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Rockets prepare for tough defensive challenge in showdown against Giannis Antetokounmpo

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After Kristaps Porzingis gave them 39 points, the Houston Rockets make defensive preparations for Giannis Antetokounmpo on Sunday.

Milwaukee Bucks v Houston Rockets Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Friday night, Kristaps Porzingis put on a clinic against the Houston Rockets. With no one to match his 7-foot-3 stature, Porzingis notched a 39 point performance as 10 of his 13 made field goals came from inside the perimeter.

It took a late tip-in by Robert Covington and an overtime period for the Rockets to overcome Porzingis’ production in a 153-149 victory.

The Latvian native was the first test for a Rockets team who restarted their quest to a championship relying on small-ball. When the Rockets take to the court again Sunday night, they will meet their most significant hurdle to date — the 54-12 Milwaukee Bucks. Similar to the Mavericks, the Bucks have a skillful big man who can create havoc in the paint, but perhaps one who is ten-times better.

“He [Giannis Antetokounmpo] puts a lot of pressure on you. [The goal] is to not give him anything easy, don’t foul him. And if you can, make him shoot jump shots. That’s why he’s a superstar. That’s why he’s the MVP. He creates problems, and we are going to do everything we can to stop him.” — Mike D’Antoni

Just like he has done all season long before the abrupt shutdown, Giannis Antetokounmpo put on an astonishing performance against the Boston Celtics Friday night. He scored a game-high 37 points — 16 coming in the fourth quarter — to go with 15 rebounds and seven assists in 32 minutes. Antetokounmpo connected on 14 made field goals in the win, as 12 came inside the restricted area, one coming behind the arc.

ESPN Shot Chart via Gamecast I.E. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Living in the paint is The Greek Freak’s bread and butter, and it’s going to be a daunting task for the Rockets to defend. But how does the league’s smallest team intend to keep the most physical specimen from entering his sweet spot? P.J. Tucker says having enough bodies to help collapse the lane and recover in time to avoid an open three-point shot will be the main points of emphasis.

For Tucker, making the necessary defensive adjustments for Antetokounmpo is comparable when preparing for LeBron James.

“There unique ability to get to the basket at will is the hardest part when trying to keep them out of the paint. [The goal] is to try and make them take tough pull up shots. When they have shooters, you can’t be on the elbows too much for the help, so you gotta have players who can stay out on the shooters. It makes it really hard.” — P.J. Tucker

Opening night in October marked the last time the Rockets squared off against Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. The reigning MVP scored 36 points on 14 made baskets, but five came from outside the restricted area as he led Milwaukee to a 117-111 win.

With the addition of better perimeter defenders this time around (Robert Covington, Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll), perhaps forcing Antetokounmpo into taking five fewer shots from around the basket is enough to turn a six-point swing into the Rockets favor. A six-point swing James Harden would gladly take given his one-on-one interview with Rachel Nichols in February.

“I wish I could be 7-feet and just run and dunk — that takes no skills at all. I actually have to learn how to play basketball and have skills. You know?” — Harden via ESPN The Jump.