PREVIEW: Rockets at Spurs- Dec. 8

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Jack Dempsey/AP/Shutterstock (13641463c) Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun, center, drives to the basket between Denver Nuggets center DeAndre Jordan (6) and guard Davon Reed (9) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game, in Denver Rockets Nuggets Basketball, Denver, United States – 28 Nov 2022

PREVIEW: Rockets at Spurs- Dec. 8

Coming off a thrilling double overtime win over the Sixers on Monday night, the Rockets head west down I-10 for the first of four regular-season meetings with the San Antonio Spurs.

Eye on the Spurs

Record: 6-18 (Last in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 107.0 (29th)

Defensive rating (rank): 118.5 (30th)

The Spurs have lost 11 in a row and 16-of-17 since starting the season 5-2 and currently sit 29th in offensive rating and last in defensive rating. They have been outscored by 19.4 points per 100 possessions during their current 11-game skid, and only four of those losses have been by single digits, with none coming by less than five. To make matters worse, the Spurs will be without starting center Jakob Poeltl and rookie forward Jeremy Sochan against the Rockets on Thursday. San Antonio does boast a pair of 20-point scorers in Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, but they won’t face anyone else on Thursday averaging more than 12 points per game.

Only the Warriors attempt fewer free throws per game, and no team allows teams to shoot better from behind the 3-point line than the Spurs.

Matchup to watch: Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell vs. Rockets wing defenders

Both 6-foot-5 wings are averaging 20 points per game this season. Johnson, a gold medalist in Tokyo, hasn’t been efficient, shooting just 39 percent from the field, but he is the one Spur who can get to the free-throw line. His 4.4 free throw attempts per game would put him only behind Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr if he played for the Rockets. Vassell is shooting 41.8 percent from behind the three-point line, and the 11th pick of the 2020 draft has increased his scoring average by over eight points in his third NBA season.

What I’m watching for

The Rockets will be favored for the first time all season on Thursday night. This is a game they should win, but that’s what makes this a tricky spot. They are going from playing James Harden and Joel Embiid to one of the worst teams in the NBA. They have struggled to bring the requisite energy at the start of games against good teams. Can they avoid the same trap against one of the league’s worst?

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