If this game was last year, I would be writing about how the Celtics are not a team to be taken lightly. For all of the statements that put down Eastern Conference teams, I would say that the Rockets were not going to have a cakewalk tonight.
I would mention that the Celtics have a lot of players that have traditionally given Houston trouble. I would say that Boston is 5-4, and that 4 of those wins are against Washington, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and OKC (last night). You would argue that OKC didn't have Durant, and I would counter that a road win is a road win. And that Westbrook guy is good too.
We would talk about previous matchups between these teams, including a nail-biter in Boston in late January. I would mention that Boston finished last season on a 24-12 run that helped slip them into the playoffs.
But this isn't last season, so I don't have to warn anyone about anything. If you've watched the Rockets over the last week or so, you've seen a team that doesn't deserve to be 4-6. You've seen a team that is playing like they want a top pick in the draft (thankfully the pick they sent Denver was lottery-protected). You've seen a coach that hasn't gotten his team on track. And you've seen the Rockets get booed at home.
Things aren't going well in Houston. And if Houston doesn't get it together soon, we're going to see some changes. Because Les Alexander isn't paying the tax for this. Daryl Morey didn't assemble this team for this to happen. We can blame injuries until we're blue in the face, but it doesn't change the fact that this team sucks right now.
Point Guard: Ty Lawson vs. Isaiah Thomas
How is Thomas still in the league? He added an "a" into his name randomly and found a time machine to stay in the NBA. Ridiculous. He should at least play for Detroit for posterity.
In all seriousness, the jitterbug point guard has a history of giving Houston fits. His ability to fit into tight spaces and finish around the rim makes him a tough cover for anyone. He isn't shooting particularly well this season (38% overall), but he's due for a breakout game. Frankly, anyone playing Houston is going to have a breakout game. If Raymond Felton can light up the Rockets, then Thomas is going for 40.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Marcus Smart
Like Thomas, Smart hasn't put up gaudy shooting numbers. He's shooting 32% overall but it's his tenacity and ability to take care of the ball that makes him a vital part of this squad.
Let's talk about James Harden for a minute.
Harden is struggling. That much is obvious. It's so disconcerting to see because he found so many ways to pull the Rockets through last season. If he shot poorly, he was still able to get his teammates involved and find them for open looks. This season, many games have included the worst-case combo of Harden struggling and shooters missing open looks.
With Harden struggling, he needs Lawson to step up. That hasn't happened. Harden needs Ariza and Brewer to hit open 3s. That hasn't happened, and Corey Brewer hasn't hit a shot since March. He needs Capela and Dwight to make rim runs to get them easy buckets.
Instead, Harden continuously finds the Rockets down and feels the need to force the issue. When the Rockets go down, Harden looks like he's going for a 10-point play to get the deficit down. So he drives and misses or gets swarmed. That leads to easy transition buckets for the other team. Then the deficit grows, and Harden feels the need to take over and go for a 20-pointer. It's a vicious cycle that the Rockets need to get in control of before it gets rolling.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Jae Crowder
My brothers and I like to play a game. We imagine a player shooting and try to imagine how it ends.
Let's try. Close your eyes and imagine.
Steph Curry comes around a pick, gets bumped, but still decides to throw up a shot.
What's the result? In my head, he swished it and the Oracle went nuts. Because the Warriors always seem to be playing at home.
Imagine Jamal Crawford. The ball has been poked out by Ariza Crawford has to go grab it near midcourt. The shot clock is winding down. Crawford has to heave a 35-footer.
What happens? He banked it in. Always.
Now imagine Trevor Ariza. He's WIDE open in the corner. His defender has been sucked in by a Harden drive. James flips it out to Ariza, who has 12 seconds left on the shot clock and 20 feet between him and nearest defender. He's in the corner, the most efficient 3-point shot in the game. He rises up.
At least that's better than Brewer, who in my head airballs it straight to the opposing center, who hits Brewer's man (who leaked out) for an open transition dunk.
Power Forward: Terrence Jones vs. Amir Johnson
T-Jones has been the only bright spot in the last two games for the Rockets. He's averaging 23 points, 6.5 boards, 3.5 blocks, and shooting 70%.
Johnson is 3-11 from 3 this season, so expect him to go 4-5 tonight. He also has 3 blocks in his last two matchups so he could be the death of the Rockets on paint drives.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. Jared Sullinger
Terrifying stat: Sullinger grabbed 15 rebounds against an OKC frontline that includes Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams.
Remember, Sullinger is listed at 6-9.
The Rockets have trouble rebounding, but are lucky to have Dwight tonight for that purpose. As long as he can stay out of foul trouble the Rockets should at least stay close on the glass.
Rockets: Jason Terry, Marcus Thornton, Corey Brewer, Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell
Celtics: David Lee, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner
Prediction: Rockets finally get a win, dig out a grimy 102-95 victory.
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