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Houston Rockets vs. Charlotte Hornets game preview

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This is wild and you probably won’t believe me, but apparently there’s a complete OTHER conference in the NBA besides the Western Conference.

Yes, the Rockets finally get to play a team from the East for the first time since January 8. The Rockets went 6-7 in their West stretch and looked absolutely cooked during a 4-game losing streak. They have since gone 5-2 with both losses on the road.

The biggest reason for the slide was the poor play from James Harden, of which the source will probably always be a mystery. Was he hurt? Was there a personal issue? Was there a team issue? They’ll never tell us.

The other development from Houston’s emergence from their slumber has been the return of the Mack Tuckwagon lineup. Or rather, Mike D’Antoni’s stubborn refusal to use any player taller than 6-6. Houston is 3-0 in the short lineup games, and something in the numbers has clearly emboldened Daryl Morey to place Clint Capela on the trade block. Houston is reportedly in the market for first round picks to flip for another wing player and a center to replace Capela. Knowing Morey, there’s some 3D chess going on here.

Either way, Capela is out for the foreseeable future with a heel injury, which brings us this sobering fact: Clint Capela has probably played his last game as a Houston Rocket. Tonight marks Houston’s last game before the deadline at 2pm CT on Thursday.

Okay, let’s get back to the matter at hand.

The Charlotte Hornets moved on from Kemba Walker this summer and are predictably out of the playoff picture in the East. It’s not all bad news for the Hornets, as they have gotten a chance to develop their young players. Their core is extremely young, and (takes a deep breath) Terry Rozier, Devonte Graham, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, and Cody Martin are all 25 years old or younger. The Hornets are playing it right: stash some young talent and see if any of them turn into something valuable then build around that, all while hoarding picks.

Even without Capela and Russell Westbrook (doubtful with a sprained thumb), Houston should still be able to ride Harden to a win today. But it was the Atlanta game where Harden was expected to do all the work that was the beginning of his slump, so buckle up tonight.

Tip-off is at 7pm CT