In a battle of youth versus experience, the defending champion Miami Heat will head to Texas to face the young and hungry Houston Rockets. After getting off to a solid start following the James Harden trade, Houston has come back down to earth, and Miami, per usual, is back in the title hunt with a deep bench that includes Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
Even though one team is clearly better on paper, this game actually has the potential to be quite close. While the Heat have the experience, the Rockets have the youth and energy to keep up with LeBron and Co., as they are coming off a win against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 10.
Thus, with a potential momentum shift in the balance, this game could feature some fireworks and will surely be tons of fun to watch. But who will walk away with the victory?
Time: Monday, Nov. 12, 8:00 p.m., EST
TV: Sun Sports
Records: Miami (5-2), vs. Houston (3-3)
Injuries: Dexter Pittman (quad), Royce White (migraines)
Key Storyline: Rockets Look to Regain Momentum in Wake of Recent Heat Loss
After the Rockets traded for guard James Harden prior to the start of the season, the team got off to a great start. Over Houston's first two games, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year averaged 41 points, 6.5 rebounds and seven assists as the new go-to guy in town.
However, Harden has since returned to human form, and his three-point shooting this season is not as accurate as it usually is. Through six games, he is shooting just 27 percent from long range.
Similarly, point guard Jeremy Lin continues to struggle with his shot and has yet to duplicate any of the high-scoring "Linsanity" we saw with the New York Knicks last year.
Still, the Rockets are in a prime position to have a great game against Miami. They are coming off of a big win against Detroit, while Miami arrives just one day after getting blown out by the Grizzlies, so it's safe to say who has more momentum going in.
With head coach Kevin McHale away dealing with a family matter and Kelvin Sampson manning the helm in the interim, Houston is going to do anything but make things easy for the defending champions.
Key Matchup: Dwyane Wade vs. James Harden
After missing a game with an illness caught from one of his sons, Dwyane Wade is back in action and ready to play. In Houston, he'll have something of an NBA Finals rematch, as he will be guarding fellow shooting guard James Harden.
Simply put, if Harden wants to win this matchup, he needs to be as aggressive as possible on offense without committing any stupid fouls—easier said than done against a notorious flopper in Wade.
In fact, Harden should have one goal tonight: free throws, free throws and more free throws. Yes, his long-range shooting is historically good and his jumper is respectable, but the only way he's going to beat Wade is to draw fouls. This could prove to be tough, as Wade has already established himself as a fine pest.
On defense, Harden simply has to hope for the best. His defensive game has shown tremendous improvement this season, but Wade is one of the best when it comes to fighting through his man and getting a successful shot off.
That said, whoever wins this matchup is probably going to end up on the winning side at the final buzzer.
X-Factor: Dwyane Wade
In Miami's loss to Memphis, a lot of the blame, for lack of better word, can be placed on Wade. In his first game back from his illness, he scored just eight points and shot a horrific 3-of-15 from the field, though he did pull down eight rebounds.
Yes, everyone has an occasional bad game, but Miami can't afford to lose another game on the road and fall to 1-3 away from home this season, further adding to its reputation as a team that underachieves when not in the friendly confines of AmericanAirlines Arena.
That said, with teammate LeBron James battling a sore knee, Wade really needs to step up Monday night in Houston. He is an unquestioned leader of the Miami Heat and needs to fill that role tonight. That means picking his shots wisely and not going on a long-range shooting spree against a team with rebounding-machine Omer Asik.
As Wade's shots fall through the net, so do Houston's chances of winning the game.
Though they may have a slight momentum advantage entering tonight's game, the Rockets are just too young to keep up with the veteran Heat. Two of their three losses have come against playoff-caliber teams, including the very team that just defeated Miami, the Memphis Grizzlies.
That said, this game is going to be a high-scoring one, albeit one with its fair share of defense. Each team will go through a number of cold stretches, as well as hot ones, but experience will win out in the long run.
Who will win?
Look for Wade to have a far better game this time around, with solid performances from LeBron James and Ray Allen as well. Miami's depth will be in full force and Houston's youth will be exposed.
Needless to say, after this loss, the Rockets will still be continuing their search for the winning formula for their young squad. Miami, on the other hand, will be back on the road towards repeating as champions.
Miami Heat 119, Houston Rockets 104