This is a huge week for the Houston Rockets as they square off first, tonight, against the power forward who tortured them in the playoffs last season, and then on Wednesday, against a Clipper team that has tortured them since acquiring Chris Paul. When Terrence Jones proved he had no business even sharing the court last summer with LaMarcus Aldridge, many wondered why head coach Kevin McHale didn’t at least give Donatas Motiejunas a small shot. Omer Asik, while drastically limiting Aldridge’s production, couldn’t play every minute and also didn’t need to be accounted for on the other end. Motiejunas, while not what he is now, had taken major strides during the year towards defensive maturity, as noticed by those of us who were paying attention.
The Houston Chronicle had a nice piece today on D-Mo’s eagerness for the shot he never got the first time around, heading into tonight’s matchup.
There is, however, something else Motiejunas can bring, an option that Asik could not. Motiejunas can make Aldridge work on the other end. Since the start of January, Motiejunas has averaged 14 points in 29.6 minutes per game, making 56.4 percent of his shots. He has become the Rockets top low-post option, increasingly effective in screen-and-roll and on the break.
Tonight’s game will be just the latest test as to whether Motiejunas has truly taken the next step in solidifying himself as this team’s long-term answer at the power forward position. Without consistent production on both ends of the floor from that spot, Houston simply does not have a chance at the championship, especially given Dwight Howard’s limitations. Houston doesn’t lose to Portland last year if they get even anything from Terrence Jones.
When I was preparing for this post, I wasn’t planning on posting the standings as I usually do, because–as I’ve been saying–does it really even matter? But this deserves appreciation. Look at that graphic above. Do you realize that Houston is sitting completely alone, by a margin of two losses, in third, without their second best player, in maybe the most brutal conference in NBA history? Do you realize this? I don’t think people completely realize this, otherwise I wouldn’t be seeing so much chatter about the MVP candidacy of anyone not wearing an untamed beard. This is just remarkable, if you think about it. Most outlets had Houston finishing in the bottom rung of the playoff picture at the beginning of the season, and this wasn’t even factoring in Dwight Howard’s injury problems.
Look, I get it. The Rockets are close to 8th also, bunched together with many other teams. If you’re a general NBA fan/blogger, you don’t need to point out the obvious in some attempt to pour water on my enthusiasm. This summer was a complete rollercoaster, as has been the last era. From losing McGrady and then Yao, starting over, and then losing half of our entire nucleus in July in the failed Chris Bosh pursuit, forgive me for showing a little excitement about the overachievement of my team.