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Houston Rockets 111, Orlando Magic 103 – Risky Resting

With just over 22 minutes left in the game, the Houston Rockets led the Orlando Magic by 25 points. Houston had been in command the entire game, even without Chandler Parsons (food poisoning) and James Harden (sore foot). Twenty minutes later, twenty points had been shaved off that lead, giving a short-handed Magic squad a real shot at stealing a win from the Rockets. With Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin sitting the entire fourth quarter after turning in fantastic performances, it was up to the bench to outlast the Magic and win by 8.

Jeremy Lin stepped up his game with Harden sitting on the sidelines in a powder blue blazer. Once again, Lin has shown that he has the ability to take over games and push the pace on any given night. He was once again benched for the entire fourth quarter, but once again it was largely because he played so well. He racked up 19 points on 50% shooting to go along with a fantastic 11 assists (and a good-enough 3 turnovers), all in only 30 minutes on the floor. He did everything he needed to, and he did it with confidence. While one could argue that fitting Harden and Lin together hasn’t fully happened yet, it’s clearly true that at worst having both of them offers a degree of depth and injury insurance.

Asik was a benefactor of Lin’s assists, and the Magic’s mediocre interior defense let him go on a dunking rampage. Asik led the Rockets with 22 points on a mere 13 attempts, as well as a tremendous 18 rebounds in only 28 minutes. Asik was playing stellar defense while he was on the court, and the team defense looked more coordinated with him at the center. While the inexperienced Magic frontcourt may be an easy target for Asik, it’s to his credit that this is true in only his third season.

Greg Smith got the start at power forward again, and he looked to be making a case for his long-term inclusion. He came out of the gate hot, backing his man down and showing some solid looking post moves. His 12 points on 8 shots suggest that he’s widening his offensive game, and that could be very valuable for the Rockets. While he’s unlikely to be the long term solution at the four, having offensive threats on the bench is never bad. On the other side of the ball, he’s playing better as well. He only grabbed 4 boards, but his man defense is improving. Head coach Kevin McHale values defensive effort highly, and it’s good to see players working to make progress there.

Francisco Garcia got the start with Parsons sitting out, and over the past few game’s he’s been playing with intensity. It may be that he wants to prove his value over the similarly-skilled Carlos Delfino. Whatever the case, he’s made a good case for himself, scoring 14 points on a mere 6 shots. He also racked up 5 assists and never turned it over, making for a very positive line. His defensive effort has been decent if not remarkable, and he has a quality coaches love: experience. If Garcia can continue to settle into his role as an efficient shooter off the bench, he can become a real asset to the team in a potential playoff run.

His brother is three point shootings, Carlos Delfino, didn’t fare as well, hitting only 1 of his 10 three point attempts. His 6 rebounds and 2 assists (and no turnovers) are good, but his shooting has fallen off lately. Whether its’ simply an unlucky streak or that something is off, the most helpful thing he did tonight was to hit free throws late in the game. When the Magic began to intentionally foul, he became the go-t0 free throw shooter. Of course, a couple more made threes would have prevented that to begin with.

James Anderson started instead of James Harden, but had a poor run of it. His 8 rebounds were great, but his 3-12 shooting wasn’t. He was open on many of his looks, and he seems to be putting in the effort, so once again it may simply be a spate of poor shooting. He led a brigade of bad shooting from the remainder of the Rockets, including 4-11 from Donatas Motiejunas, 2-9 from Thomas Robinson,  and 2-8 for Patrick Beverley. None of them had noteworthy games otherwise, which was a large part of the reason why the Rockets came close to losing after a blowout three quarters.

McHale decided that the entire fourth quarter was garbage time, and let Asik and Lin sit the rest of the game. Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn didn’t agree, and let his (admittedly injury-hobbled) starting unit close out the game. The Magic fought back while the Rockets struggled, and the lead quickly dwindled. While they pulled the game out, it was far closer than it needed to be. The upside of this is that McHale seems to now be looking forward to the playoffs, getting rest for his starters wherever possible. As long as this doesn’t entirely blow a lead and cause a costly loss, the logic makes sense. Houston will very likely be in the playoffs for the first time in years, and clearly McHale and his squad would love to win some games.

The Rockets are entering a very soft April slate of games, and starting with a win against Orlando was critical. It never felt close until the last two minutes, and the bench held on as they needed to do, even if they took a long way there. With Golden State still a game ahead of them for the sixth seed, the Rockets are going to need everything they have, even in a soft month, to try to catch up by the end of the season.

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  • rocketrick says 1 YEAR ago

    Glad to get that retraction from you Phaketrash. I just didn't want irregular readers of our message board to get the wrong impression of Harden.

  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    Is that really the case, after each and every game the Rockets lose by just a point or two? I've read numerous interviews that Harden has given after close games. Now it may be true he doesn't grant everybody who wants a video interview after a close loss each and everytime. At some point you (assume you're in Harden's shoes) just want to get dressed, grab some dinner and start preparing mentally and physically for the next game.

    It was a tongue and cheek comment poking fun at the time Harden totally blew off the media after a close loss (I forget which game) awhile back, and some reporters were pretty upset lol.

  • rocketrick says 1 YEAR ago

    But that is because when Rockets lose a close game, Harden denies interviews and walks out :P

    Is that really the case, after each and every game the Rockets lose by just a point or two? I've read numerous interviews that Harden has given after close games. Now it may be true he doesn't grant everybody who wants a video interview after a close loss each and everytime. At some point you (assume you're in Harden's shoes) just want to get dressed, grab some dinner and start preparing mentally and physically for the next game.
  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    I agree, as long as Harden makes quick passes and cuts it can work. Harden is a great isolation player, but no one man is bigger than the team. I would prefer if Harden doesn't play hero ball. And D-Mo would make a perfect 6th man who comes in and changes the flow of our offense.

  • Richards says 1 YEAR ago

    We can still use Smith-Asik combo if Harden moving and cutting like Anderson and Garcia.

  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    I know Smith has been performing very nice lately, but I suspect that his inclusion in the starting five has something to do with the absence of Harden. In my opinion, when you have Harden, is better to spread the floor and have guys who can shoot all over the floor, but when we are missing him, it's better to play a more conventional way (two guys inside). Maybe I'm wrong, we'll see once Harden comes back, but I feel that that change in the lineup because of the injury is plausible.

    I think this is probably about right. Playing a stretch 4 is for creating space in the paint for drives, and that's primarily for Harden (although of course Lin benefits too). The Smith-Asik combo has looked pretty promising from a defensive point of view as well, which is a bonus (and Anderson filling in for Harden only exacerbates that).

    Smith's play last night was especially encouraging for continuing in that position when spacing is less critical - he absolutely dominated Harris. Given the league-wide trend for small-ball 4s, the only way you can make a living as a proper big man in that position is if you are able to exploit your size on the low-block so that the other team has to match-up with you. If you can't dominate in that mismatch it's difficult to keep you on the court because usually the other team will be capable of punishing you at the other end.

    ST

  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    I don't see it as Harden purposely padding his stats when he goes for a steal or chooses to pass the ball at an inopportune time. Rather I choose to see the glass as half full, not half empty, and attribute these type of instances more to inexperience and youthfulness. I believe Harden will become more court savvy the more experience he gets playing against top level competition night in and night out.

    Thankfully the Rockets have someone like Harden willing to take those meaningful shots in a closely contested game or make the right pass if that is the right play more often than not. And I have never heard Harden once place the blame on his coaches or other players when the Rockets lose a close game, etc.

    But that is because when Rockets lose a close game, Harden denies interviews and walks out :P

  • rocketrick says 1 YEAR ago I don't see it as Harden purposely padding his stats when he goes for a steal or chooses to pass the ball at an inopportune time. Rather I choose to see the glass as half full, not half empty, and attribute these type of instances more to inexperience and youthfulness. I believe Harden will become more court savvy the more experience he gets playing against top level competition night in and night out.

    Thankfully the Rockets have someone like Harden willing to take those meaningful shots in a closely contested game or make the right pass if that is the right play more often than not. And I have never heard Harden once place the blame on his coaches or other players when the Rockets lose a close game, etc.
  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    I hate to admit this but Harden looks like he tries to pad his stats. He gambles on steals, and he passes to a player who's barely open when there's 5 seconds on the shotclock and gets mad if they don't shoot it. He definately has an ego. Lets just be thankful he doesn't take contested fade-aways from 22 feet.

  • rocketrick says 1 YEAR ago

    OK, that makes me feel better. I was starting to wonder though..........................if the inevitable had already started.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago No. Its just that most nba stars have huge egos (iverson Kobe Marbury melo) and find it difficult to play as a team. All signs point to harden being more of a Duncan. I'm just saying I hope I'm right.
  • rocketrick says 1 YEAR ago

    Let's hope Harden is humble enough to do what it takes to win.

    Wow, where did that come from? Is it already time to start bashing Harden too?

  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    Let's hope Harden is humble enough to do what it takes to win.

  • Richards says 1 YEAR ago

    Harden is an important player for the team.

    It would be better if he keep running and cutting like Garcia, Anderson in last two games.

  • Dan G says 1 YEAR ago

    I like the ball movement a lot better when Harden is out. The game is more entertaining when the ball is moving around. Probably does not correlate to winning basketball games, but it's definitely more entertaining.

    I understand what you're saying and I tend to agree with you, but after watching the Rockets the last few seasons having to score based on excellent ball movement with no bonafide star, I'd take James Harden any day of the week since he can take over games at times and be the go to guy. You're right though no Harden ball movement = more entertaining but probably does not correlate to winning basketball games consistently.

  • Dan G says 1 YEAR ago

    I know Smith has been performing very nice lately, but I suspect that his inclusion in the starting five has something to do with the absence of Harden. In my opinion, when you have Harden, is better to spread the floor and have guys who can shoot all over the floor, but when we are missing him, it's better to play a more conventional way (two guys inside). Maybe I'm wrong, we'll see once Harden comes back, but I feel that that change in the lineup because of the injury is plausible.

    I was thinking the same thing. Had I known for sure Harden was going to play in last night's game, I would have had Motie as the probable starter. I could be wrong but it made sense to me.

  • idiotfan says 1 YEAR ago I like the ball movement a lot better when Harden is out. The game is more entertaining when the ball is moving around. Probably does not correlate to winning basketball games, but it's definitely more entertaining.
  • ale11 says 1 YEAR ago

    I know Smith has been performing very nice lately, but I suspect that his inclusion in the starting five has something to do with the absence of Harden. In my opinion, when you have Harden, is better to spread the floor and have guys who can shoot all over the floor, but when we are missing him, it's better to play a more conventional way (two guys inside). Maybe I'm wrong, we'll see once Harden comes back, but I feel that that change in the lineup because of the injury is plausible.

  • Red94 says 1 YEAR ago New post: Houston Rockets 111, Orlando Magic 103 - Risky Resting

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