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.