The Houston Rockets have persevered. They have fought over, scratched, and ground out victory after victory over the past several games. But as wonderful as this past stretch of games has been, you cannot help but wait for the other shoe to drop. Sooner or later, the Rockets would be worn out, battered by a thin rotation and relying far too much on James Harden’s offensive genius on that end of the court.

That moment nearly came today, as the Rockets sputtered out of the gate and led for all of 16 seconds in regulation play. But James Harden, dealing with back spasms and exhaustion, came out, made the tying shot to force overtime, fought for 48 minutes after playing 40 last night, and scored a season high 44 points to will the Houston Rockets to victory. Your move in the MVP battle, Stephen and Marc.

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The Golden State Warriors are a very good basketball team. I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but they may in fact the be the best team right now, and they might, possibly, have the best record, too. It’s impressive that they were able to power through and take over a game late despite missing their starting center and key defensive anchor in Andrew Bogut. They’ve performed very well, and they have a real shot at winning it all. Notes on the Rockets? Oh, of course, the Rockets played in that game, didn’t they? For such a back and forth, high-energy game, there’s not much of a takeaway for Houston. They’re in the same limbo they’ve been in for weeks now, and things are still basically fine. That’s not very exciting, but it’s where they stand.

The game itself was alternatively exciting and frustrating, with a protracted period of frustration to cap it off. Despite the final score, the game was actually close throughout, with the Rockets leading the majority of the time. It took a grand collapse to seal Houston’s fate, and it took a lot of factors to cause that collapse. The Rockets made the Warriors work for what could have been a very easy win, and that’s a heck of a lot better than rolling over.

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Rockets Roundup: 12/10/14

A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days.


Sports IllustratedThe Fundamentals: Rockets, Raptors making do without their injured stars.

“…The pace of the season is so uncompromising that the best teams are often the ones that have the ability to endure it. Two of the league’s better teams are in the process of navigating that crucible. One is Houston, which has won five of seven games since superstar center Dwight Howard was sidelined with a strained right knee. That record – with wins over the Grizzlies and Mavericks, in particular – is impressive. Even more so is the way it was achieved. During Howard’s two-week absence, only four teams have held opponents to fewer points per possession than the Rockets, according to This is something of a miracle given the absences of both Howard and irksome point guard Patrick Beverley (who has missed five consecutive games with a strained left hamstring) against a challenging schedule that included four of the NBA’s top 11 in offensive efficiency.”

The Dream Shake. Houston Rockets: The Walking…Injured?

“Another day in December goes by and another eighteen Houston Rockets end up on the injury report. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. You have to be frustrated as a fan: the team is only a half game behind the red hot Memphis Grizzlies for the division lead, and have to watch as the Thunder have gone from having nine guys on the injury report to being completely healthy. Now the Rockets on the eve of their biggest game of the early season, which should have been a rematch/revenge game against the Golden State Warriors is now a, Don’t-Lose-By-30 Game.”

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Some nuggets on the Rockets’ offense

I’ve started digging into the numbers again, now that we’ve reached the quarter mark and at least built up a moderately representative sample of how things should look the rest of the way.  I’ve been wanting to look into lineup data but Houston has shuffled so many different players in and out of their rotation due to injury that I don’t think any of those numbers will be probative on any front.

But with as much as has been made about Houston’s revamped defense, the team’s offense has changed quite significantly as well.  Rob Dover highlighted some instances in his latest piece this Monday.  The results have been different too.  This year, Houston is 20th in the league in offensive rating, and are 15th in pace.  Last year, they were fourth in offense, and fifth in pace.  They’re playing slower, to be sure, but I’d surmise a portion of that efficiency dip can be attributed to the ugly stretch they played against the likes of the Sixers.  They’ve also been adjusting on the fly to rapidly changing frontcourt rotations; last season, the team enjoyed relative stability.

Apologetics aside, despite the dip, I think the team’s offense this year is much better served for the long run.  Last year, while they put up tons of points, the system essentially amounted to, it seemed, run the ball up, jack up a ‘3’, or let Harden ISO.  Even Harden ISOs this year seem to all be coming at the end of the shot clock rather than the beginning.  The nature of their scheme was why, I’ve posited, they were so easy to load up on and stop in crunch time.  (The numbers back that up).  While they may not be scoring as much over the course of the game this year, they are also better equipped at the end of the game.

A few numbers that I don’t know what to make of: Houston is 14th in the league in passes per game.  The top four are the Jazz, Knicks, Spurs, and 76ers, so I’m not sure what that even means.  Houston is sandwiched in between the Warriors and Grizzlies, so they clearly are doing something right, I’d think.

The Warriors lead the league in secondary assists per game, with Houston coming in at 12th.  This means that the guy passing the ball to the guy who got the assist, for the Warriors, isn’t holding onto it much.  This is where I would like to see Houston’s offense become more advanced.  Rather than just penetrating and passing the ball out, instances like this involve complex sequences where the initial pass sets up the next.  My favorite example of something like this has been where, after receiving the ball off the roll on the pick and roll, Motiejunas has taken a few dribbles, and then hit a cutter coming baseline.  Unfortunately, he’s the only big on this team capable of making that play, whereas, practically everyone on the Warriors can pass.

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Using’s player tracking tool, I wanted to find how Donatas Motiejunas was faring defensively in holding down the center position in Dwight Howard’s absence.  The Rockets, miraculously, have maintained their defensive efficiency, even without the former defensive player of the year.  To eliminate noise and guards who engage in few conflicts at the rim, I set the filters on the tool for a minimum of 25 minutes per game, and a minimum of five field goal shot attempts against per game.  The results show opponents are shooting 43.9% at the rim against Motiejunas, tied for #7 in the league with defensive phenom Serge Ibaka.  The top six are, in the following order: Andrew Bogut, Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan, Omer Asik, and DeMarcus Cousins.  Impressive company.

I’ve been writing for some time now that Motiejunas’ defensive abilities have largely gone unnoticed for the past season by the basketball commentariat.  He’s strong against the post, and most importantly, makes quick and smart defensive rotations.  But even I hadn’t realized how valuable he’s been at protecting the rim.  It makes sense given the team’s overall success.  Upon Dwight Howard’s return, Houston will legitimately have four very good to elite defenders in its starting lineup.

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