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Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs game preview

NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for Houston is that they won’t have to go to San Antonio again this year.

And that’s where the good news ends.

The last time these teams met, the Rockets were a mess and the Spurs were coming off a loss in which Pop called the team “soft.” The Spurs won the game while Houston looked absolutely horrible. The Rockets were sitting Carmelo Anthony for the first time before eventually announcing his release. Even without Melo, Houston shot 33% from the field in the game. Yes, 33%. They also shot 29% from deep and 69% from the free throw line.

At the time, it looked like rock bottom for the Rockets, but there were signs that Houston wasn’t done yet. The defense held the Spurs to 96 points with 15 turnovers. Eric Gordon had just returned from injury, though he did shoot 3-14 from deep. But you could sense a pulse. The Rockets were just missing shots. The effort level was there. And Houston reeled off five straight wins, buoyed by their defense and shooting that returned to 2016-18 levels.

This feels more like rock bottom. This time, Houston’s offense is humming (107+ points in each of the nine games since the Spurs game), but the defense has turned atrocious. Opponents are averaging 124 points per game over the last five contests. They are also shooting 103%* from the field entirely on wide open layups** (* and **: all stats and shot charts are approximate).

It’s not all doom and gloom just yet. Chris Paul’s return (whenever that happens) will be a boon for the team, but it won’t be enough. The lack of depth cannot be overstated, and it’s telling that Houston’s best bench player against Dallas wasn’t an offseason acquisition, but instead was Danuel House Jr., a player acquired from the G-League just days earlier. Houston needs multiple contributors fast, or they’re going to run their best players into the ground by January.

San Antonio is coming off a fairly humiliating 128-89 loss to the Timberwolves and will look to bounce back. The Spurs like to play at the same slow pace as Houston, but will likely attack individual defenders just like the previous four teams have done. DeMar DeRozan could have 50, as could LaMarcus Aldridge. Honestly, Rudy Gay could drop 40 on layups alone and I wouldn’t be shocked.

Tip-off is at 7pm CT