The Nets had a disappointing loss at home on Sunday, going down 94-109 after giving up a 21-point deficit at half-time. Spencer Dinwiddie had ten assists and Caris LeVert went for 15 points off the bench, but there were too few contributors across the board for Brooklyn. The loss sent their record tumbling to 19-35, good for 12th place in the Eastern Conference. They have lost six of their past seven games.
In contrast, the Rockets continued their winning form with a dominant 120-88 win over the Cavs last time out. Chris Paul was their best player, notching up 22 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists. The win was Houston's fourth in a row and kept them within arms reach of the Warriors atop the Western Conference standings. They are now 38-13.
Three keys to the game
Bad starts for Brooklyn - The Nets’ poor results of late can largely be attributed to their slow starts. In the past six games, they have trailed at half-time in each of them. Among these include a 41-62 first half against Milwaukee, a 41-61 effort against the Knicks, a 42-54 performance against the Timberwolves, and a 35-58 scoreline against, again, the Bucks.
How do you stop the Rockets offense? - This is a question which many teams have failed to answer, despite their best efforts. The Rockets score 112.5 points per 100 possessions, second only to the Warriors in the NBA. They simply have too many weapons, and as Mike D’Antoni has proven, 3-pointers are worth more than 2-pointers. Brooklyn’s defense has improved since earlier in the season, but it’s still not strong. They rank in the bottom ten for defensive rating at 107.1, and will have a hard time stopping the Rockets from scoring big.
Who can hit their 3s? - This game is likely to be a 3-point shootout, with these two teams ranking first and second in the league for 3-point attempts per game. Houston is way out on top, taking 43 per game and hitting 36.3% of them, while Brooklyn takes 33.9 a night and hits 34.4%. Houston certainly has the better perimeter shooters, and the Nets will need to shoot out of their skins to keep up.
Matchup to watch
Spencer Dinwiddie vs James Harden - Dinwiddie will probably take Harden at Houston’s offensive end of the floor, with his size much better suited to The Beard than to a matchup with Paul. At the other end of the floor, Paul will feel comfortable enough guarding Dinwiddie, but both of the Rockets point guards will likely spend some time opposed to him. Dinwiddie is having a breakout year; he is averaging 13.5 points and 6.5 assists, but most impressive is that he boasts one of the best assist: turnover ratio’s in the league. Despite his improvement, his performance still pales in comparison to Harden, who is probably having the best year in what is already a very good career. He is putting up a league-high 31.2 points per game, and though his assist numbers have expectedly dropped in the presence of Paul, he still dishes out 9.1 per game.
Brooklyn Nets predicted starting lineup
PG - Spencer Dinwiddie | SG - Allen Crabbe | SF - Quincy Acy | PF - DeMarre Carroll | C - Jarrett Allen
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - Ryan Anderson | C - Clint Capela
When these two sides met earlier in the season, Harden went off, shooting 8-13 from deep and 13-20 from the floor on his way to 37 points, ten rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks. For his career, he averages 20.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.7 steals a night against them.
Though Paul had just four points in the early season matchup between these two sides, he still found a way to contribute with an astonishing 14 assists to zero turnovers. 24 career games against the Nets have yielded a career double-double, as he averages 17.1 points and 11 assists to go with a huge 2.6 steals and 5.4 rebounds.
Unsurprisingly, the Rockets have been given fairly strong favoritism in this game. They have been handicapped 10.5 points by oddsmakers, and should be able to cover it. Brooklyn have improved this season but are in terrible form, and Houston have made a habit of beating teams by plenty.
Houston shouldn’t have any problems leaving the Barclays Center with a win. Brooklyn have some good young players, and with LeVert and D’Angelo Russell coming off the bench to help out Dinwiddie with ball-handling responsibilities, they have plenty of guys who can make plays.
The Rockets, though, have two of the best point guards in the game, and will be able to manufacture plenty of open looks for their plethora of 3-point shooters against an inexperienced Nets defense. Expect Paul and Harden to rack up 20+ assists combined, and Harden to put up in excess of 30 points. In a game punctuated by 3-point shooting, Houston will run out comfortable victors with a 119-105 win.
The game will be broadcast locally on YES Network and ATTSN-SW. Tip-off is at 7:30pm ET.