Brooklyn Nets 106, Houston Rockets 98: Because of course they did

Ten players registered minutes for the Brooklyn Nets last night, and all but three of those players (Jarrett Jack, Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington) are 6’7 or taller.  For all the knocks on Brooklyn (plodding pace, lack of offensive creativity, poor defense), they do tall very well.  And it was that height that beat the Houston Rockets last night.

The Nets out-rebounded the Rockets 60 to 45, but the real problem was the 20 offensive rebounds Brooklyn managed to grab.  Dwight Howard did his part, grabbing 7 offensive rebounds and 17 total, but the rest of the Rockets couldn’t keep their guys off the glass.  Only Brook Lopez had double digits for Brooklyn, with 12 (5 offensive), but five other Nets grabbed at least 6 boards and all but Jarrett Jack had at least one offensive rebound.  It was a total team effort on Brooklyn’s part.

Quick tangent: Bill Simmons used to keep a running list of players doing things that you needed to see in person to truly appreciate.  Things like young-Dwight recovering on a pick-and-roll to swat a layup into the stands, LeBron snatching a long rebound and running a one-man fast break, etc.  I went to the Rockets home game against the Nets last year and it was the closest I’ve ever sat at a game, and all I could think was, “How does anyone get a rebound or a shot over Brook Lopez?”  He’s not exactly Russell Westbrook attacking the rim or Steph Curry catching fire, but Lopez’s arms and frame are loooooong.  It was kind of jarring.  Granted, Dwight wasn’t playing that game and Josh Smith doesn’t quite matchup, but still.

It wasn’t all bad for Houston, though.  Howard continued his recent run of dominance with 20 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocks.  He dunked lobs, found gaps in the pick-and-roll and protected the rim.  It’s pretty clear at this point that Dwight’s production will be determined by his health, but when he’s feeling well that “old Dwight” everyone is always talking about is still very much here.  Which brings me to Quick Tangent #2:

For years people have credited Greg Poppovich with “mastering” the regular season, finding rest for Tim Duncan and keeping his team fresh for the post-season.  And recently, it’s been the same thing for LeBron, “just make it to June, the regular season doesn’t matter.”  But Dwight sits out two games, while averaging 17/12/2, and is all I’ve heard out of Simmons and Jalen Rose is “howabout you stay on the floor, big man.”  I know the general public doesn’t really care for Dwight anymore, but that’s a double standard if I’ve ever seen one.  Just get to June healthy, big man.

The other bright spot for the Rockets was Marcus Thornton, who filled the stat sheet with 21 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 4 steals and a block.  When Houston signed Thornton, it didn’t even register for me.  Just roster filler, I thought, because I’m not a fan of bad basketball and Marcus Thornton has never played for a team that mattered. But I should have known that Daryl Morey doesn’t acquire just roster filler. Even when he traded for 38 year old Pablo Prigioni, it ended up saving the season, as Pablo played big minutes in the playoffs and gave Chris Paul fits. And boy, was Morey right again. Thornton is a “professional” shooter as one of the Rockets broadcast team pointed out.  But he is more than just a shooter; he’s like a more nuanced Jason Terry: a shooter with that playmaking gene.  He hustles on defense, makes the right reads on offense, and when he is stroking, can carry the team for stretches. As always, In Morey We Trust.

The rest of the Rockets, outside of James Harden (23 pts, 9 reb, 6 ast), Howard and Thornton, were pretty terrible. Ty Lawson and Trevor Ariza missed too many shots, Corey Brewer had a +/- of -15 and Terrence Jones looked slow and stuck to the floor, definitely still rusty after missing four games with that cut. Clint Capela wasn’t bad, but was regularly out-muscled by Brooklyn’s aforementioned size.

Call it rust, call it feeling themselves after four straight wins, call it whatever.  But there is no reason for Houston to lose a game like this one to an 0-7 team, at home, after four days of rest.  Whether losing games to bad teams (Brooklyn, Denver) or giving up big leads (Miami, about 25 times last year) the variance to the way this team plays continues to be one of the largest and most flummoxing in the league.  It’s that lack of professionalism? Killer instinct? Discipline? …that continues to plague Houston under Kevin McHale.

The sky is not falling and everything will be fine when McHale has his full rotation of big men, but man, was this game frustrating.

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