The San Antonio Spurs (9-20) and Houston Rockets (9-20) will face off during the NBA’s Monday slate of action.
The two teams have previously played against each other just once so far this season. The Spurs won 118-109 at the AT&T Center on Dec. 8 after using a 39-point third quarter to create needed separation from the Rockets. Keldon Johnson led with 32 points and seven rebounds, while Tre Jones chipped in 26 points and five assists.
Here are three things to watch when the Spurs and Rockets tipoff on Monday.
3. Keldon Johnson’s Status
A lot of what the Spurs achieve offensively begins with Johnson. He’s the top-scoring option on the team, averaging 21.1 points per game. When he’s unable to play or has a bad game, there is a lot of pressure on Devin Vassell to put together a robust scoring outing, and vice versa.
Johnson is considered as being questionable to play on Monday due to a low back contusion. If he cannot go, can Tre Jones step up and come close to scoring the 26 points that he provided the Spurs in their first matchup against the Rockets? If not, who else can step up?
A big difference for the Spurs will be that Vassell is available to play against the Rockets this time. He could not play due to a multi-game absence due to a knee injury he’s been managing throughout the season.
2. Frontcourt Matchups
The Spurs did not have Jakob Poeltl or Jeremy Sochan available to play in their first matchup of the season against the Rockets. Both players will be participating on Monday. Jabari Smith Jr. finished with a team-high 23 points for the Rockets, while Alperen Sengun had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
It will be a real test for Smith to produce against a versatile defender like Sochan, who has the athleticism and length to fluster him out in space and absorb contact inside the 3-point line. Smith is averaging 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds so far this month.
Poeltl has thrived in matchups against the Rockets with Sengun available to play. In those three games, he’s averaging 18.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks. Sengun has averaged 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks in those same games. Who will come out on top in Monday’s head-to-head matchup?
1. Jalen Green’s Shot Making
Jalen Green is having a solid sophomore campaign for the Rockets, especially considering he’s still 20 years old. He’s averaging 21.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. However, he has not only yet to make meaningful progress in his scoring efficiency, but instead, he’s experienced regression early.
Green is producing shooting splits of just .413/.309/.794 while averaging 3.1 turnovers per game. He’s a good pick-and-roll scorer and spot-up threat. He can make explosive plays in transition and isn’t easy to handle in isolation or handoffs. Regardless, his output of 0.910 points per possession ranks 45th among 49 players at least 500 possessions.
The Rockets are 8-3 this season when Jalen Green scores at least 25 points, are just 1-12 when he fails to reach the 20-point threshold, and are 0-5 when he finishes anywhere from 20 to 24 points. It’s far from a perfect way of viewing things, but Houston relies on him to score at a high volume. When he fails to do so, they are likely to lose.
The Spurs will be without Josh Richardson (personal reasons) and possibly Romeo Langford (illness), who is considered questionable to play. Both of those players would tend to be helpful in San Antonio’s efforts of slowing down a volume scoring two-guard.
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