Where: Toyota Center; Houston, TX
When: 9:30 p.m. EST
How to watch: ESPN
The Hornets went completely against the grain and beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Monday night, further proving the fact that sports don’t make sense. Their next test could prove to be the toughest one they face all season, and they get the bright lights and big stage of ESPN to show the nation what they are capable of.
The Rockets come into the game riding a 10 game winning streak that has propelled them to the top of the Western Conference and the best record in the NBA. During that streak, which happens to coincide with the return of Chris Paul, Mike D’Antoni’s squad has averaged an absurd 120.8 points per game while connecting on nearly 42 percent of their 41 3-point attempts per game. That streak has also seen them beat their opponents by an average margin of 17.6 points per game.
Paul stole the headlines and most of the Rockets bench this summer, but this is still James Harden’s team. His 35 percent usage rate is tops in the league, yet he shares the team lead in assists with Paul at 9.5 per game. To go along with those assists, the eight year pro is averaging 32 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting from the field and 40.2 percent shooting from 3 while still getting to the free throw line over nine times per game. Even more impressively, he’s actually improved upon those numbers in the 10 games since CP3 was reinserted in the lineups, averaging 34 points per game on 49.3 percent shooting from the field and 43.4 percent shooting from 3.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will likely be asked to shoulder the majority of defensive workload on Harden, and that’s fine. Ideally, you let MKG handle Harden 1 on 1 and let everyone else stick to their man. As deadly as Harden is as a scorer, the Hornets can’t be tempted to help off their defensive assignments to get the ball out of his hands. Harden will either throw a lob to Clint Capela or kick out to the 3-point line, and that’s where the Rockets are most dangerous.
The Hornets are coming off one of their better all around performances of the season after their win in Oklahoma City. They’ll need to carry every bit of that momentum into Houston if they want to pull off a huge upset over the Rockets, and it’ll probably have to happen without the services of Nicolas Batum. The Frenchman is listed as doubtful for tonight’s game as he continues to deal with a nagging torn in ligament in his left elbow.
It’s not likely the Hornets come home with a Houston win in their back pockets, so let’s just sit back, enjoy the rare national coverage of the Hornets, and hope the team doesn’t give up a record number of 3’s and get run off the court.