Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Friday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - L.A. Clippers at Houston (-3/218.5), Prime Ticket, 8:05 ET

The Rockets will get Chris Paul back in the lineup after losing both games without him in the mix after being suspended for his part in Saturday night’s fight with Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo. His return coincides with the first of at least two games without backcourt mate James Harden, who will miss this game with a hamstring strain that is expected to sideline him into next week.

Mike D’Antoni will now look to help his team avoid a third straight home loss against a Clippers team they’ve already lost to, having dropped Sunday’s game at Staples 115-112. Paul sat the game out after being suspended that afternoon, so Harden took over at the point and finished with 31 points and 14 assists, scoring nine straight down the stretch to key the Rockets’ ultimately futile comeback effort.

Eric Gordon started next to Harden and will presumably get the call next to Paul tonight, but the dilemma facing D’Antoni is whether to start Carmelo Anthony, disrupting the much-debated original plan to bring him in off the bench. James Ennis III is also dealing with a hamstring injury that has him out of the starting five, so there’s a vacancy up front next to P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela that must be filled by Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams or Gerald Green.

No matter what D’Antoni decides, what’s at stake is potentially falling to 1-4 on the young season. It’s obviously very early, but considering how little room for error there is in the Western Conference, piling up losses at any point in the season carries major risk. The Rockets owned the NBA’s top home record last season (34-7) and never lost three games at the Toyota Center in the same month. That hasn’t happened since Feb. 2017. Houston hasn’t dropped three straight home games since Nov. 2015.

The Clippers are looking to bounce back from Tuesday night’s loss in New Orleans on the first leg of this two-game trip that is part of a tough stretch where they play five of six away from Staples, almost exclusively against playoff teams. It’s a tough early test for a roster that lacks star power but is loaded with depth and guards who cite defense as their calling card. Paul will have to deal with the player he replaced, Patrick Beverley, in addition to Avery Bradley and 6-foot-7 long-limbed rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, whose work on Harden made a huge impact in Sunday’s win.

L.A. ended up favored in that game due to Paul’s absence and has actually won four of six in this series, which has turned personal given the former Clippers’ point guard noisy exit where he essentially forced himself out. Doc Rivers won’t need to twist Beverley’s arm too hard to get the team’s bulldog to set a physical tone against his former team. He missed out on every meeting last year after knee microfracture surgery, so this will be his first contest in Houston, where he played from ’13-’17. He’s always revved up, so it will be fascinating to see if his energy level can rise up further as he takes the floor against Paul, who you can count on trying to use his aggressiveness against him. Beverley will have to be wary of the new freedom of movement initiative to ensure he doesn’t land in early foul trouble.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been playing a significant role for Rivers as the first forward off the bench behind Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari, L.A.’s top two scorers. He’ll likely get plenty of work against the small forward who is replacing him in D’Antoni’s rotation. Although Carter-Williams started in Wednesday’s loss to Utah, Anthony played a season-high 39 minutes and was more impressive than he’s looked since the early in his OKC stint, scoring 22 points. Even if D’Antoni’s decision is to bring him off the bench again, count on Melo playing starters’ minutes with some heavy usage in tandem with Paul.

L.A. has scored an average of 120.3 points in its four most recent wins against the Rockets and was held to a clip of just 94.0 in last season’s two losses, shooting 11-for-41 from 3-point range in those games. This will be the lone meeting in Houston this season as these teams don’t get together again until meeting inside Staples Center on April 3.

The card
Chicago at Charlotte (-10/226), 7:05 p.m. ET: The Bulls knew they would be young this season but still harbored hopes that Zach LaVine’s return to the lineup and the drafting of Wendell Carter would generate quality depth, especially once Lauri Markkanen got healthy. In the Eastern Conference, that might be enough to land in the top eight, but Chicago’s hopes are being sabotaged by misfortune before this group ever really got started.

Point guard Kris Dunn was away from the team for the birth of his son, then returned and sprained an MCL. As if that was contagious, forward Bobby Portis suffered the same injury and will similarly miss 4-to-6 weeks. On the bright side, Carter and newcomer Jabari Parker will get more touches and probably get more comfortable, but Fred Hoiberg will now be fighting an uphill battle in terms of quality depth. Cameron Payne will continue to start at the point, but newly signed Shaquille Harrison should get a look sooner than later.

Charlotte threw away an opportunity to at least go to OT in Wednesday’s 112-110 loss at United Center when LaVine managed to knock the inbounds pass off intended recipient Kemba Walker. The short turnaround ensures the Hornets will want revenge for a tough loss, but LaVine scored 32 points and got wherever he wanted, so new Charlotte head coach James Borrego will have to come up with a better plan to stop him. Borrego’s desire to play fast has resulted in his team averaging 112.2 points per game over the first five. Chicago is averaging 111.3 but surrendering 117.5.

Dallas at Toronto (-11.5/225.5), 7:35 p.m. ET: The Mavericks learned a painful lesson on Wednesday night, blowing a 26-point lead on national television in playing victim in Atlanta’s home opener. Wes Matthews threw up some awful shots down the stretch and rookie Luka Doncic also got a look at what can happen if he’s not more assertive since Dallas is already his team since he’s its best player. Harrison Barnes will make his regular-season debut after overcoming a hamstring injury and gives Rick Carlisle another option to play through. Dennis Smith, Jr. has taken well to Doncic’s arrival taking some of the ball-handling responsibilities off his workload, but he too made some careless decisions in the collapse against the Hawks. J.J. Barea has a hamstring issue to be concerned about that may keep him sidelined here.

Dallas gets its only look at old nemesis Kawhi Leonard in his new habitat, making its lone stop in Toronto. Leonard has played so well in helping the Raptors match a franchise-best start that no one can question whether he’s 100 percent. The former Finals MVP scored 35 points on 15-for-23 shooting in Wednesday’s win over the Timberwolves and is averaging 28.0 points per game. Kyle Lowry has been sharp next to his new tag-team partner, while the bench mob looks as fierce as ever. Fred VanVleet (toe) will play and run the second unit, but Delon Wright (groin) is back to being out of the mix after a brief return.

Golden State (-12/226.5) at New York, 7:35 p.m. ET, NBATV: Stephen Curry scored 51 points in three quarters on Wednesday against Washington and loves putting on a show at Madison Square Garden, where he once scored 54 points and knocked down 11 3-pointers like he did the other night. That big game came in 2013 in his only loss as a pro in the building and he hasn’t shot better than 50 percent since, so we’ll see how he fares in this one. Kevin Durant is another one to watch since there’s a billboard out there begging him to come to New York via free agency next season. Expect fans to continue recruiting efforts tonight, which the current Knicks may not appreciate.

Since crushing the Hawks in the season opener, New York has dropped four straight and lost promising rookie Kevin Knox for weeks due to an ankle sprain, so there’s not a lot to get excited about outside of this Warriors’ visit. Tim Hardaway, Jr. has started fast and hungry young kids like Dameyan Dotson and Allonzo Trier are looking to run with the opportunity David Fizdale is giving them due to injuries to Knox, Courtney Lee (neck) and Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle). Mudiay and Lance Thomas (knee) are listed as questionable.

Brooklyn at New Orleans (-9.5/235), 8:05 p.m. ET: The Pelicans bring their robust scoring average of 132 points per game into tonight’s date with the Nets, but must be wary of not looking ahead to Saturday night’s game against Utah. It might be tempting for Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and a few others to try and pace themselves to ensure they’ve got enough in the tank for the season’s first back-to-back, especially since it’s one of two New Orleans will have this week as they play at Golden State and Portland next Wednesday and Thursday.

Brooklyn is talented enough to take advantage if overlooked, having gotten Rondae Hollis-Jefferson back in the mix to place another solid defender into the rotation. Guards D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert have all had some nice moments to help fuel a 2-2 start. The last three meetings between the Nets and Pelicans have produced an average of 254.7 points, including a 138-128 double-overtime result in Brooklyn in the most recent meeting in February. Anthony Davis scored 44 points but should get more resistance here since Nets center Jarrett Allen has made great strides and veteran Ed Davis came on board.

Milwaukee (-1.5/233.5) at Minnesota, 8:05 p.m. ET: Andrew Wiggins is a game-time decision with a quad injury that forced him out of only the second game of his career up in Toronto, ruining the Canadian’s annual homecoming game. The Timberwolves managed to cover despite another no-show from the slumping Karl-Anthony Towns, but it’s no surprise to see the Bucks favored at Target Center given the form both teams have displayed to date. It’s obvious that Towns has been greatly affected by his drama with Jimmy Butler, whose status for this one is another variable worth watching. The Rockets are said to be ramping up its pursuit of the standout wing, a Houston native. It seems inevitable that he’s moved, but that hasn’t stopped him from playing a prominent role through his first four games, averaging 24.8 points per game. His duties here will be to try and help against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the highest-scoring combination in the Eastern Conference (52.8 ppg).

Only Golden State’s Curry and Durant (62.0 ppg) and New Orleans’ Davis and Nikola Mirotic (58.3) average more points per game than the Bucks’ wings, who have led the team to a perfect start through four games. After a 113-112 win in the opener in Charlotte where Milwaukee nearly blew a huge lead, three double-digit victories have followed against the Pacers, Knicks and 76ers. All those games were at home in the new downtown arena, where the Bucks will return tomorrow to host the Magic before an excellent early matchup against the Raptors on Monday. Mike Budenholzer’s team has taken to his offense and desired up-tempo style beautifully but must prove that they can do it consistently on the road. The Bucks have lost their last two games in Minneapolis, last winning in 2016.

Washington (-5/235.5) at Sacramento, 10:05 p.m. ET, NBATV: The Kings are looking for their first winning streak of the season after rallying to take down Memphis for their first home win on Wednesday. After surrendering 129.5 points over their first four games, Sacramento clamped down and took to Memphis’ slower pace well. De’Aaron Fox’s on-ball defense is a weapon, but we’ll see if he can disrupt the stronger, more physical John Wall here. Bradley Beal left the loss to Golden State due to a chest injury that affected his breathing, but he’s expected to play in this one after scoring 23 points in just 19 minutes trying to keep up with Curry’s shooting show.

This is a huge game for the Wizards, who opened this five-game road trip with an upset in Portland before losing in Oakland and can secure a second victory before stops in L.A. (Clippers) and Memphis to help take some of the pressure off. Washington continues to work short-handed with Dwight Howard sidelined by a back injury and now may not have backup center Ian Mahinmi, whose back is also acting up. Scott Brooks may have no choice but to play small against a Kings team that employs a lot of length. The Wizards have really struggled giving up second-chance opportunities thus far but have won four straight in the series, winning the 2016-17 meetings in OT before sweeping last season’s contests by a combined margin of 45 points.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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