Three interesting facts to start off the preview:
2. The Rockets are actually playing the Spurs tonight.
3. The playoffs don't start today.
Tip off is at 7:30pm CST.
Point Guard: Jeremy Lin vs. Tony Parker
I can see the floaters dancing in my head when I close my eyes. Tony Parker is going to have a field day tonight.
Lin had another below-average game. To be fair, all of the starters did against the Lakers. I think they were trying to do a little much in front of a sold-out crowd. That happens to young teams.
And if anyone tries to tell me that Lin is better than Parker right now, the banhammer might make an appearance. That's a joke, but seriously don't test me.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Manu Ginobili
The Spurs are crazy deep. Gary Neal starts and still racks up a ton of minutes. Against the Bucks the other night, he played 31 minutes and Manu played 25. Part of that is because Neal played well and Ginobili was struggling with his shot (he still had 11/6/4). But the fact that the Spurs have options when their third best player isn't on is incredible, especially when that third player is Manu Ginobili.
Harden has had trouble with teams with good wing defenders. There was some merit to those that worried that he'd never faced a team's best wing defender for a whole game. The Spurs don't have a shut down wing since Kawhi Leonard is out. But the Spurs team defense means the Rockets have to cash in on rotations and hit some threes.
Small Forward: Chandler Parsons vs. Boris Diaw
Speaking of Kawhi Leonard, I can't wait to see all the battles that he and Parsons will have in the coming years.
In their last game, the Spurs started Parker, Neal, Blair, Duncan, and Diaw. The main reason behind that is the fact that both Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson are hurt. Those are the only two real small forwards that the Spurs have. However, Diaw has played there some and the Spurs can go big or small to fix the issue. And yes, ESPN considers Diaw a center. But I consider that to be stupid.
Let's see how friendly bro #2 in a light-beer commercial does tonight.
Power Forward: Patrick Patterson vs. DeJuan Blair/Tiago Splitter/Matt Bonner
So what happens when you are missing your small forwards? You play those three guys a ton of minutes. In reality, the Spurs have a five bigs in the rotation and a handful of guards off the bench for when they want to go small. What's interesting is that there's so much flexibility there that it's tough to plan against.
With Patterson and Morris playing the 3-4 hybrid "stretch four" that everyone loves to talk about, the Rockets can play this way. Issues will arise when the Spurs are willing to play three of these guys and take the mismatch in the paint. I doubt the Rockets will do it, but to see a lineup including Patterson, Greg Smith, and Omer Asik would be fun.
There's a lot of variables here, so I'm copping out.
Center: Omer Asik vs. Tim Duncan
Gregg Popovich is incredible. During this offseason everyone raved about how the Heat were going to a "positionless" lineup with LeBron able to play four positions. What's crazy is that the Spurs have done that for years.
They don't have a LeBron James (only one team does, after all), but almost all of their players can play at least two positions. And because they play great team defense, they can practically throw out any lineup.
Tim Duncan is playing well to no one's surprise. For the last five years people have said that he's declining. Well, he's not. Just like the New York Giants always have a November swoon then go on a tear in December and the playoffs, we shouldn't be surprised by Duncan. Part of what makes the Spurs so good is that everyone knows it's Duncan's team. Parker has been the best player on this team for a bit now, and still, everyone answers to Tim. It's remarkable how a guy who hardly emotes might be the best team leader in the NBA.
And as soon as someone finds Duncan's time machine, let me know. There's a certain birth I have to prevent. The child's name may or may not be Jason Terry.
Rockets: Toney Douglas, Carlos Delfino, Marcus Morris, Greg Smith
Spurs: Gary Neal (though he starts), Splitter, Bonner, Danny Green, Nando de Colo, Cory Joseph, James Anderson
Prediction: Spurs defense prevents Rockets from doing what they like to do. Spurs win 102-85.
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