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Houston Rockets vs. Atlanta Hawks game preview

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The new-look Rockets welcome the red-hot Atlanta Hawks to the Toyota Center.

Ariza hoped that hiding on the rim would prevent McHale from playing him for 45 minutes.
Ariza hoped that hiding on the rim would prevent McHale from playing him for 45 minutes.
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

When was the last time the Rockets played a team on a back-to-back while not on a back-to-back themselves? The answer is the November 26 matchup with the Sacramento Kings. So it's safe to say that the schedule hasn't been kind to the Rockets, though admittedly it hasn't been too rough on them either. The back-to-back from Denver to the Pelicans at home was going to suck no matter what, and can be safely called a schedule loss.

The Hawks are a surprising 18-7 and are coming off a complete dismantling of the Cavaliers when they won 127-98 in Cleveland. Oh, and they were without Jeff Teague, who is averaging 17/7 on very efficient shooting. Teague is doubtful tonight with a hamstring injury.

My guess is that Atlanta Hawks fans hate "The Narrative" as much as Rockets fans do. The story around Atlanta has always been "They're good for an Eastern Conference team, but they're not good enough to make real noise in the playoffs." Well, they're making a lot of noise right now and if Houston isn't careful the Hawks could easily walk out of their building with another big win.

I joke that "trap games" don't exist anymore because either everyone calls every game against a non-contender a trap game or go with revisionist history after each loss and retroactively calls it a trap game. If every game against a perceived worse team is a trap game, does San Antonio play 82 trap games a year? Of course not.

However, I'm going against my own philosophy and calling this game a trap game. Not because the Hawks aren't a good team (they have been a great team this year), but because on Monday the Death Eaters come to town and I'm guessing that plenty of Rockets are looking forward to that game. They shouldn't, because these Hawks will pounce all over them out of the gate.

I know you guys want to talk about Corey Brewer and how he fits in tonight. I assume the trade went through yesterday but I don't know about the status of the physicals. Even if everything is completed, it will be interesting to see how much burn the Rockets give Brewer. He's a veteran so he probably understands the system the Rockets are running on both ends but there's no way he'll get it all by tonight. Most likely Brewer will play a little but don't expect too much out of him.

Check out the matchups below. "Wait," you say. "Matchups on a weekend! Is it Christmas?!"

"No," I say. "Christmas is in 5 days. So you must not be able to read a calendar."

But seriously, I've been neglecting the matchups so I hope you enjoy them.

Tip off is at 7pm CST

Matchups:

Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Dennis Schroder

Schroder started for Teague against the Cavs and is likely to start again. He finished with 10 points and 10 assists.

Zach Lowe wrote about Schroder, which is basically the best thing that can happen to an unknown player since Lowe is probably the most popular writer among NBA fans.

The Hawks excel at passing (first in assists) and taking care of the ball (13.2 TO per game). That starts here at the point guard position.

Advantage: Even

Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Kyle Korver

Kyle Korver is (gasp!) a really good shooter.

Yeah, I'm going to take a break after that heavy piece of insightful analysis.

Advantage: Rockets

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. DeMarre Carroll

Rest for Ariza! The addition of Brewer will almost certainly take some pressure off of Ariza. Trevor's shooting has gone into the gutter with the increased workload and he's probably more excited for Brewer than anyone else.

The real question is how McHale works Papanikolaou into the rotation as well. As of right now, here's what the rotation looks like.

PG: Beverley/Canaan

SG: Harden/Propeller Plane

SF: Ariza/Brewer/Papanikolaou

PF: D-Mo/Black

C: Howard/Black/Dorsey

Ariza has played a small-ball 4 at times but I'm not sure Papanikolaou can do the same. I hope McHale still finds ways to play Papa since his passing has been only second to Harden's so far this season.

Since arriving in Atlanta, Carroll's offensive load has increased and he's shooting 45% from the field and 39% from 3. So he's another good shooter like Korver that they can use to space the court and is also known as a good defender.

Advantage: Hawks

Power Forward: Donatas Motiejunas vs. Paul Millsap

Paul Millsap: the pipe dream. Rockets fans were hoping that Millsap would be available for Morey to fit into the TPE. Not only is that no longer an option, but it really wasn't going to happen based on Atlanta's hot start.

For his part, Millsap is averaging 16/8 and shooting 36% from 3 and 48% overall, plus he manages to grab 2 steals per game. He also gets to the free throw line 5 times per game. So he can rebound, hit 3s, and play disruptive defense. You can be sure that Morey will kick the tires on him in the offseason when he's a free agent this summer.

Advantage: Hawks

Center: Dwight Howard vs. Al Horford

Horford is averaging 17/7 in his last 5 games and shooting 55% from the field on the season. What makes that last number so impressive is that he takes plenty of jumpers that will takes Howard away from the basket.

Howard and D-Mo will have to dominate in the paint. The Hawks are 26th in the league in rebounds so that should mean big games for those two.

Advantage: Rockets

Bench

Rockets: Nick Johnson, Isaiah Canaan, Kostas PapanikolaouTarik Black, Corey Brewer? Propeller Plane?

Hawks: Mike Scott, Pero Antic, Shelvin Mack, Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore

Advantage: Hawks

Prediction: Hawks hot shooting continues, beat Rockets 108-102.

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