Rockets vs. Bucks Preview | Bucks begin six-game homestand against Howard, Harden, and Houston

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets jet into Milwaukee in the midst of a four-game winning streak, while the Bucks return home for their longest homestand of the season having started to play ACTUAL COMPETITIVE BASKETBALL of late.

2013/14 NBA Season
Hou
(33-17, 12-10 road)
vs.
Mil_medium
(9-40, 5-18 home)
February 8, 2014
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:30 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Patrick Beverley PG Brandon Knight
James Harden SG Nate Wolters
Chandler Parsons SF Khris Middleton
Terrence Jones PF John Henson
Dwight Howard C Larry Sanders
2013/14 Advanced Stats
95.5 (7th) Pace 91.7 (25th)
109.7 (6th) ORtg 99.1 (30th)
105.7 (15th) DRtg 109.4 (29th)

On the Rockets: The Dream ShakeUltimate Rockets | Clutch Fans

It's tough to call the Bradley Center "home sweet home" when the Bucks have only won 5 of their 23 games there to date, but on the plus side: it's still better than the 4-22 record they've posted outside the great state of Wisconsin. It's all relative, eh?

One of those 22 road losses came last month in Houston, where a career night from Terrence Jones carried the Rockets to a fairly comfortable 114-104 win over a Bucks team that was looking pretty lifeless at the time. Houston has continued to plug away since then and remains neck-and-neck with the Clippers for the rather important fourth seed--ie home court--out West.

They roll into Milwaukee on a four-game win streak that includes defeats of the Spurs, Mavericks and Suns, with Dwight Howard coming off a season-high 34 points (and 14 boards) in Wednesday's 122-108 home win over Phoenix. It was Howard's fourth straight game hitting 20+ in the scoring department, and afterward he credited time on the practice court with giving him a newfound shot of confidence:

"I've just been being patient and letting my teammates find me in the right spot and not rushing my shots," Howard said.

The center has been spending extra time after practice this season working on post moves with former Rockets assistant coach and general manager Carroll Dawson.

"We talk about after I got my man beat, just slow down and make the shot," Howard said. "So I've just been trying to do that."

Sixth man Jeremy Lin has also been a key piece of the Rockets' latest surge, averaging 15.5 ppg and 6.8 apg over the past four games including a 15/11/10 triple double against Cleveland. The biggest question mark for Houston figures to be depth: aside from Lin, Kevin McHale's bench unit against the Suns on Wednesday featured Omri Casspi, Donatas Motiejunas and 29 seconds of someone named...Robert Covington? I had to look it up, but he's a 23-year-old combo forward with three-point range who was putting up big numbers for the Rockets' D-League affiliate in Rio Grande (21.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg).

UPDATE: In a bit of a suprrise, Omer Asik (remember him?) will play tonight for the first time in a couple months. Guess his trade value wasn't going up sitting in street clothes, eh?

Keeping up with the Joneses. Since I normally don't have a clue on draft-related matters, indulge me for a moment when I note that Steve and I were both big Terrence Jones buyers ahead of the 2012 draft. Blind squirrels vs. nuts? Quite possibly. But one thing we know for sure is that the 2012 18th overall pick is blossoming in his second season in Houston, averaging 15.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 1.8 bpg on 57.8% true shooting in 19 games since Christmas.

Jones was picked four spots after the Bucks nabbed John Henson, though not even the Rockets seemed to expect so much so fast. Afterall, the Rockets themselves passed on Jones with the 16th overall pick, which they instead spent on Royce White. You know, the guy Daryl Morey recently admitted is probably the worst first round pick ever.

And while the 22-year-old Jones hasn't been a true stretch four--29% shooting from three and 58% from the line DQ you from that classification--you won't hear too many Rockets fans clamoring for Ersan Ilyasova or any other guy like that to play off of Dwight Howard.

Bucks injury report. Speaking of which, both Ilyasova and Luke Ridnour are questionable for tonight's game with back injuries suffered in Denver on Wednesday, raising the eternal question: COULD JOHN HENSON AND LARRY SANDERS BOTH START??? Bucks.com still lists Ersan as the starter and has Henson as questionable (?), but I suppose we can all dream.

UPDATE: Ilyasova and Ridnour are indeed out and Henson will start. Good times!

Henson looked completely out of rhythm in his first game back from a wrist injury in Denver, though a career scoring night from Sanders and a strong performance from Zaza Pachulia helped pick up the slack and then some. While Larry Drew has been loathe to play Henson and Sanders together thus far, you'd expect Sanders and Pachulia to split the task of checking Howard, with a likely cameo from Miroslav Raduljica depending on the Bucks' foul situation.

That would open the door for Henson to return to the starting five at PF, as Caron Butler's continued absence combined with Ilyasova's injury would leave the Bucks short of bodies at the four. We'll presumably also see stretches of Khris Middleton and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo at the four.

Either way the odds are obviously stacked against the Bucks tonight. Though they've showed a renewed focus and intensity over the past three games--three straight halftime leads!--Milwaukee has precisely zero wins against teams above .500 this season (the Bulls and Wiz are both 24-25), and the Rockets don't look particularly ripe for an upset at the moment. Despite their preseason talk to the contrary, the Bucks also haven't looked comfortable playing fast this season, which makes the Rockets' up-tempo, blitz-you-with-threes style a scary match.

BEARD NIGHTJames Harden is once again an all-star and he's the main reason the Bucks chose tonight as Beard Night at the Bradley Center. While turnovers remain an obvious problem and his scoring is down from last season (25.9 ppg to 23.8 ppg), you'd expect a down-tick in scoring given the arrival of Howard and the ascendancy of Jones and Chandler Parsons. And there's still so much to love: he remains a hyper-efficient scorer (60% true shooting), a devastator in P&R (HOU is second in P&R efficiency) and a top-shelf playmaker (5.4 apg), all of which makes him probably the best shooting guard in basketball. His defense has been questioned more than ever this season, so it will be interesting to see if the Bucks try to attack that a bit more with Nate Wolters in P&R.

Speaking of beards, that's another reason we need to see the Bucks' Trey Kerby Doppelgänger right?

Hold the Mayo. Bad joke, but in this case it's apt. O.J. Mayo is definitely out for an eighth straight game, having only returned to the practice court on Friday after a long illness cost him the previous seven games. Charles Gardner's piece yesterday on Mayo is definitely worth a read, as it uncovers a bit of the mystery behind Mayo's long bout with the flu, hints that the Bucks might have been less than thrilled with Mayo's conditioning and probes at Mayo's mindset following earlier frustration over his role and the team's lack of direction.

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