Just as the Houston Rockets were gaining momentum and rhythm as a fully healthy team, the injury bug has seemed to strike again.
For a short while, we got to see a glimpse of the Rockets at full strength. With 11 players worthy of getting court time, Mike D’Antoni was electing to systematically rest certain players in the second unit in an effort to both keep his players fresh and get everyone playing time.
Unfortunately, a few players have suffered minor injuries, so the Rockets will travel to Fiserv Forum shorthanded.
Gerald Green has a strained adductor and will not play in Milwaukee. He is expected to miss at least a week. Kenneth Faried will also sit this one out due to a sore right knee. Both Mike D’Antoni and Eric Gordon himself said that the guard is 50-50 to play on Tuesday against the Bucks, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen.
Gordon appeared to roll his right ankle in the opening minutes in Sunday’s game against the Pelicans. Gordon returned later in the first quarter and finished the game with 18 points and 6 made 3-pointers in just 21 minutes of play.
Even if Gordon is able to play, the Rockets will have to bring their A-game against Milwaukee. The Bucks have the league’s best record at 55-19, and they have been almost impossible to beat at home, winning 30 of their 36 games in Wisconsin.
Milwaukee wins consistently in part because their offense is elite. Led by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have surrounded their superstar with shooters and an additional All-Star in Khris Middleton. The Bucks are No. 1 in the league in points per game and rank third in offensive rating.
Additionally, the Bucks rank first in the NBA in defensive rating. Defensively, they have a lot of length with a front court consisting of Middleton, Giannis and Brook Lopez. The Bucks are second in the NBA in blocks and they turn defensive stops into buckets on the other end, as they’re sixth in the NBA in fast break points.
When Milwaukee beat Houston back on Jan. 09, they used an interesting defensive strategy against James Harden. The Bucks defended Harden from the side on the perimeter, forcing him to drive, which limited his step back 3-pointer. Once he got inside the paint, the Bucks’ defense quickly collapsed, forcing him to give up the ball.
Harden still scored 42 points in the game, but he did take 30 shots and he turned the ball over nine times. Chris Paul didn’t play in that game, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Bucks will defend him the same way or use a different strategy.
Either way, the headliners in this matchup are James Harden and Giannis Antetokoumpo, who are both clearly leading the MVP race. Their performances in this game will be analyzed closely, and the player that comes out on top could also take a lead for the favorite to win the MVP.
Finally, the Rockets are only a half game ahead of Portland for the third spot in the Western Conference standings, so a loss tonight could change the playoff picture in the west. This is a big game for Houston, so expect James Harden to bring his best and show the world why he is the reigning MVP.