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Nets try to beat the Rockets again

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Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Well, they tried. The Brooklyn Nets played the undefeated Golden State Warriors tough for three quarters, but the champs put them away early in the fourth quarter and cruised to their 22nd straight victory in front of the Barclays Center crowd on Sunday night. For the Nets, this is the second night of their season long six game homestand. They're back on the road next week.

Coming into town will be the Houston Rockets. They were expected to be near the top of the West following their trip to the Conference Finals last year, but they've gotten off to a disappointing 10-11 start. It looks as if they might be turning things around. They've won three straight games and five out of their last six overall. Their last game was Saturday in Houston when they beat the Kings 120-113. This is the first half of a back-to-back for the Rockets. They're in DC to play the Wizards tomorrow night.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV (or not), WFAN 101.9 FM on the radio. Tip off is after 7:30.

Injuries

Still no Andrea Bargnani. He's been bothered by a bad left hamstring and hasn't played in a week. It's unlikely he makes his return tonight. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sprained his ankle in practice on Saturday and missed the game on Sunday. We found out on Monday afternoon that he was diagnosed with a fracture in his right ankle and will be undergoing surgery this week. Damn.

Donatas Motiejunas made his return from the back injury that kept him out since last year on Saturday.

The game

Check the numbers

2015-2016

Brooklyn

Houston

Record

5-15 10-11

Pace

98.78 99.95

Offensive Efficiency

96.3 101.2

Defensive Efficiency

103.5 106

Turnover Rate

15.1 16.3

Assist Rate

15.7 15.3

Offensive Rebounding Rate

24.2 25.7

Rebound Rate

50.8 48.7

Free Throw Rate

22.1 35.5

Effective Field Goal Percentage

46.8 48.4

Opponent's Effective Field Goal Percentage

51.8 51.8

The Nets won the first meeting in Houston.

The Rockets are looking different at the head coaching position. A week after losing to the Nets, the team decided to fire Kevin McHale. He had a good four year run with the team, but with championship expectations and the team floundering, the team decided to go in a different direction. J.B. Bickerstaff was named interim coach and figures to be in the spot for the rest of the season. Next year? Who knows.

We're about to enter the trading season, and the Rockets are reportedly looking into acquiring Phoenix's Markieff Morris. Terrence Jones would be sent to the Suns, and while Jones will be a restricted free agent this summer, Houston shouldn't trade him for Morris. Jones is a more productive player, doesn't cause trouble in the locker room, and didn't roll five deep in a Rolls Royce phantom to beat a dude up. Daryl Morey can do better.

In other Rockets trade rumors news, they might be looking to get rid of new point guard Ty Lawson. Houston got Lawson for nothing from Denver, but he hasn't been able to make the adjustment to the new team and new role. I've seen a lot of discussion that the Nets should inquire about Lawson, and while it isn't the worst trade suggestion in the world, it's very unlikely. The fine folks at Brooklyn's Beat have more on that.

Today is Dwight Howard's birthday, and he celebrated it by partying with Bun B and Boosie Badazz. I wanna party with Bun B and Boosie Badazz (prayers up to Boosie as he undergoes surgery for kidney cancer) too. And because it's Dwight's birthday, let's show him dunking on Kristaps Porzingis one more time:

Moving on. Dwight has missed six games (one was thanks to a suspension as a result from a flagrant foul from the 2015 playoffs), but has been productive when he's on the court. The team's defense is two points better per 100 possessions when Dwight's on the court and holding teams to a lower effective field goal percentage when he's there as compared to when he's not. He's also third in the league in rebounds per game. While he's back above 30 minutes a night, this is the least he's been involved in his team's offense since his rookie season back in 2004. The team has only run 28 pick and rolls for Dwight (as a point of reference, that's lower than Andrea Bargnani and Bargs hasn't played in a week) and he hasn't been as involved in the post as some would like. He's only played both ends of a back-to-back once so his status for Wednesday's game might be in doubt.

The duo of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young will need to be on their games in order for Brooklyn to get the win. Thad had a great game against the Warriors, scoring 25 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, and giving Draymond Green a great battle. Outside of his terrible game against the Suns, he's been one of the few bright spots in a dark Brooklyn season. Lopez has been the other one (RHJ too) and he'll be busy dealing with Dwight on the inside. The Rockets bench is pretty bad and if he can get Dwight in foul trouble, he'll be dealing with Clint Capela.

Player to watch: James Harden

When you're the face of the franchise, everything falls on you. James Harden is averaging a career high 39.2 minutes a game and is fourth in the league in usage rate. He's having to do more and so far at least, things haven't gone as planned. Although he's second in the league in scoring, his field goal and three point percentages are at career lows and he's second in the league in turnovers. Also, the Harden "highlights" are back with a vengeance:

Harden recently pointed to his high workload as part of the reason he's struggled defensively, and he's not wrong about playing heavy minutes in the regular season. If you can, you wanna manage your star player's minutes and keep them low if possible. It's not possible with Corey Brewer on the bench so he's gonna need to be out there as long as possible in order for Houston to compete. Them's the breaks.

Now that Hollis-Jefferson is gone for the foreseeable future, Bojan Bogdanovic will have an extended opportunity to turn his season around. He had a disappointing, injury plagued run in international competition and his struggles have carried over to the NBA season. He's getting to the free throw line less, shooting worse from three point range, and is turning the ball over more. He did have a big game the first time he saw the Rox, scoring a team high 22 points and took a career high 20 field goal attempts. Defensively, he isn't capable of slowing Harden down so the Nets might throw a bunch of double teams at Harden and live with everybody else throwing up three pointers. Houston is shooting 35 percent from three point range since the Nets game in mid November (29.1 percent beforehand), but they're only at 32.4 percent on the season. It's a risky strategy, but it might work for Lionel Hollins and his players.

From the Vault

Yesterday was Larry Bird's 59th birthday. He's had so many great games in his career, but there's one that stands above them all. The Celtics had lost Game five of the 1986 Finals by 15 points and were out rebounded by 19. That didn't sit well with Bird, and he promised to fix it:

"I'm going to have a good game," he said on the eve of the game. "I know that. Rebounding's a problem, so I'm gonna rebound. I don't have to score a bunch of points, 'cause everybody's got to get involved. I think everything's gonna be just fine."

With that as the set up, head on back to the Boston Garden and watch Bird go to work.

More reading: The Dream Shake