The Houston Rockets head into Sacramento in efforts to move into the upper tier of the Western Conference. They are 31-22 for the season and 12-14 on the road. Sacramento has won their last three and are within a half game of the eighth seed in the west, at 28-25. Houston took the first meeting of the season by 20 points as a home favorite.
Examining the match up more closely, the Rocket rank 12th in the NBA in scoring and 16th in points allowed. Sacramento ranks eighth in scoring, but haven't been able to stop anyone, ranked 27th in points allowed. Houston is among the worst teams in the league in both rebounding and turnovers. The primary reason for their winning record is the play of James Harden. Without him, they are a mediocre NBA team. Sacramento ranks 19th in rebounding and in the top ten in taking care of the ball.
The Rockets are lead by Harden and his 36.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, eight assists and 2.2 steals per game. He's also hitting 37 percent from beyond the arc and is the top MVP candidate in the league. The Rockets have struggled without Clint Capela in the lineup due to a thumb injury. It's difficult to make up his 17.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. Kenneth Faried has picked up some of the slack since his arrival, averaging 16.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in eight games. Veteran point guard Chris Paul drops 16 and 8 assists per game, while Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers complete a solid unit.
Sacramento's top scorer is Buddy Hield, who is fantastic from beyond the arc, hitting 45 percent. He's averaging 20 points and five rebounds per game. De'Aaron Fox adds 17.5 points and leads the team in assists at 7.2 per contest. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Marvin Bagley combine to drop 28 points per game, while Willie Cauley-Stein pounds the boards at a rate of 8.6 per game. Houston has to watch for quick scoring from Nemanja Bjelica and Iman Shumpert, who combine to hit nearly 40 percent from three-point range.
Harden will get his, but the key for the Kings is to keep him under 40. If he goes wild and hits for 50, then the Rockets clearly will win the game. Houston is decent on the road, but Sacramento is playing better lately and is solid at home. This should be a high scoring affair, but another key will be ball control. Houston is sloppy with the ball, limiting their scoring opportunities. That will haunt them on the road. Look for the Kings to edge the Rockets and keep pace for the final playoff spot in the conference.