Houston Rockets Game Day: Rockets vs. Nuggets
The Rockets will travel to Denver tonight in hopes of revenging a 105 -85 home opening loss to the Nuggets earlier this season. Both teams boast an identical record of 4-4, ironically these records may come as a surprise for both sides. Houston, who many were expecting to pick up from last season’s success, are under performing and has struggled to string together consistent long stretches of winning basketball. For Denver a record of 4-4 through eight games can come as a delightful surprise for a young team who’s expectations coming into the season weren’t lofty. In their previous meeting the Rockets were without starting wing man Marcus Thornton and Dwight Howard who was serving a one game suspension.
Just when things were starting to trend upwards, the Rockets dropped a 4 game winning streak to the Brooklyn Nets 106-98 last time out on the floor. Houston’s all around performance was utterly disgusting as only the big fella Dwight Howard showed up to play. The Nets were without a win coming into that game so maybe the Rockets were looking ahead towards tonight’s game? Never thought the words “looking ahead to Denver” would ever come out of my mouth.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets are coming off two impressive home court wins against Portland and Milwaukee. Both victories came down to the wire and it was Denver’s much improved defense under first year Head Coach Mike Malone that got the job done.
Venue: Pepsi Center, Denver Colorado
Game Time: 9:00 PM EST – 8:00 PM CT
TV: ROOT in Houston, Altitude in Denver
Radio: 790 AM in Houston, KRWZ in Denver
- Jusuf Nurkic – knee, targeting November return
- Wilson Chandler– right hip surgery, out for season
- Jameer Nelson – back, day to day
- Joffrey Lauvergne – back, day to day
- Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery, no update on scheduled return date
Grading the Match-ups:
Point Guard – Emmanuel Mudiay vs Ty Lawson:
It was the promising rookie who got the better of the match up last time out coming very nearly to posting a triple double of 17 points, 9 assist and 11 turn overs.
It was Lawson’s first game under a new system so some unfamiliarity was apparent. Instead of darting through the lane and causing havoc, Lawson was passive and didn’t look to score much in their previous meeting.
Edge: Although Mudiay has looked like the best point guard prospect out of this years draft class thus far, the veteran Lawson will look to have something to prove returning to Denver for the first time in a Houston uniform.
Shooting Guard: Gary Harris vs. James Harden
Garry Harris is a coach’s dream player coming out of the heralded Michigan State. A solid two guard with a sweet stroke who doesn’t mind doing the little things that’ll win ball games. With that being said, Harris will have his hands full tonight matching up with one of the league’s premier offensive threats. With revenge on mind, look for Harden to improve on his poor shooting display the first time these two met.
Edge: James Harden
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari vs Marcus Thornton
Since stepping into the starting role, Thornton has provided Houston with some offensive variety with his perimeter shooting in McHale’s small ball line up. Thornton’s defensive inability to match up with bigger wings will be a concern in tonight’s game against the 6’10 rooster. Gallinari can score from all areas of the court but has been shown through out his career to be a streaky player. Look for Denver to get him going early in the post against the under sized Thornton.
Edge: Danilo Gallinari
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried vs Trevor Ariza
Ariza is primarily known as a spot up three guy but Houston is at it’s peak when he uses his deep ball threat as an opportunity to open up more offensive options for himself and teammates. Though it’s early, Ariza’s shot selection and lack of pump-fake dribble drives have staggered his production and Houston’s offense as a whole.
The Manimal has been playing back into old form as of late maintaining a high activity level around the rim while sprinting down the floor beating bigs who decide to jog back. Houston is a team that is known for it’s half-assed efforts on getting back defensively, look for Faried to capitalize on this.
Edge: Kenneth Faried
Center: J.J. Hickson vs. Dwight Howard or Clint Capela
It’s still not determined whether or not Howard will sit out tonight or tomorrow when the Mavericks come to town. Dwight will not be playing in any back to back’s this season as Mchale has decided to rest him on either the first or back end depending on the match up.
Like the band Nickelback, Hickson unfairly has a bad stigma around the league. A terrible defender, no real jumper from a few feet out and has the decision making of a poor man’s Josh Smith (Yep, it’s possible).
But if we look past the negatives and focus on the positives Hickson isn’t THAT bad as everyone puts him out to be. For his role he does all you can ask for, a great rebounder, strong finisher and uses his athleticism defensively.
Clint Capela has shown major improvements in terms of finishing around the basket and not having rocks as hands. His dives to the basket off pick and roll action has put defenses in a whirlwind. His length around the rim should cause problems for Denver’s front court.
Edge: Clint Capela
Keys to Winning:
Denver is in the bottom tier of the league in terms of Opponent’s Points In The Paint per game giving up 44.2. Houston who ranks first with 49.2 Points In The Paint per game needs to take advantage of this and not settle for jumpers from deep.
Too often does this Houston team play from outside – in instead of inside – out. The underlying word behind Houston’s slow start to the season is rhythm and the lack of it. By attacking the paint and getting buckets around the rim, Houston’s confidence will rise after seeing a couple go in thus making the offense flow more naturally. (stats per Teamrankings.com)
Defensively it is a must that Mchale puts an emphasis on limiting transition opportunities for this young Denver team. It’s no secret what the Nuggets want to do, they’ll run you up and down using the high altitude to their advantage. Getting back means putting lesser focus on offensive rebounding and that’s fine. In a half court set this Nuggets offense isn’t going to pick you apart as they tend to take ill advised shots late into the shot clock. Forcing Denver into taking long jumpers late into the shot clock will lead to long rebounds meaning more transition opportunities for Houston. Denver has also struggled in limiting fast break points as they are giving up 15.5 a game which ranks them 26th in the league.
Attack this undersized Denver interior defense and get back on defense.
The odds makers have made the Rockets favored by 5 points with an over/under of 212.
It’s hard guessing which Houston team will show up in situations as tonight. This can be seen as a revenge game where guns will be blazing right out of the tip or this can be seen as another look ahead spot as they travel back to Houston for a rivalry match against the Mavericks tomorrow.
A win early in the season for a young team like Denver is huge in terms of confidence moving forward. For Houston, you just don’t get the vibe that they’re a handle your business type team. Another sleep walk performance is in store tonight for the Rockets while a youthful Denver team will look to build upon their two game winning streak against a big steak they’ve taken a bite out of before.
Rockets – 103Nuggets – 104
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And check our our Preseason Team Preview of the Denver Nuggets:
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