Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 • 8:00 PM ET
Toyota Center • Houston, TX
Watch: ALT, ATTSN-SW
Listen: KKSE-FM 92.5/KKSE 950, 790 AM
Things did not go the Rockets’ way the last time they touched the hardwood. Even though the score was close, the Portland Trailblazers trailblazed through the Rockets’ defense to the tune of 110 points, outrebounding the Rockets 47-40, including a 17-10 advantage on the offensive rebounding side. Ouch. Tonight, things will not get easier as the Rockets face the 7th best overall rebounding team in the country (and the 2nd best in offensive rebounding), the Denver Nuggets.
Denver currently leads the Western Conference with a 26-11 record and is currently on a 5 game winning streak. They are 8-2 in their last ten games. I’m not a fan of that. How did they get so good?
It starts with passing. The Nuggets are 2nd in the NBA in assists per game at 27.2 (only behind the Golden State Warriors who average 28.1 per game). The Nuggets are also 2nd in the NBA in secondary assists–or hockey assists–at 3.9 a game. All in all, they create 63.9 points a game off passing, and yet they are only 7th in the NBA in total passes a game at 309.4. This means they are efficient and deadly with their ball movement. Going along with this, they shoot a solid 37.5% off of catch and shoot shots (tied for 9th best), and pile up 30.3 points per game off of catch and shoot (7th best).
However, Denver is weak at pull-up shooting as they are hitting a 3rd worst eFG% pullup of 40.3 which contributes to the 4th worst amount of points per game with 16.5 points coming off of pull-ups (compared to the Rockets who make the 3rd most points off of pull-up shooting at 25.6).
Thus, for the Rockets, the keys to the game are to:
1. Limit the Nuggets’ effectiveness on the boards.
2. Force the Denver shooters into tough pull-up shots.
3. Close out on the perimeter shooters.
Things to watch for:
1. How long will this hangover last?
It was bound to happen: a poor(ish) game from James Harden and a loss against a good team. Now we see how tough this Rockets team is after a disappointing loss.
2. Austin Rivers’ durability. In the last 3 games, Rivers has played 42, 44, and 41 minutes to go along with 52, 51, and 63 touches. Rivers is carving up the hardwood with solid defensive and offensive possessions and it will be interesting to see how he holds up against yet another great team in the Nuggets. In another interesting stat, Rivers has also run the most distance out of anyone on the Rockets team as he is nearly hitting 3 miles in each of the last three games. (For reference, Harden seems to get about 2.25-2.5 miles each game).
1. I will always remember you, Michael Carter Williams.
2. Can Harden get another 35 point game and keep this streak going?
3. Will I ever predict anything right?
Prediction: Rockets 120 – Nuggets 105:
– Harden drops a slightly inefficient 40 piece
– Gerald Green hits 6 threes