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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks @ Houston Rockets preview

There are seven games in the NBA on Sunday and the final fixture sees the in-form Milwaukee Bucks make the trip to Houston Rockets.

Earlier on Sunday, Los Angeles Lakers head to Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers host the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls make the trip to Atlanta to take on the Hawks.

The Rockets are in the midst of another tough season as they sit at the foot of the Western Conference, but there have been signs of life of late and they are seeking a fourth straight home win.

What: Milwaukee Bucks @ Houston Rockets
Where: Toyota Center, Houston
When: 19:00 ET, Sunday December 11th
How to watch: NBA League Pass
Odds: MIL Bucks -450, HOU Rockets +350

Bucks have a chance to close gap on Boston

Milwaukee go into the game seeking a fifth straight victory and the 2021 champions have a chance to close the gap on current Eastern Conference leaders Boston Celtics on Sunday.

The Celtics suffered a 123-107 at Golden State Warriors on Saturday as last season's finalists met in San Francisco, meaning the Bucks go into Sunday's meeting knowing they can strengthen their hopes of moving into the top spot.

The Celtics have a 21-6 record, while Milwaukee are 19-6 and the two teams are due to meet in Boston on Christmas Day in what is likely to be a fascinating encounter and a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview.

That huge game will no doubt be in the thoughts of the Bucks over the next few weeks but for now they have a tricky game against an improving Houston to focus on.

Rockets showing signs of improvement

Houston are a team in the middle of a big rebuild and their recruitment over the offseason was focused on young prospects, rather than players who can come in and make an instant impact.

The Rockets used their third overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft to select Jabari Smith Jr and it has taken the 19-year-old forward a bit of time to get to grips with the league, but he has started to put in some big displays of late.

Smith scored a season-high 23 points as he led the scoring for the Rockets in a defeat to San Antonio Spurs last time out, while he managed 11 rebounds in the team's last home game against Philadelphia 76ers.

The Auburn product is averaging 15.5 points-per-game and 6.5 rebounds after four games in December and is starting to demonstrate why many expected him to be the number one pick in this year's draft.

Fellow draft pick Tari Eason is also seeing plenty of game time, averaging 18.8 minutes-per-game from the bench, and this test against a top quality Bucks outfit should help this young squad gain valuable experience.

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Two teams with different goals

Milwaukee will be focusing on their likely championship bid and they are +500 to go all the way and take the title this season, while Houston's goal is ensuring their youngsters gain experience as the postseason spots are already starting to look out of reach - and in truth were an unrealistic target before the campaign even began.

The Rockets have the worst record in the Western Conference with 7-18, but they are starting to give their own fans something to cheer about and may make this game difficult for the Bucks even if a win looks unlikely.

The Rockets have managed four wins in nine attempts at home but three of those victories have come in their last three games at the Toyota Center, and two of those victories came against Eastern Conference teams with championship aspirations in the shape of Atlanta Hawks and the Sixers.

No major concerns for Bucks or Rockets

The Rockets have no new injury concerns and Jae'Sean Tate remains unavailable with an ankle injury, while reserve forward Bruno Fernando is expected to sit out again through illness.

Joe Ingles is still sidelined for the Bucks and veteran guard Wesley Matthews looks set to miss a fifth straight game, but coach Mike Budenholzer may opt to limit the minutes of his star men regardless for this clash against a non-conference rival.

In contrast, Houston coach Stephan Silas will want his starters playing for as many minutes as possible for this test against one of the league's best teams and, as they have hit some form at home, this could be a closer affair than the Point Spread suggests - with the Rockets priced at +110 with a +10 point handicap.

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