San Antonio Spurs @ Houston RocketsToyota Center, Houston, TX
January 28, 2014, 7:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
The San Antonio Spurs try to rebound from a loss to the Miami Heat on national television that ended up sparking debates within the Spurs fan base on the ceiling of this team. Opinions were thrown out, argued against, dismissed and belittled, but the truth is this: we don't know. No one knows if this San Antonio team can compete for a title this summer because no one knows if the Spurs can get healthy. Heck, no one knew last year that the Spurs were poised to make a run through the Western Conference and come within seconds of winning it all.
We may not know what the future holds, but we know a lot about the present. San Antonio heads to Houston tonight to take on a Rockets team that has already knocked off the Spurs twice this season. To say the Spurs are limping into this game is an understatement. Down three starters, it is truly a testament to the resiliency of the team that the Spurs are still hovering around the top of the West. Every team suffers through injuries, but the Spurs are missing three cogs in the starting lineup, and two of them happen to be the best perimeter defenders on the team in Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Those two being out, combined with the lack of Tiago Splitter, and it is easy to see why the Spurs have struggled to stop wing scorers like Kevin Durant and Lebron James over the past week.
San Antonio sits in second place in the West with a 33-11 record, while Houston is the current five-seed at 29-17. Houston lost back-to-back games to Memphis heading into this matchup with the Spurs. Houston averages 105 points per game, which is good for fifth best in the league, but the Rockets managed just 87 and 81 points in their home-and-away against Memphis this past week. That doesn't mean the Spurs should expect a slumping Houston team because Memphis just seems to have the Rockets' offensive number. Previous to that two-game stretch, Houston hadn't scored under 100 points in a game since a January 10th loss to Atlanta.
Dwight Howard's signing this past offseason was supposed to launch Houston into championship contention, but it looks like the Rockets are still a piece away from truly contending with teams like OKC and San Antonio in the West. The Rockets may be the new Los Angeles Clippers; a team that you don't want to face in the first round of the playoffs, but not a team that anyone truly believes can get all the way to a title. Howard hasn't been bad, but he hasn't carried Houston either. He is averaging 18 points and 12.5 rebounds a game to go along with 1.8 blocks and a 21.3 PER. Respectable numbers, but well short of dominant.
The Rockets go as James Harden goes in a lot of ways. Harden is the team's leading scorer with 23.7 points per game, but he also leads the team in assists and steals. When Harden is feeling it from the floor, he is one of the toughest matchups in basketball because of his ability to get in the lane and create rotation issues for opponents. When the Rockets run the pick-and-roll with Harden and Howard, it is nearly unstoppable. But Houston can get away from that down the stretch, and it has hurt in some close games. Harden walks a thin line between taking over a game in a good way, and taking over a game in a bad way on a nearly nightly basis. Without Green and Leonard, however, expect Harden to try to force the issue and take advantage of matchup opportunities when he gets them.
Patrick Beverley starts at point guard, but he and Jeremy Lin rotate in a time-share. With Harden able to run the point when needed, Houston really can play Lin/Beverley next to Harden as off-guards. Both players are as much scorers as they are facilitators. Small forward Chandler Parsons is one of the most underrated wing players in the league, and Terrence Jones is becoming a very good player.
Omri Casspi, Aaron Brooks, and Donatas Motiejunas are players to watch coming off of the Houston bench.
Matchup to watch: Until Green and/or Leonard get healthy, the intriguing thing to watch will be how the Spurs matchup with elite wing players. San Antonio didn't do a great job against Durant or Lebron (who really does) and tonight's game will give the Spurs another chance to solve a difficult puzzle without two of its best perimeter defenders. The advantage for San Antonio in this matchup is that Harden won't present the size mismatches on the perimeter that Lebron and Durant did.
Rockets perspective can be found here: The Dream Shake
Game Prediction: Spurs by 3
Line in Vegas: Rockets by 1 1/2
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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