2/5 Game Preview: Celtics at Rockets
HOUSTON -- Their losses have been so few and far between that the Rockets are rarely in position to circle a game on the schedule and set out for revenge against a particular opponent.
However, the Rockets (48-13) on Saturday will have the opportunity to make amends for one of their small handful of ugly defeats when they host the Boston Celtics at Toyota Center. Houston blew a 26-point lead in falling 99-98 at TD Garden on Dec. 28, the fourth setback in what would develop into a season-long five-game losing skid for the then-shorthanded Rockets.
Houston played that night without starters Chris Paul and Clint Capela and reserve swingman Luc Mbah a Moute. The Rockets nevertheless led 64-38 early in the second half before coming undone, their stellar offense unraveling against the Celtics' suffocating defense soon thereafter.
Currently riding a 14-game winning streak, their second of this season, the Rockets are relatively whole. Reserves Ryan Anderson (hip) and Brandan Wright (knee) will be unavailable against Boston, but Houston for the most part is healthy and playing with supreme confidence.
"Competition. When you're competitive it doesn't matter," Paul said of what is continuing to push the Rockets. "You don't need somebody else to get you going. We've got a lot of competitive people over here, whether it's shooting games, whether it's tic tac toe ... we've got a competitive group. Who cares who we're playing or what's happening? We want to win."
The Rockets would be wise to maintain that approach, for after the rematch with Boston, they face games at Oklahoma City and Toronto next week, against whom Houston is 0-2. The Rockets' recent road trip featured three victories but also ragged, inconsistent performances.
"There's always things we'd like to tinker with, we just don't want to go crazy thinking we can solve everything," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Some of it is you just make shots (or) you miss shots and we're in a period now ... after the All-Star break we're not going to be as sharp as we were before. But we'll give it another couple weeks and we'll see."
The Celtics (44-19) continue to hang their hat on defense, but their offense since the season resumed has been outstanding. Boston ranks second only to the Golden State Warriors in offensive rating (119.5) over the last four games, with a net rating (15.1) that's third in the NBA.
Still, defending Rockets guard James Harden, the MVP frontrunner who averaged 30.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 8.1 assists in February, is paramount. Harden produced a robust 63.6 true shooting percentage last month, his second-best mark in any month this season. Boston is justified in making Harden its primary focus.
"You just try to make it as hard as you can," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "James, his ability to score from behind the arc, drive the ball and then get to the foul line, he's as good as anybody. You can't count on one guy to do that; you have to throw as many bodies at him as possible. And he's going to make some plays."