Who can stop these Houston Rockets (50-13)? The Western Conference leaders extended their season-best winning streak to 16 games with a convincing 122-112 road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. It was a terrific all-around performance from the Rockets, who had seven players in double digits. Chris Paul led the charge with 25 points, but James Harden wasn’t far behind with 23 points and 11 assists. Just about the only negative in their win was the turnovers. Harden had ten of the team’s 21 miscues, although they did force 19 of their own, with nine coming from Russell Westbrook.
The Rockets remain on the road to face the slumping Milwaukee Bucks (34-30), who have now lost four of their last five games following a 92-89 defeat to the Indiana Pacers. Eric Bledsoe had a team-high 26 points, while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 18 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks. However, Khris Middleton continued his erratic play of late. After going 5-of-14 for ten points in a win over the Sixers, he went just 1-of-7 for six points against the Pacers, days after hitting them for 30.
Three keys to the game
Back-to-back - If there’s anything that can conceivably slow the Rockets down and end their streak, it’s the sheer grind of the long NBA schedule. They’ll get another taste of that unforgiving grind tonight as they go on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. They’ve shown they have the tools to withstand those tests this season, but they’ll need to prove it again to push their win streak further.
Bucks’ Big 3 - The Bucks gave the Rockets a pretty good fight in their game at Houston earlier in the season as they lost a close 115-111 shootout. Their star trio of Giannis, Bledsoe, and Middleton was instrumental in keeping them that close as they combined for 70 of the team’s 111 points. They’ll obviously need those three to get back to that level to overcome the in-form Rockets. Middleton, in particular, must bounce back from his recent slump.
Bench production - But apart from their Big 3, the Bucks also got a huge boost off their bench, particularly from the 20 points of Malcolm Brogdon. Unfortunately, the reigning Rookie of the Year is not with the team at the moment, so it’ll be up to Jabari Parker to play that sixth man role for the team. He’ll need to do it well, too, since the Rockets keep getting timely contributions from the likes of Eric Gordon and Luc Mbah a Moute.
Matchup to watch
Chris Paul vs Eric Bledsoe - Bledsoe has been playing some of his most consistent basketball of the season lately. He’s averaging nearly 20 points, five rebounds, six assists, and two steals in last ten games. However, his matchup against an elite defender in Paul will easily be his toughest during that stretch. Bledsoe will have to find a way to come out on top in that battle for the Bucks to get the victory.
Rockets projected starting lineup
PG – Chris Paul | SG – James Harden | SF – Trevor Ariza | PF – PJ Tucker | C - Clint Capela
Bucks projected starting lineup
PG – Eric Bledsoe | SG – Tony Snell | SF – Khris Middleton | PF – Giannis Antetokounmpo | C – John Henson
Capela had an uncharacteristically quiet night last night against the Thunder as he finished with just ten points and three rebounds. However, he’ll have an excellent opportunity to bounce back against a Bucks team which remains quite vulnerable to opposing big men.
As for the Bucks, it’s hard to look beyond the trio of Giannis, Bledsoe, and Middleton in terms of strong fantasy numbers. However, Parker is the obvious candidate to do so. He’s already had some big scoring performances since the All-Star break and could benefit from the Rockets’ fast-paced style of play.
It's just hard to bet against the Rockets at the moment. Apart from the Celtics, no one has even been able to stay within seven points of them. As talented as the Bucks are, they just can't be trusted to be that team to push Houston. The Rockets should be able to win and cover the six-point spread on the road.
The Rockets get it done on the road yet again as they notch that 17th straight win, taking it 112-104.
This game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Wisconsin and AT&T Sportsnet – Southwest. Tip-off is at 8:00 pm Eastern.