Tonight’s game between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers includes two teams that are currently in eighth place in their respective conferences.
Both conferences are shaping up the way they usually do at this point in the season: two or three squads separating themselves at the top, while the next eight or so teams are clumped together trying to get through growing pains, injuries, or rough patch(es). So the Rockets are Pacers are in nice spots, but a losing streak could have them quickly outside of the fun zone.
On paper, I don’t know how many people would have thought either of these teams would be having so much success so far. Obviously, the Rockets overhauled their coaching staff and spent a ton of the league-leading salary cap space to bring in veterans to help take the team out of the bottom of the West. Indiana finished six games out of the final play-in spot, but regression was expected from a few teams that finished ahead of them (Brooklyn, Chicago, and Toronto). Still, Tyrese Haliburton has skyrocketed into superstardom and is a shoe-in as an All-Star starter in the East. Myles Turner is still a monster in the paint. Buddy Hield is still a lights out shooter. And Andrew Nembhard was still on the board when Houston took TyTy Washington Jr. in the first round of the 2022 draft. No, I’ll never forgive Rafael Stone for that one.
We’ll see how focused these teams are. Houston won a road back-to-back in New Orleans on Saturday thanks to Alperen Sengun’s career night. The Pacers lost to the Orlando Magic, mostly due to the fact that they fouled the Magic 30 times and gave up a staggering 41 free throws, including 16 to Paolo Banchero. It felt like whenever James Harden took 10 free throws in a game for the Rockets, NBA fans were calling for Congress to investigate. But apparently Banchero took 16 of those suckers and no one cared. Okay.
Tonight begins a 7-game homestand for the Rockets, but it’s bookended by a couple of rough back-to-backs. After tonight, Houston will turn their attention to a Phoenix Suns team reeling from a beatdown on Christmas Day to the Mavericks. So that’ll be fun.
How to Watch
Space City Home Network and NBA TV
Tari Eason-GTD (leg)
Reggie Bullock Jr.-GTD (illness)
Bruce Brown-GTD (knee)
The Line (as of this post)
Looking ahead because we can
Wednesday (tomorrow) against the Suns