The Rockets had a four-game winning streak going earlier this month before falling into a rut where they did the "win-one-lose-one" dance for seven games. But the Rockets have now won three straight.
In all three wins, the Rockets have held decently-sized late leads but never put the dagger in the other team. Harden bailed them out against Phoenix, the Lakers weren't good enough to capitalize, and the Mavs blew their chance when Harden committed a flagrant foul late that could have swung the game.
Houston cannot keep allowing teams to stay in games. Houston's most recent non-Warriors loss demonstrates the very thing that Rockets fans fear. The Orlando Magic got out to a big lead and even when Houston took the lead multiple times, they never put the Magic away and paid for it late. The Rockets also have a loss against the Lakers that felt similar down the stretch.
Last year I talked a lot about how important it is to put daggers in teams. I realize that sounds like a "no duh" statement, but we're seeing exactly why Houston has to put teams away. One of the reasons that the Spurs rarely lose against poor teams is their ability to take hope away in the third and fourth quarters. The Rockets have played well in third quarters, and now they just have to figure out how to put teams away when they stick around without getting bailed out.
Schedule breakdown: both teams played on Wednesday, with Boston losing in Minnesota. The Timberwolves outshot the Celtics from the free throw line 32-9. That's almost as bad as the Bulls game for Houston.
Tip off is at 6:30 p.m. CST.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Avery Bradley
In his last five games, Bradley is averaging 15 points and 39 percent from beyond the arc. Bradley's playing through injuries in both hands so his shooting might take a dip. Either way, he's still a good defensive player and was Second Team All-Defense two seasons ago.
Beverley's defense hasn't been passing the eye test lately. He did draw a huge charge against Dallas, but he doesn't look as pesky as he usually does. Houston needs him to be above average on defense, especially when his shooting is off.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Evan Turner
Harden has a habit of showing off his talents against lesser teams. He carries the Rockets every night, but he's learned that he can control the offense for his time on the court and then rest if the team builds a big lead. That's a big step for him moving forward. Obviously, the Celtics have some long and athletic defenders to throw at Harden, so his task may not be easy tonight.
The much-maligned Turner can still light up the stat sheet, averaging 9/5/5 but is capable of big games. He's also shooting 43 percent from distance in his last 5 outings.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Jae Crowder
Crowder is averaging career highs across the board since joining Boston. He's only getting about 19 minutes a night but that's more than he was ever going to get in Dallas. He'll be another long defender who can body Harden if the Celtics try to give the Beard different looks.
Ariza scored really well in the third quarter, and it's a sad truth that Houston is happy if he has his shot going in one quarter out of four. Obviously, Ariza brings defense that is rare in a wing. The Rockets signed Ariza the first time because he shot so well as a Laker. Then they signed him from Washington because he shot well there. This season, Ariza's poor shooting is no longer a slump, but just the way it is.
Some things will never change. (Ed. Note: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXvBjCO19QY)
Power Forward: Donatas Motiejunas vs. Jared Sullinger
D-Mo could dominate this game from the post, or Sullinger could pull him out and make his life miserable.
I've got a hunch that Sully is going to get the better of D-Mo tonight. Sullinger falls into that stretch-4 role that seems to kill Houston with career nights. He might fill in the Channing Frye role from the Orlando game.
Center: Joey Dorsey vs. Brandon Bass
With Dwight Howard out indefinitely with a knee issue, I'm assuming that Dorsey will start here. It's possible that McHale will tinker around with D-Mo at the 5 moving forward but my guess is that tonight he'll play Dorsey since that's a known rotation to him and the staff.
Remember when the Rockets were considering trading Omer Asik for Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, and a pick? Or BLAP, as BD called it.
How do you feel about that in hindsight? Lee would be a nice addition to this team.
Rockets: Propeller Plane, Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Kostas Papanikolaou, Terrence Jones
Celtics: Marcus Smart, Tayshaun Prince, Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, Gerald Wallace, Phil Pressey, James Young
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