Preview: Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs, 10/12/12
Posted 10 December 2012 - 11:52 PM
Unfortunately it has been a bit temperamental posting stuff to the main site recently, so as Rahat is unable to put this up for me tonight I'm taking the liberty of posting it straight to the forum. Enjoy!
Preview: Houston vs San Antonio
by Rob Dover
For the last decade, visiting the teams in Texas has been a tough proposition for anyone in the NBA, and that includes the ones that make their homes there. With neighbours like Houston has, it's never going to be easy. On the road in San Antonio, the Rockets suffered perhaps their most chastening loss of the season so far, falling over 30 points behind before eventually losing by 22. The next night a scorching hot OJ Mayo went toe-to-toe with James Harden to win their 8th straight game against the Rockets. And now the Spurs are in town to try to deal out another dose of the beating they handed out last time.
Both teams come in having played back-to-backs on Friday and Saturday. The difference is how the minutes were distributed in those games. The Spurs arrive having participated in consecutive blowouts. Against the Rockets, every player in their squad except Cory Joseph played double digit minutes; they one-upped themselves against Charlotte the following night by getting all 12 of their players above that mark in a 30 point win. On the other hand, a perusal of the Houston box score from the Dallas game shows the exact opposite trend – Harden: 46 minutes, Parsons: 42 minutes, Delfino: 35 minutes, Douglas: 35 minutes. Harden's minutes are especially amazing given that he turned his ankle in the second quarter by stepping on Elton Brand's foot on a drive to the basket.
The way Greg Popovich can fit any of his players into the rotation means that the Spurs are capable of going 12 deep if they really want. They vary their starters from night to night as well. Expect to see Tony Parker running the point and Patty Mills backing him up, but you'll also find that they give spot minutes to Nando de Colo and Cory Joseph too. They'll play a wing rotation of Danny Green, Gary Neal and Manu Ginobili – James Anderson might get a look in if the Spurs have a lead. Then they've got four or five bigs to choose from, each with their own skill sets. You've got Tim Duncan, who by this point needs no introduction, DeJuan Blair, a great rebounder if a little undersized, Matt Bonner, a stretch four with an excellent 3 point shot, Boris Diaw, an excellent passing big man, and Tiago Splitter, the big Brazilian with a decent post game and solid defence. Popovich can put in pretty much whatever combination he likes and is an excellent judge of the right combination for the right situation.
The Rockets spent most of their first game with McHale back playing small, and as a result we saw huge minutes logged by the wing rotation. Some restraint is likely required with that tactic in the long run, or else Harden, Delfino and Parsons are going to be dead by the time the All Star Break rolls around. There was a surprising lack of Marcus Morris in the game against Dallas, and it will be interesting to see whether he manages to get some playing time tonight. He has not looked particularly effective of late, but hopefully he'll be able to discover the form that made him such a revelation in the first 10-15 games of the season. It remains to be seen whether the assertive, energetic Marcus of that stretch or the tentative, anonymous Marcus of his rookie season and the last few games is the real one. Toney Douglas got a lot of time against Dallas because he was tasked with slowing down OJ Mayo – I expect that we'll see his minutes return to normal tonight without a ridiculously hot three point shooting menace to contain and Jeremy Lin getting a bit more time on the floor.
The Spurs allow the second least free throws of any team in the NBA. Over the past few seasons they have moved away from the lock down defence that they made their name with throughout the noughties, but that seems to have made a reappearance this season as they have moved to 7th in the league in defensive efficiency. In Friday's game, all Rockets not named James Harden struggled with the suffocating defence and their inability to make shots. It was the first game this year where Parsons failed to make a three. Asik was completely shut down by Duncan in the post, going 0-6 and grabbing only 5 rebounds. The bench was unable to provide its usual spark (mainly because the quality of the opposing bench was so high) and none of them had a good game either. The engine that had been fuelling the Rocket's high octane offence for the stretch prior to the last Spurs game was the excellent play of Asik and Patterson. They were getting great catches in the post that put them in positions they favoured for scoring. Unfortunately they've gone away from that in the past few games, and as a result the offence has bogged down somewhat. Key to getting it moving again is balancing the scoring attack – at the moment too much is running through the wings and when those players go cold, the game slips away.
A big key to getting better offence for the big men tonight will be the rebounding battle. If there's one department where the Spurs could be considered to be poor, it's rebounding – they are 22nd in the league in allowing opponents an Offensive Rebound Rate of 28.4%. The onus will be on Asik and Smith to make life difficult for San Antonio on the boards. Asik in particular has got into a rut where he appears to be unable to finish around the rim even on the simplest of putbacks – getting out of that funk will be essential if the Rockets are to avoid another hiding tonight.
Parsons' shot has been off for the past few games, which hurts the starting unit's offence quite a bit. They need him to make the open shots to keep the flow going, but too often he has lost confidence in the three and passed up the looks. This was particularly egregious in the Dallas game, where there were at least two possessions that ended in a shot clock violation because of it. He has only shot 2-17 from behind the three point line in the last few games, but he needs to be slightly less guilty about it and work through the slump.
James Harden has been playing fantastically in the last couple of games, and he needs to continue his aggression tonight. Without a lock down perimeter defender on him he is able to thrive. It may have helped that neither the Spurs nor the Mavericks threw the blitz defence out of the pick and roll at him very often, which gave him a lot more time on the ball. An interesting wrinkle will be to see whether the Spurs make an adjustment to trap him more often in this game.
It is my opinion that Tony Parker is the most underrated player in the NBA. I have never seen him not have a fantastic game – his command of the pick and roll is magnificent and he often seems impossible to stay in front of. So often he will come around a pick to start up an offensive set and find himself wide open and penetrating – the ensuing collapse of the defence opens up a myriad of possibilities that San Antonio's incredibly slick passing translates into wide open look after wide open look. It is true that there are many high calibre point guards around these days, but Parker's name deserves to be up there with the best of them, not sitting forgotten in the second or third tier like he often ends up. He is the grease that makes the machine's cogs turn.
The precision sets the Spurs run completely bamboozled the Rockets in the first game. It was the first time this season that the Rockets really looked like a young, inexperienced squad – they couldn't cope with the ball movement and the penetration and as a result gave up whatever shots San Antonio wanted. They were able to shoot 76% at the rim, over half of which were assisted, and 9-13 from 16-23 feet for a staggering 69.3%. It wasn't that they were blazing hot – often the shots were uncontested as defenders found themselves lost or late to close out.
To avoid this happening again, better decision making is required from the Rockets' defenders. The Spurs design their offence to make defenders have to make as many difficult decisions as possible – eventually they will get one wrong and there will be a good look. Rotations need to be crisp and close-outs need to be controlled, as the Spurs are packed full of capable shooters from pretty much every range on the court – running them off the three point line isn't enough. Disrupting the Spurs' passing game will require anticipation and ball pressure, and it will be up to the Rockets to bring their A game tonight.
The first game against the Spurs showed just how much further the Rockets have to go before they can legitimately compare themselves against the NBA's elite. With better effort and execution they may be able to stay closer to the Spurs this time around, but there is too much talent and knowledge of the system among San Antonio's ranks for them to lose this game.
Posted 11 December 2012 - 12:37 AM
Posted 11 December 2012 - 01:11 AM
Thanks! Now to watch the Texans game, and wait for a recap-as I STILL dont get the Rockets games on tv. Been lucky enough to be at most home games, but won't be there tonight. Hope we can pull off the upset, or at least play better than we did Friday @ SA.
Harden's out tonight, which makes it that much more difficult. Apparently his ankle is still bothering him (playing almost the entire second half after injuring it will do that to you). I imagine the atmosphere in the Toyota Centre will be a bit flat tonight with everyone off watching the game, which probably won't help.
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