PREVIEW: Spurs at Rockets- Dec. 19

Dec 17, 2022; Mexico City, MEX; San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reacts in the fourth quarter during the NBA Mexico City Game 2022 against the Miami Heat at the Arena de Ciudad de Mexico. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Spurs at Rockets- Dec. 19

The Rockets will continue their season-long seven-game homestand when Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs visit Toyota Center on Monday night. Houston will look to bounce back from a rough offensive outing against the Blazers on Saturday and get a little payback from when the Spurs beat them in San Antonio on Dec. 8.

Eye on the Spurs

Record: 9-20 (14th in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 108.2 (28th)

Defensive rating (rank): 118.2 (30th)

The Spurs snapped an 11-game losing skid when they beat the Rocket 11 days ago and followed that up with wins over Miami and Cleveland, but they will enter Monday’s game coming off back-to-back double-digit losses and are tied with the Rockets for the worst record in the Western Conference. Spurs leading scorer Keldon Johnson is questionable to play with a back contusion. He’s scored at least 20 points in six straight games and is averaging 21.1 points per game this season. The Spurs played without starting center Jakob Poeltl when they beat the Rockets in San Antonio, but his 12.6 points and 9.7 rebounds will be on the floor for his matchup.

Matchup to watch: Keldon Johnson vs Rockets defense

Johnson torched the Rockets’ defense for 32 points in the last game between these two teams on 14-of-21 shooting. He beat them in the half-court, he beat them in transition, he beat them at the rim, and he beat them from the outside. How the Rockets defend him on Monday will go a long way in deciding who wins this game. Johnson is only 6-foot-5 and is far from a prolific 3-point shooter, but he was just more physical than the Rockets who tried to defend him. Jabari Smith Jr. spent more time guarding Johnson than anyone else, and 19 of his points came with Smith as the Rockets’ closest defender on 8-of-11 shooting.

What I’m watching for

The Rockets spent the aftermath of Saturday’s loss lamenting the lack of energy they played with against Portland on Saturday, especially when they were outscored 28-14 in the third quarter.

“Energy dropped bad,” Rockets guard Jalen Green said. “We were just playing street ball out there. We weren’t playing together anymore; we didn’t have any fight, just an energy drop.”

Can the Rockets play the right amount of energy and force in this game, and can they do it for a full 48 minutes? It’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s another thing to actually do it, and far too often, this team struggles to bring it against teams it should beat, which is a big reason they lost the first game against the Spurs.

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