With a serious tragedy behind them and injured players starting to return to the line up, the Rockets dive into a string of games against contenders and Texas rivals this week that will add yet another test to the young team's season.
First up are the LA Lakers, in town tonight at Toyota Center. Despite an 8-9 record, an early season coaching change, the loss of Steve Nash for all but two games to a shin injury (and, apparently, some weird custody problems), Kobe Bryant calling out his team and Dwight Howard helping the team get hack-a-Dwighted into a loss in Orlando, the Lakers are scary and they've already downed the Rockets once this year. It seems a matter of when, not if the Lakers will go on a run and the Rockets should hope it doesn't start in Houston.
After the Lakers, the Rockets travel to the Spurs who they play twice in three days. The Spurs are cruising along at 14-4 with only the controversy over Greg Poppavich resting his players in a recent brutal stretch of road games. San Antonio is the best franchise in the NBA and certainly the most consistent. Their big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, though aging, still packs a wallop and anytime the I-10 rivals meet, it's almost certainly going to be a tough game.
From I-10 to I-45, the Rockets return home in the second night of a back to back to face the Dallas Mavericks. Without All Star Dirk Nowitzki, who is still rehabbing from knee surgery, the Mavs are actually behind the Rockets in the standings at 8-9. Injury problems, age and inconsistent play have caught up with them this year and the addition of former Laker Derek Fisher probably won't help matters.
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Finally, next Monday, the team hosts the Spurs and the final game of a very tough stretch of contests. The Rockets have been playing well of late, but they'll need everything they can get from their talented backcourt of Jeremy Lin and James Harden this week.