The Rockets are coming off one of their most balanced and well played games of the season. They will have had a few days off at home to practice, rest and get everyone healthy. Now it’s time to build momentum off of their victory.
With seven Rockets in double digits against the Nuggets, it becomes more clear what it will take for this team to be successful. The second team needs to be firing on all cylinders, and with Lin Captaining, they are solid. Playing like the sixth man of the year, Jeremy looks like a young Steve Nash. He’s relentlessly attacking the rim, hitting jumpers and dribbling into the paint at will. Terrence Jones and D-Mo both had their best games of the season and have earned their way into the rotation.
Parsons has also improved. His time with the USA team mini-camp this summer helped him realize he can ball with anyone in the league. Even though he’s only shooting .256 from behind the arc, he’s getting 17 a game, and driving the ball to the rack at will.
The injury bug has been steady for the Rockets this year. The most significant injury has been Harden and his feet. He still played the most minutes of any Rocket (36) on Saturday and his presence is vital to the Rockets success. He is definitely the Alpha Dog with his health and chutzpah (I love those dagger three’s from four feet behind the arc), and he is going to drive this team to playoff wins. Parsons has a bad back, Greg Smith is out for at least another week, Beverley is just coming back to form from his abdominal muscle strain, Garcia has been sick, and now Asik is “sick” or getting paid to pout.
I’ve been one of the biggest supporters of Asik this year, but his behavior is clearly unprofessional and is probably detracting from his trade value. It’s nice to get strong wins without him playing to see what kind of bench we have and what we need in trade. It sounds like he will play against the Celtics, after a couple of days “conferring with his agent.”
There is a definite lack of defensive presence when Howard exits the game. As much as everyone is calling for a stretch four in return for Asik, I’m not sure if that’s in the Rockets best interest. Both D-Mo and Jones can hit the three ball, and the best option for the Rockets is Kenneth Faried. His name was being mentioned in a possible trade for Shumpert, and his inside presence, defense, youth, strength and rebounding would fit better than Ryan Anderson. Morey will wait until it’s closer to the trade deadline, February 20th, to get the best possible action for Asik. He’s worth more than a first rounder and we should get an impact player in return.
Hack-a-Howard backfired for the Nuggets. They started the hacking early, with about 5 minutes left in the game, and Howard got into a good rhythm on the line and looked as comfortable as he has all season. But, the Rockets were up by 10 for most of that time and the pressure was lower. As McHale says, the more other teams try it, the more comfortable Howard will become. We’re bound to see it in almost every close game of the season.
The Celtics are in complete rebuilding mode. Rondo is still out, the superstars are gone and Doc Rivers is in LA. At four and seven, it’s not entirely impossible to find them sneaking into the bottom seeds in the East, but it’s unlikely. Currently, four and seven is only a half game out of the playoffs in the East! Jeff Green leads the Celtics in scoring and Courtney Lee gets significant minutes as the backup SG. The Celtics have started Kelly Olynyk at center four times this year. The Gonzaga rookie, and 13th pick, is averaging 8 points and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes a game.
After his major success at Butler, rookie coach Brad Stevens development is as crucial to the Celtics future as their player development. He’s adapting to the NBA and how to work with the complex personalities of the pro game. He’s apt to sit a player for long stretches for mental errors. It will be interesting to see how he handles himself with a sub .500 team after years at Butler where he averaged a winning percentage of .772
The Rockets should get a win and start their climb up the standings in the West.