Dwight Howard is a great center. Regardless of the fascination with newer, younger centers like DeMarcus Cousins and Roy Hibbert, Howard is still the best center in the league. But for all of his athleticism and defensive ability, Howard is only one man. While he may be better than either Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol, he is not as good as the two combined. And this does not even take into account that Memphis has other legitimate big men such as Kostos Koufos, Ed Davis, and James Johnson to play, while Houston only has Terrence Jones and the still inexperienced Donatas Motiejunas. Memphis’s big men, combined with their overall depth, overpowered the smaller Rockets and forced them to play the slow it down, defensive battle the Grizzlies prefer – and the result was a game which was all but over by the end of the third quarter.
The formula was simple. The Grizzlies hammered the paint with either Conley or Randolph again and again, but that was seemingly not their real goal. Instead, the Grizzlies would either miss the shot, but in the process would get Dwight out of position as he went to contest the shot, at which point they grabbed the offensive boards and tipped it in. Or the Rockets would overcommit, at which point they kicked the ball out to Conley or Lee who would make the jumper. On the defensive end, the Grizzlies were content to let the Rockets shoot. Not just three pointers, but open three pointers. But with Houston unable to hit anything tonight (only 23% from long range for the game), the Rockets were unable to make Memphis pay, resulting in the disastrous defeat. The lead grew steadily larger, and everything went downhill the longer the game went on.
- The return of Patrick Beverley was supposed to bolster the bench due to the return of Lin there in order to create offense, but Lin has looked nothing like the early Sixth Man of the Year Candidate who averaged 15 points a game in November. He has now scored double digits only once over the past six games, and his three point percentage has crashed to a pathetic 27 percent in January. Tonight was no better. In fact, it was one of his worst games of the year. He scored 4 points, the second lowest total for him this season, had only 2 assists in relevant playing time, and missed all of his three pointers. The fact that Memphis has one of the worst backup point guards in the league in Nick Cathales does not help either. Lin’s confidence for now seems to be shot – and it’s up to Lin to regain it.
- Dwight Howard was not really himself, but as discussed earlier, the lack of reliable big men help played a huge role in his failures to contain the Memphis offense. However, what is solely Dwight’s problem are his worsening free throws. Just like Lin’s jumper, Dwight’s free throws started off well at the beginning of the season, but have steadily deteriorated – he has shot over 50% from the free throw line in only three games since Christmas, and was only 2-6 tonight. Teams so far have not been using Hack-a-Dwight as much as they could, but if Dwight’s troubles continue, this will start up again, further prolonging games and boring audiences alike.
- About the only real positive that came tonight is that the last game against Memphis was the first one where Harden shot a decent percentage against this defensive team. Much of that came from isolations and Harden’s mid-range game. One of the main criticisms about Harden’s style of play is the idea that in the playoffs, the tougher games mean that his three-pointers and free throws will be shut down, making him ineffective. The idea that superstars draw less free throws is in reality a myth not based in the numbers, but nevertheless, Harden has developed a mid-range game of sorts this season, and he used it to still put up decent numbers despite only shooting 4 free throws and missing all of his three pointers. Such a weapon surely cannot hurt – as long as he doesn’t try too many of them.