The 2019-2020 campaign finally kicks off as the Houston Rockets get their season started vs the Milwaukee Bucks. This is also the regular season debut of Russell Westbrook.
The Houston Rockets host the Milwaukee Bucks at Toyota Center on Thursday at 7 PM CT in a clash of the last three MVPs. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Giannis Antetokounmpo all take the court tomorrow in the season opener. The Rockets are hoping for a better opening night than last year when they were run off the court by the New Orleans Pelicans.
Offseason Roster Changes
The Rockets, as everyone knows, had a very eventful offseason. On the court, the Rockets made one of the biggest trades in franchise history when they traded Chris Paul for Westbrook. The rest of the core is still intact. PJ Tucker, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, Austin Rivers, and Danuel House or all back for another title run. With the possible season-ending injury to Gerald Green, the Rockets made another addition bringing in veteran swingman Thabo Sefolosha. Other veterans were brought in this offseason like big man Tyson Chandler, Ryan Anderson, and Ben Mclemore. Chris Clemons and Isaiah Hartenstein are first and second-year players that can possibly have an impact this season and in the future.
The Bucks come into the season with a few moves of their own in this past offseason. They were able to resign Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. They did add some veteran depth by signing Wesley Mathews and Robin Lopez, who of course is the brother of Brook Lopez. The core did take a hit when they decided to trade away Malcolm Brogdon after the Indiana Pacers offered Brogdon more money than the Bucks were willing to pay.
Westbrook vs Bledsoe
After losing the season series 0-2 against the Bucks, the Houston Rockets are hoping to match up better in 2019. One of the key matchups will be Westbrook vs Bledsoe. Last year, Bledsoe was the primary defender on Harden, but this year he will likely be facing off against Westbrook. Both guards are hard-charging full-backs playing point guard. Westbrook is coming off his best game of the preseason where he looked more under control and was getting everyone involved. This matchup could come down to who can stay out of foul trouble as both guards play a physical style of basketball.
Harden vs Mathews
Harden vs Wesley Mathews is the shooting guard matchup. Both players know each other well, going back to Mathews’ days with the Portland Trail Blazers. In the second game vs the Bucks last year Harden finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds. In that game, the Bucks implored the strategy of playing completely on Harden’s left side forcing him right. The point of the strategy was to take away Harden’s step back to the left and forcing him into the paint where shot blockers were waiting. More than likely this strategy will be used again this time by Mathews. It will be up to Harden to adjust his game to avoid shooting 9-for-26 from the field like he did last year vs the Bucks.
Tucker vs Antetokounmpo
The reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, had his battles last year against Tucker. Houston’s strategy against Antetokounmpo is to clog the lane and force him to shoot from the outside. Antetokounmpo finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds but had to work for every basket as Tucker harassed him all game. The key to this matchup is, of course keeping Antetokounmpo out of the lane and slow down his transition game.
Both teams go eight or nine players deep from their bench and the Rockets have Eric Gordon, a former Sixth Man of the Year, leading the second unit. He may alternate between starter and bench but ultimately he plays starter minutes. The Bucks’ bench is led by the veteran George Hill. This is where the Rockets can have a big advantage with Rivers, Sefolosha and Gordon. With this trio you have ball handling, defense, and scoring.
After losing both games to the Bucks last year, the Rockets will come into this game with expectations that the results will be different this year. The key to this game is keeping the Bucks off the boards as they out-rebounded the Rockets in both games. By doing this you also keep them out of their transition game which was one of the best in the league. With the additions of Westbrook and solid veteran pieces like Chandler and Sefolosha, the Houston Rockets are looking to get off to a much better start to this year’s campaign.
The Houston Rockets are 65-17 at home the last two years.
Bucks lead all-time series 69-58.