Game 25 Preview: Houston Rockets vs. Denver Nuggets

The last time the Rockets and the Nuggets faced off, Carmelo Anthony was the Nuggets' star, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler, and Raymond Felton were with the Knicks, and the Rockets were wondering what to do with Aaron Brooks.

Since then, Gallinari, Mozgov, Chandler, and Felton went to the Nuggets, the Nuggets traded Felton to Portland, and Chandler signed in China. Aaron Brooks ended up in Phoenix, bringing us to a match-up of teams that we have never seen before.

A few days ago, our friend and regular previewer ak2themax noted that this stretch of games had a certain "reunion tour" feel to it. First the Rockets got to play former star power forward/center/small forward/three point specialist Jared Jeffries and the Knicks at home, and then they enjoyed a pair of games against ex-coach Rick Adelman.

Tonight, the Rockets get to face another former star tweener big man, DeMarre Carroll. He of 11 minutes played as a Rocket is enjoying much more time on the floor with the Nuggets, racking up a staggering 16 minutes in Denver's first 24 games. At this rate, he'll be a 40 minute a night player by the time he's 70. By the way, he's shooting 100% from the floor, a remarkable 6-6. Future star?

(Note: Carroll was waived on Saturday, let's hope he joins a team that appreciates him for who he is).

On top of the bittersweet reunion with Carroll, the Rockets meet a man who was almost theirs, Nene. The immensely strong and quick big man was supposed to fall into our lap after we got Pau Gasol for a package headlined by Kevin Martin and Luis Scola.

I'll leave it at that for now; we Rockets fans don't like to make a big deal over the league management's perceived marginalization of the team.

With all that said, the Rockets desperately need a win tonight to kick start some momentum on a tough road trip. Playing six games in a row on the road is a tough task for any team, and it's even tougher for a Western Conference squad. Jump for the match-ups and prediction!

Matchups:

PG: Kyle Lowry vs. Ty Lawson

Lowry's has been getting his fair share of really good PG match-ups in recent days. He's faced Ricky Rubio (twice), Steve Nash, Tony Parker, and now he takes on Ty Lawson, another one of the great young point guards this league has to offer.

Both are undersized point guards who can do a little bit of everything on the offensive end. Though Lowry has the edge in assists and rebounds, Lawson's efficiency makes them near-equals on the offensive end.

Defensively, Lowry has the edge. Though Lawson is quick, he struggles against stronger guards and chases steals to little avail at times. It's close, but Lowry gets the slight edge.

Advantage: Rockets

SG: Kevin Martin vs. Arron Afflalo

Arron Afflalo worries me. Not because I think he'll light up Kevin Martin and go for 30, but rather that he got a 5 year, $43 million contract last off-season. He's a solid defensive wing with a good catch-and-shoot game, but he's neither an excellent athlete nor a creator of offense. He's the quintessential role player, a guy any team would want, but at $43 million? Maybe not.

He's the reason why I thought the Rockets should've pushed harder to extend Courtney Lee this January. The market dictated an offer in that range for Afflalo, and the Nuggets made it so that they could use their cap room and bring him back. Let's hope that with more time and fewer teams under the cap, Lee won't get a godfather offer that the Rockets will struggle to match.

Anyway, while Afflalo is the more complete player, Kevin Martin's elite scoring gives him the edge. Saturday night was a nightmare for Martin as he went 1-10 and looked completely lost. He'd best rebound from that, or the Rockets' reactionary fan base will be on him in no time.

UPDATE: Arron Afflalo is out tonight. Julyan Stone will likely start in his place.

Advantage: Rockets

SF: Chandler Parsons vs. Danilo Gallinari

There are few things I find more aesthetically pleasing on the basketball court than a player who stands 6'10" and still hit three pointers with ease. I always loved watching Peja Stojakovic shoot the ball, and the same is true for Danilo Gallinari.

In his fourth season, Gallinari has blossomed. Despite a shot that is still struggling to find its mark, Gallinari is helping the Nuggets immensely by getting out in transition, running the pick-and-roll, and cutting to the basket without the ball. He got $42 million over the next four years to keep doing that, and the Nuggets are unlikely to regret making that commitment.

Parsons has been playing decent defense and knocking down a few more jumpers lately, but he'll be faced with a tough challenge in Gallinari.

Advantage: Nuggets

PF: Luis Scola vs. Nene

*sigh*

Nene was supposed to be ours. After landing Pau Gasol to play in the middle for us, signing Nene was the next domino to fall in a whirlwind of moves that would've propelled the Rockets into contention in the West. But, that's all in the past, it's not like we're bitter or anything about the whole incident.

As much of a disappointment as it was not to land Gasol and Nene, both have seriously underperformed relative to expectations this season. Nene's scoring output hasn't really suffered as he's getting more shots without Carmelo, but his trademark efficiency hasn't been there. Still, he's one of the strongest and quickest big men around, and that gives him an advantage over most power forwards in the league.

Scola is coming off one of his best offensive games of the season, and let's hope a facial contusion won't keep him from playing his best ball.

UPDATE: Nene is reportedly out tonight with a foot injury. Kenneth Faried appears to be getting the start, leaving Karl's bench rotations intact.

Advantage: Nuggets Rockets

C: Samuel Dalembert vs. Kosta Koufos

Timofey Mozgov, the regular starter, has been out after suffering a painful looking ankle injury against Los Angeles a few days ago. According to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post, he will not play. Kosta Koufos started in his place against Portland, and he'll likely do so again against the Rockets.

Samuel Dalembert has been going through a mini-slump, failing to score more than 4 points in the last three contests, but he's still making his presence known on the defensive side of the ball. Look for him to match-up against Nene, who is more of an offensive threat.

Koufos is a perfectly adequate backup with a nice touch around the rim. There's not too much more in his story.

Advantage: Rockets

Bench:

Rockets: Courtney Lee, Goran Dragic, Chase Budinger, Patrick Patterson, Jordan Hill

Nuggets: Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Chris Andersen, Corey Brewer

Harrington is a 6th man of the year candidate, Andre Miller refuses to slow down, and the Birdman is wreaking havoc as always. The Rockets bench will have to step it up to match one of the better bench lineups in the league.

Advantage: Nuggets

Prediction: Nuggets win 106-96

With the Nuggets injuries, I predict the Rockets to get the upset 102-91.

Useful Links:

Denver Stiffs

Rockets vs Nuggets coverage

Remember to leave a prediction in the comments if you're competing in TCWHRO's prediction contest. Best of luck!

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