Houston Rockets Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of March
The Houston Rockets, after upgrading at the trade deadline and playing a solid month of February, are on tap to play 14 games during the month of March.
From a rudimentary standpoint, the Rockets should go 7-7 this month based on a simple method of choosing the team with the better record, but we all know that's not likely to be the case when the calendar turns to April.
That's why they play the games.
Friday, March 1 at Orlando Magic
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The Rockets and Orlando Magic have yet to meet this season, so it should make for an exciting matchup in the month's first contest—well, exciting for Rockets fans.
The Rockets will have to contain Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, two guys who could give the backcourt tandem of James Harden and Jeremy Lin some problems.
Offensively, Lin and Harden far overshadow the two Magic guards (mostly Harden, though). It's on defense where Rockets fans should worry about.
If Nelson and Afflalo can be held around 15 points apiece, there's almost no chance the Rockets lose the game if they can hit shots like they have all season long.
Final Score: HOU 112 - ORL 89 (1-0 in March)
Sunday, March 3 vs. Dallas Mavericks
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While the Dallas Mavericks check in at just 25-31 at the end of February, they've actually defeated the Rockets twice already this season.
In both games, the Rockets allowed Dallas to start out hot right from the onset, scoring totals of 39 and 29, respectively, in each first quarter.
The key to stopping the Mavericks, then, will be to make sure they play defense right from the opening tip. Keeping O.J. Mayo and Dirk Nowitzki in check from the beginning will be crucial.
It seems as if Dallas has Houston's number, at least they did in the second half. In this interstate rivalry, look for the Rockets to fight hard and play an intense game.
They shouldn't press, though. Pressing leads to turning the ball over, and that's what has been the downfall of the Rockets so far this season. Those turnovers have turned into easy baskets for opponents, so taking care of the basketball will be crucial to preventing a fast start.
Look for the Rockets to take at least one game from Dallas.
Final Score: HOU 101 - DAL 97 (2-0 in March)
Wednesday, March 6 at Dallas Mavericks
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In the second matchup between these two teams within the course of four days, both teams will know better what to expect from the other. Even though they had already played twice before the first matchup, those games had come on December 8 and January 16.
Expect both teams to make adjustments from the previous contests and both teams to come out well rested—it's each team's first game since the Rockets victory a few days prior.
I still like the Rockets in this one, even though the Mavs have had their number early on.
The Rockets have developed much more chemistry as a team since the first-half contests, and the additions at the trade deadline will slowly start to get more involved in the game plan.
The Rockets are also clearly the better team, so there's no reason as to why they should lose to Dallas. I do expect it to be a tight one, but still one that Houston wins.
Final Score: HOU 98 - DAL 96 (3-0 in March)
Friday, March 8 at Golden State Warriors
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The Rockets have owned the 2012-13 season series against the Golden State Warriors, thus far—actually, they've dominated.
On February 5, the Rockets ran the Warriors out of the gym. Despite scoring 109 points, the Warriors lost by 31 in regulation.
A week later on February 12, the Rockets were again victorious by a count of 116-107.
The Warriors have been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA, so far this season. It's really no secret as to why. They have talent up and down the roster, and guard Stephen Curry is leading the team.
During this contest, I fully expect the Warriors to come out hungry for revenge. The matchup between Curry and Jeremy Lin will be the focal point all night, but James Harden against Klay Thompson should also be interesting.
Thompson could quietly have a huge game, and I actually expect that to happen.
Final Score: HOU 99 - GS 108 (3-1 in March)
Saturday, March 9 at Phoenix Suns
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Despite the putrid play of the Phoenix Suns this season, they should put up a good fight against Houston in this one.
Coming out of a tough loss to Golden State, the Rockets will likely be tired. When you consider the fact that they will have to go from traveling to Golden State to then traveling to Phoenix, they are assured to be at least a bit fatigued.
Even though the Suns will also be playing a back-to-back in this one, even they should easily be able to handle the Sacramento Kings. While tired, they shouldn't be nearly as fatigued as Houston.
They can blame the schedule makers all they want, but there shouldn't be any excuses for the Rockets against a team that's clearly a tier or two below them.
This will undoubtedly be the Rockets' biggest letdown of the month. Expect center Marcin Gortat to have a big game inside going up against Omer Asik. Both big men are good on the glass, but Gortat could have an impact on offense.
The Rockets won't lose to teams like this very often, but it could very well happen on March 9.
Final Score: HOU 101 - PHO 105 (3-2 in March)
Wednesday, March 13 vs. Phoenix Suns
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Now in the midst of a mini two-game losing streak, don't expect the Rockets to falter again against Phoenix.
They'll have three full days of rest underneath them, as well as the motivation to break their losing streak before they get to the month's tougher opponents.
James Harden will go off in this game—bonkers, if you will.
It's generally unreasonable to expect a player to score over 40 points, but I'm doing just that. "The Beard" will be so motivated to keep his team in the playoff hunt that he'll take over.
Jeremy Lin and Co. will just keep feeding him the ball and watching the points rack up.
This is a game where Omer Asik will be crucial, however. With Harden commanding so much attention on the outside, he'll have to be ready for a quick pass into the paint to capitalize on less coverage.
All Rockets in this one, folks.
Final Score: HOU 115 - PHO 93 (4-2 in March)
Friday, March 15 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
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The Minnesota Timberwolves, 20-34, have really taken a hit by the injury to superstar Kevin Love. He's been out since late-January and ever since the Wolves' playoff hopes have dwindled.
This game will hinge entirely on the presence of Love. Reports suggest that he will be ready to return in mid-March to play in the team's final 15-20 games, so this could very well be his first or second game back.
Sure, he won't be completely back to game shape, but his presence alone is enough to make Minnesota much more dangerous. If Chandler Parsons is still playing the stretch 4 at that point, he'll be manhandled by the much bigger Love.
If Love is there, the T'Wolves will make it a game. If he's not, this will be all Rockets.
Containing Ricky Rubio and his nifty passing will be the key, but he's really without weapons if Love is out.
The two teams have split the season series, thus far (1-1), with the Rockets being held to 87 and 79 points, respectively. They won't win that type of offensive output in this one. It'll be a high-scoring game and a decisive victory—again, only if Love is out.
Final Score: HOU 107 - MIN 94 (5-2 in March)
Sunday, March 17 vs. Golden State Warriors
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Now down 2-1 in the season series, the Warriors will look to break even in this one.
Power forward David Lee will have a monster game if Chandler Parsons is again playing the stretch 4. Parsons, while a very good overall player, simply doesn't have the size to match up against an imposing presence like Lee.
On the season (as of February 28), Lee has averaged 19 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He's even shot 51.6 percent from the floor.
Against an undersized opponent like Parsons, Lee will likely be even more effective.
Even true power forwards like Thomas Robinson and Terrence Jones won't be able to stop Lee, as they possess more athletic builds than bump-and-grind bodies.
The combination of Lee, Stephen Curry and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jarrett Jack should be too much for the Rockets to handle in this one.
Final Score: HOU 95 - GS 104 (5-3 in March)
Wednesday, March 20 vs. Utah Jazz
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This is the biggest game for the month for the Rockets. It's not because of the caliber of the opponent, it's because of the distance between these two in the standings.
Entering March, the Jazz are less than one game ahead of the Rockets for seventh place in the Western Conference. The thought of having a little more of a cushion in the standings should push the Rockets to play hard from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Now, of course, the Jazz will be playing for this as well. Don't think for a second that they will be an easy opponent.
This is a game where Lin and Harden will have to shine. Of the two, I actually expect Lin to have the better all-around game.
Jamal Tinsley and Earl Watson will not be able to stop Lin, who will likely have one of the best games of his 2012-13 season. Expect 25-plus points on a high shooting percentage and over 10 assists.
Parsons should be a favorite target of his in this one. While not capable of bumping bodies inside with the likes of Paul Millsap, Parsons will be able to step out and play on the perimeter—a place where he'll clearly have the upper hand on Millsap.
The Rockets and Jazz both understand the implications of this game, but the opportunity to move up in the standings will be the deciding factor for Houston.
Final Score: HOU 112 - UTA 103 (6-3 in March)
Friday, March 22 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
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Kyrie Irving may very well be the best player on the floor in this contest, but he's unfortunately a member of the far less superior team.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are toiling in the bottom four of the Eastern Conference and would likely be dead last in the league if they didn't have the uber-talented Irving.
It'll be impossible to completely contain Irving, but keeping him in the neighborhood of 20 points or so should be a good recipe for success for Houston. The Cavs don't have great secondary options playing with Irving (Dion Waiters is very good, but not Irving good), so holding him back will lead to a win.
The Rockets likely won't even have to come out firing on all cylinders to win this one. Even a so-so performance should be plenty to defeat the Cavs.
Of course, that type of mentality could lead to them playing down to Cleveland.
There's a small chance for a letdown if that's the case, but the Rockets should win handily here.
Final Score: HOU 103 - CLE 89 (7-3 in March)
Sunday, March 24 vs. San Antonio Spurs
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The last week of March contains probably the hardest stretch of games that the Rockets will have to play all season. It all starts with the San Antonio Spurs on March 24, and this is a game where everything will have to be working.
Defense must play at a high level. Ball-handlers must not turn the ball over. Harden, Lin and Parsons must be efficient on offense. The bench must play well.
Tony Parker and the NBA-best Spurs are on their way to another potential deep run in the playoffs. Entering March, they are the No. 1 seed in the West and have the best record in the NBA at 45-13.
Defeating San Antonio isn't out of the question. If you recall, Houston did beat Oklahoma City not too long ago. Even still, I don't like their chances.
Final Score: HOU 92 - SA 99 (7-4 in March)
Wednesday, March 27 vs. Indiana Pacers
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The Indiana Pacers defeated the Rockets 105-95 on January 18 in the only matchup to date between the two, and the final game between them will most assuredly be exciting.
Both the Pacers and Rockets contain explosive players, but Paul George is a name to watch in this one. He's quickly establishing himself as a household name, and teams are beginning to plan accordingly.
If the Rockets' defensive game plan is adequate, then I think they can pull off an upset victory. If they allow George to continue to establish himself as a top player in the league, then all bets are off.
Whoever guards George—Parsons, Carlos Delfino and Francisco Garcia are all possibilities—needs to at least keep him under 20 points. He's difficult to guard because of his versatility and ability to drive to the basket. A combination of the three should be able to at least keep him in check.
If McHale prepares his defense well enough, the Rockets can pull out an upset here. With the playoffs on the horizon, I expect McHale to do just that.
Final Score: HOU 100 - IND 91 (8-4 in March)
Friday, March 29 at Memphis Grizzlies
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The season series between the Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies has been interesting to say the least.
The game on November 9 ended with a 93-85 win for Memphis—a very low-scoring game by both teams' standards.
The game on December 22 was much different. The Rockets scored 121 and was able to keep Memphis to 96. Which game will we see on March 29?
Let's go with the easy answer—a combination of both.
While I don't see the Rockets scoring 120-plus points, a number around 105 or so shouldn't be out of the question nor should a near-100 game for Memphis.
The winner of this game will be determined down low. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have been a fantastic combination in the frontcourt for Memphis and will look to dominate Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik.
Harden and Lin have the edge over Tony Allen and Mike Conley, but the play of the big men will determine the outcome here.
Final Score: HOU 102 - MEM 104 (8-5 in March)
Saturday, March 30 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
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The Rockets could literally not be playing the fast-paced Los Angeles Clippers at a worse time. Coming off a tough loss to Memphis, Houston will have to play just one day later (after traveling back home to Houston) and face one of the quickest offenses in the league.
The Clips will be coming from a game in San Antonio just the night before, but their speed is far beyond that of the Rockets. Even a slower L.A. team can outrun Houston.
The combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, two superstars in their own right, should be too much for Harden and the Rockets to handle.
Lob City will be in full force as Griffin should blow by Parsons, and Paul's superior ball-handling skills should trump the sometimes defensively challenged Lin.
Plus, with turnovers already being a problem, Lin will have to take care of the basketball against one of the best defenders in the league in Paul.
The last thing you want to do is give L.A. a chance to run and convert on fast breaks. A win simply is not in the cards for Houston.
Final Score: HOU 99 - LAC 111 (8-6 in March)