After showering the Big Apple with Linsanity on Monday night, the Houston Rockets will head home to take on the slumping Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. Houston has a lot of confidence following a big win against the Knicks, and will look to win its second straight against a team that has lost four in a row.
On paper, the odds are against Philly. The team has gone 4-6 on the road, and has been without electrifying point guard Jrue Holiday for the past three games. Holiday has been slowed by a sore foot, and his absence has been felt on the court. Nothing against Nick Young, but he is little more than a shooter.
Thus, Houston is in a prime position to have another fine game at the Toyota Center, where the team has gone 9-5 on the season. Without Holiday's speed and defense, the Sixers are without a player who can help them keep up with the Rockets' run-and-gun offense, not to mention help put some points on the board.
However, Houston has been plagued by inconsistency all season long. Point guard Jeremy Lin has only recaptured last year's "Linsanity" every so often, rather than all the time, and star guard James Harden has teetered between playmaker and scorer for much of the season.
Depending on which Rockets team shows up tonight, the Sixers could be in a position in which they can pull off an upset win and snap their losing streak. That will be tough if Holiday is out again, but the team is young and deep enough to make it happen.
Time: Wednesday, December 19th, 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: CSN Houston, Comcast Sportsnet
Records: Philadelphia 76ers (12-13) vs. Houston Rockets (12-12)
Betting Lines: Not available as of Wednesday, December 19, 10:12 a.m. EST
Injuries: Jrue Holiday (foot, doubtful), Andrew Bynum (knee, out), Patrick Patterson (foot, out)
Key Storyline: Is Linsanity Back for Good This Time?
Jeremy Lin has been inconsistent all season long. After signing a three-year, $25.1 million contract with the Rockets over the summer, the Harvard grad has averaged just 11.3 points and six assists per game. He has struggled mightily with his scoring, though his field goal percentage has risen to 41 percent.
However, against the Knicks on Monday night, Lin was back in the form that made him a household name last season. Not only did he dish out eight assists, but he also scored 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
Just the same, that one game is not indicative of how Lin has played all season long. More often than not, he struggles in each game and as a result, teammate James Harden takes over as lead playmaker.
This cannot be the case tonight, as Lin is in a prime position to have another great game. While the New York Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony on Monday, the Sixers could very well be without Jrue Holiday tonight. Doug Collins loses both his starting point guard and a tough defender in that instance, which would give Lin some great opportunities on offense.
There is no official word on Holiday's status for tonight just yet, but it must be assumed that he is at least doubtful. In such a case, Lin could drive the lane more easily and maybe even incorporate his jump shot.
Houston simply needs him to be great in order to succeed this season, and another great performance from him tonight could potentially have the critics back off just a bit.
Key Matchup: Evan Turner vs. Chandler Parsons
I tell you a tale of two forwards, one a shooter, and one a point forward. These two are none other than Houston's Chandler Parsons and Philadelphia's Evan Turner, and their matchup will be critical in tonight's game.
Parsons has done a fine job of stepping up as a leader on the young Rockets, and is also starting to come into his own as a scorer and a defensive presence. This season, his second in the NBA, the former Florida Gator is averaging 15.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Parsons has also shown some prowess from long range, shooting 38 percent from three-point land.
Turner, on the other hand, is a completely different type of player. Now that he is back at his natural position, he has simply done it all for the Sixers. He scores, rebounds, passes and plays excellent defense, just like a point forward should.
The former Ohio State Buckeye has averaged 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds on the season, but his performance has been far better in recent games. Turner has stepped up his scoring, averaging 17.8 points over his last five games, and he has also been more willing to incorporate his three-point shot, shooting 54 percent over that stretch as well.
Tonight's game is also a matchup of an offensive squad versus one that relies on defense, so Turner stopping Parsons is the key to the Sixers even having a chance of winning.
That said, Parsons must be willing to be more than just a mid-to-long range shooter tonight. He is so good at driving to the basket for either a layup or a dunk, but that's not going to be easy against a tough defender in Turner.
Likewise, Turner must continue to be a leader on offense. He has so many talents and, in time, could be a constant triple-double threat. On top of that, he could very well be the best athlete out of everyone playing in tonight's game, which could provide Philadelphia with a tremendous boost in Holiday's absence.
If he can slow down Parsons and also control the game's tempo on offense, then Turner will definitely have established himself as an upcoming star in the league, and will also be responsible for his team winning tonight.
X-Factor: Thaddeus Young
Now that Elton Brand is gone, Thaddeus Young has slowly established himself as an up-and-coming power forward. Despite being small for the position at 6'8", 235 pounds, Young is averaging 14.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. He has also shot 52 percent from the field, astounding for any player.
With Patrick Patterson out with a foot injury, Young is almost certainly going to be matched up against second-year man Marcus Morris, who still has a lot to learn about playing power forward on the NBA level.
Morris has more height at 6'9", but seems to be more of an offensive player. In his last five games, he has averaged 10 points compared to just 4.6 rebounds.
Young must crash the boards on every Rockets field goal attempt, going after every loose ball and not being afraid to clamp down on his man early in the game. He is a far better athlete and defender than Morris, plus he has more experience, so keeping him at bay should not be a problem.
Young also needs to be an inside force on offense. This could be tough, given the presence of seven-footer Omer Asik in the middle, but it is still doable.
Head coach Doug Collins simply needs his young forward to play twice as hard in the absences of Holiday and Bynum, and Young should not have a problem doing so against a Rockets team that currently ranks 29th in points allowed per game.
I hate to say it, but Jeremy Lin will not have a repeat performance of his game against the New York Knicks tonight. Fortunately, his Houston Rockets will still walk away with their second straight victory.
The sad truth is that the Sixers need Jrue Holiday in order to have a chance in any game, and there has been zero indication that he will suit up tonight. This leaves them without a key defender, and the Rockets will run wild as a result.
Granted, Evan Turner will do a fine job of containing Chandler Parsons, but he will be no match for James Harden. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year will be in full playmaker mode and lead Houston in scoring, not to mention grab some rebounds and dish out his fair share of assists.
Who will win?
Thaddeus Young will help the Sixers keep the game somewhat close thanks to his controlling the battles at power forward, but the Rockets will prove to be just too fast and pull away in the last quarter.
Lin may struggle, but he will dish out some important assists. Asik will continue to be a force in the paint, and Carlos Delfino will sink some key threes off the bench.
Houston's offense will have carried them to another win by the final buzzer, and short-handed Philadelphia will have lost five straight.
Final Score Prediction: Houston Rockets 112, Philadelphia 76ers 98