The Houston Rockets will begin the second half of the season on the road against the new-look New Orleans Pelicans on Feb. 23. Game time is slated for 8 p.m. ET.
Houston has been a pleasant surprise this season in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s first season. The Rockets (40-18) are one of three teams to have won 40 games before the All-Star break. They need just two more wins to surpass last season’s win total.
James Harden has changed his game under D’Antoni, and is one of the front-runners for league MVP. Harden is having a career season, producing 15 triple-doubles — which is the second most in the league. More importantly, he has improved on the defensive end.
Harden is not the only player thriving under D’Antoni. Eric Gordon is shooting the ball the best of his career, making a career-high 3.5 three-pointers a game. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza are also averaging over two triples a game.
The Rockets, the second highest scoring team in the league, have five players averaging double-figures. And they just acquired another scorer in Lou Williams from the Los Angeles Lakers. Williams is having a career season, tallying 18.6 points a game while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc.
The addition of Williams gives the Rockets the No. 1 and No. 2 (Gordon) scorer off the bench this season per ESPN. Williams, who has scored 25 games when coming off the bench 21 times in the past three seasons, has 1,065 points while Gordon has 770.
Calvin Watkins of ESPN is reporting that Williams will likely not play against the Pelicans on Thursday.
New Orleans (23-34) made a bold move acquiring DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings. Cousins is certainly talented but has been proven to be destructive as well. It will be interesting to see how the tandem of Cousins and Anthony Davis works.
Speaking of Davis, he continues to grow his game. Davis is having a career year, and is just six double-doubles shy of tying his personal best (42). He is currently averaging 27.7 points along with 11.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 2.5 blocks. Davis is shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from beyond the arc.
The reason that the Pelicans made the deal for Cousins is that they must believe that they can make playoffs. The Pelicans are currently 11th in the Western Conference, just two-and-half games out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
New Orleans does have some health concerns heading into the game. Omari Casspi, who came over from the Kings with Cousins, is dealing with a calf injury and is out indefinitely. Terrence Jones (thumb) missed four games before the All-Star break, and Dante Cunningham (personal) missed two games. Also, Quincy Pondexter (Achilles) is nowhere close to returning.
According to the Inquisitr, New Orleans worked out several free agent guards yesterday, but there is no word if anything has come out of it
James Harden will finish with 25 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds
Harden was scoring the ball the best of the season prior the All-Star break, tallying 25 or more points in each of his seven February games. Granted Harden took four shots than his season average thus his other numbers were down. Harden averaged 36.0 points along with 9.7 assists and 9.2 rebounds while shooting 41.2 percent from the field and 42.0 percent from beyond the arc during the recent stretch.
Harden had 29 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in the Rockets first meeting against New Orleans. The 27-year-old averages around 29 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds over the last two years against the Pelicans.
Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will cause the Rockets all sort of problems
It is going to take awhile for the Pelicans’ two big men to get used to playing together. But they should be able to wreak havoc, starting immediately.
Houston has no one to guard Davis and Cousins. Clint Capella matches up decently against Cousins, who has averaged 24.0 points, nine boards along with 5.5 assists while shooting 44.5 from the floor and 46.2 percent on three-point attempts in two games against Houston this year. But Ryan Anderson can’t guard Davis so Houston may use Montrezl Harrell on Davis, which will either limit Anderson’s minutes or put him on Cousins.
Davis put up 19 points, on 9-of-17 shooting, to go along with five rebounds and three assists against the Rockets on Dec. 16.
A couple of areas that Cousins will immediately help out is on the boards and rim-protecting. New Orleans is the ninth best defensive rebounding team in the league, but they are 29th in offensive rebounding. Cousins averages 2.5 offensive boards and 1.2 blocks this year.
Houston will make at least 12-three-pointers
Houston relies heavily on the three-pointer. The Rockets lead the league with 14.8 treys a game and are first in attempts with 39.8. The three-pointer accounts for a league-high 38.0 percent of their 114.4 points. However, they are only 11th in three-point percentage at 36.4 percent.
New Orleans allows their opponents to make 10.4 triples a game — which ranks 25th in the league. The Pelicans have the seventh-best defensive three-point percentage in the league, holding opponents to 34.9 percent.
Houston is 25-4 when they have made at least 15 triples in a game.
The Rockets will total more than 20 assists
The Pelicans will block five shots
Prediction: Houston 112, New Orleans 105
The Rockets are 4-2 in February and are averaging 117.7 points a game. They are shooting a season-worst 44.6 percent this month, but they are also turning the ball over 13 times a game — which is a season-low. Houston is 3-3 in their last six road games. Defense has been an issue all year for the Rockets.
New Orleans could make a good run at the playoffs. It will all depend on what the Pelicans do to restock their guards and how fast Cousins and Davis adjust to playing with each other.
New Orleans has won three of four and is 4-4 in the month of February though they have been outscored by 5.9 points. Three of the Pelicans’ recent losses were by double-figures while only one their wins have been by double-digits. They are 14-15 at home this season and has played better there this season, being outscored by 1.7 points a game. New Orleans average nearly 107 points at home compared to 100 on the road.
Houston defeated New Orleans 122-100 in the first matchup.
[Featured Image by Chuck Burton/AP Images]