Fresh off of an ugly 93-87 loss in Indianapolis on Monday night that ended their six-game winning streak, the Atlanta Hawks will travel to Houston in the second game of a back-to-back against a Houston Rockets' team that has been in the headlines often this season for all the wrong reasons.
Despite Houston's mediocre 16-16 record and its interim head coach, J.B. Bickerstaff, calling the team out on its inconsistent play as the "ugly Rockets," the Hawks will figure to be in a battle against what is still one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference while on a cross-country trip in the back-to-back.
Atlanta is currently riding a three-game winning streak against the Rockets after a 2014-15 sweep, though both James Harden and Dwight Howard missed the teams' last matchup.
Harden has once again been explosive offensively this season, averaging over 28 points per game, but the All-Star shooting guard is shooting just 41.7 percent, his worst mark since his rookie season, while tallying career-highs with 20 shots and 4.4 turnovers per game. As we've come to expect, most of Harden's damage is being done at the free throw line, where he's averaging 10.5 attempts per game. Defensively, his play has likely reached a career-low. If you haven't seen them, go search James Harden defense vines -- it's worth it. Opponents' eFG% drops from 52 percent to 49 percent, and their offensive ratings sink from 108.3 to 102.2 when Harden is off the floor. Basically, the Rockets' defense is pretty average without Harden on the court, but they're disastrous when he is.
As for the Hawks, the offense will surely look to improve on a season-worst 22 turnover performance on Monday night against the Pacers. The struggles offensively will receive a quick opportunity to turn around. After facing the fifth best team defensively in DRtg with Indianapolis, the Hawks will see the eighth worst against Houston. Atlanta's play inside the paint will be important against the Rockets, as they allow the NBA's second highest field goal percentage from inside five feet at 62 percent ... a surprising number given Dwight Howard's usual paint-protecting prowess.
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, December 29, 8 p.m. ET
Location: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
TV: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM