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Houston Rockets vs. Indiana Pacers game preview

The Rockets look to bounce back against the Pacers

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight is the final game for the Houston Rockets before the trade deadline on Thursday. After tonight, the team will presumably fly to Toronto and enjoy their stay there while most of the players worry about their futures. Houston should be in the market for a backup center on an expiring deal, but other than that we haven’t heard much outside of Brooklyn’s front office running damage control. My guess is a quiet deadline other than possibly a fringe move. But I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again.

The last time these teams met, both were in eighth place in their respective conferences. Since then, the Pacers traded for Pascal Siakam and have moved into sixth place. They’re three-and-a-half games out of fifth place, but with the Philadelphia 76ers losing Joel Embiid for at least a month (and possible the remainder of the season), Indy is probably licking their chops at the opportunity to move up. Of course, they’re just one up in the loss column over the eighth-place Miami Heat, so they’re in a volatile situation.

I mentioned it over the weekend, but this is another tough road trip for the good guys. Indiana is working Tyrese Haliburton back from injury (he’s been limited to 22 or fewer minutes in his last four games, but Siakam, Myles Turner, Aaron Nesmith, Buddy Hield, Obi Toppin, Jalen Smith, and Bennedict Mathurin all average double figures so the scoring is balanced and available. (Update: Mathurin is out tonight with an illness.)

Depending on which metric you choose, the Pacers have either the best or second-best offense in the NBA. By those same metrics, the Pacers employ a bottom five defense. Unfortunately, the Rockets aren’t built to punish teams like Indiana. In fact, the Pacers should have little trouble handling Houston tonight. We’ve seen this all year. Houston has only a single win in which they allowed their opponent to score 120 points, and that came in overtime. Indiana, meanwhile, has won 12 such games. Indiana is comfortable in a shootout. The Rockets are not. And Houston’s defense has not been good enough on the road to dictate the terms of engagement. So expect the Pacers to push the tempo and force Houston into going tit-for-tat. The only chance for the Rockets will be to slow the game down and attack Indiana’s poor defense.

Tip-off

6pm CT

How to Watch

Space City Home Network

Injury Report

Rockets

Fred VanVleet-OUT (adductor)

Tari Eason-OUT (leg)

Pacers

Tyrese Haliburton-GTD (hamstring)

The Line (as of this post)

IND -7

Looking ahead because we can

Friday night in Toronto against the Raptors