The Houston Rockets were the most recent to fall victim to the surging Brooklyn Nets, falling 105-96 Tuesday night (Apr 1) at the Barclays Center. The Nets improved to 30-12 since Jan 1—but Houston was without its starting center Dwight Howard, power forward Terrence Jones, forward/center Greg Smith and point guard Patrick Beverley. The Rockets fell to 49-24 with the loss but still hold a two game lead over Portland for the fourth spot in the Western Conference.
Howard had fluid drained from his left ankle for the second time. Omer Asik performed brilliantly in his absence, though, posting a career high in rebounds with 23 (6 offensive) and scoring 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
James Harden was an absolute terror on the drive, getting to the line 16 times and converting all of them. The Bearded One finished with 26 points and seven assists. Harden, Chandler Parsons, Asik and Jeremy Lin all played good games, at least offensively. Parsons was aggressive in putting the ball on the floor and finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Why, then, did Kevin McHale’s squad fail?
It mostly became unravelled during a 15-5 Brooklyn run in the third quarter. Houston was taking significantly more difficult and rushed shots throughout most of the second half, and it led to a 38.1 percent field goal percentage.
But most importantly, the second unit failed.
Houston’s bench shot just 10-of-35 from the floor and 4-of-14 from three-point range. Another big factor was that the Rockets had no defensive answers for the hot hand of Joe Johnson, who hit 13-of-21 from the floor and 4-of-8 from behind the arc en route to a game-high 32 points. Johnson scored 17 in the first half and 15 in the second. The Rockets did perform well for a stretch when Garcia got hot (and he posted a plus-9 despite the loss).
Shaun Livingston also helped the Nets create numerous matchup problems since McHale was unable to field a height-equivalent lineup with a much smaller backcourt featuring a 6’0” Isaiah Canaan and 6’3” Jeremy Lin. The 6’7” Livingston scored 17 points, grabbed six boards and dished out two assists.
Deron Williams put on some impressive dribbling displays to delight the Barclay’s Center. There’s only minor sarcasm there, since Williams missed all five of his three-point field goals, but he did shoot 6-of-9 from two-point range and finished with 12 points and six assists. He’s just not the same 20 point, 10 assist guy he was in Utah, and it’s perplexing as to why that talent disappeared so quickly.
It’s tough to pin this loss on Dwight Howard being out. It was a winnable game for the Rockets and really it all came down to the bench just not getting the job done and a couple of lapses in the second half defensively. Joe Johnson got hot, but Harden was able to put up numbers to match.
The Rockets look forward to Jones returning, as he is just battling illness. Jones hasn’t been very consistent this season, but he’s a better option than Donatas Motiejunas at the 4-spot. Motiejunas played just eight minutes despite starting because he picked up four fouls in that span. That’s pretty inexcusable to say the least, and D-Mo is just too into reaching at this point and doesn’t move his feet well. That’d be fine if he were a plodding center, but the Rockets are asking him to play power forward and that requires guarding guys that are simply too quick for him, so he instead resorts to fouling.
The Rockets were short handed and against a talented (if not aged) Nets squad, but this game could have been won with better guard play and some kind of production from the bench. The Rockets frontcourt simply isn’t strong enough to withstand losing the starting 4 and 5 men, even when Asik does go beast mode on the boards and pull down 23. Overall, though, it was the slow rotations on the perimeter which mostly caused the loss, as the Nets shot 53 percent from the floor. Any time a team shoots over 50 percent from the field, the defense has to be suspect. It has improved, but the Rockets are still surrendering 101.9 points per game.
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