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Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers game preview

The Rockets look to avenge an early-season loss to the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at the Toyota Center.

In a non-mean way, I'm glad he's hurt tonight.
In a non-mean way, I'm glad he's hurt tonight.
Scott Halleran

Sometimes you make your own luck. Sometimes it smacks you in the face.

I was sitting at home in Houston on Friday night, minding my own business and studying. My headphones were in and I was reading up on my upcoming surgery rotation. It was almost time for the Rockets-Knicks game to start.

Friday had been a rough day. I'd had a root canal Thursday afternoon and I was a little miserable. My insurance situation was a mess and I had to figure out when I could do the crowning and molding part of the operation. I live in Amarillo (an 11-hour drive from Houston) so I had to scramble to find a dentist in Amarillo who would take my shoddy insurance and see me quickly and twice. Stack that on top of the fact that making appointments is impossible for a medical student who is generally tied up from 7am-5pm on a good day. It's safe to say I was a little stressed.

Well, my brother comes barging into my room, as is his wont. Our new neighbor had been over, with two tickets to the Rockets game. His son had broken his collarbone so they couldn't go to the game. My brothers had invited a friend over to watch the game, so they couldn't go.

And so it was that I came into possession of two 13th row tickets located at center court for the Rockets-Knicks game.

The Summit might be the basketball Mecca of Houston, but the Toyota Center is still a special place for me. I spend 90% of the NBA season in West Texas, so my ability to watch the Rockets up close and personal is nonexistent. Plus, I'm a medical student with a lot of money owed to the government. The only other time I've gotten to sit in the lower bowl was in 2010 when I won two tickets through TDS, which was before I was even writing for the site.

If you watched the game, you'll understand that my luck seemed to seep over to the Rockets. Down 9 at one point late in the fourth quarter, the Rockets received several breaks that helped them pull out a win. J.R. Smith took a dumb shot when the Knicks could have assured themselves overtime, Beno Udrih fouled Aaron Brooks instead of forcing the Rockets to score on the Knicks' defense, and Udrih later missed a floater that tantalizingly took a peek into the basket and then rimmed out.

Xiane wrote last month about how teams that beat the Rockets basically have to go bonkers from the outside while hoping the Rockets can't hit anything. Essentially, teams that beat the Rockets have some component of luck. The Rockets haven't had much when you think about it. Teams have hit clutch threes against them a handful of times, while the Rockets rarely get a break from the outside.

But sometimes you need a little luck to win games you should have put away early. When good teams have lucky bounces, we say they didn't get lucky but that they were plucky and won a tense game against an inferior opponent that brought their A game that night. I think the Knicks were doing just that: punching above their weight class for a night.

Sitting in the 13th row, I know I certainly was.

So, a HUGE thank you to Tom King for making this guy a very happy man on Friday. It was a perfect birthday gift. I hope to actually meet you one day.

A common theme in today's breakdowns will be the earlier matchup of these teams, which the Lakers won 99-98.

Tip off is at 7:00pm CST. It is no longer on national television.


Point Guard: Jeremy Lin vs. Kendall Marshall

Lin finished with 16 points in the first meeting on 5-8 shooting. He was easily the second-best Rocket on the floor behind Harden. He's looking to bounce back after a subpar third quarter against the Knicks.

On the other side, Kendall Marshall is going Marshall Madness on everyone. Through four games with the Lakers prior to last night's game against the Mavs, he's averaging 8/7. However, in games against the Jazz and Nuggets, he finished with 20/15 and 9/17, respectively. He's got Mike D'Antoni coaching him just like Lin did in New York, too.

He's a good shooter, but not a great one. His sample size in that department is too small to draw too many conclusions. Lastly, he's left-handed. I'm a sucker for lefties.

Either way, I'd rather play Marshall than Steve Blake. Always.

Advantage: Rockets

Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Jodie Meeks

In the first matchup, Meeks went an unbelievable 5-7 from 3, usually getting the benefit of open looks because of scrambling Rockets defense that was put in a hole due to the presence of both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik on the floor. A lot of people will blame James Harden, but I've discussed my thoughts on his defense ad nauseum in this space so I'll just say that I watched the game and Harden wasn't the biggest issue on the defensive side of the ball. He finished with 4 steals and 2 blocks.

On offense, Harden carried a Rockets squad that couldn't hit a three all game (sound familiar?). His stat line was 35/9 on 14-16 from the free throw line. He finished at +2, and was the only starter in the positive category.

Also, on the subject of the h-word, I agree with BD. The Rockets can run offensive sets at the end of games, but when it comes down to it I still want the ball in Harden's hands.

Advantage: Rockets

Small Forward: Chandler Parsons vs. Wesley Johnson

Parsons finished the first meeting with 16 points and as many missed defensive assignments as every other perimeter player. We talk a lot about Parsons was a great defender in his rookie year and is now pretty terrible unless it's a late-game situation. I had a great view of his defense on Carmelo Anthony and he was incredible. It's frustrating to know that Parsons can turn it on whenever he wants, but chooses to sparingly use his defensive prowess.

Johnson matched Parsons' offensive production while grabbing a steal and a couple of blocks.

Advantage: Rockets

Power Forward: Terrence Jones vs. Pau Gasol

Jones received a DNP-CD the first time around. Since then, his insertion into the starting lineup has transformed the Rockets' identity. He gives the team a starter that goes 100% all the time, which helps mask his few deficiencies.

As for Pau, it's like someone told him, "Hey, if you keep playing poorly they're going to trade you to Cleveland." The pure terror of that possibility has resuscitated Gasol's numbers, as he scored at least 23 points against the Bucks, Jazz, and Nuggets. This team depends so much on Gasol, especially when they can't make their jump shots.

If Gasol tries to post him up a ton, the Rockets might switch the matchup here with Howard.

Advantage: Lakers

Center: Dwight Howard vs. Robert Sacre

I really like Sacre's game. He's growing better every season and his jump shot at least makes bigs respect his range. He could one day be a backup center for a very good team.

Tonight, he should absolutely get punished by Howard. His only hope is to flop and hope the refs take pity/continue to persecute Howard for being a big player.

Seriously, 25/15 isn't too much to ask from Howard tonight. His fingerprints need to be all over this one. He needs to make sure this game doesn't come down to Hack-A-Howard. He went 5-16 from the line in November and missed both free throws on a late-game trip that helped the Lakers win the game.

Advantage: Rockets


Rockets: Aaron Brooks, Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi, Greg Smith (maybe)

Lakers: Ryan Kelly, Nick Young, Jordan Hill

Advantage: Lakers, because Swaggy P forever

Prediction: Vindication for Dwight Howard and the Rockets

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