New Orleans Hornets @ Houston Rockets on 1/2/13

The Houston Rockets host the New Orleans Hornets for Houston’s first game of 2013. Coming out of a flurry of changing expectations, the Rockets now look ahead not to a face-off against a fellow rebuilding team, but come into the evening as a projected playoff team. Instead of simply growth and development, the Rockets are under pressure to produce a win, and a big one at that. But in the wild Western Conference, nothing is a given.

The Hornets, fresh off a disappointing home loss to the Atlanta Hawks, look to improve their fates and pick up their 8th win on the season. While their record looks to give them a fighting chance at picking first overall again in the 2013 NBA Draft, they have some reason to be hopeful for the balance of their season. Anthony Davis, while not sewing up the Rookie of the Year award as much as many expected, he’s had a solid rookie year, averaging over 14 points and 8 rebounds a game, as well as an 11th best 1.9 blocks per game.Perhaps more importantly, Eric Gordon is in the early stages of his return to the NBA. He’s worked his way back up to 24 minutes a game, and his minutes restriction and bench status are under re-examination.

The more minutes Eric Gordon plays, the greater a chance for the Hornets to deliver a blow to the Rockets and their newfound relevance. While he may have preferred to accept a maximum contract from the Phoenix Suns, he has a lot to prove to New Orleans and to the world. While his game against the Hawks on the 1st was lacking (11 points on 5-17 shooting), he had a dangerous 24 point, 25 minute game against the Bobcats. When the Rockets and the Hornets face off, two young, high-price shooting guards will face off in Harden and Gordon. Both seem to be auditioning for the part of 2-guard of the future, but so far Gordon has barely had a chance to try.

The two teams resemble each other in a few more ways, as well. Rookie guard Austin Rivers straddles the line between point guard and shooting guard, leading him to be used as a combination scorer and ball-handler. The same could be said of Jeremy Lin, and especially backup guard Toney Douglas, who seems to be quietly shifting to a 2-guard role for Houston.

Both teams feature a young big man who can patrol the paint, grab rebounds and snag a few points. Anthony Davis leads Asik in points and blocks (14 to 11 and 1.9  to 1.1 respectively), but Asik is fourth in the league in rebounds with an impressive 11.8 a game. Asik’s size and Davis’ agility make them both formidable defenders inside, and both are young enough to have offensive upside.

Both teams entered the season as rebuilding teams, with the Hornets looking to be further along the path. New Orleans already snagged a top draft pick, a top young scorer, and a pile of young, cheap prospects. All that was left was to start developing and wait for the growth. The Rockets, on the other hand, acquired their star, assembled their youth players, developed their system and balanced their checkbook in the span of two scant months. What could have been a showdown at the bottom of the pile instead looks likely to be a rout.

Starting December 17th in New York, the Rockets have picked up a habit of blowing their opponents out of the building, with the notable exceptions of a difficult game won against the Timberwolves in Minnesota, and two nasty losses to San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The Rockets rallied after two losses on a back to back to put away the Eastern Conference 3rd seed hawks with aplomb. As the Rockets’ power rankings climb, so do their expectations. Anything less than a domination against the Hornets will sting.

With their full team coming into place, and an 8-6 history against the Rockets for the past 4 seasons, the Hornets are a team to take seriously, despite their record. The Rockets not only have had trouble against fellow Western Conference teams this season (a grim 5-12 so far), but had difficulty against the Hornets earlier in the year, beating them 100-96 in Houston on November 14th. The Rockets have certainly improved since then, but the Hornets were missing their star shooting guard at the time.

While the Hornets have a predominantly young team that should theoretically be able to keep their breath in a track meet, in practice they play at the most viscous pace in the NBA, barely topping 90 possessions a game. The Rockets bring over 9 more possessions a game, and the team that forces their pace on the other is liable to have a smooth evening. Houston has lately proven up to the task of leaving slower teams on their heels, and the Hornets are liable to be sluggish on a back to back.

Nothing is ever certain in the NBA, however, and Eric Gordon looks poised to have a large night in Houston. In a series of big wins, it’s gone largely unnoticed that whoever James Harden guards seems to have a big night lately. Whether this is poor man defense, lapses in communication, or simply players giving him 110% is up to debate, but the door is open for Gordon to try to show Harden up, even if it’s in a loss.

As the Rockets try to shore up their conference and division numbers, Rockets fans have many reasons to expect another fireball from the scorching hot Rockets. But Houston has to stay hungry if they want to keep the streak up; any team in the NBA can win, especially when you least expect it.

Royce White remains inactive. Patrick Patterson is active but may not start. Tip off is scheduled for 7:00 pm central time on Wednesday, January 2nd 2013 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

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Total comments: 16
  • Jeby says 4 months ago Ditto to Rahat's comment about having a superstar.

    For the last three years, it usually took about three above-expected performances from role players to win a game. The chances of any three role players producing over their talent levels every night are slim. Replace one of those guys with someone who puts up 25/5/5 every night, and only two guys have to step up each night to earn a win. To put it another way, James Harden lowers the risk factor in each game.
  • CruzanEmpire says 4 months ago amacbrooks is correct. It was a back to back for them. Giving the nature of his injury, they wanted to rest him.
  • phaketrash says 4 months ago @amacbrooks; I think they wanted to rest him and make sure he didn't re-injure himself or something.
  • amacbrooks12 says 4 months ago Why didn't Eric Gordon play ?
  • Johnny Rocket says 4 months ago Great summary. The Rockets did not shoot particularly well (especially from the three-point line) and still won. As I watched the game, the Rockets seemed like a veteran team, confident they could find a way to win even when not playing their best. I'm very bullish about our playoff hopes.

    I think Patterson will continue to come off the bench. Morris seems much, much better as a starter, while Patterson brings immediate energy and helps solidify the defense of the second unit. Whoever is hot can finish the game.
  • tombrokeoff says 4 months ago

    Rahat Huq, on 03 January 2013 - 15:36 PM said:

    It feels nice to have a superstar to fall back on at the end of the game. The Rockets would have lost that game in any of the last 3 years.

    no kidding and amen!
  • Rahat Huq says 4 months ago It feels nice to have a superstar to fall back on at the end of the game. The Rockets would have lost that game in any of the last 3 years.
  • tombrokeoff says 4 months ago so .... im glad we won, but that was about as boring of a game to attend as possible. no surprise though, being on a wednesday night against one of the leagues worst teams. had the rockets played like that against anyone but the hornets (or maybe 2 or 3 other teams), they would have lost. way too many missed 3s and what seemed like a lot of offensive rebounds given up. i was getting upset when NO tied it late, but then harden and patterson pretty much took it right back. also, i know its just one game, but i saw absolutely nothing from the unibrow that impressed me aside from a couple of pretty looking, early jumpers.
  • Red94 says 4 months ago New post: Houston Rockets 104, New Orleans Hornets 92: Tough Victories count too.
  • Red94 says 4 months ago New post: [video] Hornets rookie Anthony Davis on loss to Rockets
  • RYLIU says 4 months ago To Jeby, you are spot on. I noticed the same things about Harden's defense. Besides not being in position and not contesting diligently, he also does not fight thru screens and hardly ever pick up charges. He does go for blocks near the basket though. Harden is an all star already, to take the next step to super star, he needs to play better defense.
  • thejohnnygold says 4 months ago All true. I am excited to see how PPat and Marcus Morris fare against "the brow". I expect solid games from them as i believe they have the advantage in that match-up.
  • amacbrooks12 says 4 months ago This one is going to be interesting to watch, especially the Harden vs Gordon matchup. It's going to be like watching a right handed Harden with Gordon out there, being that they both have the same play styles. Gordon excels in the pick and roll, can draw fouls easily, knows how to drive and finish, and can shoot the 3 quite well. Should be a fun matchup to watch.
  • Jeby says 4 months ago Good point about Harden's defense. The biggest thing I've noticed with him is that he really hasn't been closing out on three-point shooters. He spends most of his time roaming for steals, which leaves him sagging off his man. Often if he's a step out of position when his man gets the ball he doesn't even bother to put a hand up as the rock sails toward the basket. He's already looking to get the rebound or catch the outlet pass.

    If he tries that against Eric Gordon, he'll get torched tonight.
  • tombrokeoff says 4 months ago im going to the game tonight. will be the 2nd game i will have seen. the other being one of the two espn games, so im definitely excited, but my tickets were freebies from CSN Houston, so theyre nosebleed. anyway, Go Rockets!
  • hubeijames says 4 months ago This post seems like an absurd attempt to make this match have much more weight and uncertainty than it should. Are you an NBA analyst or are you a marketer for NBA telecasts? Are you a politician's campaign spokesman, trying to manage expectations to make sure every victory is a surprise?

    The Hornicans have a lot of upside, but they are not going to turn things around overnight. Rather than trying to paint a painfully unrealistic picture that it's "anyone's game," for lopsided matches like this your analysis should be focused on elements of the game unrelated to who gets the W and L. Heck, you had stuff to talk about: Harden's Kobe-esque defense, Houston's victory margins, etc. That stuff is interesting; don't waste it on hyping NO's chances tonight.
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