Houston Rockets Game Day: Can James Harden Reign Over Kings?
By Tamberlyn Richardson
Houston Rockets Game Day: Rockets vs. Kings
The timing of this first game versus the Kings for the Rockets is ideal. First, preliminary news out of Sacramento is their best player DeMarcus Cousins won’t be able to play due to a lingering injury. Not that injuries are ever good news, but his absence somewhat offsets the issues of Houston’s injury depleted front court.
Second, though James Harden is putting points on the board his shooting percentage is abysmal. So, odds are he’s happy the Kings are his opponent given their last meeting he netted a career high 51 points.
If the stars remain aligned, tonight offers an excellent opportunity for Harden to reclaim his shooting prowess and for the Rockets to extend their winning streak to 3 games.
Venue: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento
Game Time: 10:30 PM EST – 9:30 PM CT
TV: ROOT and NBA TV
Radio: 790 AM
Last season the Rockets swept the Kings
- DeMarcus Cousins – Achilles, doubtful as per CBS Sports
- Patrick Beverley will miss tonight’s game with a concussion
- Corey Brewer is listed as probable with a thigh injury
- Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery, no update on scheduled return date
- Terrence Jones remains questionable for tonight as per CBS Sports
- Chuck Hayes is questionable for tonight with a foot injury
Kings: Rajon Rondo, Darren Collison, Justin Anderson, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein
Rockets: Ty Lawson, James Harden, Marcus Thornton, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard
Grading the Match-ups:
Point Guard – Rondo vs Lawson:
Depending on who you ask Rajon Rondo is either an All-Star player or a guy who got lucky playing beside 3 Hall of Fame Players at the peek of their careers. If you read my team preview it’s obvious I’m in the latter club. Though Rondo still has handles he’ll have to do a lot to change minds regarding his capabilities. In review of pace stats Sacramento and New Orleans top this area of the stat board which is interesting given Rick Carlisle’s biggest issues with Rondo in Dallas were tied to his lolly-gagging the ball up the court. Keep an eye on this over the season to see if the Kings’ pace drops off. Also of note despite playing at such a high pace neither the Kings or Pelicans have benefited from it.
Conversely Lawson who started off slowly has posted back to back games showing steady growth and comfort level with his court mates. While Rondo is still known for his defense he’ll have his hands full chasing Lawson around especially if he continues to be aggressive in driving the paint.
Slight Edge: Ty Lawson keeps it rolling after gaining confidence versus OKC and Orlando making Rondo’s night hell with all the screens he’ll run him around. With Lawson having the advantage of playing with his star big man he takes the edge over Rondo.
Shooting Guard – Darren Collison vs James Harden
Collison will keep Harden busy on defense and historically plays well against Houston and the bearded man. However the Kings offense hasn’t flowed well without Cousins and the back court has yet to replicate their offensive output prior to Boogie missing games with the sore Achilles.
After finally getting on track against his old team Harden followed it up with 28 points against Orlando. He still isn’t shooting the ball well, getting half his points at the free throw line. Basketball is a funny game though where confidence plays such a huge part of a player’s performance. The fact he’s owned the Kings might just provide an extra ease to his offense as he’s no doubt forcing some shots.
Edge: James Harden 51 points last time versus the Kings and 37.6 points per game in his last 5 against this team have H-Town fans praying this is the night Harden has a huge scoring night with a great percentage to boot.
Small Forward: James Anderson- vs Marc.us Thornton
Sure I know Thornton is technically starting at the power forward, but the reality is he’ll face off against small forward James Anderson. Coming from the Spurs system he knows how to be a great teammate and he also spent time in Houston prior to moving on to Philadelphia. Although he has incentive to register a big night he’ll also have his hands full guarding Thornton who has been the best and most consistent shooter for the Rockets.
Edge: EVEN Though I’m want to also give the edge to Thornton there is the former team factor that has me leaning toward giving Anderson the edge. Let’s call it a wash.
Power Forward: Rudy Gay versus Trevor Ariza
Gay offers a challenge given his scoring ability and likelihood to be the primary option. Ariza while coming off his best offensive game will need to focus defensively on stopping Gay. Thankfully Ariza’s ability to defend should keep Gay in check, but it will probably also remove his ability to be a scoring factor.
Edge: Rudy Gay
Center: – Willie Cauley Stein vs.
Dwight Howard Clint Capela
UPDATE: Rockets announced they will rest Howard so expect to see Clint Capela in the starting line-up
Willie Cauley-Stein looks to be the real deal and while he’s still a rookie he looks to have the capacity to develop into a Tyson Chandler type player with added offense (if he works at that part of his game). The Kings have been suitably impressed with his early output and moved him into the starting line-up with decent results. The one stumble came against the Suns who utilized their guards to drive the paint with their speed clearly being an issue. Lawson and Harden should look to take advantage of that fact tonight. Still, keep your eye on this rookie who looks to have a big upside.
Howard was excellent in his last game and reports are the Rockets will attempt to play him in both games of the back to back set this weekend. Ideally Houston gets out to a quick start so they can limit his minutes to save him for their Saturday match versus the team who’ll be looking to make a statement after the Rockets sent them packing this past post season. This will be Cauley-Stein’s first go at Howard who he likely patterned portions of his game around given his defensive mind set.
: Dwight Howard Look for Howard to school the youngster and attempt to draw him into early foul trouble
NOTES: Given the change of removing Howard from the line-up this puts Stein on a more even playing field and changes our Edge to EVEN
Reserves: Ben McLemore, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos
Rockets: Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, Montrezl Harrell
With so many Rockets on the injury list and Sacramento boasting some solid athletes this one feels like it will rely on Houston’s reserves ability to defend the offense of the Kings’ reserves.
Edge: The Kings
Keys to Winning:
- KEEP IT SIMPLE: It finally appears there is some cohesiveness and chemistry building on offense. Do the fundamental skills (listed below) and it should be enough
- KEEP MOVING: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Houston has moved the ball and their personnel better in the 2 wins.
- REBOUND: This continues to be the main key for Houston’s offense to excel while also helping limit their opponents.
- PACE: The Kings rank second in the Association so transition defense is critical
- POINTS IN THE PAINT: With no DeMarcus Cousins in the line-up and a rookie manning the paint it’s crucial Houston’s back court drive the ball while Howard and Lawson look to build upon their burgeoning chemistry.
Without Cousins in the line-up the Kings have struggled because he represents so much for the team. Boogie is a great rebounder, but more importantly the offense tends to flow through him. The Kings have stumbled scoring 89 and 97 points without him in the line-up.
George Karl famously said they need to win 80% of their games in November prior to season start. With a 1-4 record and Cousins hurt it does beg the question of whether his team remembers his statement and whether they’ll think they are up against it if they suffer another loss. Further, the future Hall of Fame coach hasn’t had the best start in Sac Town and isn’t producing the results some predicted.
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Rumors are still surfacing the discord between the coach and his star Cousins aren’t over. Add to that players like Rondo who can turn a locker room upside down with his volatile nature making chemistry difficult at best. While the Kings desperately try to find some sort of rhythm on either end it makes this project to revamp Boogie’s team into a playoff squad feel like it’s on the precipice of falling into an abyss.
The odds makers weren’t even sure which way to lean as the line was off earlier in the day, but missing a large portion of their team (Jones, Beverley, Motiejunas, Hayes with a limping Brewer and Howard playing at less than 100 %) they favor Houston by 6.5 on the road no less. I’m inclined to agree.
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Next: Kings Team Preview - Royal Turmoil
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