Game 45 Preview & Thread: Nuggets at Rockets (6:30pm MST)

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75042_timberwolves_rockets_basketball_medium_mediumWhen President Barack Obama steps up to the podium to kickoff his first State of the Union address tonight, the Nuggets will already have played one quarter against the Rockets.  I'll be DVR'ing both events, hoping that the Nuggets win their eighth straight and that Obama gets this country back on track.

Our country seems to be struggling mightily as unemployment continues to rise, our national debt goes up and our enemies remain emboldened while our two main political parties bicker like third graders.  

Make that first graders.  

Our Nuggets, on the other hand, have come together, put their bickering (temporarily, at least) in regards to J.R. Smith aside and are the hottest team in the NBA right now.  Winners of seven straight and ten of 12, I'm glad I'll have something to feel good about on TV tonight.

And yes, the Nuggets have been the beneficiaries of some favorable scheduling.  But as I've pointed out for months now, scheduling matters because if a team like our Nuggets can rack up a bucket of wins before hitting a tough stretch (as they're about to), their confidence will carry over into that tough stretch.  As things stand today, the Nuggets are on pace to win a franchise best 56 games (I still think they'll finish with 53, just sayin') and this recent spate of victories just might be what ultimately sends the Nuggets into that rarefied air for this franchise by season's end.  

Running into the buzzsaw that has become the Nuggets are the Houston Rockets, who have won just four games out of their last 11 and may finally be succumbing to the weight of their depleted roster.  While Rockets head coach Rick Adelman continues to amaze by getting consistent performances out of a team with no All-Stars or anyone even close to being an All-Star, at some point a roster with a 6'6" starting center and a very thin bench can only go so far in the Western Conference.  In the Rockets case, if they make the playoffs at all, it will be as one of the bottom two seeds.  

All that said, the Nuggets seven-game winning streak could easily come to an end tonight.  The Nuggets haven't won at Houston in three years and the Rockets are in the midst of a six-game home stand with ample breaks between each game.  But of the Nuggets next three games - all tough, all on the road - this one feels the most winnable to me.  Not only are the Rockets struggling, but they rarely draw a good crowd on a Wednesday night (comparatively, the Ford Center is going to be overly raucous when the Nuggets venture to Oklahoma City on Friday night) and as noted above, the Nuggets should be fairly fresh having had a day off and this being their first road game of the trip.

SCOUTING THE ROCKETS...

Rockets Stiffs

-Trevor Ariza's field goal percentage: The Rockets prized offseason acquisition is having a fine season overall, but can't shoot straight to save his life.  Entering tonight's game, Ariza is "shooting" 37.8% from the field and just 29.8% from three-point range.  In fact, out of his last 17 games Ariza has shot 50% of better just twice, including games in which he shot 3-14, 5-17, 1-10, 2-11 and 5-14 three times.  And no, I'm not quoting J.R. Smith's games here (sorry, I had to).

-David Andersen: 6'11", 245 pounds, getting over 14 minutes per game, shooting just 42.5% from the field and white.  This guy's a Stiff!

Rockets Non-Stiffs

-Rick Adelman: Is there a better coach in the NBA than Adelman?  After all the roster lemons that Adelman has been handed in Houston, he continues to make great lemonade.  Put almost any other coach in Adelman's seat and there's no way this team is 24-20 and jockeying for playoff positioning right now.

-Carl Landry: Landry is making a great case to be named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year.  For a guy who doesn't have a lot of offensive skills, Landry takes smart, high percentage shots and has increased his scoring average by over seven ppg this season.

-Chuck Hayes: Listed at just 6'6" (he might really be 6'5" - my height!), the tough Hayes admirably anchors the center spot for the Rockets.  Hayes efforts haven't gone unnoticed nationally, as The New York Times recently wrote an entire feature on Hayes that I encourage my fellow Stiffs to check out.

Opposition's Take: The Dream Shake

Photo courtesy of AP Photos: Pat Sullivan

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