Game Preview: Houston Rockets vs Atlanta Hawks

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The Rockets, playing in their first home game in nearly two weeks, cruised past the struggling Kings and improved to 36-16 on the season. After losing three games out of their five game road streak the Rockets are looking to find their game again during this home stand, playing seven of their next 10 at the Toyota Center. The Rockets are led in scoring, assists and rebounds by MVP candidate James Harden, at 28.4 points, 11.5 assists, and  8.2 rebounds a game. The Rockets are ranked 3rd in offensive rating, 18th in defensive rating, and 4th in net rating.

The Hawks have had a roller coaster of a season, coming out of the gates red hot, stumbling after their first 11 games, and getting back on track as of late - winning 10 of their last 15 games. The Hawks will be coming off of a quadruple overtime win against the Knicks that saw Paul Millsap play 60 (yes, 60) minutes, followed by a loss to the Miami Heat, putting them at 28-21 on the season and in 4th place in the east. The Hawks are led in scoring by all star Paul Millsap at 17.9 points, in rebounds by Dwight Howard at 12.8 rebounds, and in assists by Dennis Schroder at 6.3 assists per game. The Hawks rank 25th in offensive rating, 5th in defensive rating, and 15th in net rating.

Starting Lineups

The Rockets remain healthy and will likely have all their players available on Thursday. The Rockets still appear to be rotating starters at the center position, with Clint Capela returning to the starting lineup at center against the Kings on Tuesday. The Rockets will likely start James Harden at point guard, Patrick Beverley at shooting guard, Trevor Ariza at small forward, Ryan Anderson at power forward, and one of their three centers (Capela, Montrezl Harrell or Nene Hilario), with Eric Gordon getting starter’s minutes.

The Hawks will may be missing rotation wing Thabo Sefolosha with a groin injury, and will likely start the game with Dennis Schroder at point guard, Tim Hardaway at shooting guard, Kent Bazemore at small forward, Paul Millsap at power forward, and Dwight Howard at center.

Three Things to Watch

  • Dwight Comeback – After spending three seasons in a Rockets uniform, center Dwight Howard comes back to Houston for the first time since signing with the Hawks. In their last match up in Atlanta, Dwight had a big game, scoring 20 points and grabbing 15 rebounds as the Hawks pummeled the Rockets. Watch to see how Dwight plays in his former teams building, and if the Rockets' trio of centers are able to keep him in check.

  • Rematch – The Rockets and Hawks last played in early November in the 6th game of the season - a game in which the Rockets were trying to find themselves but ultimately got blown out 97-112 (despite Harden putting up 30-11-9). The Rockets weren't able to stop anyone, with three of the Hawks starters scoring 20 points, and all of them scoring double digits (allowing the Hawks to have a 58.6% True Shooting). Watch to see how different the Rockets look from the beginning of the year, and if Beverley, who missed the last match-up, is able to contain Dennis Schroder, who served as the Hawks' offensive catalyst and finished the game with 17 points and 10 assists.

  • Stylistic Differences – The Rockets and Hawks are both teams that emphasize playing with pace and keeping the ball 'live', but there is one huge difference in the way the two teams play: Post Ups. The Hawks have over double the total number of post up possessions than the Rockets (308 vs 141), and Dwight Howard has only one fewer post up this season than the Rockets as a whole. Watch to see how the styles clash and if the number of three-point attempts in lieu of post ups is able to provide a mathematical advantage over the Hawks.

Prediction and Tip-Off

This should be a close game. The Rockets are the better team, but have not been playing up to their capabilities, while the Hawks have been playing pretty well. I think the Rockets will win as they will be the team with more rest given that the Hawks are playing the second half of a back-to-back, having played in Miami the night before.

Tip-off will be at 7:00 P.M. Central Time in Houston on Thursday, February 1st. The game will be televised on TNT, with the radio broadcast on Sports Talk 790-AM.

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