockets and Nuggets season previews and as always stay with Space City Scoop for all things Houston Rockets.
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