Monday, Nov. 11 (7 p.m., NBA TV)
Why it’s on the list
Houston has several qualities that make it an annual participant in this countdown, including being the NBA city in closest proximity to New Orleans; its status as a Southwest Division counterpart since the division’s creation in 2004-05; and being headlined by one of the NBA’s best scorers and biggest stars in guard James Harden. This time the Rockets are even more explosive offensively and star-studded, after pulling off the stunning July trade acquisition of Russell Westbrook. Former Oklahoma City teammates, Harden and Westbrook represent two of the three most recent league MVPs. Harden led the NBA in scoring average last season (36.1 ppg), while Westbrook placed 17th (22.9).
Where it falls on the New Orleans schedule
This Veterans Day contest is the first half of a formidable mid-November two-game homestand for the Pelicans, who will face the LA Clippers three days later in the Smoothie King Center, prior to a quick weekend trip to Miami. Overall, New Orleans will meet Houston twice in the first 10 games of the regular season, a stretch that is split evenly between home and road tilts.
What’s new in Houston
NBA.com’s fifth-ranked Western Conference team made a huge splash by exchanging Chris Paul for Westbrook, but that wasn’t the Rockets’ only notable move. On a Houston team that sometimes doesn’t bother even using a center when Clint Capela isn’t on the floor, the Rockets added some frontcourt depth by signing Tyson Chandler. In order to land Westbrook, Houston also unloaded a series of future first-round picks.
Matchups to watch
All-Defensive guard Jrue Holiday has done a commendable job in the recent past guarding Westbrook when the latter was in Oklahoma City, often forcing him to take plenty of shots (though Westbrook shot 50.6 percent from the field vs. the Pelicans last season). The same is also true for Holiday’s matchups with Harden. Holiday is capable of a lot defensively, but he obviously won’t be able to guard both players at the same time, meaning other New Orleans guards will need to be up to the challenge of slowing down the prolific duo.
Rockets history in this countdown
Houston and Golden State are the only NBA opponents to appear on all seven years of Pelicans.com’s annual countdown, with the Rockets finishing between third and seventh each summer (Harden’s Houston tenure dates back to ’12-13). This is the fourth consecutive year Houston has ranked in the top five, the only team to do so during that stretch.
Other 2019-20 games between these teams
Saturday, Oct. 26, New Orleans at Houston
Sunday, Dec. 29, Houston at New Orleans (NBA TV)
Sunday, Feb. 2, New Orleans at Houston (ABC)