The Rockets (6-2) improved to 5-1 on the road with a 119-97 pummeling of the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. James Harden hit six 3-pointers and finished with 31 points and 9 assists as Houston made a season-high 19 3-pointers while taking 52 of their 88 shots from beyond the arc.
For all the talk of how Houston’s offense revolves around attempting 3-point shots, Mike D’Antoni’s team is superb at finishing at the basket because of the space it creates for drives. The Rockets are second to the Golden State Warriors in 2-point shooting at 58.9 percent, which has helped them rank seventh in effective field goal percentage at 52.5 percent through games played Thursday.
Atlanta (1-7) are trying to avoid their first eight-game losing streak since February 2014, after a 119-109 defeat at Philadelphia on Wednesday. Dennis Schroder scored 26 points and Taurean Prince added 17 and 11 rebounds for the Hawks, who were held to 3 points in the first 7:33 of the fourth quarter and outscored 26-16 in the final period.
Rebounding continues to be an issue for the Hawks, who allowed 15 offensive rebounds to the 76ers that led to 14 second-chance points. Atlanta rank 24th in second-chance points allowed at 13.8 per game and 27th in offensive rebounds allowed with 93.
Three keys to the game
Capela sings in the middle for the Rockets - The only player not inclined to shoot a 3-pointer, Capela has done significant damage around the basket and averages 13.3 points. He's shooting 73.4 percent (47 for 64) inside of five feet and has made at least 60 percent of his shots in every game. Capela also has six double-doubles in Houston's first nine games, including the last three.
Lies, damned lies and statistics - The stats show the Hawks have allowed opponents to shoot 34.5 percent from 3-point range during their losing streak, which is a respectable number. The problem is they've allowed 73 3-pointers in that span, an alarming number that will only go higher after this game. Atlanta's defenders are going to have to close out quick yet be disciplined to prevent Harden from penetrating into the lane or Eric Gordon from driving baseline since he likes setting up in the corner.
Speaking of Gordon - He may be the quietest 23.9 points-per-game scorer in the league. Gordon has made at least four 3-pointers in six of the eight games he's played and is coming off a season low of 17 points against New York. Gordon, though, only took 13 shots and had 4 assists, but more importantly, Houston were a plus-23 when he was on the floor. Look for him to get more shots in what should be a favorable matchup in Atlanta.
Matchup to watch
Trevor Ariza vs. Taurean Prince - Trevor Ariza is the only Rockets starter not scoring in double figures at 7.6 points per game, but he will match up against Taurean Prince, who has emerged as Atlanta's primary frontcourt scoring threat. If Ariza can slow down Prince, any scoring he gives the Rockets will be a bonus. He's contributed of late, averaging 11.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in his last three games. Prince has expanded his range, and the second-year pro is 13 of 27 from beyond the arc. The Hawks need him to get going early and often if they will halt their skid at seven games.
Houston Rockets projected starting lineup
PG - James Harden | SG - Eric Gordon | C - Clint Capela | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - Ryan Anderson
Atlanta Hawks projected starting lineup
PG - Dennis Schroder | SG - Kent Bazemore | C - Dewayne Dedmon | SF - Taurean Prince | PF - Mike Muscala
Harden has tormented the Hawks since joining the Rockets for the 2012/13 season, averaging 29.8 points, 7.9 assists and 6.9 rebounds in 8 games. He has two 40-point games in that span, including a 41-point effort in the most recent meeting in February. Harden has also gotten to the line at will against the Hawks, going 85 for 98 (86.7 percent) in those eight games.
Schroder is doing all he can to carry the Hawks, totaling 66 points and 20 assists while shooting 51.0 percent in three games after missing the previous two with an ankle injury. He may be a player to avoid against the Rockets, however, as he's averaged just 11.0 points on 38.1 percent shooting in six lifetime contests.
There aren't many trends that favor the Rockets, who are eight-point favorites for this game, but the Hawks have covered just once (1-5-1) during their losing streak. The more intriguing play is the over/under, established at 214 points. Atlanta have scored enough in their last two games to hit the over, surpassing 220 points. The Rockets are just 3-6 when it comes to the over/under, but two of those have come in the last two contests.
This is a game that favors the Rockets in terms of style and substance. They like to shoot a ton of 3-pointers, and Atlanta's defense lends itself to opponents shooting a ton of 3-pointers. The bigger issue, especially in this game, is the lack of a third scorer for the Hawks behind Schroder and Prince. Marco Belinelli could be that player as he averages 13.8 points and shoots 48.9 percent from beyond the arc, but it may not be enough to keep up with a Rockets team that also has a great rim finisher in Capela as a fourth option. While Atlanta will compete, look for Houston to roll to a 118-106 win.
The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Southeast and AT&T SportsNet-Southwest. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm ET.
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