For obvious reasons—or rather, Lin-induced reasons—there is plenty of intrigue surrounding this one. This marks the first time Lin and the Knicks will face each other since New York opted to not match the offer sheet Houston put in front of him.
It also marks a chance for both teams to get back on track. The Knicks are fresh off a gut-wrenching, albeit underwhelming, loss to the Dallas Mavericks while the Rockets will look to extend their winning streak to two after their impressive win over the Chicago Bulls.
Emotions will undoubtedly be running high as last season's New York savior attempts to outdo the the team that didn't think he was worth the money.
To call this one a must-watch game would be a gross understatement.
Time: Friday, November 22nd, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBA League Pass
Records: Houston Rockets (5-7), New York Knicks (8-2)
Betting Line: Knicks -4
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Rockets: Cole Aldrich (ankle, questionable); Carlos Delfino (groin, questionable).
Knicks: Iman Shumpert (knee, out); Amar'e Stoudemire (knee, out).
Key Storyline: Are the Knicks better off without Jeremy Lin?
Pundits have been anything but shy about addressing the divorce between Lin and the Knickerbockers, but their separation will reach new heights here.
With New York standing at 8-2 and tied for the best record in the NBA, it appears that the Knicks are better off without Lin. That said, if the point guard comes out and has a big night against his former team, showing up Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd in the process, a wholehearted debate will undoubtedly ensue.
Of course, this is just one game, where the outcome for either party can be attributed to the emotional roller coaster this contest will undoubtedly be.
However, there's no denying the Knicks made a controversial decision when they parted ways with the global sensation.
Friday night, they'll finally bear firsthand witness to what they're missing.
Or what they luckily avoided.
Key Matchup: Jeremy Lin, PG, Rockets vs. Raymond Felton, PG, Knicks
If you're surprised to see that this matchup means a great deal to this game, then I'm not sure what impenetrable rock you've been living under.
Not only will Lin be going up against Felton—who has been both Lin's predecessor and successor—but he'll do so in the midst of former teammate J.R. Smith proclaiming that Felton is, in fact, better than Lin.
There's really no arguing with Smith at this point. Lin is averaging just 10 points and 6.3 assists on 33.3 percent shooting per game. He hasn't been able to hit his stride and has been benched at crucial points in games as a result.
His cause isn't going to become any easier against the Knicks either. Lin's success is predicated on dribble penetration, and New York is currently allowing just 37.4 points in the paint per contest, fifth-best in the league.
Toss in the fact that he'll be tasked with defending Felton, and he could be in trouble.
Speaking of Felton, he's picked up right where he left off in 2011. He's averaging 15.7 points and 6.9 assists on 43.8 percent shooting per game. He's also shooting a 42.2 percent clip from downtown.
Lin is anything but a staunch defender, which means we should expect to see Felton attack the basket hard and at a high frequency. He may limit his fancy pass attempts, as Lin is adequate at manning the passing lanes, but has the overall edge is this one.
Or rather, he should.
We've seen what Lin can do before. He can take a team and carry them on his back on any given night if he gets it going.
If his determination to beat his former team outweighs his lack of current confidence in this one, it will be Felton who will be in for a long night.
James Harden, SG, Rockets
No surprises here either.
Harden leads the Rockets in scoring at 24.5 points per contest, but with Lin more of a wild card than ever, he needs to have a huge night. Like monstrous.
The Knicks are allowing 91.4 points a night, third-best in the Association. Harden and the Rockets aren't going to win if they fall victim for such a defense. So he needs to break it down early.
Houston is 4-1 on the season when Harden has scored 28 or more points, and the team needs him to post a similar scoring output in this one if it wishes to emerge victorious.
Ronnie Brewer, SG, Knicks
Brewer has shot the ball incredibly well this season. He's shooting 47.7 percent from the floor overall and knocking down 44 percent of his three-point attempts as well.
But the Knicks signed him for his defense, which they need more than ever against Houston.
Not only did New York allow a season-high 114 points against the Mavericks, but Harden remains one of the prolific scorers in the game.
A scorer Brewer will be asked to defend and subsequently shut down, or at the very least contain.
If he can keep the bearded wonder in check, the Knicks' path to victory will remain almost unimpeded.
Chandler Parsons, SF, Rockets
New York is shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc this season, fourth best in the league. For Houston to overcome such prowess, it must combat it with a deadly shooting performance of their own.
The Rockets are knocking down just 32 percent of their treys, but Parsons is hitting on 39.7 percent of his. We know the Knicks are going to both take and hit a plethora of threes, so Houston needs to hit plenty of its own.
Which means the Rockets have to get Parsons a battery of open looks from behind the rainbow.
J.R. Smith, SG, Knicks
Smith came back down to earth against Dallas, scoring just 14 points on 38.5 percent shooting. That can't happen in Houston.
The Rockets' bench is putting up just 28.4 points per contest, the fifth-lowest in the league compared to the Knicks' 35 a night. While New York has the clear advantage on paper, it needs to ensure it doesn't lose it.
Smith has the potential to put points up in a hurry, and as we've seen this season, he can also do so efficiently.
Coming off a disappointing loss on the road, the Knicks need him to regain such form, as his ability to excel in this one will go a long way in his team's quest for their ninth victory.
Prediction: Knicks 107, Rockets 99
Lin and the Rockets are going to struggle in this one.
The Knicks are coming off an emotional loss to the Mavericks, a loss that should have arguably been a win. In an attempt to continue to assert their dominance as an NBA powerhouse, motivation will be at a season high in this one.
It also doesn't hurt that Carmelo Anthony, Felton and Smith will look to show Houston just how much better off New York is without Lin. They'll all come out firing early, and the Knicks' fifth-ranked offense will inevitably torch the Rockets' 25th-ranked defense.
Expect Lin to be a marked man in this one, more than he normally is. He has shot the ball better than 38.5 percent just twice this season and is going to have his hands full against a team that allows just 91.4 points per bout.
Harden will have no trouble carrying the offensive burden, but as has been the case all season, it won't always be enough. Plus, I shudder to think how poorly the inconsistent Omer Asik will fare against the likes of both Tyson Chandler and Rasheed Wallace.
The Knicks have a deeper, more experienced and versatile attack than the Rockets, and it's going to show by the end of the game.
In which case, Lin's reunion with the Knicks isn't going to feel so good.
For the Rockets, that is.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 23rd, 2012.
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