Your Houston Rockets possess one of the best shooting guards, a decent point guard, a good shooting forward, and one of the best defensive centers in the NBA, yet no one believes that the Rockets will be contending for a title this season. What prevents this young team from battling for the ultimate crown, aside from the fact that Harden is not Lebron James and Lin is not Chris Paul, is a massively inconsistent bench and a glaring gap at the power forward slot. Aside from a certain rookie who is too busy tilting at the windmills of protocol and mental awareness, Coach McHale has tried every possible player to figure out this problem, from Patterson at the beginning of the season to Morris during Patterson’s brief injury to small ball with Delfino/Parsons to starting Motiejunas and lately, Greg Smith. Tonight in Sacramento, another chapter in the search to fix this problem was written with the arrival of Terrence Jones.
The 18th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Jones showed his capabilities from the very beginning, thoroughly outplaying Motiejunas during the preseason. However, Jones had been relegated to the D-League for most of this season, having played less than 100 NBA minutes with only one memorable highlight of a vicious dunk against the Lakers. But perhaps out of annoyance with Motiejunas’s continued struggles on defense and Robinson’s confusion on the court, Jones played in a Rockets uniform for the first time since December 19th against Philadelphia, when he collected 1 assist in 3 minutes of garbage time.
Jones certainly played better than that tonight, as he finished the game playing almost as many minutes as Smith and Motiejunas combined. He was the first Rocket to reach a double-double for the night and was extremely active around the glass, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds, 8 offensive, in 29 minutes of play. Expectations should be slightly tempered by the fact that Jones would doubtless hustle more than normal given his desire to get off the end of the bench as well the lack of scouting against him. Whether it was lack of scouting or a lack of understanding on the part of the Sacramento players, they crowded Jones quite a bit on the 3 point line, even though Jones has shown no hint of being a reliable shooter and badly airballed his only 3 pointer. Jones took advantage of that by driving to the rim a few times for buckets, including a missed dunk that absolutely would have been the highlight of the night had it gone in. Still, it was a very strong effort from the rookie power forward on the glass and finishing, and Jones definitely looks more polished and relaxed out there than Robinson has ever done.
It was an effort which would be needed by him and everyone else throughout the entire game. The Kings were a surprisingly good 7-8 during the month of March as it looks like the additions of Patterson, Douglas, and even Aldrich have helped the team quite a bit. Cousins’s skills and footwork made him one of the few centers who Asik struggled to guard this season, Evans chose tonight to have a jumper, and Marcus Thornton seems to be the heir to Jason Terry in his ability to consistently torch the Rockets from long range. To top it off, James Harden just was not quite himself during today’s game. It says something about the lofty standards Houston has for him when 21 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds is a “mediocre” performance, but he did seem to be bothered by his foot or elbow or…something. Harden started off extremely strong, scoring 9 points in the first quarter, but he was hit by Tyreke Evans in the second quarter in a way that made him keel over and then had a nasty fall after a beautiful layup during the final seconds of the half, at which point the Rockets led 59-55.
However, the rest of the Rockets stepped up. Whatever Parsons had on Monday night, it certainly seemed to improve his shot. After a slump of sorts over the past few games, he put up one of his strongest performances in a long time. It wasn’t just hot shooting from 3, it was the fact that Parsons drove into the lane repeatedly against the Kings to get what he wanted in the paint and dumped it ala a miniature Harden. Asik at the beginning of the 2nd half seemed to threaten to foul out the entire Kings frontcourt by himself as they picked up 5 fouls in two and a half minutes, as he dominated the third quarter with 11 points in 5 minutes. Lin had a great passing night, and when the Kings threatened to rally with a score of 106-101, he hit a backbreaking, difficult 3 to put the game out of reach.
This game had all the makings of a trap game, against a deceptively talented team, on the road, and who the Rockets lost to earlier this season. Yet thanks to an overall team performance and a very surprising one from Terrence Jones, the Rockets pulled it off.
- It was particularly surreal at one point to see Patterson, Aldrich, and Douglas on the court against the Rockets players, but what is depressing is that beloved fan favorite Chuck Hayes seems to have fallen so far that he’s now behind Aldrich, who was never as well-liked in a Rockets uniform as the Chuckwagon. Hayes simply has never been the same in Sacramento and has received accusations of simply getting fat after earning a nice contract due to years of work in Houston.
- Let us not forget that this very well could be Houston’s last game in Sacramento. Given the strong relationship which seems to exist between these two teams given the myriad trades and shared players between them (in addition to the aforementioned Houston players, Francisco Garcia received a halftime tribute), I don’t think anyone, not even Seattle residents, could be remotely happy watching the Kings leave. I personally believe that expansion is the way to go for the benefits of the residents of both Seattle and Sacramento. While one may worry about the talent dilution, the fact that the United States’s population has grown quite a bit since the wave of expansion during the early 1990s as well as the increased amount of international talents means that I think that it can be pulled off.
- With Utah’s defeat against the Denver Nuggets, 45 wins will guarantee a playoff spot for the Rockets. Houston has 42 wins. There are 7 games left, and that’s not factoring any additional losses from the Jazz and the still clinging to hope Mavericks.