The Houston Rockets have visions of streaking through this long road trip, but the Indiana Pacers are on a streak of their own.
The Pacers have won their last three games by a combined nine points, but their most recent win over the Boston Celtics has to be one of the best wins of the year. With the game on the line, Victor Oladipo did this:
I mean, the net barely moved. It reminded me of that Trevor Ariza three against Atlanta two years ago that made the net move but was actually an airball.
This should be a good game, as the Pacers have to believe that they are a top 3 or 4 team in the East after taking LeBron’s Cavaliers to the brink of a first round elimination. With Oladipo back as the alpha and Myles Turner getting a contract extension, Indiana has reason to feel confident in themselves. They’re 7-3 on the young season with quite a few ways to win games. Their starters are explosive on offense while their bench brigade can features some streaky shooters in Doug McDermott, Tyreke Evans, and Cory Joseph, to go along with young bigs in T.J. Leaf and Gonzaga product (and therefore AK favorite) Domantas Sabonis.
For Houston, the goal is to keep grinding out wins while trying to integrate their new pieces. Oh, and they will need to navigate the current injury bug until the roster stabilizes and Mike D’Antoni can develop a more permanent rotation. Of course, the team is still dealing with injuries to Eric Gordon and Nene. That’s put at least some pressure on MDA to speed up the process and just go with the guys who can help right now rather than trying to get a feel for which guys can fit with others. That’s why we’ve stopped seeing Michael Carter-Williams and Marquese Chriss. Meanwhile, Gary Clark hasn’t so much as knocked on the door of the rotation so much as he’s ripped the door off the hinges and inserted himself into the lineup.
The return of James Harden gave Houston just their third game with the trio of Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela. That group won at an astounding rate when they were all healthy, and as the backbone of this year’s squad their health is just as paramount. So far, that group is 2-1 with the only loss being the opening night blowout against the Pelicans.
Finally, the Rockets are seeing the Carmelo Anthony that they will need going forward. The Melo that score in the post is a huge boon that can let guys take a breather and won’t let opponents get a running start in transition. Plus, you can’t help but notice that Melo has started to eliminate the “pump fake followed by one step into a long jumper” move that plagued him in the first couple of weeks of the season. He’s more willing to take two or three dribbles into a pullup 12-15 footer, which is a fine shot for him. Oh, and he’s squeezing off threes before the fly-by can occur from defenders. That was a problem for Ryan Anderson once Ryno lost his confidence. My guess is that Melo isn’t going to stop shooting just because he misses a few shots. And if you saw how poorly the Rockets played with a scared Ryno last season, you’ll know that an irrationally confident Melo is a good thing for the Rockets.
Tip-off is at 6pm CT