December 23 marked the last time the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers faced off against each other during a regular-season contest. The Pacers recorded a 118-106 victory over the Rockets, with Myles Turner leading the way with 32 points and 10 rebounds.
Christian Wood scored a team-high 22 points for Houston. But the Rockets received their most intriguing performance by rookie Jalen Green.
After missing nearly a month due to a hamstring injury, Green scored 20 points in his return. Green’s play against the Pacers wasn’t a breakout performance. Green accomplished that feat in November with a 30-point game against the Boston Celtics.
But Green’s play against the Pacers did start a string of games that showcased the promise that made him Houston’s top selection (No. 2 overall) during the 2021 NBA Draft.
Green has scored 20 or more points in 14 out of the next 36 games following his performance inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Although Green had a stretch where it was clear the inevitable rookie wall was taking a toll, he still managed to average 16.6 points on 43.1 percent shooting from the field since his return.
Green has credited several reasons for his play since returning from injury against the Pacers. But the one consistent in his reasoning has been how the game has slowed down.
“It felt like the game was kind of slowing down for me. There were a lot of things I was reading on the fence that I am now able to read out there on the court. The game is starting to slow down a lot.” — Green
Green has become more of a ball-handler and has elevated his scoring since his first contest against the Pacers. But will Green’s improvements be enough to lead the Rockets to a victory over Indiana on Friday?
There are many ways to measure the Rockets’ progression of their young core beyond the win and loss column.— Coty M. Davis (@CotyDavis_24) March 17, 2022
Today, I asked Christian Wood this question and he placed a hefty emphasis on the progression he has seen from Jalen Green. #Rockets pic.twitter.com/YT26z30Sah
When the 23-47 Pacers roll into the Toyota Center, Draft Kings has the point spread set at three points in Indiana’s favor. A lot has changed for the Pacers after their early-season victory against the Rockets.
A foot injury has held Turner out since mid-January. And Caris LeVert, who contributed 24 points in a win over Houston, is now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers following the NBA’s trade deadline on Feb. 10.
The Pacers have accepted their inevitable faith to embark on a rebuild. Indiana has dropped 19 of their last 27 games. And without a franchise cornerstone, the Rockets could come away with a victory.
Green had already proven to be a problem for the Pacers and could be in line for his best performance of the season during the final interconference match between Houston and Indiana.