The Brooklyn Nets (33-22) will take put their modest 4-game winning streak, all against playoff teams, on the line Friday night as they host the 8 seed in the west, the Houston Rockets (30-26). With a win tonight and a loss by the Manhattan Knicks in Toronto, the two teams will be in a virtual tie atop the Atlantic Division standings. The Nets have been playing well recently after sweeping a home-and-home from the Milwaukee Bucks. The Rockets have only played once since the all-star break, a thrilling home-win over Oklahoma City where James Harden dropped 46 points.
The first time these teams met, Brooklyn was blown out in Houston. The Nets were unable to slow down the pace the Rockets wanted to play at and the Nets gave up a season high 119 points. James Harden and Omer Asik each had dominating games and the Nets couldn’t stop them. This game will be in Brooklyn, where the Nets have played well, so we may see a different result tonight.
Now that the trade deadline has come and went with the Nets making no moves, some of their trade pieces, namely Kris Humphries and Marshon Brooks, can heave a sigh of relief. Although both players would say that the rumors had not effected their games, perhaps they will be more focused now that they know they will be in the black and white for the rest of the season. Both played a role in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s victory in Milwaukee.
Injuries: Both teams are healthy. Deron Williams had another shot in his ankle yesterday, but is not expected to miss any time because of it. The Rockets have no injuries.
Deron Williams vs. Jeremy Lin. Advantage: Williams
Lin has not lived up to expectations in Houston averaging under 13 ppg, but is coming off of a 29-point performance Wednesday. He is quicker than Deron Williams, who may be even more slowed down than usual after getting a shot yesterday. Still, Deron is not a fan of Lin, especially Lin’s defense and I expect D-Will to have a 20-point game against this bad defensive team.
Joe Johnson vs. James Harden. Advantage: Harden
Harden has been great this year and is coming off a career high 46 points in his last game. Although he won’t score that many tonight, expect him to have around 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. He really hurt the Nets the last time these teams played and they didn’t have an answer for him on defense. Maybe Gerald Wallace will step up tonight to try and contain him, but Wallace has not done a great job guarding the best players in the league this season, and Harden falls into that category.
Gerald Wallace vs. Chandler Parsons. Advantage: Parsons
Parsons has been a nice surprise for Houston and is averaging nearly 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. He fits well into the Rockets’ system and is benefiting from that. At 6’9, he is pretty explosive and can cause some matchup problems. Houston has a very tall team and this will be one of the rare occasions when the Nets don’t have a height advantage.
Reggie Evans vs. Thomas Robinson. Advantage: Robinson
Thomas Robinson was the main piece the Rockets acquired in yesterday’s trade deadline. In the trade, they lost Patrick Patterson, Jeremy Lin, and others and acquired Robinson, who had been under-used by Sacramento. Robinson was the 5th pick in last season’s draft and was still only playing 15 minutes per game on the worst team in the western conference. He is now expected to start on Houston, a likely playoff team. I liked Robinson before the draft, and although he has been disappointing so far, he hasn’t really been given a chance. I would not be surprised to see him have a huge game tonight.
Brook Lopez vs. Omer Asik. Advantage: Lopez
Asik outplayed Lopez the last time these teams played by bullying him on the boards and not giving up easy looks. Lopez is also coming off one of his worst games of the year in Milwaukee and hasn’t played in either of the past 2 Nets fourth quarters. P.J. Carlesimo is calling it a post-all-star slump. Hopefully Lopez gets out of that slump tonight.
Prediction: Nets 115, Rockets 111.
The Nets have beaten 4 likely playoff teams in a row, so why not make it 5. They are playing at home where they are 20-10 this season while Houston is only 11-18 on the road. Although the Rockets are a bad matchup for the Nets, I expect them to handle this team better the second time they face them, and even if Brooklyn can’t win, this game will be close.