Carrying an 11-2 record on their backs since the All-Star break is just about the best case scenario the Rockets could have hoped for to start the 2nd half of the NBA season. With the previous addition of Danuel House back into the lineup, and with all of their players at full health (for the most part), the Rockets finally have a complete, deep roster that arguably is more talented on paper than last season’s team that pushed the Warriors to 7 games in the Western Conference Finals. The goal for Houston now should be to finish with the best playoff seed possible (hopefully at least the 3 seed) and have a fully healthy squad going into the postseason, and they’ll continue working towards that end when they meet up with the Hawks tonight in Atlanta.
The Hawks are on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean this will be an easy match up in the slightest. Their recent record certainly isn’t pretty, as they’ve gone 4-6 since the last time they faced the Rockets on 2/25, but they’ve had some stand out performances from members of their young core since then. Primarily, Trae Young has been on a tear since the last time the two teams met, averaging 24.0 PPG, 8.1 APG, and 5.5 RPG over his last 10 games, making sure it’s known that the draft day trade for Dončić wasn’t a loss for the Hawks. Also, while he may not be getting the press that Trae is getting, second year PF John Collins has been killing it for them recently as well, averaging 23.6 PPG and 11.0 RPG over his last 10 games. The rest of the Hawks on the other hand…let’s just say their play is nothing to write home about, as almost all of the other rotation players for the Hawks are shooting lower percentages than their season averages as of late, which seems to be the primary cause of the Hawks troubles in March, for the most part. In fact, since the last time they played the Rockets, almost every game the Hawks have lost can be attributed to poor shooting from both the field and from 3.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, their kryptonite (rebounding) is one of the Hawks’ strengths (they rank 11th in the league in team rebounds per game). So, defensively, the Rockets need to have a concerted team effort to crash the glass against the Hawks, continue to play the strong perimeter defense they have since the All-Star break, and hope the combination of those two facets will lead to another poor shooting night from the Hawks without them receiving too many 2nd chance opportunities. On the offensive end, the Rockets are in a bit of a shooting slump themselves, shooting the exact same clip from 3 point land (35.9%) as the Hawks over the last 10 games, but slightly better from the field. With the full rotation expected to be available tonight, the Rockets offense should be firing from all cylinders. Especially, if they’re able to use transition scoring from lock down defense on one end to open up the offense on the other end, even if shots aren’t immediately falling for them. If things continue to look the way that they have with the Rockets since the break, where they put in a full game of effort filled defense with multiple players (not named James Harden) contributing to the scoring load, the Rockets should take what feels like may be a close one in Atlanta tonight.
Prediction: Rockets 112 – Hawks 109