New Orleans Pelicans @ Houston Rockets 12/28/13

The Rockets are coming off a nice victory against the Spurs and an ugly win against the Grizzlies.  Which team will show up tonight against the Pelicans? While not quite a team of Jekyll and Hyde proportions, Houston has not been able to get on a big run of wins this year, and dominate in a way that would make fans believe tonight’s game will be a win.  The Rockets are still having to gut out games against opponents like the Pelicans.  Houston’s record in December is 7 and 6.

The strong consistent play of Howard, the emergence of Jones as an all-around player, the continued growth of an already impressive Parsons, the speed of Lin pushing the ball and Harden’s health improvement are all converging factors for a positive emergence of Houston’s future.  Though currently the Rockets sit 5th in the West, they are at serious risk of another first round exit if the playoffs were held today.

But with the health of the Rockets improving and the chemistry clicking, this team may go on a run that would move them into position for home court advantage in the playoffs.  I do predict a win tonight as getting Lin reintegrated in the rotation makes a big difference in the way the team plays.  He helps Harden immensely and the Rockets should score big tonight against a weaker than average defense.

The future looks good if the Rockets can start to win the grinding games like the last one against Memphis.  As ugly as that game was to watch, getting a win was a positive learning experience for the team.  Those are the kind of games elite teams stay in and find a way to win. Winning relies on being in the game in the fourth quarter and battling possessions one at a time.  That means playing strong physical defense, rebounding hard, and pushing the other team into mistakes while remaining calm and focused.  So often this year the Rockets still get rattled by a team that plays smothering defense (like the Pacers game).  It’s imperative that the Rockets begin to focus on those aspects of their game. They can start practicing on teams like the Pelicans.  New Orleans is currently 23rd in the league in points allowed, while the Rockets are inching their way up this stat to 22nd.

One big factor for The Rockets struggles have been the backup play in the middle.  With Asik still hurt/checked out and Smith out, our second team has not been able to counteract other teams when they are going big.  The Rockets often succeed in going small during these times by hitting the long ball and running.  But when Casspi and Garcia aren’t hitting and Lin is playing with the first team (due to Beverley’s injuries), we have been forced to defend the middle with little to no bigs.  Jones is still working out his second year kinks on defense.  D Mo did a nice job the other night on Z Bo and if he can continue, an Asik trade is more likely.

It will be fun to watch the Rockets #1 trade target play tonight.  It’s no wonder the Pelicans don’t want to trade Anderson for Asik.  Anderson is their leading scorer (there’s no way the offensively challenged Asik could come close to the points he provides).  He’s hitting better from behind the arc than overall at 42.9%, and takes nearly eight a game.  This would have been an awesome pickup for the Rockets, but that window is closed as Anderson is too potent a scorer for the Pelicans to let go.

The Pelicans also play second year phenom Anthony Davis at PF.  He’s having a 20 and 10 year.  Davis has been played in the last five games after missing some time due to a hand injury.  But he came back hard and has been scoring at 20 a game since his return.  The matchup between sophomores Jones and Davis will be fun to watch.  Jones will benefit from spreading the floor, hitting threes and running.  I’ve been insanely impressed watching Jones run the break, often from the middle with the ball.  He’s playing a brand of ball like Parsons exhibits and that’s damn exciting!

New Orleans is on the second night of a back to back after their first win against a team over 500 and they’ve got a roster full of dangerous players.  With Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, the Rockets guards defense will be under scrutiny and Howard will need to school Davis and control the middle.  At 13 and 14 in the West, the Pelicans can be dangerous.  The Rocket’s upswing will be tested tonight, so let’s hope it’s Dr. Jekyll who shows up.

 

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Total comments: 11
  • Sir Thursday says 8 months ago

    I'll admit I had the opposite impression of Motiejunas's defense. It's not that he failed to close out on Smith, it's that after letting Smith shoot one or two open jumpers, he then began closing out too hard, which let Smith drive and dish with the then total lack of paint protection. Still problematic on defense of course, and in fact arguably more so.

    Yeah, I think you're right. My sleep-deprived self got caught up on the most visible mistake - when he got faked out of his shoes by Ryan Anderson (the image of Aaron Brooks trying to rotate over to contest is burned on my brain). But actually, not being there to contest on Evans' drives was probably more of an issue.

    [Incidentally, the fact that he was switched out onto Anderson at all was another frustrating problem of D-Mo's - he always seems to spend a split second too long hedging on the pick-and-roll before returning to his man. I know he is fast and can recover reasonably well (which is presumably why the coaching staff have him doing it), but it often seems like he spends a beat too long showing in front of the ball handler, and ends up setting the defence scrambling as a result. In the play I'm talking about, he was forced to switch onto Anderson, but other times it forces a rotation or an open bucket...>

    ST

  • Richards says 8 months ago

    Health Howard made a lot of difference, not sure Harden improved but Lin and Parsons are better than last year. Team as a whole improved this year.

  • BenQueens says 8 months ago

    while im not happy that 3s haven't be consistent this season, at least the rockets can find other ways to score. last year they were kind of SOL when the 3s werent falling.

    Howard rounding into form and Jones's development really change things for the Rockets. They combined for 41 points on 20 shot attempts! Parsons and Harden are attempting basically the same number of shots as last year, we're just seeing a vast increase in offensive production from the front line.

  • rocketrick says 8 months ago Last season, the Rockets couldn't count on feeding the ball to Asik unless they were looking for certain turnovers with typical mishandling of excellent passes by Asik and failed bunny shots at the rim by Asik.

    What a world of difference with D12 manning the middle this season. It's not always pretty, but it sure has been effective lately.
  • CanSayNOTC says 8 months ago

    while im not happy that 3s haven't be consistent this season, at least the rockets can find other ways to score. last year they were kind of SOL when the 3s werent falling.

    Dwight Howard.

  • miketheodio says 8 months ago

    while im not happy that 3s haven't be consistent this season, at least the rockets can find other ways to score. last year they were kind of SOL when the 3s werent falling.

  • Chai says 8 months ago

    I assumed letting their bigs shoot open long 2s was just part of the scheme... Especially in the fourth, Smith and Davis were open for the long 2 on multiple occasions, though they didn't capitalize on all of them.

  • PKM says 8 months ago

    I'll admit I had the opposite impression of Motiejunas's defense. It's not that he failed to close out on Smith, it's that after letting Smith shoot one or two open jumpers, he then began closing out too hard, which let Smith drive and dish with the then total lack of paint protection. Still problematic on defense of course, and in fact arguably more so.

  • Red94 says 8 months ago New post: Houston Rockets 107, New Orleans Pelicans 98: It Doesn't All Have To Go Right At Once
    By: Rob Dover

    In a long season, there will stretches where not every facet of the team is clicking. Whether it's down to fatigue caused by a rough stretch of games, injuries warping the rotation or just players getting out of form, there will be nights where teams have to win with significant areas of the team not firing. Tonight was one of those games - an invisible bench (not for the first time in recent weeks) and an abysmal three point shooting performance were difficult hurdles for the team to overcome. But thanks to some of the areas that are going well at the moment (Dwight Howard, 4th quarter execution), the team was able to come out with the win.

    • Monty Williams made an interesting adjustment to try to stop Howard's recent post domination. Defensively, he matched Anthony Davis against Terrence Jones and Ryan Anderson against Dwight. Maybe it was to keep Davis out of foul trouble, or perhaps he felt that Anderson had a better chance of holding his own in the post. Either way, when combined with aggressive double-teaming it did serve to frustrate Howard's post attempts initially. Howard seemed to have to speed up his moves to get them off before the second defender arrived, and it threw off his rhythm. But it's clear he's really thinking about how to get things back on track - it was noticeable that he started setting up higher up on the block than he normally does. While this did shorten the distance that the help defender had to come, it also gave him a lot more space to work in by letting him spin baseline away from the double team and it seemed to make a difference! He finished with 10-12 shooting, which is excellent, but 8 turnovers, which is less so. Those mostly came early on when he was struggling to handle the attentions of the second defender.
    • The starting unit was able to build a lead at the end of the first quarter, but unfortunately the bench unit proved incapable of protecting it. Unfortunately, to my eye a lot of the blame fell on Motiejunas. It's a shame, because after a promising showing against Memphis on Thursday it would have been great if he could have made good use of the minutes he had earned. But he just didn't seem to be able to handle Jason Smith in the front-court. Between giving up too much space for Smith's jumper, biting far too hard on pump fakes, fouling unnecessarily and being unable to provide the paint protection to stop a rampaging Tyreke Evans, it was not a good stint for D-Mo. What had at one point been an 11 point lead evaporated down to 2 in the space of two minutes. It was not pretty viewing. You want to keep giving him time to play through his mistakes, but it is going to be difficult unless he can develop the consistent defensive intensity and concentration he needs to play the anchor role. McHale clearly agrees, as D-Mo did not see the court again after his initial 4 minute stint.
    • To be fair, giving up that lead wasn't entirely on D-Mo's defence. The rest of the backups also looked poor in what has been a worrying trend of late. Offensively they don't seem to be a plan beyond hoisting a lot of threes, often semi-contested, and tonight next to none of them went in (6-26 overall for a putrid 23.1%). Here's the play-by-play of the first 4 minutes of the second quarter:
      • Brooks missed 3
      • Casspi free throws (0/2)
      • Casspi missed 3
      • Harden missed 3
      • Casspi made 3
      • Brooks missed 3
      • Garcia missed 3
    • Oh dear. The three-ball may pay off in the long run, but when you have the lead it's more important to have a consistent source of points than a high variance one. The team could do to tailor their strategy to the situation a bit better and try to take the ball inside more when they're ahead.
    • Terrence Jones always seems to have a good game when going up against his old Kentucky team-mate, and tonight was no exception as he reeled off an excellent 17 point, 8 rebound, 3 block night. Every time I watch him match up with Davis I feel like Jones has the edge, which is weird given how dominant Davis looks most of the time. I hypothesize that Davis' offensive game still lacks the wrinkles of unpredictability and variety that more polished NBA big men have, and Jones' familiarity with his game gives him a much better shot of neutralising it. Due to cross-matching the pair were kept from guarding each other too much in this game, but when they did Jones acquitted himself very well. He produced what may well have been the turning point of the game when he ripped down a rebound and went coast-to-coast, drawing the foul in the process to tie the game. Very impressive!
    • Jeremy Lin once again turned up in the fourth quarter after a miserable start to the game. His 10 fourth quarter points were key to allowing the Rockets to finish the game strong and pull out the victory. They also meant that every Rockets starter finished in double figures. The team were able to make some baskets late on in the game, but it still didn't feel like a smooth operation. They were helped massively by two costly Pelicans turnovers at key moments that allowed them extra possessions to put away the game. Against better teams, they will not get these second chances. It remains to be seen if they can put away games if opponents do not give them two more bites at the cherry than they would normally have.
  • Chai says 8 months ago

    Looking forward to what hopefully will be a bounce back game from Howard. NOP have no centers that can put up a fight against him so he should be able to have a monster night.

  • NorEastern says 8 months ago

    Every paragraph you wrote was an excellent and concise point. Great job.

    D-Mo should be the most interesting subplot tonight. Will McHale begin to trust him to man the five? His performance has serious ramifications beyond his role as a backup center.

    Morey has always rostered three point guards. We now see why. The Rockets are probably stronger at every position but the power forward. It should be an easy win tonight.

    Hopefully the Rockets injury woes will gradually subside.