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Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs: Season Matchup Preview

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The Houston Rockets have started off the season with a bang, winning five in a row, all by double digits. The boys in red are playing in a historically-loaded Western Conference, filled with 11 quality teams, all of which that would vie for home court in the Eastern Conference. The Rockets play 38 games against these teams. I'll be breaking down each matchup before the Rockets face each squad for the first time. First up, the defending champs.

Scott Halleran

Last season's Results: Houston won series 4-0

November 30th: 112-106 Rockets
December 25th: 111-98 Rockets
January 28th: 97-90 Rockets
April 14th: 104-98 Rockets

What's new in San Anotnio

Don't fix what ain't broke, right? The Spurs brought back the same team that won last year's NBA Finals handily. With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili aging, the team will be looking for increased offensive production from Danny GreenKawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, who Popovich chooses to unleash in the playoffs. It's pretty cliché to say that Popovich will be "handing the team over" to a new Big 3, but in reality, they'll just keep doing what they're doing; hanging their hat on offensive balance and defensive consistency. The Spurs have been so successful by keeping the mentality of no one player is of more importance than another. Popovich gives no one special treatment and everyone is held accountable. That's not going to change anytime soon.

The Spurs lucked out with Patty Mills, who probably would have been signed as a sixth man for $5 or $6 million per year if it weren't for an offseason shoulder surgery that should keep him out until January. Until he returns, Cory Joseph will hold down the backup point guard role. He won't give them much offensively, but he can manage a game Trent Dilfer style, while providing defensive intensity.

Marquee Matchup

James Harden vs. Kawhi Leonard

So far this season, The Beard has been absolutely spectacular, thanks in large part to a better motor and the team's improved spacing. Harden's averaging 27-7-7 while shooting 41 percent from distance, 95 percent from the line (while leading the league in makes and attempts) and posting a PER of 31.2. We're only five games into the year, but Harden leads the league in offensive win shares (1.2), and his usage rate is through the roof (nearly 32 percent). Leonard is one of the league's best defensive players, with elite length and lateral quickness, so we'll get our first glimpse of the (seemingly) new and improved Harden against an all-world defender.

Houston's biggest key to success

The Rockets have to stick with what's working, and limit those typical Spurs runs of three or four consecutive transition 3's, helping them to either pull away or come back in an instant. The Rockets' utilization of the corner 3 has been a revelation, leading to some of the best spacing I've seen from anyone not from San Antonio over the last few years. Houston's commitment to defense needs to be consistent throughout the game as well, which it has been so far this season, as closing out on shooters and staying active-minded on the weak side will be of the utmost importance.

Whether Terrence Jones, who is day-to-day with a bruised knee, is able to go will be a big factor. If he can't, D-Mo is going to have to stay on the floor, especially with Coffee Black also nursing an injury. With Splitter out, the Rockets will be able to get away with playing Kostas Papanikalaou at the 4, as the Spurs' two-big lineup of Duncan and Diaw is nowhere near as imposing inside as the Duncan-Splitter combo. By the way, Diaw is a decent comparison for Big Papa, with the biggest difference being that Papa attacks more from the wing and less from the circle.

My Spurs theory

Houston swept San Antonio last season, but who thought they were a better team? Who thought that if they met in the playoffs Houston would come out on top? Not too many people. In addition to Houston's season sweep, the Oklahoma City Thunder also topped the Spurs four times, with Portland splitting the season series against SA as well (before getting murdered by SA in the second round).

My theory is that Popovich has no interest in tipping his hand in terms of strategy during the regular season, instead electing to play the game's straight up, keeping his aces in his breast pocket, ready to throw them with telekinetic energy (yes, like Gambit) in the playoffs.

It's just a theory; I have no insider information. Maybe the Rockets just match up really well with them. We won't know until May, but I'm begging to find out.

Matchup Guide

November 6th in Houston (TNT)

  • The first part of a two-game, home-court test for the Rockets, who have one day off prior to the matchup and one day off after it.
  • San Antonio will be playing the back end of a back-to-back, taking the short trip from San Antonio to Houston after Wednesday night's game against Atlanta.
  • Projected Winner: Houston (ride the hot hand, right?)

December 28th in San Antonio

  • For San Antonio, this game is near the end of one of the team's toughest stretches of the season. Check it out:

12/14: @ Denver
12/15: @ Portland
12/17: vs. Memphis
12/19: vs. Portland
12/20: @ Dallas
12/22: vs. LAC
12/25: vs. Oklahoma City
12/26: @ New Orleans
12/28: vs. Houston
12/30: @ Memphis
12/31: vs. New Orleans

  • For Houston, the game is the front end of a back-to-back after playing Portland and Memphis earlier that week, but the Rockets have three off days earlier in the week.
  • Projected Winner: Rockets (SA should be pooped by then)

April 8th and 10th

  • Once again, San Antonio is in the midst of a ridiculously tough group of games. I hate to keep hitting you with long lists, but check it out:

3/24: @ Dallas
3/25: vs. OKC
3/27: vs. Dallas
3/29: vs. Memphis
3/31: @ Miami
4/1: @Orlando (that's a day off)
4/3: vs. Denver
4/5: vs. Golden State
4/7: @ Oklahoma City
4/8 and 4/10: vs. Houston/@ Houston
4/12: vs. Phoenix
4/15: @ New Orleans

I mean, shit, man. With these two ridonkulous stretches, there must be some Milwaukee/Brooklyn/Philly/Boston/Utah/LAL sequences in the Spurs' schedule too, but this just goes to show how tough it'll be to last in the Western Conference.

  • Houston will also be in the midst of a tough stretch, facing Dallas, OKC and SA on the road before returning home to face the Spurs and Pelicans.
  • Projected Winners: Split

Outcome: Rockets win season series 3-1

Even going into the season I was under the belief, like many of you other loyal fans, that the Rockets would be improved in year two of the Harden and Howard era, and thus far, it's hard to believe otherwise. Let's see if it keeps up against the best team in the world.

Another matchup preview is coming up Friday for Saturday's showdown with Golden State.