Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM

Friday's Essentials

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Game of the Night
Houston at Brooklyn (-3.5, 240.5), 7:05 ET, ESPN

The Rockets have allowed at least 60 points in six of the last seven halves they’ve played, so hearing James Harden credit defense for Wednesday’s comeback win in a remarkable 159-158 shootout was definitely amusing. Houston did close on a 15-6 run over the last 2:19, but buckling down after you’ve allowed 152 points is pretty laughable.

For better or worse, this Russell Westbrook-infused group is going to play at a pace that will probably allow other teams to find a consisistent rhythm. Rockets Mike D’Antonio excitedly talked about being able to use one of the NBA’s top athletes and fastest guards to push the ball up the court and attack. When the action bogs down in the halfcourt, James Harden still monopolizes the ball and play to his strengths as the greatest one-on-one players in league history, which allows scorers who typically wouldn’t double as a primary defender on Harden to stand around rest. It’s all resulted in teams consistently being able to find their groove against the Rockets, who are allowing an NBA-high 127.5 points per game.

Milwaukee started the trend in its 117-111 comeback win on the opening Thursday of the season, battling back from 16-point halftime deficit by outscoring Houston 67-45 in the second half. The Pelicans scored 61 in the first and 62 in the second in a 126-123 loss despite making 18 3-pointers. The Thunder owned a 62-52 lead after a half on Monday night before Houston actually did clamp down, outscoring OKC 39-18 in the third in an eventual 116-112 win. Their next game came Wednesday, and you know how that went.

In case you don’t, the Wizards scored 77 first-half points, followed it up with a 81 over the final 24 minutes by hitting the 40-point mark in each quarter and still lost. Harden finished with 59 points, missing out on 60 after smartly missing his final free-throw to leave Washington no chance of a desperate game-winner. Westbrook has two triple-doubles in his four outings with the Rockets, showing off the same motor we’ve come to expect and the same crooked jumper. A hand injury he’s playing through hasn’t aided that cause, but he’s looked increasingly comfortable and thrilled that D’Antoni is trusting him to attack whenever possible.

The Rockets take the floor in Brooklyn winners of three of four, even with San Antonio and Dallas in a Southwest Division they’re ultimately expected to win. They’ve yet to cover a spread though, and as you might imagine, have seen the last three games go ‘over,’ though the foul game contributed to the OKC game topping 227.5 since there were 19 points in the final 1:35 due to free-throws and uncontested layups.

The Nets have also seen the ‘over’ come in three of the four times they’ve taken the floor, but come off their most disappointing outing of the season, a 118-103 home loss to the Pacers. Kyrie Irving missed a game-winner in the season opener against the Timberwolves and Jae Crowder hit a 3-pointer to beat the OT buzzer in a stunner in Memphis last Sunday that in their lone appearance on the road, so getting blown out by previously winless Indiana was a new experience for the Nets.

Malcolm Brogdon dominated in similar fashion to how Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant managed to, finishing with 21 points and 13 assists, so Irving has had his issues on the defensive end. He enters Friday’s game as the NBA’s second-leading behind Harden (36.8 ppg), averaging 35.3 points, but head coach Kenny Atkinson already hinted after Tuesday’s loss that he’d love to see better ball movement and isn’t really running sets they ran in the preseason. He’s hoping his team’s pieces come together, so it will be interesting to see whether Irving complies or turns this into a one-on-one duel with Harden.

Brooklyn is going to be a home underdog for the first time but is just 1-2 at Barclays Center. The Rockets are in the midst of six road games in seven outings over a two-week span and are hoping for a smoother ride than they experienced in D.C. They were 22-19 away from Houston last regular-season. The Nets posted their first winning record at home (23-18) last season since the ’13-’14 season that featured Jason Kidd as head coach and Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson on the roster.

Kevin Durant confirmed to ESPN on Thursday that he won’t play this season, so this will be Irving’s show and he’ll need to start doing a better job of protecting homecourt. Brooklyn had lost five straight against the Rockets before winning the most recent meeting back in January, a 145-142 OT victory in which it overcame Harden’s 58 points. Sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie scored a team-high 33 points to lead seven double-figure scorers. Atkinson would love to see the scoring spread out, but should be able to count on Irving, Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert to score enough to hold serve in a shootout.

Best of the Rest

Milwaukee (-4.5, 216) at Orlando, 7:05 p.m. ET

The Bucks blew a 16-pint halftime lead in Boston on Wednesday, losing 116-105 after surrendering 74 second-half points to a Celtics team playing without projected starters Jaylen Brown and Enes Kanter. Making matters worse for the Bucks is that Giannis Antetokounmpo appears to have the yips at the free-throw line, shooting 6-for-10 and putting up a pair of airballs. He’ll have to deal with length in the form of Jonathan Issac and the athletic Aaron Gordon against the Magic, so this makes for an interesting bounce-back game.

The same brain trust that put together the bulk of this Bucks team, team president Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond, which includes drafting Antetokounmpo, is assembling the Magic, so both teams have long wingspans and a reliance on 3-point shooting in common. Milwaukee has won five of the last seven meetings, but lost the last one 103-83 at home after shooting 32 percent from the field. Greek Freak didn’t play in the Feb. 9 matchup.

Cleveland at Indiana (-7.5, 211), 7:05 p.m. ET

Tristan Thompson is off to a fantastic start and Kevin Love comes off a 20-rebound game, so protecting the paint is going to be the priority for the Pacers as they look to overcome the absence of center Myles Turner, the league’s leading shot blocker last season. He’s considered week-to-week with a sprained ankle. Domantas Sabonis replaced him in the starting lineup against Brooklyn on Wednesday and helped fuel an upset alongside Brogdon with 29 points.

Jeremy Lamb returned to the lineup with 25 points while T.J. Warren is also feeling more comfortable, so Indiana’s new pieces are starting to get comfortable. They’ll look to avenge a 110-99 setback last Saturday night in which they trailed by as many as 24 points. Love finished one assist shy of a triple-double and Thompson finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds with Turner playing nearly 40 minutes, so Nate McMillan’s team will have their work cut out for them keeping those guys from dominating inside.

New York at Boston (-10.5, 214), 7:35 p.m. ET

The Knicks will again be without point guards Elfrid Payton (hamstring) and Dennis Smith, Jr. (bereavement list), so expect Frank Ntilikina to get extended minutes and the offense to run through center Julius Randle, forward Marcus Morris and rookie wing J.T. Barrett. That formula ran out of gas last time out against the Knicks, so you can understand hopes aren’t high that New York can have a different outcome against the Celtics than what transpired in a 118-95 loss at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Brooklyn native Kemba Walker gave Knicks fans a show like he normally does, switching it up by doing it in a Celtics uniform for the first time. He scored 32 points and drained seven 3-pointers. Brown scored 19, but may miss a second straight game with an illness, which would move Marcus Smart into the starting lineup and provide more opportunities for Gordon Hayward. Enes Kanter still hasn’t debuted with Boston and will miss another game with a knee issue. New York has lost six of seven against the Celtics, but the lone win did come at TD Garden last November thanks to 15 3-point makes.

L.A. Lakers (-1.5, 216.5) at Dallas, 9:35 p.m. ET, ESPN

Anthony Davis went for 40 points and 20 rebounds despite being visibly bothered by a shoulder injury, so while he’s no 100 percent, it’s clear this ailment is something he should be able to overcome. This matchup will be his first in a while against Kristaps Porzingis, who at 7-foot-2 is able to offer a unique challenge in being someone with similar natural guard skills who is even bigger than he is. LeBron James matches up with his European version, a phenom living up to the hype as someone who is one shy of doubling the number of triple-doubles he’s notched before turning 21.

Doncic really struggled on the same floor against James when the Mavs lost a pair of games against the Lakers prior to LeBron’s groin injury. While James averaged 28.5 points and L.A. scored 114 points in both wins, Doncic shot 7-for-24, averaging just 10 points. Spicing this matchup up further will be the return of Kyle Kuzma, who will make his ’19-’20 debut after sitting due to an ankle injury.

San Antonio (-6, 225) at Golden State, 10:35 p.m. ET

The Spurs will look to rebound from their first loss of the season after getting torched by Kawhi Leonard, who dominated with 38 points in helping the Clips survive 103-97. Guard Dejounte Murray has been tremendous but will sit on the second night of a back-to-back and DeMar DeRozan might not be as engaged in San Francisco as he was in his native L.A. against good friend Leonard, so Gregg Popovich will need to lean on others to avoid a letdown. LaMarcus Aldridge is a prime candidate to bounce back, finishing with just five points on 2-for-8 shooting, but we’ll see how many minutes he plays after working over 35 against the Clips.

The Warriors will be beginning life without Steph Curry, who we’re not likely to see until 2020 at the earliest after breaking his hand on Wednesday night. Golden State surrendered a 30-1 run to the Suns well before Curry got injured, so there are clearly strides that need to be made with center Willie Cauley-Stein and shooter Alec Burks debuting the other night. D’Angelo Russell should take over Curry’s role and rookie Jordan Poole, Burks and Damion Lee should all get more opportunities alongside forwards Draymond Green and Glenn Robinson, Jr.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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