Game Preview: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs

Nov 9, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket while guarded by San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the second half at AT&T Center. The rockets won 101-99. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 9, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket while guarded by San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the second half at AT&T Center. The rockets won 101-99. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Antonio Spurs begin their week with a matchup against Southwest Division rival and third seed Houston Rockets at the AT&T Center tonight.

The Spurs and the Rockets will play their fourth and final game of the season tonight.

The Spurs enter play on a seven game winning streak, with an overall record of 48-13, the second-best record in the NBA. The Rockets enter tonight’s game with a record of 44-19, currently 5.0 games back of the two seed Spurs.

Head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are coming off a weekend where they played back-to-back overtime games, and clinched a playoff berth for the 20th consecutive season.

This is the first time the Spurs have won back-to-back Overtime games since 2005, when they won two 2OT games.

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) March 5, 2017

Following the overtime victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Spurs nation celebrated the playoff berth. Unfortunately, the honeymoon is over, and the Spurs have a big week ahead of them, starting tonight with the Rockets.

Spurs schedule for this week:

Monday vs RocketsWednesday vs KingsThursday @ ThunderSaturday vs Warriors


— Air Alamo (@AirAlamo) March 5, 2017

As it currently stands, the Spurs are 2.5 games back of the Golden State Warriors, who broke their two game skid yesterday with a win against the New York Knicks.

With a win tonight, not only do the Spurs close the gap to 2.0 games, but they take a 3-1 series lead over the Rockets, owning a tie-breaker if it became necessary.

Previous Matchups

The road team has won every game this season.

The Rockets beat the Spurs in San Antonio 101-99 back on November 9th. The Spurs bounced back and beat the Rockets the following two times in Houston, 106-100 and 102-100.

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The Rockets are currently second in the NBA in scoring at 115.3 points per game. Against the Spurs, they have scored 101, 100, and 100. If the games are low scoring, it immediately benefits the Spurs and their half-court game.

However, it was MVP candidate James Harden who had his way in the first game, scoring 24 points, along with 15 assists and 12 rebounds. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard mustered up 34 points of his own, and brought down seven rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge was the second highest scorer with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

The second time around, Leonard had some assistance. He poured in 20 points, two rebounds and four steals. Aldridge had 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Pau Gasol had 15 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli also scored in double figures with 16 and 12, respectively.

Harden had himself another triple-double, putting up 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists. Potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon had 27 points, including seven three pointers.

In the most recent matchup, the Spurs had six players in double figures: Leonard, Aldridge, Gasol, Danny Green, Patty Mills and Ginobli. Harden scored 31 points on 10-of-26 shooting, including 1-for-11 from downtown. He also had 10 rebounds and seven assists.

The Final Matchup

Basically, this game comes down to a few key factors.

Harden, who is averaging 28.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 11.3 assists, is going to get his. The key is to force him into bad shots, thus lowering his field goal percentage.

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In the last matchup, he had 31 points, his highest total of all three games. However, the Spurs held him to 38.5% from the field, and 9.1% from beyond the arc. If Harden is inefficient, especially in involving other teammates, the Rockets are not at their best.

In the first two matchups, Harden had over 10 assists. In the final matchup, he was held under 10 assists. The key to beating the Rockets is not to stop Harden, but to limit his ability to involve his other teammates. Outside of Gordon, and newly acquired Lou Williams, all of Harden’s teammates need his presence to score the basketball.

On the other hand, a Spurs victory is also reliant on their offensive efficiency. If Aldridge is going to shoot poorly and fail to produce like Aldridge should, the Spurs will likely lose. Spurs are heavily reliant on production from everyone, so putting the scoring load on Leonard’s shoulder isn’t the system Popovich wants to run.

Unless, it’s crunch time and the game is in the final five minutes. That is when the Spurs will actively look Leonard’s way for offensive production.

When it comes to the last 5 mins in a game when the Spurs are ahead or behind by 5 points, Kawhi is ready:

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 6, 2017

This game will come down to the wire, much like the other three games. The Rockets enter this game on a two-game winning streak, both of which came against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Spurs enter on a seven game winning streak, winning a series of closely contested games. If the Spurs want to extend that winning streak, they will have to slow this game down.

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  • The Rockets are second in the league in scoring, and first in three-point attempts at 40.6. The next closest team is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who average about 33.7 per game. They are also second in the NBA in assist-to-field goal ratio at 54.9%

    Basically, the Rockets like to get in transition with the ball in Harden’s hands, allowing him to break down the defense and score himself, or dish it out to an open teammate.

    The Spurs, on the other hand, prefer a half-court offense, where they can increase efficiency and limit your transition opportunities. By doing so, they can set up their half-court defense. The Spurs are allowing 98.6 points per game, second in the NBA.

    This is a classic matchup of elite offense vs elite defense. Two out of the three matchups so far, the defense has prevailed. Unfortunately, that one loss did come at AT&T Center, where the Spurs will play tonight.

    Final Prediction

    This is a very, very tough matchup for the Spurs. If the Spurs are X, the Rockets are Y.

    The Spurs play half-court offense, while the Rockets run and gun. The Spurs play dominant defense, while the Rockets plan to outscore you.

    Since the Spurs are effective in the half-court offense, it limits transition offense, which is the Rockets bread and butter. However, it’s the Spurs inability to help Leonard on the offensive end that worries me for this game.

    Kawhi Leonard is the only player in the NBA this season in the Top-15 in Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating and Usage Percentage.

    — Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) March 5, 2017

    Against teams like the New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves, the Spurs can get away with a mediocre offense showing. Against the Rockets, they cannot.

    If it weren’t for Aldridge’s performance in the previous game against the Timberwolves, I would have probably went with the Rockets. Since Aldridge showed up, played in the low-post, and battled on the boards, I feel more confident in choosing the Spurs.

    If Aldridge can produce offensively and ease the load for Leonard, the Spurs can be dominant enough defensively to help them pull out a victory tonight in San Antonio.

    Leonard and Harden battle for MVP supremacy. Leonard goes over 30+, while Harden notches another triple double. Ultimately, it comes down to the final possessions, where the Spurs will out-execute the Rockets.

    Spurs win, 104-100.