Houston Rockets vs. Charlotte Bobcats: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
The Rockets and Bobcats have combined to go 1-13 over their past 14 combined games.
Fortunately, one of these teams will put an end to their recent woes on January 21. The question is, who will it be?
Charlotte or Houston?
Time: Monday, January 21 at 2:00 p.m. ET
TV: CSN Houston & Fox Sports Carolinas
Records: Houston Rockets (21-21, 7-14 Road) at Charlotte Bobcats (10-30, 5-16 Home)
Betting Line: Houston Rockets (-6.5) per Vegas Insider
Injury Report: Royce White, Personal (Out)
Key Storyline: Desperate for Recovery
Entering their January 21 battle with the Charlotte Bobcats, the Houston Rockets have lost seven consecutive games. Charlotte, meanwhile, has lost six of their past seven and 25 of their past 28 games.
Both teams are in dire need of a victory. So who will recover?
On paper, one might assume that Houston is at a severe advantage. Although it is struggling, Houston is also 21-21 in comparison to Charlotte's record of 10-30.
The fact of the matter is the Rockets are just 7-14 on the road. Any team that has lost six consecutive road games is void of an advantage.
Which team will step up and end its current stretch of ineptitude?
Key Matchup: Jeremy Lin vs. Kemba Walker
When the Houston Rockets take on the Charlotte Bobcats, the matchup to watch will be between the point guards.
For the Bobcats, Kemba Walker leads the team in points, assists and steals per game. His averages rest at 17.4 points, 5.8 assists and 1.9 steals.
The numbers don't lie, either. Walker has been playing at at an absolutely phenomenal level, as he pushes the pace for an up-tempo offense.
In order to slow him down, Jeremy Lin must step up and match him step for step.
Thus far in 2012-13, the Rockets are 10-4 when Lin scores at least 15 points. The truth is in the numbers here, as Walker's contributions will only be minimized by Lin countering his production.
With Walker having established his reputation as a ball hawk, it is imperative that Lin plays responsible ball, but maintains aggressiveness as a scorer. If he fails to, the Rockets could make it eight consecutive losses.
The outcome will be decided with this battle.
X-Factor: Kevin McHale
No player will be the X-factor in this one—that honor belongs to Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale.
Over the span of their seven-game losing streak, the Rockets have displayed one consistent sign of failure. That, of course, is the coaching staff's inability to run the proper plays for all five players on the floor.
A heavily reliance on James Harden has led to individual and team shortcomings. The Rockets have lost eight straight and Harden is shooting 33.3 percent from the floor over the past five games.
McHale acknowledged just that (via ESPN):
"We're so out of character right now," said coach Kevin McHale, whose team last dropped eight in a row during a 15-game skid early in the 2001-02 season. "We have turnovers, when guys are open we're not hitting them and we take the extra dribble.
"Right now, we're really in a funk and we've got to get ourselves out of it. That's the bottom line. And we will."
It's on McHale to right these wrongs.
Although the players have struggled to perform in the proper manner, the coaching staff falls into the same extended funks. From their lack of ball movement to an overutilization of isolation sets, the Rockets have performed as poorly as they've been coached.
McHale turning that around against Charlotte could be the beginning of a return to form.
Who will win?
Thus far in 2012-13, the Houston Rockets are 14-5 against Eastern Conference foes. As for the Charlotte Bobcats, they are just 2-16 against the West.
Need we say more?
For the season, the Rockets rank second in the NBA in scoring offense at 104.5 points per game. The Bobcats, meanwhile, place 29th in the league in scoring defense at 103.3 points allowed per contest.
This is shaping up to be an ugly game in North Carolina.
Fortunately for Bobcats fans, Mike Dunlap's team is as competitive as any in the league. Led by Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson, Charlotte will make this one interesting.
Unfortunately, James Harden has a tendency to slice and dice a defense in an unparalleled manner.
Statistically speaking, Harden is one of the best in the NBA at getting to the free-throw line. He ranks second in the league in free-throw attempts per game at 9.8.
First is Dwight Howard, who makes a majority of his trips via the hack-a-Howard approach of the opposition.
Harden will step up in his usual ways and Greg Smith will contribute as a scorer off of the bench. The final score won't indicate how close this game will be, but one thing will be clear.
When the game comes down the stretch, Houston will be led by James Harden—Charlotte just won't have an answer.
Houston Rockets 111, Charlotte Bobcats 98
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