James Harden, far left, and Jeremy Lin, second from left, look to extend the Houston Rockets' four-game winning streak tonight when they take on the dangerous Kobe Bryant,second from right, and Steve Nash, far right, as the Rockets host the Lakers at 8 p.m. EST in Houston. (Photo : Reuters)
Both the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers spent a good chunk of the offseason making moves that spread like wildfire around the league.
For the Rockets, they acquired Jeremy Lin fresh off his sensational half-season in New York, followed by picking up NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden in a trade with Oklahoma City days before the regular season began.
The Lakers, meanwhile, grabbed prize free agent and future Hall of Famer Steve Nash while snaring superstar center Dwight Howard in a multi-team blockbuster deal.
The results, however, are night and day.
Behind their young and athletic backcourt duo of Harden and Lin, the Rockets have pole vaulted into the No.1 spot in league offense (106.2 points per game) and a 20-14 record, competing with Memphis and San Antonio for the Southwest Division title. L.A., however, has struggled mightily all season, injuries and a struggle to build chemistry resulting in their losing 15-18 win-loss record.
But even with injuries to Pau Gasol and Howard keeping them out of tonight's game, they still sport league-leading scorer Kobe Bryant (30.5 points per game) and a wily Nash, setting up an explosive backcourt battle tonight as the Lakers visit the Rockets 8 p.m. at the Toyota Center in Houston.
The last time these two teams met on Dec. 4, Bryant scored 39 points but huge scoring off the bench powered Houston to a 107-105 win in a thriller at home.
Latinos Post breaks down the match-ups:
Shooting Guard: James Harden, Rockets vs. Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Let's start with the biggest match-up first -- Kobe vs. Harden. The Black Mamba vs. "Fear the Beard."
Heading into this prime-time match-up, Harden, No. 5 in the league in scoring with 26.4 points per game, has continued his magnificent season, scoring 29.5 points in the last 10 games as he continues to be the main weapon in the Rockets' arsenal.
But if there are any shooting guards in the league who could match Harden, the 34-year-old Bryant, ranked first in the NBA in scoring, is definitely on the top of that list. Netting 34.3 points per night to start January, Bryant is still as dangerous as they come among scorers.
In Houston's last matchup, Bryant outscored Harden 39-15 in the Dec. 4 thriller. Look for Harden to rise to the occasion tonight in what should be a shootout between two of the very best scorers in the league.
Point Guard: Jeremy Lin, Rockets vs. Steve Nash, Lakers
Experience and savvy take on youth and tenacity in this highly-anticipated point guard match-up.
Lin, who spoke excitedly about the opportunity to play Nash this week, has been showing flashes of offensive potency in the last five games, coming off a 20-point, five-assist game. Against L.A., Lin has done poorly with only 4.5 points and 6.5 assists in a two-game split with the Lakers. Ranked third in NBA All-Star balloting among Western Conference guards, a strong showing against Nash tonight would go a long way towards proving Lin's case for making the starting lineup.
But even at age 38, the two-time NBA MVP has shown that he can still go with the best of them at his position, dishing a stunning 10.2 assists in the last five games with 11.0 points for the Lakers. Neither of these two are particularly well-known for their defense, but if Lin uses his size and speed advantage in his favor, the Rockets' guard could shine brightly in this one-on-one bout with one of the greatest point guards ever.
Center: Omer Asik, Rockets vs. ???, Lakers
Dwight Howard's injury could not have come at a worse time for the Lakers.
With Howard out, the absence of the two-time Defensive Player of the Year will leave a gaping hole in the middle which Asik, one of the most solid centers in the league, can exploit. With 11.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in the last 10 games, Asik has been an understated weapon of importance in Houston's high-octane game.
Jordan Hill, who was solid at backup center for the Lakers, won't be able to make the trip tonight either, nursing a hip injury. That leaves untested seven-foot rookie Robert Sacre, from Gonzaga, to fill the void. And without a strong center to guard him, Asik could have a big night on offense.
Power Forward: Marcus Morris, Rockets vs. Antawn Jamison, Lakers
Since taking over for Patrick Patterson at starter, the 6'9" Morris has evolved into a solid player, and his 24 points against Oklahoma City on Dec. 29 are evidence that he can be an effective offensive weapon if used wisely.
Small Forward: Chandler Parsons. Rockets vs. Metta World Peace, Lakers
Parsons has scored big against the Lakers in the last two contests with 18.5 points, but he has fallen off into a slump since then, scoring only 7.2 points on 33.3 percent shooting in the last five games. He needs to find his mark to be effective again.
World Peace has also been inconsistent in his last five games, but after coming off a 16-point game against Denver, he could have the momentum needed to have a good night against Houston.
With the injuries to Howard, Gasol and Hill, and Jamison moving into the starting role, the Lakers bench will be severely depleted tonight, meaning that Chris Duhon, Jodie Meeks and Devin Ebanks willhave to step up to fill the void.
The Rockets, however, will be at full power in their reserve corps, bringing the dangerous Carlos Delfino, as well as Greg Smith and Toney Douglas, both of whom had big games on Dec. 4 against the Lakers off the bench.
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Tip-off occurs at 8 p.m. EST; Toyota Center, Houston