Jeremy Lin makes his long-anticipated return to Madison Square Garden on Monday night, when his Houston Rockets will look to do at least one of two things. Not only is his team in a position to sweep the season series against the New York Knicks, but they can also deal the team its first home loss of the season.
Naturally, the Knicks will be out to avenge their loss to Houston on November 23. It should not be too hard for them to do so, given the Rockets' 2-7 record on the road.
The Knicks also have a winning streak going, having won four straight and nine of their last 10. They have defeated teams like the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets over this stretch, further establishing themselves as the team to beat in the NBA.
Tonight's game is going to be emotional for both the fans and players. Lin is returning to the city that made him a household name, and the rowdy New York fans will get a chance to watch the player that stole their hearts for eight games last season.
Both teams really want the win going into the game, and the battle of Houston's youth vs. New York's experience will definitely provide plenty of fireworks.
Time: Monday, December 17th, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: NBATV, CSN Houston, MSG
Records: Houston Rockets (11-12) vs. New York Knicks (18-5)
Betting Lines: Not available as of Monday, December 17, 8:35 a.m. EST
Injuries: Amar'e Stoudemire (knee, out), Iman Shumpert (knee, out), Marcus Camby (foot, doubtful), Rasheed Wallace (foot, day-to-day), Carmelo Anthony (ankle, day-to-day), Patrick Patterson (foot, out)
Key Storyline: Lin Returns to MSG as New York Seeks Vengeance for Blowout Loss in Houston
The Knicks' loss to the Rockets in Houston on November 23 was not just a loss, but an absolute blowout. Houston's run-and-gun offense ran wild and allowed the team to shoot an incredible 56 percent from three-point range, and the defense managed to out-rebound the Knicks 49-30.
When the dust settled, the Rockets won in grand fashion, 131-103.
The loss is only going to make tonight's game more emotional. Not only will the Knicks and their fans want to win badly after such a bad loss, but Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin is coming back to New York for the first time since signing a contract with Houston over the summer.
Lin was the toast of New York in the month of February last season, when Carmelo Anthony was sidelined by a groin injury and Amar'e Stoudemire was home in Florida following the death of his brother. The Harvard grad averaged 20.9 points and 8.4 assists that month, leading the Knicks to key victories over elite teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.
The man was a restricted free agent over the summer, and despite overwhelming reports that the Knicks would match any offer he received, the money Houston offered proved to be too much. Lin was allowed to leave for Houston and the Knicks instead went with Raymond Felton as the team's point guard.
It has thus far proven to be the right move. Felton is doing a fine job in his second stint with the Knicks, while Lin is struggling to find his groove in Houston.
The odds of it happening are low, but for Lin to have a great game in his return to Madison Square Garden would mean a lot to both him and the team. Handing the Knicks their first home loss would just be the icing on the cake.
Key Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. Omer Asik
If the Knicks want to win tonight, there is one thing they must do consistently: rebound.
Even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, starting at center, New York still ranks just 28th in the league in rebounding. Houston ranks sixth, thus explaining how they were able to dominate the glass in New York's visit to the Toyota Center.
Houston can thank center Omer Asik for its good performance in the rebounding department. The Turkish seven-footer is currently fourth in the NBA with 11.6 rebounds per game, and has also chipped in 10.3 points on offense.
Asik won his battle against Chandler on November 23, scoring 18 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, compared to his opponent's six points and seven rebounds, respectively. This can be attributed to the Knicks just not being ready for Houston's attack on the pick-and-roll, not to mention the Rockets just being freakishly accurate in terms of making shots that night.
Now that the battle has moved to the Big Apple, Chandler is going to be fully focused in defending his home turf. He is having another fine season, averaging 13.4 points and 9.6 rebounds.
Chandler is also leading the NBA in field goal percentage, having made an astounding 72 percent of his shots.
Asik has shot just 48 percent from the field, which should make for an interesting night with a more experienced center guarding him, not to mention better prepared to play against him.
No matter how you look at it, the battle in the paint will be the one that decides the game tonight.
X-Factors: Chandler Parsons and Jason Kidd
When the Rockets defeated the Knicks on November 23, Chandler Parsons was the star of the show. Not only did the former Florida Gator score a team-high 31 points, but he also had five rebounds and four steals. The Knicks had no way of stopping him, thus their losing in such a grand fashion.
Parsons needs to be just as great for Houston to come away with a win tonight. He is averaging 15.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this season, and has also made 38 percent of his threes. The man is also proving to be a good leader on the floor for this young team, and Houston will need him to provide an instant spark on offense in their quest to beat the Knicks at home.
New York needs their own offensive spark tonight, outside of Carmelo Anthony. The man for this job will be the veteran Jason Kidd, who still appears to have plenty of gas left in the tank despite being 39 years old.
Kidd is averaging just 8.9 points per game, but he has been a force for the Knicks on both sides of the court this season. Aside from his 1.8 steals per contest, Kidd is also third in the NBA in three-point percentage, having sunk 48 percent of his shots from downtown.
Over his last five games, Kidd has also looked like his old self. He has averaged 11 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists over that stretch, and he has also proven to be adept at making clutch shots throughout the season.
New York will need him to be on his game tonight. He must make his three-pointers and be a pest on defense. More importantly, he must help slow down Parsons.
Otherwise, the Knicks' perfect home record will be in jeopardy and the Rockets' taking the season series will be all the more easy.
If there's one thing that the Knicks have done well this season, it is rebound after tough losses. After losing to Houston on November 23, they went on to win six of their next seven.
Similarly, after losing to the Brooklyn Nets in overtime on November 26, they faced them again December 11 and won in a thrilling comeback.
Such will be the case when the Knicks take on the Houston Rockets tonight, in a game that will be emotional for both teams. Jeremy Lin's return to Madison Square Garden will not be forgettable, but it will, unfortunately, end in defeat, as New York will be better prepared for Houston's offensive onslaught.
Parsons will have a decent game, but not on the same scale as earlier in the season. Knicks coach Mike Woodson will have plays drawn up to slow this man down, and his field goal percentage may suffer as a result.
Anthony will carry the Knicks, once again, as the fans chant "MVP! MVP!" from start to finish. Kidd will sink some clutch shots and also play some fine defense against James Harden, Houston's star player.
The Rockets will definitely go on their fair share of runs, but their defense just won't be able to stop the Knicks' attack. Patrick Patterson's size and athleticism will be greatly missed, and youngsters Marcus Morris and Greg Smith will only be able to do so much in his absence.
The game will be close, and New York's perfect home record will remain intact at the final buzzer.
Final Score Prediction: New York Knicks 103, Houston Rockets 98
All statistics in this article are accurate as of December 16, 2012