Article written by Michael Knight (@TheKnight97)
The Houston Rockets will look to build off of the incredible comeback victory over the Dallas Mavericks with another bubble win on tonight. They will be playing the best team in the NBA so far this season, the Milwaukee Bucks. The two teams will match up for the first time since Opening Night, a game in which the Bucks won 117-111.
Friday night was a wild ride. In one of the highest-scoring games of the NBA season, the Rockets came back against the Mavericks to send the game to overtime on an improbable Robert Covington putback. They outlasted Dallas and ended up taking a 153-149 (!!!) win, moving them up to the No. 5 seed (temporarily) in the ever-competitive Western Conference.
James Harden led the way, dropping an extremely-efficient 49 points on 14/20 shooting (18/21 FT, 3/9 3PT). He started the game with a 23-point first quarter in which he did not miss a single shot. You better believe he’s all the way back and ready to dominate the bubble!
Now, the Rockets face a tough task in their second bubble game. The Milwaukee Bucks are no joke and have absolutely dominated teams this year. They have the best defense in the league (and it’s not even particularly close) along with a top-10 offense. They are led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, last year’s Most Valuable Player and the favorite to repeat that this season.
Giannis somehow improved this year in fewer minutes per game (30.9 down from 32.8), averaging nearly 30 points as well as around 14 rebounds a game. That, combined with the defensive prowess that he brings to the court, makes him an unstoppable force that is impossible to contain. He dropped 36 points and 15 rebounds in his bubble debut, also on 14/20 shooting just like Harden.
Keys to victory
- It’s close to impossible to contain Giannis, but Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker will do their best to do just that. Keeping him under 30 points would be a huge victory for the Rockets.
- James Harden will need to continue his greatness. On Opening Night, the Rockets did a good job on the rest of the Bucks team aside from Giannis, but Harden had just 19 points on 2/13 shooting. Both teams obviously look different than they did in October, but the need for the Beard to play well against a quality team like Milwaukee is still apparent.
- Keep being efficient, Russ. There were some lapses in the Mavericks game where Russell Westbrook went back to taking some inefficient shots instead of the ones that have led to his best shooting season. He was great overall, though, and ended up shooting 13/30. Against a better team like the Bucks, the Rockets can’t afford to have too many wasted possessions.
With a surprising win by the Toronto Raptors over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Bucks did not end up clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference on Saturday night. That means that they will be looking to wrap it up against the Rockets tonight and likely won’t rest any regulars. This will be an absolute battle.
Pretty much every game for the Rockets has seeding implications as they try to climb into a higher position. They held the five-spot for a brief moment but relented it Saturday afternoon when the Utah Jazz fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The sixth and second seeds are separated by just 3.5 games with seven games to play for the Rockets. Can they grab one tonight and move up a couple of spots? We shall see!
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