Two nights ago it was the Hornets, and tonight it's the Pelicans. It's like the schedule-makers are trying to confuse us. If I make a mistake and switch the two, please forgive me and know it wasn't done on purpose.
The Pelicans beat the Rockets when these teams first met a couple of weeks ago. The Rockets were on the second end of a back-to-back after beating Denver in OT the night before in the Mile High City. The Rockets hung tough for most of the game but wilted late. So Houston should be coming in with confidence that the previous loss was a schedule loss. Nevertheless, the Pelicans have a talented basketball team and have an all-world power forward.
The Pelicans sit a game out of eighth place in the West and half-a-game ahead of tenth place Oklahoma City. A lot of people picked them to possibly finish in the top 8 with OKC injured. But Durant and Westbrook coming back early coupled with an 8-10 start to the season was deflating for their chances. Still, the Pelicans are in this race and look poised to stay there. This team is for real.
Schedule breakdown: Both teams played on Wednesday. The Rockets pulled away in the second half to put away the Hornets while the Pelicans lost in devastating fashion in OT in San Antonio after Omer Asik tipped in an own-goal to send it to OT. To be fair to Asik, Duncan was pulling down his other hand and Asik did everything right. Just unlucky.
Tip off is at 7pm CST
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Jrue Holiday
Holiday absolutely owned the Rockets in the first meeting, posting a 16/10/3/2/2 line and had the Rockets standing around while he ran circles around them. The Rockets will have to contain him if they hope to win in a tough road environment.
It was nice to see Beverley hit a few threes against the Hornets. He needs that confidence back, especially with the legions of knee-jerk Rockets fans wanting him gone after playing a couple of bad games.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Tyreke Evans
Evans missed the first game between these teams. The Pelicans will be buoyed by his presence tonight as he's averaging 16.6/5.5/5.3. He's not shooting the ball particularly well but the Rockets will look to keep him from attacking the basket. He missed a potential winner against the Spurs so look for him to be on the charge tonight.
Speaking of making a charge, damn James. What he's done in December has to make him the MVP frontrunner. We're still way too early to be talking about this, and I'm sure the national media's witch-hunt of Harden will take him out of the race even if he's averaging a triple-double by the end of the season.
And as Xiane mentioned, 4 of his 36 against the Hornets came on free throws. But yeah all he does is flop and look unwatchable.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Luke Babbitt
Babbitt starts, but Ryan Anderson will play a lot so we'll talk about him.
Anderson is shooting 34% at 3 this season after shooting 38% for his career. Still, if the Rockets give him a bunch of clean looks then it will likely be curtains for Houston.
Advantage: Rockets when it's Babbitt, even when it's Anderson
Power Forward: Josh Smith vs. Anthony Davis
We're closing in on a world where there's only two players you would trade for James Harden: Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. LeBron's obviously still in the discussion now, but for the last couple of years there were players that you could argue would be more valuable than Harden in the long-term (Westbrook and Paul come to mind).
Just like playing with Team USA pushed Harden's game to new heights, Davis has become a full-fledged super-duper-star. You could look at his 24/11/3 average and say "Those stats are great but not otherworldly." But seeing is believing. Just watch him. He dominates games no matter where he is on the court. When he's on defense you have to run plays away from him. When he's on offense you have to bend towards him. He's been amazing.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. Omer Asik
You can see a real change in Houston's tactics these last couple of games. Instead of giving the ball to Dwight whenever things get difficult they're going to Harden to run the offense.
Howard's still doing his thing down low, but he just hasn't looked 100% lately. He's turning the ball over and seems to lose his focus at times. Expect him to be 100% ready to play against The Big O (his name for Asik, not mine).
Rockets: Propeller Plane, Donatas Motiejunas, Corey Brewer, Joey Dorsey
Pelicans: Ryan Anderson, Jimmer Fredette, Austin Rivers, Dante Cunningham
Prediction: Rockets win 103-93
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