An NBA Southwest Division battle will be in full swing as the New Orleans Hornets pay a visit to the Houston Rockets. By the final buzzer, there will be an answer as to who has a real shot contending in the division.
New Orleans will continue to try and gain ground in the extremely tough division, whereas the Rockets will just try to stay afloat and regain some of their early fire. Houston is coming off a tough loss to the Miami Heat, and looking for redemption. Still, the Hornets have won three of four, and their momentum isn't stopping.
However, what really makes this game interesting is the youth both teams have. New Orleans has No. 1 pick Anthony Davis doing fine work in the frontcourt as well as former Duke guard Austin Rivers, but Houston has the interesting group of rookies. GM Daryl Morey was able to land three first-round picks for the Rockets: forwards Terrence Jones and Royce White, and the recently traded Jeremy Lamb.
Interestingly enough, the Rockets have rarely used their rookies while the Hornets have heavily incorporated theirs into the system.
That said, tonight's game could prove to be a turning point for Houston if New Orleans' youth just goes off on both sides of the floor.
Time: Wednesday, November 14th, 8:00 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports New Orleans, CSN Houston
Records: New Orleans (3-2) vs. Houston (3-4)
Betting Line: New Orleans (+6.5), Houston (-6.5), via Bovada
Injuries: Royce White (migraine)
Key Storyline: Houston Looks for Redemption Against Young New Orleans Team
After getting off to a 2-0 start, the Rockets have lost four of five. Their most recent loss was a tough one to the Miami Heat on November 12, just by a three-pont margin. Needless to say, they're going to want a win tonight, and badly.
Fortunately for Houston, an extremely young New Orleans team comes to town tonight. However, this is a team full of young talent that has proven it can play with the big boys. 19-year-old Anthony Davis is playing as if he's been in the league for a few years already and will surely make life difficult for Houston on both ends of the court.
More importantly, both teams are playing for a better standing in the Southwest Division. With a win, Houston will be tied with New Orleans as both teams will be at .500.
New Orleansbwill be looking to win and potentially be within a game and a half of the division leading San Antonio Spurs. No matter how you look at it, there's a lot riding on this game for both teams.
Considering the youth each squad has, this is going to be a hard-fought contest from start to finish.
Key Matchup: Jeremy Lin vs. Greivis Vasquez
In terms of who will actually win this game, it's going to start and end with the point guards. Lin has struggled with his scoring all season, but has been able to hold his own when it comes to playing defense and distributing the ball. The Harvard grad has averaged 6.4 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
The Venezuelan Vasquez has also had a very similar season, minus the tough defense. He has averaged 10 points and 8.8 assists per game, but has shot just 31 percent from the field.
However, what makes this matchup truly interesting is the size. Lin is 6'3", while Vasquez is tall for a point guard at 6'6". Given that, Lin could have a hard time trying to drive the lane or create plays.
Granted, it's also important to note that the Rockets will probably have a bevy of people guarding Anthony Davis, most notably center Omer Asik. However, as was just mentioned, this is only one of many matchups that Houston can employ against Davis.
When push comes to shove, the key matchup will be at the point as two young up-and-coming floor generals face off against and try to solve each other.
X-Factor: James Harden
After two great games to kick off Houston's season, Harden has drifted back down to Earth. His scoring is still there at 25.9 points per game, but his shot selection has gotten impulsive and the team has suffered as a result. Over his previous five games, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year is shooting just 33 percent from the floor.
More importantly, Harden has stopped being the playmaker he slowly became in three years with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has only averaged 3.6 assists over his last five games and is concentrating solely on scoring points.
While Harden's scoring may be his strongest skill, he has started to act like a bit of a hot dog. He needs to realize that his actions on the court are hurting the team. The Rockets have a lot of money invested in him and he needs to start earning his money not just as a shooter, but as the playmaking guard who also played tough defense in OKC.
If he can take a team-first approach into this game, then the Rockets might just have a chance.
This is a tough one to call, as both teams have tons of young talent and extremely bright futures. However, as good as the Hornets are, their lack of a solid veteran leader is going to come back to bite them in this one.
Thus, in an extremely close and defensive game, I expect the Rockets to pull away in the fourth quarter and find themselves back at .500. Harden will turn on the afterburners and make some clutch shots down the stretch, while Omer Asik is a beast in the paint per usual.
On New Orleans' end, expect a good game from Anthony Davis. He may struggle at times, but will still post overall good numbers. Of course, the Hornets can't rely on him alone and this is why they will lose on the road tonight.
Houston Rockets 97, New Orleans Hornets 90