The Houston Rockets and New Orleans hornets complete their season series on Friday, January 2013, both teams on very different trajectories. The Houston Rockets look to reassert their style and get back to their winning ways after a brutal January slump. The New Orleans have won 7 of their last 10, and are coming together now that Eric Gordon is healthy. In each of the previous three games, the Hornets have given the Rockets a real challenge to the team and to their system. The Rockets need this win to take the season series and avoid falling below .500 for the first time since December 16th.
The last time these two teams faced off, the Hornets held the Rockets to a season-low 79 points, including a 10 point fourth quarter. After that brutal loss, the Rockets went on to fall in their next six games, only managing a win against the Bobcats between then and now. The Hornets, on the other hand, went on to win 4 of their next 7, and now seem well on their way to building a skilled young core in New Orleans. Eric Gordon, though he may have wanted to play in Phoenix, is a part of New Orleans’ long-term plans and seems well on his way to a place in the upper echelons of NBA shooting guards. Anthony Davis, despite not having the earth-shattering rookie season many expected, has been allowed to grow with his team, and shows not only skill, but also promise.
The Houston Rockets have looked gassed and frustrated ever since their game-heavy spate of January games began. Their bad habit of falling behind in first quarters continues unabated, and their turnovers continue to climb to towering levels. With the chaos of uncertain rotations in the mix, the Rockets are vulnerable at a time when they badly need wins to right the ship. Hornets head coach Monty Williams is a highly capable coach, especially on the defense, and his team will be all too happy to swarm James Harden. If the Rockets still can’t find their legs and create legitimate threats from three point range, the Hornets and their shot-blocking Rookie will invite drives into the teeth of their defense.
This game as well features what may well be the first real duel between newly minted all-star James Harden and Eric Gordon, a player who hopes to nip at his heels. Eric Gordon shot poorly and largely disappeared in their last meeting, but has been worked more and more into the Hornets’ offense. While ordinarily one would easily choose Harden to be the winner of such a duel, he’s shot poorly the past few weeks, while the Hornets in general are exceeding expectations.
Greivis Vasquez vs Jeremy Lin is another notable matchup, with Vasquez playing far better than anyone expected of him as recently as last season, and Lin failing to meet the herculean expectations piled upon him. Both have shown the ability to make excellent passes, though Vasquez seems to exhibit a patience and stability that Lin has recently been lacking.
Head coach Kevin McHale seems to be undecided about his guard rotation, subbing new blood Patrick Beverley in at times over Toney Douglas, and other times keeping both in the game. Lin seems to be losing minutes late in games, while Harden’s high minute load continues. McHale may eventually see what he’s looking for, but until some convincing wins materialize, it seems likely that the rotation experiments will only continue.
As the first night of yet another back to back, the Rockets’ minute loads will be a concern, though McHale seems to pay little heed to fatigue adjustments. The best case scenario for the Rockets is obviously a blowout win with plenty of rest for their starters, but if the previous games against the Hornets are any indication, it may well go down to the wire. A close loss to the Hornets and long minutes for the starters would be the worst that could happen. But in this month, the Rockets have seen enough worst case scenarios to be ready for another.