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Rockets at Hawks: Key matchups

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Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

There are no two ways about it, this is a big night for several basketball organizations, but considering tonight’s lineup of NBA action, it might be an even bigger night for basketball fans.

There’s no doubt that ESPN’s double-header– featuring Madison Square Garden’s first game of the season between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat, and then a matchup between Los Angeles’ Lakers and Clippers– will likely garner the majority of media attention, but that doesn’t mean fans of the revamped Houston Rockets don’t have anything to look forward to.

The picture above says it all. No more Kevin Martin. No more Joe Johnson. Houston is in Atlanta to take on a Hawks team that had some serious shake-ups of their own this off-season. Without Johnson at the shooting guard/small forward position, the Hawks will be looking to their bevy of new guards to make for his scoring ability.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few key matchups in tonight’s game.

A tale of two backcourts

Jeremy Lin and James Harden combined for 49 points, 20 assists and 8 steals in Wednesday night’s victory over the Detroit Pistons. Formidable numbers like that could be a real problem for Atlanta’s new backcourt by committee.

Jeff Teague and Devin Harris are both very serviceable point guards, and Harris could see time at the SG spot as well, but the question is, will they be able to lose good defenders like Harden and Lin off of pick and rolls, in turn spacing the floor for Atlanta’s talented big men?

Relying on shooters like the newly acquired Lou Williams, Ashton Kutcher Kyle Korver, and Deshawn Stevenson probably isn’t going to cut it against a strong defensive Houston backcourt that includes one-time defensive star Toney Douglas (who, admittedly, looked terrible against Detroit.)

This definitely swings the way of the Rockets who hope to capitalize on the absence of Joe Johnson both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. That being said, don’t be surprised if the inside game of Atlanta creates some open looks for Atlanta’s deadly 3-point shooters.

Smith and Horford vs Asik and Patterson

If that sub-head doesn’t elicit a cringe from every Rockets fan, then they haven’t watched enough Hawks basketball.

Star power forward Josh Smith is coming of a huge season in which he averaged 18.8 ppg and 9.6 rpg. He’ll be matched up against Patrick Patterson, who sat out Houston’s first game with a strained left quad muscle.

Patterson isn’t the strongest of defenders and could have a problem slowing down Smith’s physical offensive game. The best Patterson can hope for is that Smith eschews his back-to-the-basket physicality in favor of terrible 17-foot jump shots (don’t disregard this as a possibility.)

Atlanta’s other all-star, Al Horford, might have his hands full with defensive-minded up-and-comer, Omer Asik. Houston acquired Asik from Chicago prior to the Jeremy Lin signing and Rockets GM Daryl Morey firmly believes he’s going to be a difference maker for this young Rockets team.

The Turk will be put to the test tonight against one of the best offensive centers in the game. Horford’s propensity for mid-range jumpers and smart passing will create space under the hoop as Asik is stretched outward toward the perimeter and that could create an array of offensive options for a cutting J-Smoove.

The good news for Rockets fans is a lack of bench depth in the Hawks front court and with Asik’s youth, he’ll be able to take advantage of role players like Ivan Johnson and Zaza Pachulia with his quickness.

I have no doubt that while this game won’t be nationally televised, the drama happening on Atlanta’s basketball court tonight might even rival the drama happening amongst its “Real Housewives.” The only difference is, you won’t feel dirty after watching. Can you say that about ESPN’s double-header?


Ian Jacoby covers the Houston Rockets for Follow him on twitter @IanJacoby.

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