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Game Preview: Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are back home looking for a win against the division rival Rockets.

San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Any one that was hoping that the momentum gained from beating Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers might carry over was almost certainly left disappointed after the embarrassing performance the Spurs put on against a Pistons team that was 6-13 coming into Sunday. The activity level on defense that was on display against the Clippers was, for the most part, missing against Detroit, with the Spurs seemingly content to let various Pistons fire away from beyond the arc without even bothering to get a hand up. All in all, 41 of the Pistons’ 88 field goal attempts registered as, “Uncontested Field Goal Attempts,” according to the NBA’s stat tracker.

They will now face a Rockets team that is, once again, capable of scoring seemingly at will. They swapped savvy veteran point guard Chris Paul in the offseason for the dynamic Russell Westbrook and while they’ve missed Eric Gordon, James Harden is still James Harden. A perennial MVP candidate and the engine that makes the Rockets go, Harden is averaging 38.9 points per game and is coming off a 60-point performance (in 3 quarters!) against the Atlanta Hawks, which the Rockets won 158-111.

The Spurs will have to play with much more focus than they did Sunday afternoon if they hope to have a fighter’s chance at slowing down Harden and the Rockets.

Houston Rockets (13-6) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7-14)

December 3, 2019: 7:30 PM CT

Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (Thigh Soreness - Out), Chimezie Metu (Foot - Out)

Rockets Injuries: Eric Gordon (knee - Out), Nene (hip - Out), Gerald Green (foot - Out)

Is it possible for the Spurs to limit James Harden?

As mentioned earlier, James Harden is once again off to a blazing offensive start. His 3-point attempts are up once again (from 12.7 last year to 13.9 so far this year), as are his free throw attempts (11 to 14.4). If his scoring average holds up throughout the entire season, it will be the highest since Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 points per game during the 86-87 season, while his current usage rate (39%) would rank 3rd in NBA history, below the 40% he posted last year and the 41% posted by current teammate Westbrook during his MVP season. Since he arrived in Houston, the Rockets have gone as Harden as gone.

Given how the Spurs have defended so far this year, one can not be faulted for not really expecting them to have any sort of success limiting Harden, but they do have some bodies that they can throw at him to try and give him some different looks. Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and DeMar DeRozan will most likely draw the assignment for much of the night. If he is able to get off the bench this game, Lonnie Walker IV is also a viable option, especially seeing as he’s had some success against Harden, albeit in the preseason:

Guard the 3 point line, especially when P.J. Tucker is spotted up in the corner

Houston shoots more 3s than any other team in the Association. Their 45.7 attempts are 5 more than the 2nd place Milwaukee Bucks, but they only hit them at a 34% clip, good for just 24th in the NBA. Harden himself is responsible for nearly a third of these attempts, but their roster is made up of plenty of players that are more than willing to pull the trigger from beyond the arc with all the space Harden creates.

None of these is more potentially devastating than P.J. Tucker, who is shooting the 3 at a 46% clip. Even more amazing than the great percentage is how frequently he finds himself wide-open for those shots. According to his shot profile on the NBA’s stats page, 48.8% of Tucker’s shots from beyond the arc come with the nearest defender being 6 or more feet away from him.

It is no secret that he both loves shooting from the corners (74% of all his 3s come from there) and is incredibly adept at making them (he is shooting a scorching 53% from both corners combined). The Spurs need to make sure Tucker isn’t killing them in the corners, like he does to so many other teams.

LaMarcus Aldridge’s status going forward

Aldridge missed Sunday’s game against the Pistons and is currently being listed as day-to-day with a thigh injury. Aldridge complained of soreness in his right quad following the win against the Clippers on Friday night, which led to an MRI and a game off. Speaking to the media following the Pistons’ game, head coach Gregg Popovich said that the team was taking a wait and see approach with the All Star big man:

“He felt a little bit in there, and we wanted to make sure it didn’t get worse,” Popovich said. “There was a little bit of stuff in there (on the MRI). Hopefully this will take care of it.” (H/T Jeff McDonald)

The team is reportedly hopeful that Aldridge will be able to play tonight against the Rockets.

Vegas odds: Rockets by 2.5

For the Rockets fans’ perspective, visit The Dream Shake.

PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed if you don’t have a radio around.