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Rio Grande Valley Vipers Update

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If prized draft pick Marcus Morris (2) wants to get back into a Rockets uniform sooner than later, he'll have to pick up his defense during his time now as a Viper.

What’s going on with the Rockets’ NBDL franchise in the Valley? Glad you asked …

VIPERS SIT 3RD IN THE WEST: Thirty-three games into this season, the Vipers, two seasons removed from a NBDL championship and a season removed as NBDL finalists, sit at 20-13 overall, three games back of Los Angeles (23-10) for the top spot in the West. Overall, the Vipers are seeded fourth. The top eight teams by win-loss record make the playoffs (take note, NBA). The eighth-place team at the moment, Dakota, is 14-14. The Vipers have won six of their last 10 games and have a chance to improve on their 8-6 home record in the next week.

AN EYE ON THE DIAPER DANDIES: The Vipers are coming off a 109-101 loss to Austin on Saturday. There are two names Rockets fans should be keeping an eye on: Marcus Morris, last year’s prized lottery pick at No. 14 in the first round, and diamond-in-the-rough big man Greg Smith.

Morris had 17 points against Austin, but only shot 4-of-13 from the field. He had six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots, and only turned it over once in 36 minutes. For those who have yet to be really introduced to Morris, Rockets.com did a nice look at him here and he showed great promise with a 20-point game against the Spurs in the preseason here. At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, his true position is that of small forward, but he can play the 4 and is considered a natural scorer. I’m kind of surprised he’s spent so much time in Hidalgo since the Rockets could use his scoring punch off the bench. He’s said to be NBA-ready offensively, so that means defense needs a lot of work. Morris has played in eight games for the Vipers, starting six, and missed a good batch of the season due to an injury. He returned not long ago. Morris is averaging 19.6 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 46.1 percent as a Viper.

Count me already on Smith’s bandwagon. The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder out of Fresno State can probably help right now in terms of size and strength inside. He had 17 points, nine rebounds and one block against Austin. However, some points of concern: He shot just 7-of-16 and had three shots blocked. But for the season, he’s averaging 16.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 65.6 percent from the field. In my previous post, you know that the Rockets essentially cut Jeremy Lin to get Smith on board. A move I stand in favor of given the Rockets’ lack of promising big men.

A DYNAMIC ‘O’: The Vipers are averaging 111.6 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting. They shoot a healthy 36.7 percent from deep. They surrender 106.3 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, though they allow 35 percent marksmanship from deep.

OTHER PLAYERS OF NOTE: Former University of Houston guard Kelvin Lewis is having a fine year in the Valley. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 3.1 rebounds and has started 28 of 33 games. The 6-foot-4, 203-pounder leads the team in steals and total points scored, and is hitting 3s at a 41.4 percent clip. … Former Florida sharpshooter and NCAA champion Lee Humphrey is on the roster, doing his thing. He’s averaging 11.7 points and hitting 41 percent of his triples. He’s a bomber. Seventy-four percent of his field goal attempts come from distance. … Willie Warren is also playing with the Vipers. The former Oklahoma star is averaging 14.3 points and 3.1 assists per game. He scored 19 points in 23 minutes against Austin. Even more impressive, he took 17 shots in those 23 minutes, making seven. Warren had a cup of coffee with the Clippers last season, playing 7.1 minutes per game in 19 games.

WHO’S GOT NEXT? The Vipers next host Canton (15-16) on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Hidalgo. RGV beat Canton 109-98 on January 14 in their earlier meeting. Canton is 5 1/2 games behind Iowa for first place in the Eastern Conference. RGV is in the midst of a four-game homestand. After Canton on Thursday, they host them again on Saturday at 7 p.m. and then host Texas (14-18) on Sunday at 5 p.m. Then they’ll host Maine (12-19) next Wednesday at 7 p.m. before finally hitting the road.

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