After losing in historic fashion their last time out, seeing 7-31 Milwaukee up next on the schedule is a relief for the Rockets.
Houston fell to Oklahoma City 102-94 on Wednesday night despite scoring a season-high 73 points in the first half. That’s right, do the math. Houston’s 19 second-half points set an NBA record for scoring differential between halves. The Rockets shot just 19.4 percent in the second half and still finished at 40.2 percent for the game.
Despite the tough loss, Houston has won five of its last seven and sits at 26-15, good for fifth in the uber-competitive Western Conference. The Rockets’ pair of All-Stars – Dwight Howard and James Harden – have performed as expected. Harden is averaging 24.4 points, 5.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds, while Howard posts 17.9 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Howard’s scoring and rebounding numbers are down again this season, as was the case during his tumultuous stay in Los Angeles, but he’s playing more than four fewer minutes per game than in his final season with the Magic when he put up 20.6 points and 14.5 boards.
While Houston appears to be a surefire playoff team, and a possible title contender, the Bucks continue to trend in the opposite direction. Losers of seven straight, and 15 of 17, Milwaukee is desperate to snap it’s second-longest losing skid of the season. In those seven losses, Milwaukee has reached the century mark just once, while falling by an average of 14 points.
The Bucks fell to Memphis 82-77 on Wednesday despite 27 points from Brandon Knight and 13 rebounds from Ersan Ilyasova. Milwaukee held Memphis to 40.2 percent shooting but shot just 37.8 percent themselves. Ilaysova and Larry Sanders, in particular, had a rough night offensively, combining for 14 points on 6-of-23 shooting, though Sanders contributed 12 rebounds and three blocks. O.J. Mayo played only seven minutes off the bench against his former team, while Gary Neal notched his fifth consecutive DNP-CD.
About the only positive surrounding the Bucks this season has been the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Though the rookie had a rough outing Wednesday, he’s been really the only bright spot in what has been a downright disastrous season for the NBA’s worst team. Antetokounmpo supplanted Mayo in the starting lineup last month and has started the past 14 games. After a strong December, his production has dipped a bit in January, but he’s still good for at least one jaw-dropping rebound or dunk per night.
Saturday’s matchup features two teams with contrasting styles. Houston plays at the league’s eight-fastest pace, while Milwaukee plays the 27th-fastest. The Rockets also rank fifth in offensive efficiency, averaging 107 possessions per game. Milwaukee, on the other hand, averages a league-worst 95.5.
What to watch for:
– The last time these two teams met – February 27 of last season – Milwaukee prevailed 110-107 behind 27 points and 13 assists from Monta Ellis. Ellis rattled in a three-pointers at the buzzer for one of the more memorable moments of the season. Since then, of course, both teams have undergone major changes.
– The Bucks have just one win in 12 tries against the Western Conference this season. That lone win came on New Year’s Eve against the Lakers. The Rockets, like nearly every team in the West, have beat up on the Eastern Conference, going 12-3 on the season.
C – Dwight Howard
PF – Terrence Jones
SF – Chandler Parsons
SG – James Harden
PG – Jeremy Lin
C – Larry Sanders
PF – Ersan Ilyasova
SF – Giannis Antetokounmpo
SG – Luke Ridnour
PG – Brandon Knight
Scoring: 5th (104.9)
Points allowed: 7th (45.0)
Rebounding: 25th (20.0)
Assists: 19th (101.7)
Scoring: 30th (91.3)
Points allowed: 41.5th (41.5)
Rebounding: 19th (20.5)
Assists: 13th (100.0)
Scoring: Harden (24.4), Knight (15.4)
Assists: Harden (5.3), Knight (4.3)
Rebounds: Howard (12.5), Henson (8.0)
Blocks: Howard (1.8), Henson (2.3)