After the horror show of a second half against the Thunder, the Rockets needed something to get the bad taste out of their mouth. Fortunately, the league-worst Bucks were there to provide just that. The Rockets were never able to turn the game into a blow-out, but even with the Bucks making timely three pointers all through the second half there was a 10 point cushion for most of the game as Houston coasted to an easy victory. It’s difficult to draw many concrete conclusions from a game where the opposition is so poor, but there were still one or two interesting things to note.
- Terrence Jones (or as Matt Bullard is trying to push, ‘Basketball Jones’) had a dominant game tonight. The Rockets were able to induce a lot of switches from the Bucks’ defence that left a smaller defender switched out onto Jones. It’s not often you see plays called for Jones, but tonight he was given the space to post up his mismatch and go to work. It was a very productive line of attack for him, as well – whether it was Mayo, Butler or Antetokounmpo, he was able to draw free-throws every time he tried it. Add in his usual work off loose balls and on the boards and he was racking up the points – ending up tying his career high (25) by half time. He kept that going in the second half, including one play that’s going to go in his permanent highlight reel – blocking a shot on one end, taking the ball the length of the floor (including a spin move) to lay it in. The final line – 36 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.
- I’ve felt that Harden has been putting in a little more effort on the defensive end in recent weeks, and this was probably the most aggressive and consistent showing from him at that end of the court I’ve seen from him in a Rockets uniform. Maybe he has a beef with Brandon Knight, maybe he felt he could coast offensively and put in more defensive effort against an inferior team, maybe he was instructed/challenged by the coaching staff, but whatever the reason, he was pressing Knight hard whenever he was bringing the ball up the court and forced several steals with quick hands. There was even a point towards the end of the first half where he and Motiejunas almost executed a successful half-court trap. The Rockets have not been great at forcing turnovers so far this season and it has stymied their transition game, but if this is the sort of thing Harden is willing to do consistently it would go some way to turning that around. I noticed in his post-game interview Jones was quick to mention Harden’s defence, so it’s clear the rest of the team is paying attention.
- Ever since the game against Boston, the Rockets have been in alley-oop mode. I think this is one of the most promising developments of the season so far, because it’s such a dramatic improvement over their ability in this area since the start of the year. It’s great to see such concrete development from the team – obviously they must have been working on it in practice for a while. Like any shiny new toy there’s a temptation to play with it too much, and occasionally you see the Rockets try to force it when it’s not on, but the instinct for the right balance will come with time. It’s great to have another weapon in the half court set, that’s for sure.
- Garcia was sitting out tonight with knee tendonitis. I had been expecting this to happen at some point – his level of play has really dropped off recently in a manner that seemed consistent with someone trying to play through pain. Hopefully taking a few games out will help him get back to the form he was in to start the year. McHale has obviously decided that the Ronnie Brewer experiment was a failure (which seems like the correct decision) and therefore had no choice but to move Casspi up a position to play at SF. It’s good to see Omri getting some more playing time again. He definitely deserves to be in the rotation, but recently he has only been getting spot minutes as McHale has opted to give Motiejunas the majority of the backup PF minutes. They’ve brought Covington up from the D-League so it may not be a long term change, but I think it could be if the coaching staff wanted to. It comes down to whether the coaching staff feel Casspi can keep in front of opposing wings, because offensively he garners enough respect for his outside shot to avoid the spacing cramps the team experiences with a non-shooter at the position.