Jeremy Lin, left, collides one-on-one with three-time NBA All-Star Rajon Rondo, right, as the Houston Rockets visit the Boston Celtics Friday night at 7:30 p.m. (Photo : Reuters)
Two of the league's hottest teams will lock horns Friday night in what is sure to be a hard-fought battle as the Houston Rockets (21-15) take on the surging Boston Celtics (18-17) tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST at the TD Garden in Boston, Mass.
Led by James Harden and the improving play of Jeremy Lin, the Rockets have won 10 of their last 13 games, though they are coming off a loss to New Orleans on Wednesday night where they looked flat.
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Meanwhile, the Celtics, previously struggling for much of the season, have finally gotten above .500 with a four game winning streak that has shown the aging Celtics team and their veteran stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to have some life. Garnett made headlines this week after reportedly making crass comments about Knicks star Carmelo Anthony's wife, Lala, during a Celtics win at Madison Square Garden.
It will be a case of irresistible force (the Rockets' league-leading 106.0 points per game) versus the immovable object (the Celtics' stiff defense as of late, allowing only 82.8 points per game in the last four games) while featuring a prominent backcourt duel as the explosive Lin meets Celtics star Rondo, who leads the league in assists, 11.2 per game.
The last time these two teams met on Dec. 14, Harden's 21 points, 20 points from reserve Greg Smith and Parson's near double-double helped lift the Rockets to a 101-89 win over the Celtics at the Toyota Center.
Latinos Post breaks down some of the key match-ups for tonight's game:
Power forward: Marcus Morris, Rockets vs. Brandon Bass, Celtics
Morris has proven to be a stable force in the four spot for the Rockets, averaging 9.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in the last 10 games.
Bass won't get Boston a lot of points, but he uses every part of that bulky 6'8", 250-pound frame to his advantage, proving to be a harassing defender at the three spot.
Small forward: Chandler Parsons, Rockets vs. Paul Pierce, Celtics
Parsons did not have a good night Wednesday against the Hornets (but then again, nobody on the Rockets did unless you count Harden). Yet Parsons did have a good game against Boston the last time these two teams faced, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds. With his size and athleticism, Parsons is one of those players the Rockets need to get it going.
Pierce, who has been averaging 17.2 points on 44.4 percent shooting in the last five games, will be looking to rebound from his dismal seven-point performance Wednesday against Phoenix. He's not hitting on the mark at the moment, but even at age 35, he's still a dangerous scorer and Boston's main offensive threat.
The younger Parsons must use his quickness in this match-up tonight, but more importantly, he has to overcome his shooting woes (only 40.8 percent from the field in the last five games).
Center: Omer Asik, Rockets vs. Kevin Garnett, Celtics
Asik is evolving into an efficient shooter, hitting 62.5 percent of his shots in the last five games, where he is averaging 9.6 points, 1.4 blocks and 7.0 rebounds. An all-around player, Asik's main calling card on a weak Houston offense is his defense.
And he will need that to contend with Garnett, whose production has fallen off from his usual career standards in the last 10 games, averaging only 13.1 points and 7.0 rebounds. But he can still be a dangerous offensive weapon for the Celtics if he's left to his own devices.
Look for Garnett to try to shut down the lane in order to stop the Rockets from penetrating. It will be up to Asik to set enough picks to keep Garnett from doing that.
Shooting Guard: James Harden, Rockets vs. Avery Bradley, Celtics
Even when Boston focused so hard on trying to stop Harden last time, Harden still ended up with 21 points. That's how good Harden is. And the league's fourth best scorer, at 26.5 points per game, hasn't slowed down either in his career year for the Rockets. Fast and athletic, he's nearly unstoppable when he's allowed to penetrate the lane.
Bradley, known as a defensive stopper, is just returning from injury, and that bodes badly for the Celtics. If Bradley can't contain Harden on the perimeter and is too slow to stop him from driving to the hoop, Harden will make the Celtics pay.
Point Guard: Jeremy Lin, Rockets vs. Rajon Rondo, Celtics
This will probably be the match-up of the night as one of the most exciting point guards in the West meets one of the best floor generals in the East.
Lin's shooting was steadily improving before his dismal 4-for-12 night against New Orleans on Wednesday. But with his shot attempts beginning to rise, signs are pointing out that Lin is becoming more aggressive and confident on the offensive side of the ball. The defense will try and focus on him, as well, so Lin must use that explosive step to his full advantage tonight.
Rondo, coming off his one-game suspension, was quiet with eight points, though the league-leader in assists did dish out eight assists in Boston's 87-79 win against Phoenix. Rondo can be a pain on defense, so this will be a test for Lin tonight. Rondo helped limit Lin to only five points on Dec. 14. Can he do it again? Or will Rondo and the Celtics fall ill to a sudden case of Linsanity?
Bench: Toney Douglas, Patrick Patterson, Carlos Delfino, Rockets vs. Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green, Jason Terry, Celtics
Sullinger and Green each put up meaningful contributions off the bench in Boston's win over Phoenix this week (Sullinger scoring 12 points while Green notched 14 points) and Jason Terry can provide a quick pop in points as well as an aggressive defensive touch from the Celtics' reserves.
But Houston's bench played a big role the last time the Rockets played the older Celtics squad. Greg Smith had a big night against Boston in December, and could easily do so again, if given the chance.
Patterson has an off-night Wednesday, but his continued improvement off the bench gives the Rockets an added edge, while Delfino can hurt a team with his perimeter shooting and sparkplug play. Add that in with the streaky Douglas and the Rockets have a bench with younger legs and a slew of offensive options.
Game time starts at 7:30 p.m.
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