Game Preview: Houston Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs

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In their biggest challenge since the All Star break, the Houston Rockets head to San Antonio to play the fourth game of their season series (Spurs have a 2-1 edge). The Rockets are riding high after back-to-back blowout victories over Western Conference playoff teams and, having won eight out of their last ten games, tightening their hold on the third seed at 44-19. The Rockets are led in scoring, assists and rebounds by none other than James Harden at 28.8 points, 11.3 assists, and  8 rebounds a game. The Rockets are ranked 2nd in offensive rating, 14th in defensive rating, and 3rd in overall net rating.

The Spurs have come out of the break on a tear, winning all five of their games since, and nine of their last ten overall. They now hold a 48-13 record, five games above the Rockets for the second seed in the West. The Spurs have been in some tight games as of late, beating the Pacers by one, then going into overtime against both the Pelicans and Timberwolves. The Spurs are led in scoring by Kawhi Leonard at 26.1 points, in assists by Tony Parker, at 4.8 assists, and in rebounding by Pau Gasol, who pulls in 7.9 rebounds per game. The Spurs currently rank 5th in offensive rating, 1st in defensive rating, and 2nd in net rating.

Starting Lineups

We should expect more of the same from the Rockets, with 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 to start the game, with competing Sixth Man of the Year candidates Eric Gordon and Lou Williams, being the first guys off the bench.

After missing about a month with a broken hand, center Pau Gasol has been moved to a bench role - the only shakeup the in the Spurs' lineup since the last time these teams met. Barring any last minute changes, the Spurs will start Tony Parker at point guard, Danny Green at shooting guard, Kawhi Leonard at small forward, LaMarcus Aldridge at power forward, and Dewayne Dedmon at center.

Three Things to Watch

  • Going for the Texas Tie – After blowing a big lead late in their last game, the Rockets are down two games to one in the season series going into these teams' fourth and final match up of the regular season. One of the biggest factors in those three games has been the Rockets inability to make open threes, shooting just 28% on open and wide open threes (as defined by when they normally shoot 38% on those same shots. Watch to see if the Rockets can hit some shots like they normally do and build offensive momentum against the best defense in the league.

  • Athletic Advantage – The one weakness (if you can even call it that) in the Spurs' defense is that they are average (15th in the NBA) at stopping the roll man on pick-and-rolls, allowing 1.04 points per possession. A team like the Rockets could expose this weakness as they have the sixth highest amount of possessions used by roll men, and are the second most efficient team in the league in those possessions (1.15 points per possession). The likely explanation for the Spurs weak spot is their lack of athleticism in the front court as three quarters of their big man rotation are below average athletically. Watch to see if the Rockets are able to attack San Antonio's slow footed bigs with their explosive front court players like Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker.

  • Survive the Bench Minutes – While the Spurs' new starting lineup with Dewayne Dedmon has been extremely efficient (15.8 net rating in 162 minutes), it has been their bench lineup that has been blowing teams out of the water with a monstrous 31.5 net rating in 73 minutes. The Rockets starters should be able to keep up with the Spurs starters, but it remains to be seen if the Rockets new second unit, bolstered by Lou Williams, can keep up. Watch to see if the Rockets excellent bench play can keep up against another one of the premier bench units in the NBA.

Prediction and Tip-Off

This will be a tough game for both teams and it really could go either way. The Rockets have the advantage of catching the Spurs on the third game in four nights, while the Spurs have the advantage of being at home. I think the Rockets will drop this one in a nail-biter as the Spurs seem to be on a roll and could be determined to grab the one seed, while the Rockets are essentially locked into three already.

Tip-off will be at 7:30 P.M. Central Time in San Antonio on Monday, March 6th. The game will be televised on ROOTSPORTS with the radio broadcast on Sports Talk 790-AM.

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