Houston Rockets 130, Sacramento Kings 105: Bombs Away

The Sacramento Kings tried their best, and can definitely be a dangerous team of the future. Instead of trying to engage in a 3-point shootout, the Kings attempted to use their size and athleticism at the start to get into the paint. Nemanja Bjelica and Marvin Bagley made things difficult in the first by getting into the paint and rebounding, and Buddy Hield showed that Houston cannot ever rotate off of him like the Rockets did once or twice.

But the Houston Rockets are still chasing the second seed, while the Kings are out of the playoffs. And the talent disparity became too much over time as the Rockets had another great shooting night.

3-Point Power

If anything can sum up this game, take a look at ESPN’s shot chart and note the visual difference. Sacramento took 14 mid-range shots, with five of them coming from Willie Cauley-Stein who finished 1-7 from the field with two points. The Rockets took three mid-range shots, and also took 61 three-pointers compared to 23 for the Kings.

Sometimes, you watch some of those three-pointers and wonder whether the Rockets could consider getting closer, or at least not take 30-feet shots with more than 12 seconds on the shot clock. But while the Rockets started off cold in the first, they finally started hitting in the second quarter where they steadily pulled away. Harden made seven, Eric Gordon made five, and Danuel House (who we have seen struggle recently) made four.

Houston made 26 three-pointers to tie the NBA record for made threes, and could have set the record had anyone been able to hit in the last five to six minutes of garbage time. And the fact that fans were once pinning their hopes on Gary Clark, who went 0-3 from three in garbage time and was not close on any of his shots, is a reminder of how desperate this team looked at the beginning.

There was more to Houston’s victory than a hot shooting night. The Rockets also set the tone early by getting into the paint, whether it was Harden driving past defenders or passing to House for this absolutely stupid dunk. Harden himself had 36 points in just 29 minutes, along with 10 assists against 2 turnovers. Chris Paul was the one rotation player who had an off shooting night, but was still a game changer with his passing and 12 assists.

When the Rockets can get to the rim at will and go bonkers from three, the Warriors and the Bucks are the only team which have a prayer of beating them. The Sacramento Kings are not the Warriors or Bucks. Maybe they will be, but the Rockets are on a roll and took care of business like they were supposed to tonight.

What is Next

The Rockets will take on the Los Angeles Clippers tonight at 9:30 CST in a game with major playoff implications. The Rockets will be on the second night of a back to back while the Clippers last played on Sunday, which would indicate “schedule loss.” But no Rocket played more than 30 minutes against the Kings.

Look to see how key match ups perform such as Chris Paul vs. Patrick Beverly and the two teams’ benches. A win will be nice, especially as the second seed is even closer to grasp thanks to Denver’s loss against Golden State. But how Houston and Los Angeles match up is crucial as the Clippers appear to be Houston’s likely first-round opponent.

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Red94 Week In Review

The technology giant Elon Musk apparently sang, “RIP Harambe, Sipping on some Bombay,” on a new track he made and uploaded to SoundCloud. What does the world do with this information?

The Rockets have gone 4-1 since last Friday and are really getting into a groove lately.

The Rockets made quick work of the Pelicans to start off the week thanks to Eric Gordon who went 6-11 from deep. Here Iman Shumpert uses a pick to penetrate and allow Eric Gordon to get separation from deep. The Rockets will need that automaticity from him come playoff time.

The next game the Rockets lost a tough one to the Milwaukee Bucks who thoroughly dominated them. Not only did James Harden shoot 34.6% on the game, the team as a whole shot 30.8% from deep. Not good.

Here is the best play of the game without comment.

Subsequently, the Rockets absolutely demolished the Denver Nuggets and it was not close whatsoever. The Rockets held the Nuggets to a 90.2 offensive rating. James Harden dropped 38 points on efficient shooting but the real story of this game was Austin Rivers. Rivers was a plus 34 (!) on the game as he shot 60% from the field and put up 15 points. Here he uses his strength to muscle his way into the lane in order to put up a high arching shot off the glass and in.

Finally, the Rockets had a battle with the Kings at home on Saturday night. James Harden scored 50 points on 31 shots and tallied ten assists to only three turnovers. One of those assists was to a wide-open Danuel House in the corner.

Final Thoughts: Let’s finish off the season strong. Elon Musk continues to be one of the more perplexing characters of the current generation.

Tweets of the week:

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Houston Rockets 112, Denver Nuggets 85: More than One Star

The Denver Nuggets are everyone’s sexy pick for “top team which gets knocked off in the first round,” but I think that they are underrated. They rebound, are deep, play hard, and have been a top 10 offense and defense this season.

But the Houston Rockets are a terrible match-up for the Nuggets, and that was on full display with this crushing and dominant victory. Denver landed the first punch, going up 23-16 late in the first quarter. Houston missed some easy shots and Jamaal Murray got into the rim, epitomized by an absurd layup where his back was to the rim.

After that, it was all Rockets. And while Harden had 38 points and kept the Nuggets from ever threatening Houston’s ballooning lead, he was not the one who created the lead. That was Austin Rivers, Clint Capela, and Houston’s defense.

Mike D’Antoni observed afterwards that “the second unit turned the game around,” and every bench player played their part (except perhaps for Danuel House, but he was overdue for a bad game anyhow) including Iman Shumpert with his defense and rebounding. Austin Rivers was the main man for that attraction. He hit three straight-pointers during Houston’s second quarter blitz and made all of his field goals in the second and third quarters outside of an end-of-quarter prayer. Even with some late fourth quarter chucking, he still finished with 15 points on 6-10 shooting with a +/- of +34.

Clint Capela had 13 points by the end of the first half, but it felt more like 30 with dunk after dunk. After Rivers was done, Harden and Capela played the two-man game on the pass and Capela outran and out muscled Jokic in transition and half-court. Jokic is big and skilled. But he is not an athlete like Capela is, and he was clearly exhausted trying to keep up. Jokic had 5 assists during that first stretch where Denver took the 23-16 lead, but finished with just 6 for the game. When Capela was done, the Rockets entered the half with a 62-44 and the rest of the game became a mere formality.

That happened because the Rockets as a whole played better defense, especially compared to the Milwaukee debacle. Denver is one of the top rebounding teams in the league, but Houston still won the rebounding battle 46-38, with 11 offensive rebounds to Denver’s 7. The Rockets swarmed, stayed in the passing lanes to limit Jokic’s famous passing, and Harden did his thing where Millsap and Jokic tried to score on him in the post with predictable failure.

Looking Forward to this Matchup

Nuggets fans can point out that their team shot just 4-24 from long range in comparison to over 40% from the Rockets in relevant minutes, and argue that the game would have been closer otherwise. And the Nuggets can beat the other teams in the Western Conference, especially the Thunder who have lost their last five games to Denver.

But this game is proof that Houston must do whatever they can to finish on Denver’s side of the bracket instead of Golden State’s. Denver has no true perimeter stopper like the Bucks did with Eric Bledsoe and George Hill or the Warriors with Klay and Iguodala, and Jokic is the kind of center Capela can handle as opposed to the lumbering behemoths like Marc Gasol or Demarcus Cousins. Houston is a much more disciplined team which can play fast or slow, and even non-Rockets fans know what this team can accomplish when the going gets tough.

The Nuggets could win some games against the Rockets in a playoff series. I could imagine a scenario where Murray goes off using his athleticism and size against Chris Paul, and the Nuggets shooters like Gary Harris go off while Houston struggles. But is is hard to imagine that happening four times in seven games.

There are six games left in the regular season, with Houston’s strength of schedule becoming much easier with the Milwaukee and Denver games out of the way. Clyde Drexler in one of his ramblings declared that he was confident Houston could grab the second seed. While that is nonsensical, Houston should be able to keep the third seed and avoid the Warriors until they can match up again in the Western Conference Finals.

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