The middle of a roadtrip is the last moment when a team wants to find itself in limbo, and yet this is currently the situation for the Houston Rockets. Coach Kevin McHale will miss tonight’s game as well as Sunday against Sacramento in order to mourn for his recently passed-away mother, and the Omer Asik situation appears to be finally reaching a conclusion, as David Aldridge tweets that a trade should be expected by next week. But even amidst confusion, basketball must be played, and after a game where four Rockets played above 38 minutes due to bench play so horrid that I thought I was watching the Yao-McGrady Rockets again, they will take on the high-flying Golden State Warriors.
Dwight Howard had a monster game last night in Houston’s loss, scoring 32 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. But the story was how he did it. With the Blazers opting to play Howard in single coverage, the big man punished Robin Lopez in the post with an assortment of moves so uncharacteristic of his usual self that even TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal was at a loss for criticism at halftime. This move in particular was sick; Howard looked like Hakeem right there. I’ve been as vocal a critic of Howard’s post abilities as anyone out there, but last night makes you wonder…perhaps there’s hope?
What I’ve noticed in these first 23 games is that Howard actually has all of Hakeem’s moves. As sacrilegious as that sounds, I’m serious. Okay, aside from like the faceup crossovers and baseline turnaround fadeaway, he has some of the more basic stuff down (if anything of Hakeem’s can be considered basic). I’m talking about the reverse pivot spins and that psuedo-Dreamshake move cited above. And that’s really, really incredible if you think about it. What he doesn’t have is touch, timing, awareness, and the good fortune of being born in a generation with rules more favorable to big men. On that latter point–something Howard even himself noted–he’s dealing with way more arms in the paint and more bodies even prior to the catch than Hakeem ever faced (except when the Sonics did it illegally.) There’s not really much that can be done about that. As for touch, who knows? It’s said that it can’t be developed so we’ll just have to wait and see. But timing and awareness are factors upon which Dwight can improve. His struggles come primarily against double teams as he struggles to react and pass out. And it’s said that recognizing double teams is one of the last stages of development for great post players. So I think there is hope on that front. Howard for now will need to make his moves quickly before the double arrives. He won’t always face single coverage like he did last night. And we’ll have to hope that as he matures, when those doubles arrives, he’ll be able to react better.
We’ll have to file this under “pending.” I was ready to consider Howard’s post game a lost cause before last night. There’s still a long way to go. But this is highly critical for both the player and the team. Dwight Howard is 28 now and it’s not exactly breaking news that he’s a shell of himself physically; the days when he could just leap over and through defenders are long gone. But Hakeem dealt with that physical deterioration too. Let’s hope there is more to what we saw last night.
The Rockets played a pretty good game on the road, against the best in the West, and came away a short. It was the defense that really let us down (we only had eight turnovers). Aldridge had a career game of 31 points and 25 rebounds. Jones got into foul trouble halfway through the second quarter and his youth showed against the hyperactive Aldridge. Jones simply had no answer for the superstar. When Jones got into foul trouble it was up to Parsons to guard him and that was even worse. It all unraveled at the end of the fourth quarter. Finally, Sampson put Howard on Aldridge and it worked a little better, but a big 11 – 1 run toward the end of the quarter cemented it.
Tonight was a battle of the bigs and the Rockets truly missed Asik and his defense (the veracity of his injury and complexity of his situation seems questionable, leading up to the Rockets preferred trade window). Howard had another giant game with 32 points and 17 rebounds. He nearly carried the Rockets and is really rolling. Still, Lopez and Aldridge were way too much for Howard and Jones. Lopez played very well with a 16 and 10 double double. They really do have a twin towers that works. Jones just got outplayed tonight by an elite player. He got 10 points, but only two rebounds and his plus minus was an incredible -26, damn!