As the NBA season kicks off this week all eyes are on the city of Houston, where the new-look Rockets will take on the Charlotte Bobcats tonight. Houston was the lucky winner of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes which paired with James Harden, makes them one of the favorites to win the Western Conference this season.
The Bobcats will also be sporting a new look with big Al Jefferson filling a tremendous hole Charlotte had in the middle of its lineup. Jefferson and Howard are widely considered the two best centers in the NBA and expectations for both franchises have risen accordingly. The Bobcats are looking to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.
Unfortunately for Charlotte, Jefferson is coming off an ankle injury that he suffered in the preseason and it could limit his minutes tonight but he is expected to make the start. Bismack Biyombo filled in for Jefferson over the last six preseason games and played very well, although it does change the philosophy that first year head coach, Steve Clifford likes to use offensively.
Clifford likes to go with a four-out one-in approach when Jefferson is on the floor and he will use a smaller, quicker lineup when Biyombo comes in for an uptempo running style of offense.
If you ask Jefferson he doesn't think his ankle should be a factor, "In my head I'm ready to go but the coaching staff will keep a close eye on me during the game". When asked about the low post match up tonight Jefferson said, "that is what this league is all about and Dwight Howard is one of the best in the league, so I got to tie my shoes up tight and be ready to go".
Howard and Jefferson have traveled similar paths leading up to their meeting tonight. They first played against each other in a high school all star game as juniors and they were roommates during the McDonald's All-American game as high school seniors. Both players decided to forgo college and enter the 2004 NBA draft where they were both selected in the first round (Howard first overall and Jefferson 15th).
"I've seen enough of Dwight through the years and he keeps getting better every year," Jefferson said, "we both have new teams that we are trying to lead to the playoffs and I wish him luck, just not on Wednesday night" he said with a smirk.
Tip-off is at 8 pm ET on Fox Sports South from the Toyoto Center in Houston.