The Houston Rockets have lost three games in a row and are in danger of missing the playoffs if they cannot right the ship soon.
The Miami Heat have won four straight games and are riding high after pushing into first place in the Southeast Division.
So it's a tale of two teams going in opposite directions tonight at the Toyota Center. Houston has to turn it around quickly and Miami wants to keep this momentum going.
For the Rockets, the last few days have been dominated by talk of the referees and technical fouls. For a team that gets all the calls if the narrative is to be believed, Houston has been screwed over by the officials in their last two contests. But more important for Houston will be the time off. The Rockets completed five games last week and now they have had two days off to practice and refresh themselves. We'll see if that rest leads to a fast start tonight.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Goran Dragic
Goran Dragic is averaging 12 points and 5 assists per game. That makes sense since he shares ball-handling duties with Wade and isn't running the show all the time. He's shooting about the same from the field but below his usual average from distance. His PER is sitting around 13.6. For comparison, Patrick Beverley is sitting at 12.3.
The Heat have the ability to beat Houston on the backdoor cuts and Dragic could lead that charge. Houston has mostly fixed that specific issue lately but the Heat have slashers and guys who can cut from the corners to make Houston fans pull out their hair.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Dwyane Wade
One shooting guard who gets all the calls vs. another shooting guard who gets all the calls.
At least, that's what most would have you believe. Wade actually takes only five free throws per game and Harden is having to work even harder this season to come close to his numbers from last season.
Really, this is the matchup between the best shooting guard in the game and the previous best shooting guard in the game. Wade can still light it up and has had a vendetta against Toyota Center since injuring his shoulder there years ago.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Luol Deng
On the surface, these two players are of the same archetype. Both are rangy athletic wings who can defend the best perimeter player on the opposing team.
Deng is shooting 36% from distance and Ariza is shooting 38% from the three point line. When these guys are taking a bunch of corner threes it means that their respective offenses are being successful and forcing switches and help defense to leave these guys open to knock down big shots.
Power Forward: Clint Capela vs. Chris Bosh
The man who spurned the Rockets twice for the player who is destined to be the future of the Rockets at the center position. Today, it's not much of a contest but in a few years Houston could have the better end of this matchup.
For his part, Bosh is averaging 22 points per game on 51% shooting over his last five games. Bosh has taken more threes in each season he has been in Miami and that number has now climbed to 4.3 per contest. His average has also climbed each season and now he's 38% from three this season. He's a dynamic threat that could hurt Houston in a variety of ways. Look for Smoove to spend time guarding him as well.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. Amare Stoudemire
With Hassan Whiteside doubtful for tonight's game with an oblique injury, the Rockets will have a huge advantage inside. Smoove and Howard have already given Stoudemire nightmares by throwing alley-oop after alley-oop against him in the first round of last year's playoffs. Houston should dominate the boards and the paint for the first time in forever.
Of course, that depends on Dwight Howard not getting ejected for a third consecutive game.
Rockets: Ty Lawson, Jason Terry, Marcus Thornton, Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, Terrence Jones
Heat: Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow, Gerald Green, Beno Udrih
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