Opponent: Houston Rockets
Starting Lineup: Russell Westbrook-James Harden-Ben McLemore-P.J. Tucker-Tyson Chandler
Second Unit: Austin Rivers-Chris Clemons-Thabo Sefolosha-Ryan Anderson?-Isaiah Hartenstein?
Leading Scorer: Harden (38.2 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Westbrook (8 RPG)
Leading Assists: Harden (8.1 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Harden
Biggest Advantage: Depth
The Rockets will be without Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green and Nene Hilario. Danuel House is doubtful, and Westbrook is planning on sitting out one of their next two games, but the team hasn’t announced which game yet. That’s 4-6 of their rotation players. This team was already low on depth, but injuries have left them with possibly the worst depth in the league. I mean, McLemore, who was on his way out of the league before this year, might be this team’s fourth most important player right now. The Indiana Pacers’ bench unit, or essentially any minute Harden is on the bench, should be able to feast. That could be a major neutralizer in this contest.
The X-Factor: Domantas Sabonis
This could be a monster game for Sabonis. Without Capela and Hilario, the Rockets are going to rely heavily on Chandler. Chandler, in short spurts, can be an effective defensive center, but he isn’t used to playing long stretches. He’s averaging under 8 MPG this year, despite playing in every contest. Houston is going to rely heavily on Tucker minutes at center, which gives Sabonis a major size advantage, and even some possible minutes from Anderson and Hartenstein (yikes). I’m not sure there is someone on the Rockets roster right now that can stop Sabonis in the post.
The Rockets will always be favored over the Pacers as long as Harden is playing, and that’s how it should be. There’s no one on the court even close to his ability. But if the Pacers are going to steal a game from Houston this year, it’s going to come tonight. The Rockets are as depleted as ever, especially if Westbrook sits this game out. Westbrook has been wildly inefficient this year and shoots the three-ball under 25%, but he’s still a bucket-getter who can relive some offensive duties from Harden. If he sits this one out? The Pacers can capitalize.