The Rockets have dealt with some tough challenges this seasons, and for the most part, they've passed each difficult challenge with flying colors. What hasn't been easy, unfortunately, have been the games against the bottom-feeders of the league. Here's a look at the teams the Rockets have lost to this season:
- Los Angeles Clippers (X2)
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Dallas Mavericks
- Utah Jazz
- Phoenix Suns
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Sacramento Kings
Of those nine losses, just three have come to probable playoff teams, while the Rockets have had no trouble against superior teams in the early going. Tonight against the Pacers, the Rockets are hoping this trend will continue as the Rockets take on perhaps the class of the Eastern Conference and one of the most talented Pacers teams in recent memory. Paul George has continue his ascent to superstardom, Roy Hibbert and David West comprise a solid front court, and George Hill adds impressive two-way skills at the point guard position. With Danny Granger returning to the floor tonight, the Rockets are in for a big test.
Let's get to the matchups!
PG: Patrick Beverley vs. George Hill
In a lot of ways, these two guards are similar. Both are strong defenders, both can step out and hit an outside jumper, and both have had somewhat disappointing offensive seasons. Hill has slumped especially badly in the last month, averaging below 40% from the field and failing to crack double figures in scoring on a regular basis.
The Pacers don't need a ton of scoring out of Hill, but he needs to step up and get back to being the key piece he was for them last year.
Jeremy Lin returns to practice
Jeremy Lin practiced today after missing the last two games with back spasms. A look at his potential status for Friday night.
SG: James Harden vs. Lance Stephenson
Stephenson was a risky pick when the Pacers took him out of Cincinnati in 2010. Scouts loved his tools, but there were major questions about Stephenson's makeup and long term potential in an NBA locker room. With each season, however, Stephenson just continues to put those concerns to bed.
In essentially his second season as a starter, Stephenson has continued his rapid rise and has established himself as one of the better value players in the league. He's now hitting threes at an acceptable clip, he's hitting the boards, and has helped the Pacers weather the storm with Granger out.
Still, he's going against James Harden.
SF: Chandler Parsons vs. Paul George
Before we go any further, I want to direct you to this tweet by Chandler Parsons. In other news, I now hate Chandler Parsons.
Now that we have that over with, I'm really intrigued by this George-Parsons duel tonight. Parsons has a tendency to go easy on the defensive end against weaker opponents but get up for the big matchups (much like his team), and George has been lighting the league up this year. What will give? Can Parsons keep George in check?
PF: Terrence Jones vs. David West
There are two people in this world that seem to have a shockingly disproportionate amount of success against the Rockets. One is Jason Terry. The other is David West. I fully expect David West to make every single mid-range shot he takes tonight, and the Rockets simply have to be at peace with that.
Terrence Jones has been excellent in recent weeks, but he's going to have a lot to deal with in David West. West is a veteran big who can make young players look silly and Jones will have his hands full. I'm excited to see how he handles it.
C: Roy Hibbert vs. Dwight Howard
When Dwight Howard was a young player, the one thing Rockets fans could always count on is that Yao Ming would crush Dwight whenever he came to town. Now, Howard has taken over the role of the dominator, taking Hibbert's lunch money whenever the two do battle.
In their 17 regular season matchups, Hibbert has managed to outscore Howard just twice, and Howard is averaging a ridiculous 21.4 and 13.6 to Hibbert's 9.5 and 5.4. Granted, those metrics are skewed by matchups in the beginning of Hibbert's career, but the trend has continued in recent years, with Howard continuing to dominate Hibbert even as Hibbert grows as a player.
Last season in their two head-to-head games, Hibbert was limited by foul trouble each time, fouling out in less than 18 minutes in the first game and playing just 23:56 in the second game after getting five fouls. He did not crack double figures in either game.
If the Rockets are going to get the victory against a very talented Pacers squad, that trend is going to have to continue. Look for the Rockets to try and get Howard established down low and get Hibbert in foul trouble early. If Hibbert goes out, the paint gets that much more wide open for the Rockets to attack.
Bench: Lin (?), Brooks, Garcia, Casspi, and Smith vs. C.J. Watson, Luis Scola, Danny Granger (returning from injury), Ian Mahinmi, and Rasual Butler
The Pacers and Rockets have made significant investments in their benches, but the Pacers' unit is healthier right now. Granger will return from his injury against the Rockets, while the Rockets will be missing Asik and potentially Lin going into this one (Lin's status isn't clear yet).
Prediction: Rockets pull one out of the hat, 99-92
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