Houston Rockets @ Sacramento Kings on 12/15/2013

The Houston Rockets are the very embodiment of efficiency. The strategy is in place. General Manager Daryl Morey is the architect, and James Harden is his agent on the court. Nothing less than three pointers, points in the paint and free throws are acceptable for this team. The aversion to the long two pointer, the alleged least efficient shot in basketball, is so great that Dwight Howard stepped back to make sure to avoid one before he sunk his third three pointer of his career on a desperation heave. The effort and chemistry may be touch and go, but the game plan is there, and the name of the game is analytics.

The Sacramento Kings just traded for Rudy Gay. Gay is a talented player and they seem to have a plan to use him next to franchise centerpiece DeMarcus Cousins. Also, Rudy Gay is shooting under 40% on the season. Gay is a shooter with no remorse, a player willing to take a shot from anywhere on the floor, no matter how many hands are in his face. Adding Gay to a team that already features volatile big man Cousins makes this Kings team fascinating, confusing, and just maybe dangerous.

Last time Rudy Gay met the Rockets, he and then-teammate DeMar DeRozan on the Toronto Raptors combined to shoot 62 times and hit 17 of them. That’s not good. Rudy was happy to try for game-winning three pointers, despite the tight defense thrown at him by Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. The Rockets will be hoping for an encore in Sacramento. McHale may not be with the team due to the recent passing of his mother, but acting head coach Kelvin Sampson has a good chance of increasing his streak to two in a row.

As always with the Kings, this may turn into a high-scoring affair. Sacramento has a lot of young, raw talent, full of fire and will to score. As with many young teams who have yet to settle on a long-term head coach and style, the Kings attack the basket and shoot with aplomb. They’ve taken the 5th most shots in the league but hit on less than 45% of them. Their offensive attempts are high, and their defensive successes are low. Rudy Gay is a capable defender in the right system, but will likely do much to turn those stats around right away.

The key matchup here is Dwight Howard vs. DeMarcus Cousins, a battle between two athletic bigs with PR problems. Both have a tendency to pick up personal fouls, and both have had problems dealing with the media. Howard seems to be settling in in Houston, limiting his foot-in-mouth stat considerably. Cousins, on the other hand, is preventing teammates from shaking hands with opponents and continuing to be the spiritual leader on a team very much in need of a new spiritual leader. Cousins, however, is a beast down low and is willing to use his strength and speed to create easy shots. Howard’s slower post game has been better as of late but is so far less effective. Howard, however, remains one of the top defensive centers in the league, and has the strength and agility necessary to slow down Cousins. It’s likely that this becomes a grueling matchup for both players.

Isaiah Thomas and Jeremy Lin will also be a fascinating battle to observe. Thomas, taken at the last spot in the draft two years ago, has been a breakout player for Sacramento, playing off the bench behind Greivis Vasquez. With Vasquez traded to Toronto, Thomas now has an opportunity to start and establish himself as a real threat. Whether he can make it as a starter-quality point guard has yet to be seen. On the other hand, Lin is a starter coming off the bench, and is a very similar player to Thomas. Both love to create and attack, and both have little regard for their own safety when they do it. Lin, somehow, may be the calmer, more solid player here, but has looked shaky in his two games back from injury.

Finally. it’s a battle of shooters as Harden meets Gay. They may do very little guarding of one another, as Harden plays the 2 and Gay plays the 3 primarily, but the two will very much be in a duel. Both are comfortable shooting at any distance, and both like to create for themselves. If Gay goads Harden into a battle of hero-ball isolation plays, there’s no telling what could happen. Harden is overall better and has a far better game on the drive than Gay, but is also willing to abandon the pick and roll offense that gives hims so much success. In a one-on-one battle between these two players, the ability to hit contested shots becomes the most important factor. When that happens, it’s a roll of the dice.

The Rockets have to find the right balance of effort to win the third game in four nights on the road. So far, they’ve been given trouble by teams lower in the standings, largely because they don’t yet know just how much they can take their foot off the pedal and still win. Treating every game like a playoff game is what the fans want, but slowly destroys the team’s bodies and endurance. There’s a balance to be found, and Houston is slowly zeroing in on it. The Rockets, if they can home in, should be able to dispatch this odd Kings team easily. but just like with their three pointers, sometimes the aim is a little off.

Tip off is at 5:00 pm Central time at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. For more Sacramento Kings coverage, check out Cowbell Kingdom, the TrueHoop’s network’s Kings blog.

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Total comments: 15
  • Alituro says 3 months ago

    We always seem to play horribly in Sunday afternoon games..

  • Buckko says 3 months ago

    I could build a house with all the bricks they left at the 3pt and free throw line.

  • RollingWave says 3 months ago

    Didn't see the game, but was it really that bad?

    The best thing you can say about this game was that at least Harden 's injury wasn't as bad it as initially seems.

    so yeah.

    Greg Smith I felt actually played reasonably well given that it's his first game back and Cousins is a pretty rough assignment for him. but yeah, 9 rebound, 6 points on 5 shot and fouling out in 20 min is so hilariously Greg Smithian.

  • thenit says 3 months ago Didn't see the game, but was it really that bad?
  • Cooper says 3 months ago They seem to regularly play down to their competition.
  • Eric Nielsen says 3 months ago

    Worst game of the year against one of the worst teams in the league. Would McHale's presence made a difference? The team looked like they were sleepwalking. So boring!

  • Red94 says 3 months ago New post: Sacramento Kings 106, Houston Rockets 91: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad game.
    By: Paul McGuire

    Jeremy Lin was out with back spasms. Terrence Jones had the flu.  James Harden sprained his ankle during the game.  Dwight Howard couldn’t hit a free throw (nor for that matter, could the Rockets as a whole).  Garcia and Casspi could not hit anything, and Greg Smith in his first game back after a month fouled out in 20 minutes.  It was that sort of a game, where while Houston came off strong, Sacramento took the lead in the 2nd quarter and everything from free throws to shooting to some interesting referee calls made things progressively worse as the game went on, resulting in the final dismal score.

    • In a radio interview at the beginning of the 2013 offseason, Daryl Morey stated that if the offseason was a total flop and the Rockets failed to sign any major free agents, that Houston’s record would likely not improve very much from last year’s.  Morey claimed that while the young Rockets players would improve, the team was very healthy last year, and that would likely change.  The Rockets are obviously far superior to last year’s team both overall and in talent, but the constant banging that everyone seems to have received this season has taken its toll.  For example, Harden played very well at the end of the second quarter and at the beginning of the third, and for a moment it looked like it would be one of those games where he would just overpower Sacramento by himself.  But then he badly sprained his ankle and went to the locker room.  While he would return, Harden was forced to the perimeter and did little more than fire up 3 pointers for the rest of the game.  For now, at least the injuries have been minor, but there are still over 50 games left to go in the season.
    • While I would like to make a note of the officiating, the Rockets really do not have grounds to complain given that seemingly no one could hit their free throws tonight.  Houston went a mere 22-38, or 58% tonight, and while Howard obviously regressed with a 5-13 effort, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas also missed both of theirs.
    • From Sacramento’s end, Rudy Gay is likely going to be the one who gets the credit, as he put up 26 points and looked nothing like the Gay who infamously chucked 37 shots against Houston earlier this season as a Raptor.  However, I was more impressed by Isaiah Thomas.  So recently after stifling Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, Patrick Beverley struggled to guard Thomas, who scored 11 points in the second quarter, finished with 19 points on 12 shots, and grabbed 8 assists.  Thomas was devastating in the pick and roll man regardless of the roll man, as he threw lobs up to Cousins, Jason Thompson, and even Quincy Acy.
    • As noted above, Greg Smith made his return after missing a month with a sprained right knee, and was more or less typical Smith.  He had a good hook shot and grabbed 9 boards, but his problems with defense and fouling continued, as he could not guard Cousins in the post or the pick and roll in general.  Rahat has stated that he does not believe that an Asik trade will occur – I am inclined to agree with him, but perhaps that is due to mere trepidation at the fact that I do not trust Smith to be Howard’s backup center at all.  The Rockets need more defense, not more finishing ability.
    • With the emergence of Terrence Jones ( who honestly should not have played tonight with the flu), Houston’s main problem has seemed to shift from fixing the power forward position to finding someone, anyone who can give James Harden and Chandler Parsons a breather( as the two are respectively first and tenth in minutes per game).  The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that clearly a Lin-Beverley lineup was to help this problem, but Garcia and Casspi were very bad in their return to Sacramento, going a combined 2 for 11 for the game and missing several 3 pointers which were completely wide open.  The starting lineup for now seems to be set – but with Lin currently hobbled, what about the bench?
  • Chai says 3 months ago

    We need at least 2 of Harden/Lin/Parsons on the floor at all times.. There's just no penetration without them.

  • miketheodio says 3 months ago

    over half the losses are to non play off bound teams. they have the talent. they know how to play. yet, they still manage to throw it out the window. all their problems are mental.

  • rocketrick says 3 months ago

    I seriously doubt Lin is going anywhere. Hate to burst the Lin detractors balloon.

    One rumor and the Lin detractors seem ecstatic?!

  • Steven says 3 months ago

    Rahat, do you think that the amount of minutes played can be an indication for a potential trade for Lin?
    What I'm asking is if Lin doesn't play in Sacramento, is that an indication that he will be gone?

    We can only hope.
  • Dayak says 3 months ago 120 - 115 for Rockets. Rudy Gay scores 31 pts on 35 FGA and Cousins wont talk to reporter because too upset to talk.
  • Buckko says 3 months ago

    Rahat, do you think that the amount of minutes played can be an indication for a potential trade for Lin?

    What I'm asking is if Lin doesn't play in Sacramento, is that an indication that he will be gone?

    I personally don't, P-Bevs defense will be needed on Isiah Thomas and lin is still being eased back into the game. Don't blow rumors out of proportions. They are just rumors.

  • 2016Champions says 3 months ago

    30 point blowout

  • Knickabokkaz says 3 months ago

    Rahat, do you think that the amount of minutes played can be an indication for a potential trade for Lin?

    What I'm asking is if Lin doesn't play in Sacramento, is that an indication that he will be gone?