Anyone who has followed the Rockets this season should be aware of the consistent struggles at the power forward position which have occupied this team and has been a significant factor particularly during this losing streak, all the more painful after several years of dependable production from Mr. Scola. Tonight, however, Marcus Morris had easily his best performance in the last few weeks. While Patterson played for only eight minutes, Morris played well on both the offensive and defensive ends as he was rewarded with the start at the beginning of the 2nd half. His 3 point shot returned and he finished off of passes to end his game with 21 points on 7-12 shooting. In addition, he managed 8 rebounds against an athletic if unskilled Bobcats frontcourt.
Of course then when one analyzes Morris’s strong performance, a question must rear its head. How is it that the Charlotte Bobcats, the third worst team in the league, managed to lead for the entire game until about the halfway point of the 4th quarter? How is it that they jumped to a double digit lead in the first quarter and possessed a lead of that margin at the end of the first half? Because while Houston may have finally broken its 7 game losing streak and managed to escape the shame of falling below .500, a narrow victory over Charlotte is hardly something to boast about, especially since Houston managed to get a strong contribution from the power forward position.
We can begin with Jeremy Lin. Lin attempted an early mid-range jumper with 7 minutes left in the 1st quarter, missed, and struggled for the rest of the game. He went back to his problems earlier in the season of telegraphing his drives in advance and thus Bismack Biyombo blocked every single one of his attempts in the paint. For the rest of the game, Lin was passive and tentative with the ball, a problem which was only made worse by his results on the defensive end as Lin continually went under screens set for Kemba Walker. While Walker was incredibly hot today as he finished with a career high 35 points with 6 of 7 shooting from the 3 point line, Lin did not do much to make his efforts difficult. Consequently, Lin sat out the entire 4th quarter as Patrick Beverley played well once again (more on that below).
Now Lin cannot be viewed as the sole negative factor in this extremely close win against a weak team. The first half of this game was a disaster for everyone on the Rockets with the exception of Parsons and Morris. Harden started 1 for 11, the Bobcats made an unusually high percentage of inefficient shots such as two straight Hakim Warrick fadeaways, and there generally was not a lot of effort. The second half had a much better effort from the center position by both Asik and Aldrich (Greg Smith was out of today’s game to celebrate the recent birth of his first child). Asik in particular came out to limit the Charlotte offense to jumpers which finally stopped falling. On the offensive end in the last quarter, while Harden shot poorly tonight (he has shot 12 3 pointers combined in the Minnesota and Charlotte games and hit none of them), he did manage to get to the line repeatedly against an inexperienced Charlotte defense and took over down the stretch as he drew fouls or passed the ball to open shooters in Beverley or Delfino. In that sense, this victory could be viewed much more positively as it represented the team’s ability to bounce back after a poor start.
However, when one considers that Houston has now won the first quarter only three times in the month of January, it is clear that simply bouncing back from adversity is not good enough. The Rockets will need to learn how to start off strong and avoid the need to continually try to catch up.
Still at minimum, the losing streak is over. An otherwise frustrating victory can be tempered by the knowledge that Houston did manage to avoid disaster.
- While tonight’s game was not the first time McHale benched Lin late in the game in favor of his backup point guard, it was the first time that he has done so for Patrick Beverley. Beverley had arguably his best game yet of his young career as he continually hustled for the ball with reckless abandon. At one point in the third quarter he leaped high in the air past Jeff Taylor for the rebound and slammed hard into the court for his troubles, but managed to secure the rebound and a loose ball foul as a result. He also has proven himself to be a far superior ball handler compared to Toney Douglas and hit 2 three pointers, one at the very end to give the Rockets a 93-90 lead. While the sample size is extremely small and there are factors to discuss such as his unsustainable 3 point shooting, this is so far yet another successful application of Moreyball as the Rockets improve their thin bench.
- While Omer Asik’s boxscore statistics were not particularly impressive tonight, I would argue that this was one of his better games of the season. Asik’s defense is something that really can’t be appreciated until one watches it repeatedly, as you can see how he almost always is in the right place to contest shots and make things difficult for the opponent in the lane. Also, while Cole Aldrich was his usual blundering self in the first half, he did have a respectable defensive performance down the stretch simply by avoiding the “bump into the defender coming off the screen” foul that he seemingly draws 7 times a game when he’s on the court.
- Tonight was the lowest amount of turnovers the Rockets have committed (13) since their January 2nd win over the New Orleans Hornets. I would largely attribute this to a lack of passes being thrown at Asik and the fact that Carlos Delfino did not attempt to drive as much as he normally tries and contented himself with shooting jumpers.