The Houston Rockets may have lost in overtime to the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 10, but it was by a 134-126 margin. Even more amazing was that star guard James Harden was out with an ankle injury, and Jeremy Lin finally lived up to the Linsanity hype that earned him his contract with Houston. As a result, the Rockets are in a great position to have an even greater game against the struggling Washington Wizards.
Washington has won just three games on the season, but that does not mean it is to be taken lightly. One of those wins came against the defending champion Miami Heat, on Dec. 4, and the Wizards have enough of an inside presence to pull off an upset against Houston.
The Rockets will be fully locked in, refusing to let that happen. They have lost three games in a row, and will do anything to avoid making that streak hit four.
This means that Houston must not get cocky against the Wizards. In fact, they must stay fully focused and locked in from start to finish, with or without their star players.
They almost came away with a big win against San Antonio, and there is really no reason they should not be able to blow out Washington. Houston has the talent to control this game, but Washington may have other ideas with its recent victory over Miami.
Time: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: CSN Houston, CSN HD
Records: Washington Wizards (3-15) vs. Houston Rockets (9-11)
Betting Lines: Washington (+10 1/2), Houston (-10 1/2)
Injuries: John Wall (knee, out), A.J. Price (hand, out), Trevor Booker (knee, out), Trevor Ariza (calf, out), James Harden (ankle, day-to-day), Jeremy Lin (ankle, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Can Wizards Pull Off Another Upset?
The Wizards are the NBA's worst team, cursed with both inexperience and injury woes. Despite this, they have pulled off a win against the Miami Heat this season and could have another upset in their bones against Houston.
Like Washington, the Rockets are dealing with injuries. Two of their key players are injured, and may not even suit up for tonight's game. James Harden is dealing with an ankle injury suffered against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 8, and Jeremy Lin hurt his ankle in practice on Tuesday according to the Houston Chronicle.
Assuming neither man can go tonight, though that is doubtful, Washington will be in a position to have a tremendous game against a team considered far superior.
Look at it this way: The Wizards are last in points scored with 90.3 per game, whereas the Rockets rank third at 104.5 per contest. In contrast, Houston ranks last in points allowed at 105.4 per game.
Should Harden or Lin have to miss tonight's game, the Rockets offense will be at a great disadvantage. Both men can score in bunches, and Washington's solid frontcourt will be ready to stop anyone trying to drive the lane.
It would take one big effort, but Washington could easily come away with a win in Houston under certain circumstances. It won't be easy, but it is definitely possible if certain chips fall into place.
Key Matchup: Bradley Beal vs. James Harden
The Wizards drafted Beal with the third pick in the 2012 draft and hoped that he could be a solid scoring presence for them from the start. Despite being just 6'3", he averaged 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds in his sole year at the University of Florida and looked as though he could make an immediate impact on the professional level.
Beal has averaged 11.9 points per game this season, but has struggled to make his shots consistently. He is shooting just 36 percent from the field and is proving to be just a bit undersized at his position.
He will likely be guarded by James Harden tonight, which could mean a long game for him if the reigning Sixth Man of the Year's ankle is feeling better. Not only has Harden been a fine scorer for Houston with 24.7 points per game, but his defense has also been superb at 1.7 steals per contest.
Harden will use his newly balanced game to pester Beal into frustration, forcing the rookie to throw up bad shots left and right. This could prove an issue to the Wizards, who have no truly reliable scorer on the team right now save for Jordan Crawford, and he isn't much of an improvement.
When his team is on offense, Harden is going to be in a great position to have a big game. Not only is Beal not a strong defender, but he is also two inches taller at 6'5", not to mention more experienced.
The former Sun Devil can thus have a ball against his young opponent. He can drive past him for a layup or dunk, or choose to create off the dribble and fake him out.
This is Harden's matchup to lose, and with his Rockets on a losing streak, he's going to make sure he defeats Beal handily.
X-factor: Patrick Patterson
The Rockets have a lot of go-to guys outside of Harden and Lin. Omer Asik is turning into a double-double machine, and Chandler Parsons has great leadership abilities on top of being a good shooter.
However, one hidden gem the Rockets have had all season long is power forward Patrick Patterson, currently in his third NBA season out of Kentucky. Houston drafted him with the 14th pick in 2010, and he is finally starting to get significant minutes this season.
Patterson is averaging 13.4 points and just 4.9 rebounds, but is still proving to be a good contributor for the team. He is using his 6'9", 235-pound frame to create mismatches on both sides of the floor and has a good jump shot on top of his inside scoring.
Washington's frontcourt is weak, so Patterson has no excuse to not be a beast on both offense and defense tonight. Nene is still getting into game shape, and Chris Singleton is still learning how to keep up with the NBA pace. Jan Vesely may not even play at all.
Patterson must use these advantages and do absolutely everything. He must get under the basket and draw fouls, and also not be afraid to use his jump shot.
On defense, he simply cannot stay away from the rim and let Asik handle all of the rebounding duties. He must go after every loose ball, but not so hard that he gets in foul trouble doing so.
Simply put: Patterson needs to balance out his team's run-and-gun game with his own skills, and that means playing the same type of defense he did in college. So long as he can do that, Houston will have a great chance to win the game handily.
And Patterson will in turn have a good night.
Barring an extremely cruel twist of fate, the Rockets will win tonight. The Wizards are just an absolute mess without John Wall running the point, and it's really going to show at the Toyota Center tonight.
Whether or not Lin plays, James Harden is going to be in full playmaker mode. He will score, pass, rebound and play incredible defense against young and inexperienced Washington. In fact, he may come close to a triple-double.
Patterson and Asik will patrol the paint with authority and not back down from any rebounding opportunity. Asik will have a double-double, and Patterson will come close. He will score a lot of points and have maybe eight or nine boards to go with them.
Who will win?
All in all, the Wizards will look like the team they have been the past few seasons. Inexperienced, young and immature. They have zero leadership, even with veterans Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor on the roster, and that is ultimately what's hurting them on top of John Wall being hurt.
This game is going to be ugly, and Houston will do all it can to make it so, as their losing streak comes to an end.
Houston Rockets 116, Washington Wizards 93
All statistics in this article accurate as of Tuesday, December 11, 2012