Thanks to a seven-game losing streak, the blueprint for how to beat this young Houston Rockets team is crystal clear: a) Get back on defense to stop the fast break, b) Clog the lane with bigs and shut down penetration, c) Let them launch contested three’s all night long, d) On offense, penetrate the lane, and e) Hustle and get offensive boards.
This normally results in forcing the Rockets to play a half court game on offense. James Harden usually ends up driving the lane and forcing a difficult shot against three defenders or creating a turnover. If he does kick the ball out, someone is always there to brick a contested three- point shot. It is obvious that half-court offense is the Rockets’ biggest weakness. They simply do not have a big man who is currently capable of consistently creating an offensive presence. No team is the least bit concerned about Harden or Jeremy Lin feeding the ball inside to someone who can beat them.
I had the great fortune of catching a replay of Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals last night on NBA TV. It was incredible to relive the past and watch Hakeem Olajuwon and company earn Houston it’s first ever professional sports championship. Memories of those days tend to fade, but the replay reinforced my assessment of the 2013 Rockets’ issues. What shocked me immediately was how insane the crowd was, when the score was only 4-2! It was mayhem throughout the game. As I watched and reacquainted myself with 1990’s culture and style, something else stood out: Even beyond Hakeem, the 1994 Houston Rockets were physically intimidating.
Of course Hakeem was an extremely rare talent and the team relied on him to the tune of 900 field goals made for that season. However, Hakeem was only the beginning. Otis Thorpe was a beast and second on the list with 450 field goals made (and 0 for 2 from 3 point range…Patrick Patterson). Robert Horry was a thinner version of the same animal, who could consistently nail threes in pressure situations. There was also Carl Herrera, Earl Cureton, and two rookies I didn’t remember. There was a constant parade of big guys off the bench to clog the paint and get nasty. None of them were afraid to launch a shot, box out, or grab a rebound. Horry was particularly nasty on an in-bound alley-oop pass that he slammed down over a beefier Charles Oakley, then proceeded to launch a primal scream in Oakley’s face for good measure.
The 2013 Rockets are promising, but they are small. Either the bigs we do have need to get angry, or we need to find some who will. Fortunately, the boys started playing defense in the second half against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, found their game, and ended the losing streak. At certain points during the losing streak, our guards even found a way to get Omer Asik easy offensive looks around the basket. However, those looks seemed to quickly disappear. The Rockets must address this weakness or their playoff hopes will disappear equally as fast.