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Game Day: Rockets vs. Spurs

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 97-90 win over San Antonio

  • Arena Link: Dwight Howard
    Dwight Howard joins Fan Night after the Rockets defeat the Spurs at home on Tuesday night.
  • Spurs vs. Rockets
    Dwight Howard scores 23 points and grabs 16 rebounds with Terrence Jones adding 21 points to lead the Rockets over the Spurs 97-90.
  • Terrence Jones: 1/28 Postgame
    Terrence Jones addresses the media following a 97-90 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs
  • Jeremy Lin: 1/28 Postgame
    Jeremy Lin addresses the media following a 97-90 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs
  • Chandler Parsons: 1/28 Postgame
    Chandler Parsons addresses the media following a 97-90 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs
  • Dwight Howard: 1/28 Postgame
    Dwight Howard addresses the media following a 97-90 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs
  • Pesky Defense
    Aaron Baynes rebounds the ball and tries the high percentage shot and Jeremy Lin swats it out of bounds.
  • McHale 01/28 Post Game
    Kevin McHale addresses the media following the Rockets victory over the Spurs.
  • Howard Goes Hard
    Dwight Howard gets the feed inside and double pumps on the two-hand throwdown.
  • Spurs vs. Rockets: First half
    Boris Diaw scores 11 points with Tim Duncan adding 10 points as the Spurs lead the Rockets at the half 46-39.
  • Attack The Basket
    Jeremy Lin runs the fast break and finds Terrence Jones cutting to the rim for the two-hand flush.

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s matchup with the San Antonio Spurs:

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Jeremy Lin had no choice but to attack and assume an aggressive mentality. Dwight Howard had no other option than to step up to the line and knock down his free throws. Both players delivered in a big way. And as a result, the Rockets knocked off San Antonio for the third time during the 2013-14 campaign, ensuring their first season series win over the Spurs since the start of Tim Duncan's pro career.

With James Harden sidelined due to an injured left thumb, Lin was thrust into the role of primary playmaker, as the Rockets leaned on him to create, score and push the tempo. None of those was really optional, by the way - not with Houston's injury situation, and certainly not with the big, bad Spurs on the other end of the floor. Houston needed Lin to step forward and produce, and that he did to the tune of 18 points, 8 assists and several massive, momentum-altering plays down the stretch.

"(Jeremy is) a naturally very aggressive player," said Houston head coach Kevin McHale after the game. "He needs to be aggressive. Jeremy plays his best when he's attacking and when we have some pace in the game it really helps him. He really caught a rhythm in that third quarter and it was really good for our team."

Indeed, the third period proved to instrumental to the Rockets' rally on a night that saw them fall behind by as many as 15 points in the early going. Howard, especially, struggled for much of the first half while missing his first eight shots from the field and turning the ball over three times. But he, like the rest of his team, transformed into the dominating version of himself in the second half, erupting for 18 points and nine boards during that stretch which included a parade to the free throw line when San Antonio attempted to dull Houston's thrust with the Hack-a-Howard strategy. Howard, however, proved impervious to the plan, hitting 10 of his 16 freebies as the Rockets added to a lead they would hold onto for the duration of the contest.

“I just kept telling myself to just concentrate," he said after finishing the game with a game-high 23 points and 16 rebounds. "If I make them that’s great, and if I miss them, get back on defense and try to make a play. It was a hard fought battle tonight and I’m glad we got the win.” 

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

- Although the final score turned out in Houston's favor, there were few signs it would do so in the early going. To wit: It took Tony Parker fewer than four minutes tonight to equal his scoring total (6 points) from the last time he faced the Rockets. Parker and his San Antonio teammates put on an absolute clinic at the outset, looking every bit like the top-5 offensive and defensive outfit that they are. The Spurs hit nine of their first 12 shots from the field while building a 21-6 lead.

Houston, meanwhile, looked lost without its All-Star two-guard and certified Spurs killer James Harden on the floor. While San Antonio was getting good looks nearly every time down the floor, the Rockets were scuffling along shooting 3-of-14 to start the game.

- With Harden out and the Spurs’ fundamentally sound defense on the other end of the floor, it was more important than ever for Houston to push the pace and get into early offense before San Antonio could set up and stay true to their principles in the half-court. This sweet, no-look dish from Jeremy Lin to Terrence Jones served as a perfect example.

Of course, it should also be said that it’s awfully tough to run when you’re not getting stops, and the Rockets endured some serious struggles in that regard during the first quarter when San Antonio hit more than 61 percent of its field goal attempts.

- Jones almost singlehandedly kept his club in the game in the early going with a scoring spree that saw him deliver eight points during the final 2:12 of the opening period. He was active, aggressive and, most importantly, productive while injecting some sorely needed energy and intensity into the Rockets’ attack. He finished the frame with 10 points, in the process helping Houston trim its deficit to eight despite the fact everyone else on the team went just 3-of-18 from the field.

With Kawhi Leonard out, San Antonio simply had no reasonable, ready-made answer for handling Jones’ athleticism at the power forward position. Boris Diaw had a strong game at the offensive end, but struggled dealing with the 22-year-old’s quick first step. And as for Matt Bonner … well, let’s just say that the Spurs’ forward might be known as the Red Rocket to his teammates, but all Jones saw when Bonner stood in front of him was a bright green light beckoning him onward and unencumbered toward the basket.

- One other TJ note: It continues to kill me (so just imagine what it does to Gregg Popovich) that defenders still bite so hard on Jones’ pump fake from the 3-point line. Far be it from me to hammer home the finer points of the scouting report for the opposition, but when someone hits fewer than 29 percent of his 3s – as Jones does – perhaps staying steady is the way to go when said player begins the act of shooting from long range.

- Houston’s energy definitely improved in the second quarter, though San Antonio was still managing to create quality looks nearly every time down the floor. Fortunately for the Rockets, the Spurs’ shooting cooled off considerably. Then again, Houston could certainly commiserate in that regard given that Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard were an unfathomable 0-for-14 from the field until the latter finally threw down a dunk with less than two minutes to go until halftime.

All of which is to say that, given Harden’s absence, the horrific start the Rockets endured and the poor shooting from their remaining scoring leaders, Houston had to be downright giddy to hit the break behind by a mere seven points.

- How many times have we seen some semblance of the following story this season? The Rockets endure a rocky first half, manage to hang around, and then when the second half begins they deliver an opening salvo to get themselves right back in the game. That’s exactly what Houston did tonight while kick starting a kick-butt third quarter with an 11-2 run that saw the club completely turn the tables by dominating the Spurs on both ends of the floor.

That blitz set the tone for the rest of the period as the Rockets would eventually outscore San Antonio by 15 points in the frame. The Spurs rallied momentarily after Houston’s initial strike, but when Manu Ginobili was forced from the game with tightness in his left hamstring, San Antonio’s offense completely went off the rails. The Rockets smelled blood in the water and all San Antonio could do in response was employ the always entertaining and fan-friendly Hack-a-Howard routine. Yet even that tactic fell flat as Howard knocked down 10 of his 16 free throws in the frame, allowing Houston to take an 8-point advantage into the fourth and final period.

- Just how dominant was the Rockets’ third quarter? This emphatic Jeremy Lin swat of Aaron Baynes said far more than mere words ever could.

And speaking of that J-Lin kid, he had himself one heck of a second half. Thrust into a role in which he was forced to be in attack mode throughout, his passing, playmaking and decision-making were on point during the final two periods of play. I loved the way he pushed the ball up the floor after Tony Parker clanked two key free throws in the fourth quarter, catching the Spurs off guard and firing a picture perfect bounce pass to Dwight Howard for a layup. And his bank shot from the right block in the final minute may not have been a high percentage look, but those are the kind of clutch makes you often need to hold off a terrific team like the Spurs down the stretch.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get to the basket,” said Lin of his last minute shot that gave the Rockets a stranglehold on the Spurs. “Against a great team like that, you never do that late in the game. I just wanted to get to a sweet spot and I was just trying to get to that right block because I just love that bank shot right there.

"The team needed me to be more aggressive. That's my style. I've got to find a way to be that (way) consistently for this team."

- Also monstrous in the second half: Dwight Howard. Tim Duncan got the better of him early on, but Howard owned the matchup in the second half during which he totaled 18 points and nine boards. The seven-time All-Star anchored the defense, hit a healthy portion of his free throws and was nothing short of beastly on the offensive glass. Howard snagged a whopping seven offensive rebounds in all; none bigger than the one he corralled in the final two minutes with his club clinging to a two-point lead. He finished the play by flushing home a two-handed jam, allowing Houston’s fans to breathe a little easier when it seemed San Antonio was of a mind to try to steal this game.

- Look, this was obviously far from San Antonio’s full squad. The Spurs came into the night without the services of Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green, and then was further weakened by the loss of Ginobili. The scarcity of San Antonio’s depth shone through when the Spurs best offensive option to start the fourth quarter was to simply post-up Boris Diaw time and time again. Maco Belinelli, he of the NBA-leading 48 percent hit rate from downtown, went 1-for-7 from deep on a night when the best 3-point shooting team in the league shot 26 percent from downtown. And the attrition to the Spurs’ roster most glaringly revealed itself in the fact that San Antonio, the third-ranked defensive rebounding club in the NBA, allowed Houston to collect an eye-popping 45 percent of its missed shots.

But hey, the Rockets played without a bevy of injured players themselves – including James freaking Harden – and the Spurs surely won’t be making any excuses, so there’s no need for me to make any on their behalf. The fact of the matter is this was a big win for a Rockets team looking to right the ship after suffering through a pair of dispiriting losses to Memphis. Houston's shots weren’t falling and they fell behind big. They still found a way to pull through. And in a league that’s all about overcoming adversity, that counts for a lot.

Speaking of which, the Rockets’ next stop is Dallas where Houston has lost seven straight. In other words, more adversity is on the way. Let’s see how the Rockets respond.

NOTES AND QUOTES

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On what turned around on defense) “The way we started we were on our heels and having a hard time scoring ourselves and having a hard time stopping them. We just kept kind of grinding it out. We just kept trying to get stops. We changed a couple of things defensively. We were switching too much. We kept chasing them and chasing them and chasing them too much. They were getting in our paint. We changed a couple of things defensively and the guys kind of dug in and got stops.”

(On hacking technique affecting offensive rhythm) “There was no rhythm out there for either team but at least they (Spurs) were on offense. We never get on offense when that happens. Dwight (Howard) was making his share (of free throws). I felt pretty comfortable that he would continue to make shots and make his free throws. So I thought, I know the clocks not ticking but we are getting points. As long as you are ahead and keep getting points, you're usually okay. I was ready to make some substitutions but then I kind of started going on and I thought, well good. The guys got rest out there. We had some foul trouble and some other things but the key is Dwight made his free throws.”

(On the play of Jeremy Lin) “I thought he played really well. I thought Jeremy had a really nice game for us. He moved the ball and made assists. I thought he was just really solid for us tonight and we needed it. We played aggressively and made a big basket down the stretch. Had another big hoop and attack. He played really well and it's nice to see him play well. He's been back playing and Patrick's (Beverley) is getting back. We've got to get that rhythm back where he and Pat and James (Harden) and Chandler (Parsons) are out playing and that's what we need.”

(On the importance of the win) “It was very important. Especially with no James (Harden). We just have to kind of find a way to win some games. I thought we had a really good competitive practice yesterday. I thought we got after it. I thought we had some things that we worked on tonight that helped us. It was just a good day yesterday, watching film. The guys had a good spirit about them.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the Rockets slow start to the game) “We just missed shots. We missed a lot of shots. At one point, I think we were 7-for-23, or 4-for-23 from the field. We missed a lot of shots and they (Spurs) came out and hit some. That’s going to happen some nights, but we didn’t give up, we kept fighting. We hit the offensive glass, Terrence (Jones) got hot for a little bit, and we just kept playing.”

(On his making some crucial free throws in the second half of the game) “I just kept telling myself to just concentrate. If I make them that’s great, and if I miss them, get back on defense and try to make a play. It was a hard fought battle tonight and I’m glad we got the win.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the keys to the win) “We started real slow. After the two losses to Memphis, we wanted to do whatever we could to get the win. Tonight our offense was still a little sluggish early, but we got it going in the second half. I thought defensively we really locked in well and everybody followed the scouting report to a “t”. It’s more impressive to me that we can still win games against one of the better teams in the NBA when we don’t shoot the ball well.”

(On the Rockets winning short handed without James Harden) “Without our best scorer, to beat a team like that is impressive. I had an off night and everyone else stepped up. So, it just shows how balanced our team is. When a guy goes out or a guy plays bad, we have multiple guys who can step up and go in.”

JEREMY LIN

(On the Rockets overcoming a slow start tonight) “I think for us, we hung around and we hung around and we realized at some point our shots were going to start to fall. We started off missing a ton of shots. I missed a ton of shots, Dwight (Howard) missed a lot of “bunnies” (layups), and Chandler (Parsons) missed shots that he normally makes. We just knew that if we could hang around and wait until the tide turns, we would be alright.”

(On the play of Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard) “I can’t say more about both of those guys. Terrence, how he started and Dwight, how he finished. They did a good job of just controlling the glass. We were up two points and Dwight went and got that and put it back in and got big defensive rebounds. Both of them were patrolling the lane and Terrence doing a good job on Boris Diaw down the stretch. Those things are invaluable. Those were really the keys to winning the game.”

TERRENCE JONES

 (On what he thinks when teams go to the hack-a-Howard strategy) “It doesn't bother me at all. I believe him to knock down and make each free throws.”

(On playing against Spurs) “Definitely. They are a tough team. They are one of the top teams in the league so just being able to play at their pace with them and win is great for our team.”

PAT BEVERLEY

(On the game ) “I think San Antonio came out fast. They were throwing it up and cutting hard and I think we stayed with it. We showed resilience. We kept fighting.”

(On the win) “Every win is not the same and we understand that. Again, we were kind of short today without one of our main guys but that shows you how focused we were on the defensive end but we just stuck with it and came out with the win.”

SAN ANTONIO SPURS COACH GREGG POPPOVICH

(On the Spurs start) “The start of the third (quarter) hurt us. We came out and gave up a three right off the back, and then made a mental error defensively. They (Rockets) made a steal and it got them going. They played well and offensive boards hurt us. They got nineteen offensive rebounds I think. They would miss some free throws and then get the rebound. We’d make a couple of stops then they would get the rebound. If we’re going to shoot as poorly as we did, 6-for-23 from three, that makes a pretty small margin for error. So you have to get the loose balls, offensive rebounds and we didn’t get any of that. You can’t allow offensive rebounds and we did that.”

(On Manu Ginobili’s injury) “Same thing. It looks like his hamstring again. We think he did it on the dunk and he felt it tighten up after that.”

(On Hack-a-Howard strategy) “We’ve done it a lot. We’ve fouled guys for 10 years.”

(On Boris Diaw’s play) “Boris is a talented scorer and he plays better defense than most people think. He gave us a chance, scoring wise, because we couldn’t make a three. He helped us at least stay in the game.”

TIM DUNCAN

(On the rebound differential) “That hurt us bad obviously. They got some big ones down the stretch. I thought defensively we did a pretty decent job and we were controlling the game for a long time and then it just got away from us. It was a very frustrating loss, especially because of the way we play in stretches.”

(On Dwight Howard making 9-of-14 free throws) “That’s what he has to do to get us out of it. He made free throws and he hurt us with them. He was at 40% the last couple of games. For whatever reason, it seems like a lot of people break out of their slumps when they play us.”

BORIS DIAW

(On the game) “It was definitely a tough game. I think we started pretty well in the game, but then we kind of slowed down a little bit. In the second half, I don’t know the reason, but our pace wasn’t as good and we were a little bit off. Houston did a good job of rebounding the ball.”

(On the team’s injuries and losing Manu Ginobili) “It’s getting frustrating. It’s like we’re getting one player hurt every game, but we don’t know how long. Maybe, it’s just for tonight and hopefully it’s not too bad. Our other guys that have gotten hurt, hopefully we’ll have them back too.”

(On his play) “Especially toward the second half, I thought we tried to get some easy baskets inside because our pick and roll was having a tough time because Houston was switching a lot. We needed to go inside and score some baskets close.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,314 tonight, giving the Rockets 23 sellouts on the season.

The Rockets roared back for a 97-90 win over the Spurs tonight, taking a 33-18 scoring edge in the third quarter in helping to overcome a 15-point, first-half lead by San Antonio. The Rockets now owns a 3-0 edge against the Spurs this season. The last time Houston won the season series with San Antonio was back in 1996-97. The Rockets took three of four from the Spurs that season, winning twice on the road and splitting at home.

Houston again took the battle of the boards by double digits over San Antonio tonight (+16, 55-39). The Rockets also outrebounded the Spurs by a season-best +21 (54-33) at San Antonio (11/30/13). Houston has now posted 50-plus rebounds in all three meetings with San Antonio this season (50 on 12/25/13).

The Rockets tonight snapped the Spurs streak of scoring at least 100 points at 15 straight games. The last time San Antonio failed to reach the century mark was in a 111-98 loss to Houston on Christmas Day. This marked the first time San Antonio scored at least 100 points in 15 consecutive outings since a 22-game streak back in 1994-95.

Houston held San Antonio to just 6-of-23 (.261) from beyond the arc tonight. The Spurs entered this game leading the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage (.406).

The Rockets have failed to score at least 40 first-half points just four times all season, with three of those occasions coming in the last three games: 35 on 1/24/14, 35 on 1/25/14 and 39 tonight. Houston had combined for 296 first-half points over its prior five-game homestand (59.2 ppg).

Dwight Howard led the Rockets with 23 points (5-15 FG) and 16 rebounds tonight, while going 13-of-25 from the free throw line. It marked the third time this season Howard has gone to the line at least 24 times in a game. He is already the first Rockets player to ever attempt at least 24 free throws in two separate games within a single season. Howard has also recorded a double-double in each of his last nine games against the Spurs dating back to the start of the 2010-11 campaign.

Terrence Jones finished with 21 points (9-12 FG) and nine rebounds tonight. Jones has now reached 20-plus points on six occasions this season.

Jeremy Lin posted 18 points (5-13 FG, 7-7 FT) and a game-high eight assists. Since coming to Houston, the Rockets are now 22-9 (.710) overall when Lin reaches at least eight assists in a game.

James Harden did not suit up tonight due to a bruised left thumb, which he suffered in the first half at Memphis (1/25/14).

Boris Diaw topped the Spurs in scoring with a season-high 22 points (9-20 FG, 2-2 3FG), adding 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Diaw, who has scored in double figures 20 times on the season, set his previous high of 21 points (8-10 FG, 3-4 3FG) at Atlanta (1/24/14).

Tim Duncan registered 12 points (6-10 FG), 14 rebounds and four blocks tonight, including 10 points (5-7 FG), 11 boards and two blocks in the first half alone. Duncan tonight tied Bill Russell for sixth all-time in the NBA in career double-doubles.

Manu Ginobili left tonight’s game with tightness in his left hamstring. 

PREVIEW

The Basics:

San Antonio Spurs (33-11) at Houston Rockets (29-17)

Point Differential:

San Antonio: +7.8 (NBA rank: 2nd)

Houston: +3.4 (NBA rank: 9th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

San Antonio: 108.3 (3rd)

Houston: 107.1 (T-6th)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

San Antonio: 99.7 (4th)

Houston: 102.3 (9th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

San Antonio: 96.69 (15th)

Houston: 98.01 (8th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

San Antonio: 54.4% (2nd)

Houston: 52.7% (3rd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

San Antonio: 15.2 (T-12th)

Houston: 16.4 (26th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

San Antonio: 50.8% (13th); offensive rebound rate: 22.5% (25th); defensive rebound rate: 76.5% (3rd)

Houston: 51.4% (7th); offensive rebound rate: 26.9% (12th); defensive rebound rate: 73.0% (T-25th)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

San Antonio: .234 (30th)

Houston: .392 (1st)

You know, after suffering through two tough losses in a row it’s always nice to have your ‘get-well’ team come to town.

I kid, I kid. But let’s face it: Opportunities to bask in a Rockets’ win streak over the Spurs have been so few and far between of late that you better milk them for all they’re worth while they last.

Hammering that point home is a sobering little tidbit you’ve probably already encountered if you’ve spent any time at all perusing the Rockets-related sectors of the internet over the past 24 hours: The last time Houston beat San Antonio three times in a single season was 1996-97 – aka: the campaign before the Spurs drafted some dude by the name of Tim Duncan.

So yeah, the Rockets are long overdue for a breakthrough. They certainly won’t be lacking for confidence given that they’ve now knocked off San Antonio three straight times, dating back to last season’s last-second home win that came courtesy of a James Harden (who else?) jumper that just so happened to snap Houston’s four-game losing skid against the Spurs. And the timing seemingly couldn't be better given that San Antonio figures to again be without three-fifths of its starting lineup since Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green are still nursing injuries that have kept them out of action for varying lengths of time.

But longtime observers know that it’s times such as these during which the Borg-like Spurs ought to be feared the most. Green’s absence just means more Marco Belinelli and his absurd 48 percent hit rate from downtown. The loss of Splitter simply gives Boris Diaw a chance to devour more minutes. You know the drill by now: The second someone breaks down, the Spurs find productivity somewhere else. And all the while the Collective just keeps rolling right along, crushing hopes, dreams and spirits along the way.

Case in point: San Antonio hasn’t lost two in a row all season. Then again, Houston hasn’t dropped three consecutive games at any point. So the Rockets know resistance isn’t futile against these guys – it’s simply very, very hard-earned.

Know Thy Enemy

- Another rather wild statistical fun fact that’s been making the rounds in hoops circles lately: The Spurs are now 1-10 this season against teams boasting the best six records in the NBA (other than their own, of course). Just as crazy: that means San Antonio is a jaw-dropping 32-1 against everyone else. And while some in the Alamo City surely are starting to sweat the former figure, it’s far too early to read too terribly much into it given that the Spurs own the second-best point differential and net rating in the league (behind only Indiana in both), and only Oklahoma City similarly occupies residence in the NBA’s top-5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

- Tonight’s contest pits two of the league’s best shooting teams against each other, though they’ve taken rather divergent paths in their respective journeys to obtain their elite standing. While the Rockets derive much of their potency from their devastating rim attacks, San Antonio’s perimeter shooting is second to none. The Spurs lead the league in 3-point percentage (.406), are No. 1 in above-the-break 3s (.401) and second overall in terms of their hit rate from those oh-so precious corners (.433).

And though San Antonio doesn’t live in the paint quite like the Rockets do, they’re remarkably deadly from that range as well, as seen by the fact that the Spurs rank second in field goal percentage from within 8-feet of the basket.

- A big part of their success in the lane, of course, comes courtesy of Tony Parker, who continues to stand among the elite in terms of the damage he’s able to inflict via his darting, slithering forays to the hoop. Nearly 51 percent of Parker’s points are scored in the paint – among starting point guards, only Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams derives a higher percentage of his points from that part of the floor.

San Antonio’s five-time All-Star is also No. 2 in the league in drives to the basket per game (10.5) and points per game scored via those drives (6.6), and he’s third overall in terms of the number of points per game his team scores on his hoop attacks (12.5).

The last time these two teams faced each other, Parker scored a season-low six points on 3-of-11 shooting. He’s tallied just 11 points in each of his last two contests. Are those reasons for Rockets optimism or terror tonight? You be the judge.

- After an icy start to the season shooting the ball, Tim Duncan has bounced back – just as you knew he would – and as a result his per-minute numbers have once again returned to the career norms we’ve come to expect from one of the greatest big men the game has ever seen. For the month of January, the 37-year-old is averaging around 16 points and 10 rebounds per game while hitting about 54 percent of his shots from the field, all in a neat and tidy 30 minutes per game. Perhaps one day someone will happen upon an attic to find a portrait of Timmy that’s been aging in his stead all this time.

On the offensive end of the floor, the key to slowing the future Hall of Famer lies in keeping Duncan out of the paint whenever possible (admittedly, a task that is easier said than done). The two-time MVP is shooting nearly 60 percent from inside 8-feet of the hoop, but a paltry 36 percent from all other locations.

- And speaking of shooters, what on earth has gotten into Marco Belinelli? He’s always been a very good marksman, but these days opposing teams basically have to treat him as if he’s Kyle Korver. According to Synergy Sports, he’s averaging an insane 1.314 points per possession on spot-ups – a number that places him in the league’s 95th percentile in that category.

And if advanced stats aren’t really your thing, here are a few more conventional ways of detailing Belinelli’s ridiculous hit rate this season. The 27-year-old Italian is currently connecting on a higher percentage of his catch-and-shoot 3s (.513) than is Korver, he’s knocking down nearly 48 percent of his attempts from the corners, and he’s shooting a blistering 49 percent on his above-the-break bombs. 

The only logical explanation: Gregg Popovich is a straight up witch.

In the spotlight

James Harden swears he has nothing personal against San Antonio. The 24-year-old insists he feels nothing special when he sees the Spurs on the other end of the court. And yet, there’s no denying the fact Houston’s All-Star shooting-guard has saved some of his best performances for his matchups with the silver and black. Harden played a huge role in Oklahoma City’s upset over the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals two years ago, and he’s been even better against San Antonio since donning a Rockets jersey, averaging 30 points per game against Houston’s Southwest Division rivals during that time. This season Harden has been especially lethal when facing San Antonio in the fourth quarter, posting a prolific average of 16 points on 67 percent shooting in the final frame alone against the Spurs.

(UPDATE: This afternoon the Rockets announced that Harden will miss tonight's game due to a bruised left thumb he sustained Saturday in Houston's game against the Grizzlies)

Injury Update

Francisco Garcia (knee), Greg Smith (knee) and Omer Asik (knee) are out.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.