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New York Knicks @ Houston Rockets on 1/3/2014

In our modern society, where attention spans grow short and everything boils down to the snap ending, “urgency” is the tool which is used to grab focuses.  Every third down becomes urgent, every play becomes urgent, every game becomes urgent.  Yet despite how every game is supposedly the urgent and critical one, it is tonight’s game, against the floundering New York Knicks, that the trite cliché of “urgency” becomes far too real.  For if the Rockets lose after two days of rest to a New York team that played in San Antonio last night, I will be the first to admit that this Houston team might actually be in trouble.

  • I wrote yesterday about the Rockets’ struggles in December, among which I discussed the grueling December schedule.  By contrast, January is a virtual cakewalk.  Houston will only play 14 games this month, and only four of them will be against fellow Western Conference playoff teams, and none against the two Eastern behemoths of Miami and Indiana.  But with the easier teams comes higher expectations.  Houston simply cannot afford to blow games against inferior teams like they repeatedly have in the past.  Much of that is mental – Daryl Morey tweeted and stated in an interview with Houston’s 790 radio station yesterday that this team does not seem to take plays in the first half as urgently as in the second, even though the reality is that all plays are created equal.
  • Anyone who is reading this preview should know about the sheer chaos which has plagued the Knicks all season.  Few expected them to earn homecourt advantage in the East, but even the biggest pessimists did not think that they would be in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.  Or rather, they would be if the Knicks hadn’t shipped off their first round pick to Denver to get Carmelo Anthony.  And let us not forget that Houston also owns New York’s second round pick this year and next year in exchange for 24 games of Marcus Camby.  Kudos to Morey, as usual.
  • Despite all the ink spilled about the Knicks this season, it is impossible to tell what team will come out onto the floor.  Will J.R. Smith pout about the departure of his brother, or will Houston’s perimeter defense provide him with just the boost that he needs?  How will Carmelo function alongside these misfits, especially since he has just returned from a sprained ankle?  Who will provide the minutes at point guard?  The Knicks are a sort of bizarro Houston, with lots of 3-pointers, maddening inconsistency, and a great wing superstar who can score at will.  They can be incredibly good, as they showed last night by shocking the San Antonio Spurs on their home floor.  But for most of this season, they have not.
  • Greg Smith might be ready for tonight’s game, though it is currently unclear at the time of this writing.  While Smith is not quite a big man to be inserted for defensive purposes, the thought of no longer playing Terrence Jones at the center spot with Casspi at the 4 is indeed a comforting thought.  Do please be careful with your knees this time, Smith.

Rotation Spotlight:

 Andrea Bargnani

Andrea Bargnani

The Rockets defeated the Knicks in Madison Square Garden earlier this season, but the general reaction from that game was less about the result and more about the fact that Bargnani, a player infamous for his softness and lack of defense, utterly humiliated Dwight Howard’s attempts in the post and held him to 1-5 from the floor.  Some of this criticism was unfair.  Bargnani is a good post defender; team defense and rotations are where he is downright miserable.  But it was still discomforting to see the larger Howard struggle so much.

Now, almost two months later, Howard’s post play has become far more effective .  Will Bargnani guard Howard, with the return of Tyson Chandler?  If he does, will Howard be able to avenge his earlier humiliation and also prevent Bargnani from scoring as well as the Italian did in the earlier game (24 points on 12 shots)?  And will the Rockets take care to give him the ball as much as needed if it works out for Howard?

Tip-off is at 7:00pm CST.  Game will be broadcast on NBATV.

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About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.