Once again, the Rockets end the year with a game on New Year's Eve. What has become something of a tradition at Toyota Center, however, comes with a fairly significant challenge in the Denver Nuggets. If that weren't enough, their start to the year won't get easier with the 76ers in town.
The Rockets fell apart in a fourth quarter loss on Sunday night in New Orleans without James Harden (sprained toe), Russell Westbrook (back to back) and Clint Capela (bruised heel). It might have been an unexpected loss until Harden was scratched from the lineup. Even as Eric Gordon made his return from knee surgery, with huge minutes from guys like Chris Clemons and Isiah Hartenstein, losing to the Pelicans wasn't a shocker.
Now, the Nuggets will come to town, the team directly ahead of them in the standings in a very tight Western Conference. In their first meeting in Denver, the Nuggets took a ten-point lead behind 27 from Nikola Jokic. This will be the first meeting with Philly, a team built with a similar approach to the Rockets, but one that has struggled a bit figuring out how to piece it all together. Still, they remain one of the best teams in the East.
Like most games in December and January, they aren't exactly pivotal, but it will be a good opportunity for the Rockets to see where they stand against a very talented Nuggets team they will have to play twice more this season, and another quality team from the Eastern Conference.
Both teams feature a good center, something of a rarity in the NBA. While Capela has been hobbled with a heel injury, he is expected to be in the lineup against both Jokic and Joel Embid. That is in addition to Harden and Westbrook, the team's best players.
These are the dregs of the season when teams slog through the winter months before both the trade deadline and the All-Star break. But, they do occasionally offer some intriguing matchups such as these, a pair of games that could offer a window into how the Rockets will look down the stretch of the season.