Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard

The Houston Rockets and especially James Harden were a huge problem for the San Antonio Spurs last time these two teams met, but there’s a good chance he won’t be playing, which means there will be a lot more pressure on Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard to avoid the beginning of a losing streak.

Jeremy Lin didn’t play on November 30 when the Rockets beat the Spurs 112-106 in San Antonio. James Harden was at his best, finishing with 31 points and taking advantage of the Spurs struggling to handle his drives to the basket. What people seem to forget is how good Chandler Parsons was in that game, scoring 25 points, adding 5 assists and a lot of thinking into the Rockets’ offense, which can get quite stale and predictable when both he and Lin aren’t playing.

Dwight Howard has been quite hot recently, and the Rockets have been quite destructive in the paint. The Spurs are preparing for Harden to be playing, but if not they’ll have to focus specifically on Howard getting the ball in the paint.

Lin had one of his best games ever last season, playing without James Harden next to him, scoring 38 points and adding 7 assists in a 126-134 loss last season. However, the Rockets don’t need him to be that dominant offensively this time, because he doesn’t need to take the entire offense on his back. Limiting his turnovers, something Lin said was a problem in his return game against the Mavs, might be a more useful way for him to help the Rockets.

For the Spurs, everyone’s healthy and for once, Popovich isn’t going to give the league a middle finger and bench key players in front of a national audience. Parker had a big game in the recent win over the Raptors, and the Spurs will be looking mostly to him in order to open up the usually weak Rockets defense, with Manu Ginobili, scoring 18 points in their last win, also someone who’ll have a big part to play in drawing Howard out of his comfort zone to create easy shots for the others.

Predictions – In a game that will surely produce a lot of points, it’s going to be about the team that manages to create more stops on defense and makes less mistakes. Harden playing or not doesn’t mean anything about the Rockets’ defense, but he’s a force to be reckoned with on the other side. Without him, this game is most likely going to the Spurs.