The Rockets went into that game on a 4-game winning streak. That included wins over the Thunder at home and the Clippers on the road. The 3-game losing streak to start the season (each by 20 points) was in the rearview mirror and things were looking up in Houston. The Rockets weren't at contender status just yet, but suddenly they looked like the team we thought they might be.
The warning signs were there. The Rockets had won the 4 games by an average margin of 5 points. All 4 games were close late and Houston had to survive each one in a different way.
The Nets marched in at 0-7 and had not lost a game by fewer than 6 points. They couldn't shoot, they couldn't defend, and they couldn't fill the holes in their game.
Until they went into Houston and won a tough 102-96 game. The Nets outplayed Houston in every aspect of the game. They outrebounded the Rockets by 15, shot twice as well from distance, got to the foul line more, and got more blocks.
The loss sent Houston spiralling out of control as they ended up losing 7 of their next 8 games.
And yet...the Rockets have won 5 of their last 6. All of those wins have been close, but wins are wins. And tonight the Rockets have their first chance since the Nets game to get back to .500.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Jarrett Jack
Beverley played 9 minutes in the loss to Brooklyn. Ty Lawson was still the starter at the time.
Tonight, I expect Bev to play a few more than 9 minutes.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Bojan Bogdanovic
Bogdanovic absolutely murdered the Rockets in the November game. It's not often that a player outplays James Harden, and it's even more rare when that player comes off the bench. But that's exactly what happened. Bogdanovic went 10-20 from the field, grabbed 9 boards, and picked up 3 dimes while he was at it.
Harden was at that point where he couldn't make a 3. His shot is not back by a long shot, but we're starting to see the old James Harden more and more in each game. He's more aggressive yet still making the right passes to get his teammates open looks that they are (finally) making.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Joe Johnson
Johnson has scored 9 points in each of his last 3 games. He dropped 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists against the Rockets though.
We need an official name for the Ariza Rule (maybe just that?). In their last 7 games, the Rockets have won all 5 in which Ariza has made a 3 and lost the other 2.
The Afrieza Rule? The A3za Rule? Triples for Trevor Tallies Triumphs for Team?
Power Forward: Clint Capela vs. Thaddeus Young
It will be interesting to see what J.B. Bickerstaff does here. He's been starting Capela with Howard lately, but with Donatas Motiejunas returning, it might be time to let the two power forwards fight for this spot so that Capela can back up Dwight and ensure that the Rockets have a center on the court at all times.
D-Mo's ability to play the 5 might make this a really interesting discussion down the line with lots of options for the coaching staff to consider. However, with D-Mo needing to play his way into shape we're not there just yet.
Oh, and Thad Young kills the Rockets.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. Brook Lopez
This is the key matchup tonight. Not just because they're two stars, but because of how their games can completely swing tonight one way or the other.
14/12 and 5 blocks is what Lopez dropped on the Rockets last month. If he gets that again, or if he can hit enough jumpers to force Dwight to leave the paint, it could spell trouble for Houston.
Meanwhile, if Dwight plays the way he did against Sacramento, the Rockets will be in a really good place.
Rockets: Jason Terry, Ty Lawson, Marcus Thornton, Corey Brewer, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas
Nets: Thomas Robinson, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, Willie Reed, Markel Brown, Donald Sloan
Advantage: Even because Houston hasn't proven that it is better than anyone yet
Prediction: Sigh...Rockets get to .500 (sees that sky isn't falling...yet)
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