HOUSTON ROCKETS AT NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Friday, Jan. 26 (7 p.m., ESPN)
Why it’s on the list
As the closest city to New Orleans on the NBA map, Houston makes for an excellent geographical and divisional rival, but proximity is far from the only reason Pelicans-Rockets is a compelling matchup. Houston now boasts the All-Star backcourt of James Harden and former New Orleans franchise player Chris Paul (2005-11), a duo that hopes to threaten Golden State’s supremacy atop the league. New Orleans has an All-Star tandem of its own but in the frontcourt, featuring Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The NBA’s television networks clearly agree that this Southwest Division encounter is one to watch – three of New Orleans’ 14 appearances on the national airwaves consist of head-to-head meetings with Houston. The Jan. 26 game vs. Houston is one of three ESPN home tilts for the Pelicans (they also host Golden State and Memphis on the “Worldwide Leader in Sports”).
Where it falls on the New Orleans schedule
The second half of January is very favorable site-wise for the Pelicans, who’ll enjoy a stretch of five games at home out of six overall, with the only road game including a relatively short flight to Charlotte. It’s not always easy for New Orleans to squeeze in home games in Januarys, because they cannot play in the Smoothie King Center on dates when the NFL is holding playoff games (due to potential conflicts with the New Orleans Saints needing to use the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next door). In 2018, for example, that means road games in Minnesota (Jan. 6) and New York (Jan. 14). However, the Pelicans are home Sunday, Jan. 28, because that coincides with the Super Bowl off week.
What’s new in Houston
Paul was the marquee acquisition for the Rockets, but Houston also picked up a pair of wing players who could improve the team’s defense, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. Tucker also supplies three-point shooting, which could help compensate for the departure of some valuable role players. In the Paul trade, the Rockets were forced to send hard-nosed defender and spot-up shooter Patrick Beverley to the Clippers, along with instant-offense sixth man Lou Williams and rising forward Sam Dekker.
Other 2017-18 games between these two teams
Monday, Dec. 11, New Orleans at Houston (NBA TV)
Saturday, March 17, Houston at New Orleans
Saturday, March 24, New Orleans at Houston (NBA TV)