Game Preview: Houston Rockets vs Charlotte Hornets

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The Rockets are getting back on track, having won four of their last six games, following a blowout win over the Orlando Magic putting them at 38-17 on the season. The Rockets are back on the road for just one game, heading to Charlotte to play the Hornets for the second time this season. The Rockets are led in scoring, assists, and rebounds by MVP candidate James Harden, at 28.9 points, 11.4 assists, and  8.2 rebounds a game. The Rockets are ranked 3rd in offensive rating, 15th in defensive rating, and 4th in net rating.

The Hornets are in a real rut, even after a victory over the Nets the Hornets have won just six of their last 20 games. After starting 14-9 and looking like a team that will have home court in the playoffs, the Hornets have dropped all the way to the 8th seed and are well below .500 at 24-28. The Hornets are led in scoring by Kemba Walker at 22.7 points, in assists by Nicolas Batum at 6 assists, and in rebounds by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at 7.4 rebounds per game. The Hornets rank 14th in offensive rating, 11th in defensive rating, and 12th in net rating, not nearly as bad as their record suggests.

Starting Lineups

The Rockets should have everyone available for Thursday's game, with no injuries reported so far. 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 Clint Capela at center, with Eric Gordon getting starter’s minutes.

The Hornets will be without backup point guard Ramon Sessions (knee) and starting center, Cody Zeller (quadricep) for Thursday’s game. The Hornets will likely start with at Kemba Walker at point guard, Nicolas Batum at shooting guard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward, Marvin Williams at power forward, and Frank Kaminsky at center.

Three Things to Watch

  • Force Turnovers – The Hornets are the best team in the league at taking care of the ball, so the best way to attack what they are trying to do is to be aggressive and in the passing lanes. Watch to see if the Rockets emphasize creating turnovers, allowing them to score in transition against a team that allows the second fewest points off turnovers (pace adjusted) in the NBA.

  • Round Two – These two teams last faced off on January 10th, in a game where Nicolas Batum was unable to play, and the Rockets were able to win the turnover and rebounding battle. However, they allowed a big shooting game to the Hornets, who shot over 44% from three. Kemba Walker had a big 25-10 game against the Rockets, but that is to be expected - what they cannot allow is for Charlotte's role players to take over, like Frank Kaminsky, who scored 22 in their last match up. Watch to see if the Rockets are able to win the turnover battle and contain Charlotte's role players better, especially with Batum returning to the line-up.

  • Look for Threes – The Hornets allow the most three point attempts per game (when factoring in pace), which indicates that they struggle to close out on shooters. Watch to see if the Rockets, a team who loves to shoot the three ball, are able to take advantage of weak and late closeouts in order to shoot the Hornets out of the game.

Prediction and Tip-Off

This Rockets appear to have gotten their legs back under them a bit, blowing out the Magic after a 3-day rest, and are playing a struggling Hornets team, so I expect a Rockets victory.

Tip-off will be at 6:00 P.M. Central Time in Charlotte on Thursday, February 9th. The game will be televised on ROOT SPORTS, with the radio broadcast on Sports Talk 790-AM.

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