The Brooklyn Nets have been hot as of late, having lost just one game in the month of January. The Houston Rockets have been just the opposite, losing eight of their last nine and completely ice cold.
It's going to be interesting to see what happens when Brooklyn takes a trip to the Toyota Center tonight, as Houston has gone 14-8 this season. The Nets have gone 10-9 on the road, but have continued to play phenomenal basketball under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who took over for Avery Johnson on December 29.
For Brooklyn, this is a game about staying the course. They started hot, hit a slump, and are now red hot again. Defeating a high-scoring Houston Rockets team could prove to be a tough battle, especially on the road, but Carlesimo has a new confidence flowing through all of the players. They can beat any team, anytime and anywhere, so long as the plan is properly executed.
The Nets are also going to be playing with a chip on their shoulder after not having any of their players named to the All-Star team, so a big win in Houston is definitely on their minds.
The Rockets' goal is simple: win. The team looked so good last month, only to see the wheels fall off in January. They know that they are better than how they have been playing, and a win against a talented squad in Brooklyn would be huge.
From the opening tip to the final buzzer, this one will be highly intense.
Time: Saturday, January 26, 8 p.m. EST
TV: YES, CSN Houston
Records: Brooklyn Nets (26-17) vs. Houston Rockets (23-22)
Betting Line: Not available as of Friday, January 25, 4:25 p.m. EST
Key Storyline: Can Rockets' Offense Defeat Nets' Defense?
If there were ever a battle of offense versus defense, this could potentially be the mother of them all. The Rockets rank second in points scored, with 104.2 per game, but are set to face a Nets squad that is fifth in points allowed. Brooklyn allows just over 94 points per contest, a testament to its solid presences in the paint.
Granted, the Nets are not as strong a scoring team as the Rockets. Thanks to season-long struggles from star point guard Deron Williams, plus a weak-scoring second unit, the team ranks just 16th in points scored at 96.3 per game.
The Brooklyn fans may be in for a treat tonight. Houston ranks dead last in points allowed, and are a signature run-and-gun team in that they seem to rely solely on overwhelming the opposition with offense rather than have a balanced attack.
This means that the Nets need to take full advantage of any and all scoring opportunities, from open drives to the basket to jump shots, be they contested or not. Houston's defense is terrible this season, and Carlesimo would be foolish not to draw up plays that allow his men to pick and pop their way to the basket before clamping down the defense.
This allows Brooklyn to beat Houston at its own game, and doing just that while utilizing a strong interior defense can easily turn this game into a laugher.
Key Matchup: Gerald Wallace vs. Chandler Parsons
One of the Rockets' best scorers is second-year forward Chandler Parsons, who has proven to be quite the weapon on the wing. The former Florida Gator has averaged 14.2 points and 5.9 rebounds this season, and is really coming into his own as a scorer. He has shot 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from long range.
Besides his shooting touch, Parsons' greatest asset is his size. He has good height at 6'9", and his lean 227 pound frame allows for a sleek jumper and a keen ability to drive the lane for either a layup or a dunk. He still has a lot to learn, but is well on his way to becoming one of the game's best scorers.
Parsons is going to have quite the test tonight, especially with Gerald Wallace guarding him. Nicknamed "Crash," Wallace is never one to back down from a battle on defense. If he has to throw himself around the court just to prevent the opposition from scoring, so be it. He cares about his team winning, and doesn't care what happens to him in the pursuit of victory.
The only real mark against Wallace is that despite being a great defender and having solid size at 6'7", 220 pounds, his offensive game is very hit-or-miss. He is averaging 1.4 steals on the season and has also shot 34 percent from long range, but has posted just 9.3 points per game.
Seeing as how the key to the Nets winning this game is beating the Rockets at their own offensive approach before playing some great defense, Wallace is going to have to be more of a force in the scoring department. This means getting himself open either behind the three-point line or on the perimeter and demanding the ball.
This is not a foreign concept to Wallace, who averaged 17.6 points per game in six-and-a-half seasons with the Charlotte Bobcats and has posted an average 13.3 for his career. If he can find the balance and give the Nets maybe 10 to 12 points while also forcing most if not all of Parsons' shots, then Brooklyn could have this game in the bag sooner rather than later.
X-Factor: Reggie Evans
It's been an interesting season for Evans. He started the year on the bench as a backup to Kris Humphries, and has since taken his place in the starting lineup thanks to his amazing rebounding abilities.
Evans is only averaging 3.2 points on the season, but that's not why the Nets have him. He has good size at 6'8", 245 pounds, and is averaging 8.9 rebounds over 21.9 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, he's posting 14.6 boards per game.
It is important for Evans to have a solid performance tonight because the Rockets are highly weak at the 4. Patrick Patterson is solid, but inconsistent, and Marcus Morris is more of a scorer than he is a tough low-post presence.
This means that Evans just has to do what he's been doing all season long, which is go after every rebound and not be afraid to stand and bang under the basket. GM Billy King brought him aboard for just that purpose, and the 10-year veteran has done an excellent job of answering the bell in the defensive department this season.
He's going to be in for a great role tonight, what with the Nets needing to force all of Houston's shots. That will make for plenty of clankers off the iron, all of which Evans must pursue with catlike rebounding reflexes.
If he succeeds, the Nets' odds of winning grow tremendously, and he further establishes himself as one of the most underrated defensive players in the league.
The Rockets would love to win this game, but it's just not going to happen. The team has had no consistency or continuity on offense during their recent cold streak, as can be seen through star guard James Harden shooting just 29 percent from the field over his last five games, and playing a red-hot Brooklyn Nets team is not going to get Houston out of its funk.
Even though Harden will have a better game tonight, the rest of his team will not follow suit. Jeremy Lin's struggles will continue, and Chandler Parsons' usually beautiful jump shot will look clunky and forced thanks to some lockdown D from Gerald Wallace.
In the paint, Omer Asik will be outclassed by Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans. Even Kris Humphries will come off the bench and look like the rebounding machine he once was before getting benched this year.
To Houston's credit, this will be a high-scoring game. The Nets' defense can only do so much, and a rowdy Toyota Center crowd will give the Rockets plenty of support.
Unfortunately, it will not be enough. Brooklyn will be the more consistent offensive team, sinking the important shots late in the game and playing the defense to back everything up. They will continue their hot streak, leaving the Rockets wondering just how to break out of their January slump.
Brooklyn Nets 109, Houston Rockets 101