Houston’s idea of a “Big 3” to contend in the competitive Western Conference fell by the wayside quickly since Chris Paul has been sidelined for four games due to a sore left knee. He’s listed as day-to-day, but reports recently surfaced he could miss up to a month.
James Harden has picked up where he left off from last season, averaging 26.4 points and 9.4 assists, but it has been Eric Gordon who has emerged as the No. 2 scorer, contributing 24.6 points per game. The duo combined for 56 points, with Gordon hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to provide the winning points Wednesday night in a 105-104 victory at Philadelphia.
The Rockets (4-1), who put up 3-pointers at the NBA’s most prolific rate of 42.0 per game, have gotten off to a strong start despite ranking 29th in 3-point shooting at 28.1 percent. Gordon went 5 of 16 from beyond the arc, raising his season accuracy to 26.8 percent.
Charlotte (2-2) have alternated losses and wins and are coming off their best offensive effort of the season in a 110-93 win over Denver on Wednesday night. Frank Kaminsky and rookie Malik Monk combined for 37 points off the bench for the Hornets, who also got 15 points and 19 rebounds from former Rockets center Dwight Howard.
The Hornets have been making a living at the foul line, shooting 73.6 percent. They’ve outscored opponents 89-46 at the charity stripe, making more than their rivals have attempted (57).
Three keys to the game
Keep Frank the Tank rolling - Kaminsky has embraced his super-sub role and has averaged 19.7 points on 59.5 percent shooting (22 for 37), including 7 of 14 from 3-point range. The 7-footer has created mismatch problems for opponents as a stretch four since opponents cannot double-team Howard in the low post.
Finding points when the 3s don't fall - Houston's poor 3-point shooting percentage is offset by its number of makes, but also in its relentless attacking of the basket when defenses are spread. The Rockets are in the middle of the pack in paint scoring at 45.6 points per game, and the Hornets are 20th through games played Wednesday in points allowed at 48.0 per game. Look for Harden and Gordon to keep driving the lane if the 3-pointer is not available.
Dwight Howard - Yes, he seems to wear out his welcome wherever he plays, but there's no denying the veteran center has made an impact in the middle for Charlotte. He's averaging 17.8 rebounds, second in the league to DeAndre Jordan, and leads the NBA in defensive rebounds at 13.8 per contest. Howard has double-doubles in three of his four games and showed that "Hack-a-Dwight" may not work after making 7 of 11 free throws against Denver.
Matchup to watch
Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard vs. Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela - This is almost a mirror matchup given how both stretch fours Kaminsky and Anderson have solid inside-out games and Howard and Capela get most of their baskets from point-blank range.
Capela leads the NBA in shooting at 72.9 percent and all but 3 of his 48 shots have come from inside 10 feet (he has hit all 3 shots from 10 to 14 feet, by the way), while 32 of Howard's 34 shots have also come from inside 10 feet.
A career 38.1 percent 3-point shooter, Anderson has connected at just a 34.4 percent clip though he made 4 of 9 at Philadelphia on Wednesday night. But it is his defense that will be needed to cool off Kaminsky.
Houston Rockets projected starting lineup
PG - James Harden | SG - Eric Gordon | C - Clint Capela | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - Ryan Anderson
Charlotte Hornets projected starting lineup
PG - Kemba Walker | SG - Jeremy Lamb | C - Dwight Howard | SF - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist | PF - Marvin Williams
Harden dominated the Hornets in leading the Rockets to a series sweep last season, totaling 70 points, 26 rebounds and 18 assists while going 11 of 23 from beyond the arc. The guard has averaged 25.7 points, 6.2 assists and 5.9 rebounds in 14 lifetime games against Charlotte, with Harden's teams winning 13 of them.
Howard has posted double-doubles in nine of his last ten games versus Houston, including a 24-23 game for the Atlanta Hawks last season. Overall, he's averaged 20.3 points and 14.9 rebounds in those 10 games while shooting 64.5 percent from the field and a steady 54.7 percent from the foul line.
The Rockets enter this game as 2.5-point favorites, and with five wins in their last six trips to Charlotte, coupled with Harden's domination in last season's two wins, it makes sense to feel this trend will continue. Charlotte have covered in their last four games against Western Conference opponents, but the small spread here gives Houston the edge to end that streak. The over of 211.5 points should also hit in this matchup given the teams should combine for approximately 70 3-pointers.
Houston have been winning without shooting the lights out from 3-point range. For this specific game, they have the size in Anderson to match up favorably against Kaminsky and potentially neutralize him. One thing to watch for the Hornets is the minutes of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He played 11 minutes in his season debut on Wednesday, and coach Steve Clifford said he would slowly increase the small forward's on-court time. Look for the Rockets to continue their fast start and post a 113-106 victory over the Hornets behind Harden and Gordon.
The game will be televised locally by Fox Sports Southeast and AT&T Sports Net Southwest. Tip-off is 7pm EDT.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?