The Milwaukee Bucks are on a 3-game winning streak.
The Rockets have lost 3 of their last 4.
Both the Bucks and Rockets were supposed to be better than this. Houston was the 2-seed in the West and Milwaukee was the 6-seed in the East. The Bucks had lost Jabari Parker for the year and the Rockets were missing their starting point guard and power forward during the playoffs. Both teams have struggled out of the gate and are both much farther from where they expected to be coming into the season.
Much like the Detroit game, this game is huge for Houston because they will need to beat a team that is also struggling (though Milwaukee has been playing better as of late) because at this point that's what they have to do if they want to solidify themselves as a playoff team.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Michael Carter-Williams
Patrick Beverley may or may not be playing tonight. If he's out Ty Lawson will start here again.
MCW was Rookie of the Year in Philadelphia, but most people understood that he a. won the award in a weak rookie class and b. put up big stats on a tanking 76ers squad. Most pundits saw him as an inefficient player that worked a high usage rate into a semi-star status.
In Milwaukee this season he's been shooting much better from the field than he ever did in Philly. His percentages are up from the field and from distance. That's likely due to taking fewer shots and being able to pick his spots rather than forcing the issue like he did with the Sixers.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Khris Middleton
A byproduct of being the best shooting guard in the NBA is that you get challenged every night by upstarts that want to take your throne. Harden doesn't help himself with poor defense, but most nights he still comes out on top in the shooting guard battle.
Middleton will undoubtedly be one of the youngsters coming after Harden tonight. He can score in a variety of ways and shoots a ridiculous 43% from 3. In fact, since mid-December he's shooting 52% from the field. So look out.
You can bet Harden will be up to the challenge though. As Omar said, if you come at the king, you best not miss.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Before you get on me, the Greek Freak is listed as a small forward and Parker is listed as a power forward. It doesn't make sense to me, but I'm not a basketball coach so what do I know?
Giannis killed the Rockets when the teams met in Houston last season, with 27 points and 15 boards. He's too athletic for Houston (and for most of the league). He shoots above 50% from the field and if he ever develops his 3-point shot to a passable level he could have staying power in this league due to other things beyond just his athleticism.
Power Forward: Terrence Jones vs. Jabari Parker
Parker is shooting 52% from the field since the calendar turned to 2016. Last season he tore his ACL in mid-December and missed most of the season. Really, this is like another rookie year for the youngster out of Duke. I distinctly remember Parker being uber-aggressive against Houston in their meeting in Milwaukee last season so I'll be interested to see if he's still confident driving or if he's a bit hesitant. Obviously that's partly going to be dictated by offensive system, but it's something to look out for nonetheless.
As for Terrence Jones, he's going to be depended on a lot tonight. He's the only experienced big suiting up for Houston and the Rockets will certainly shift him over to defend Monroe down at the 5.
Center: Clint Capela vs. Greg Monroe
It will be Pistons deja-vu tonight with the former Detroit big man playing for the Bucks now after bolting in free agency. Monroe is averaging 16/10 and shoots 75% from the free throw line, so hacking is out here.
Like he is against most centers, Capela will be undersized in the weight department and will have to stay disciplined in order to stay in the game. With Houston's only backup big a rookie, Capela will have to act like a player who isn't basically also a rookie.
I think the Rockets know what they have in Capela, and that's great news. He's the center of the future in Houston, capable of playing with Harden or really anyone else. He's got a ways to go in every facet of his game because learning to be a center in this league is difficult. He's improved so much and it's easy to forget that he only played a handful of minutes last season before being called upon in the playoffs to defend guys like Amare Stoudemire, Spencer Hawes, and Andrew Bogut. And then as life turned back to normal and he figured he would get to work on his game little by little by coming off the bench, he's been thrust into a starting role.
Rookies always take a bit of a dive during the season which is usually attributed to the "rookie wall." In your first year, you are not just practicing but you're traveling non-stop, sleeping in unfamiliar places, and learning the ins-and-outs of daily life as a regular NBA player. I think Capela might be hitting that wall right now, and that's basically right on target for a guy who has played a total of 72 games in his career, including 17 intense playoff games.
Rockets: Ty Lawson, Jason Terry, Marcus Thornton, Corey Brewer, Montrezl Harrell
Bucks: Johnny O'Bryant, John Henson, Jerryd Bayless, Rashad Vaughn
Bucks vs Rockets coverage