The Houston Rockets begin their longest remaining road trip of the season tonight when they take on the Denver Nuggets in the Mile High City. All told, Houston will play eight road games this month to only four in the friendly confines of the Toyota Center. They have two back-to-backs that bookend the month.
After soundly sweeping Houston 3-0 in the dreadful 2015-16 season, the Rockets have won nine straight against Denver. The fewest points Houston has scored over that stretch is 109 points, which is usually a good number to score if you want to win. Houston has won both previous meetings by double digits, with the second game coming without Chris Paul and Eric Gordon. Houston got a career shooting night from PJ Tucker (7-11 from deep) to go with a career high 31 points from Clint Capela.
The Rockets may have CP3 tonight or he might be saved for tomorrow night’s game in Utah since Houston appears to be saving him from the wear-and-tear of back-to-backs. The guess is that he plays tonight and sits tomorrow, but we’ll see.
Capela’s absence is the real issue tonight, as he was able to counter Nikola Jokic’s incredible play by running the big man up and down the floor. Since Capela’s injury, Houston has struggled to contain opposing bigs. While Joel Embiid and Nikola Vucevic (twice) have had big nights against Houston, even the non-star bigs have gotten in on the act. Jarrett Allen, Ivica Zubac, Serge Ibaka, and Jahlil Okafor have each had huge nights at Houston’s expense since the Swiss center went down. While Capela is a great defensive player and can handle all sorts of matchups, it’s that ability to wear down his opponents that really stands out and makes him so valuable for Houston on the defensive end.
It’s difficult to see a path where Houston keeps this streak over Denver going. The Nuggets are healthy after spending much of the early season riddled with injuries. They have made a real leap this season and are no-doubter playoff team. Tonight’s game fits their narrative (young team finally overcomes veteran team that gives them trouble) far more than it does Houston’s (veteran team that beat younger teams even without their only above-average big man).
Tonight also marks Kenneth Faried’s first time playing in Denver since leaving. The Nets traveled to Denver earlier this year, but Faried didn’t play. He’ll definitely play tonight. Jamal Murray missed Wednesday’s game against the Pelicans with an ankle injury (not stemming from when Harden broke his ankles, I’m told) and will be out tonight
Tip-off is at 9pm CT on ESPN