Riding the momentum of an overtime thriller win against the Mavericks, the Houston Rockets now face a title favorite, the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Houston Rockets will look to continue a hot start in the NBA bubble in a matchup against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. Both teams played highly competitive games on Friday and should expect the same Sunday night.
Houston and Milwaukee have only faced each other once this year, in the opening game of the season — an encounter that resulted in the Bucks winning 117-111 on Oct 24th. It must be noted that the early-season formation of the Rockets is drastically different from the one we see today in the Orlando bubble.
This will be yet another significant test for the Rockets small-ball lineup, as they’ll be going up against the leading MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, who snagged fifteen rebounds against the Boston Celtics Friday night. The big question going into this game is not about the Rockets offense, but whether they can contain the force that is Giannis.
Matchups: Houston Rockets vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The focal point of this game will be about who is going to match up with Giannis. The favorable situation would be to have Robert Covington guarding him over P.J Tucker. Covington did a decent job guarding Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis when assigned to them Friday, logging four blocks.
On the other side, Tucker had some issues with height differences, highly contributing to the fact that Porzingis shot eleven free throws.
To prevent the dynamic backcourt of James Harden and Russel Westbrook from taking over, the Bucks may try to switch Brook Lopez over and help. Wesley Matthews and Donte DiVincenzo will likely struggle to contain the Rockets guards, and the lack of a true center for Houston will free Lopez up to switch occasionally.
The two benches scored similarly in their respective games on Friday with Houston’s bench scoring 33 points and Milwaukee’s scoring 32. The difference is Houston only rotated in three players off the bench while the Bucks rotated in five. Every player coming off the bench for the Rockets scored in double digits while everybody bench player for Milwaukee stayed in the single digits.
Which Houston Rockets need to step up
Robert Covington: While Robert Covington’s defense was what the Rockets needed on Friday, his lack of scoring certainly didn’t help. Only thirteen points in over 42 minutes and an abysmal 1-for-9 shooting night from three are not going to get the offense moving.
Against the Mavericks, Covington made a game-saving tip-in to send it to overtime, but maybe with better offensive production from him, overtime could have been avoided in the first place.
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Austin Rivers: Austin Rivers coming off the bench for the Rockets is pivotal. As one of the facilitators of the offense when Harden or Westbrook is off the floor, he received just over nineteen minutes coming off the bench on Friday.
With fellow teammate Ben McLemore shooting lights out off the bench and Rivers going 1-of-4 from 3-point range, Rivers will need to start cashing in before losing minutes.
Team Defense: This one applies to the whole team, with a few exceptions. James Harden is mainly criticized for his lackluster defense, but Friday against the Mavericks, he played inspired defense. As a whole, however, the team struggled, letting Dallas score a total of 149 points.
The Rockets were giving the Mavericks easy free throws wide-open drives to the basket that prevented them from pulling away. Cleaning up the switch defense to prevent less wide-open threes will be a must as well, especially when you allow guys like Trey Burke to come off the bench and light up the scoreboard from deep.
The Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks are both teams that are poised to make a championship run to this year’s NBA Finals, and this game could set the tone for that. With that in mind, expect an explosive East vs. West showdown Sunday night.