Josh Smith to Join Rocket Starters in Tilt versus Spurs


Josh Smith is set to appear in his second game as a Rocket and this time we’ll get to see him in a starting role.  Following the win in Memphis coach Kevin McHale had a better idea of how he would utilize Smith and that vision will be useful as they face the champion Spurs at their home in San Antonio tonight.

San Antonio having a tough December:

For the defending Champs it’s been a very rough month, especially the later portion where they are 1-7 in the last 8-games.  Their sole win since December 15, was against the Clippers. They been through back to back triple overtime losses, games lost in the last second and games lost to division and conference rivals.  To say the Spurs are desperate would be inaccurate as this team follows the lead of their coach who one suspects would find a way to remain calm in a tornado.

Defensive Intensity:

Both teams rank in the top-10 defensively:

Houston ranks second overall allowing 97.5 points per 100 possessions

San Antonio rank sixth allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions

Offensive Prowess:

The Rockets have yet to crack the upper tier of offense, however with their bench bolstered, the addition of Smith and healthy bodies returning it’s likely the Rockets will continue their ascent up the ladder. I suspect they’ll join the top-10 sometime late January of February if all goes as planned.

San Antonio for their part rank just on the outskirts of the top-10 in 11th position scoring an average of 105.3 points per 100 possessions

The Power of 5:

Josh Smith not only saw 32-minutes of action Friday versus Memphis, but much of it came during the closing stretch of the game and in overtime alongside the line-up he’ll start with tonight. Immediately noticeable was his presence stretched the floor and provided yet another capable passer on the court.

While Kevin McHale recently got his big man Dwight Howard back his counterpart  coach Gregg Popovich has been dealing with a different line-up almost nightly due to injury. Their starting 5 have yet to play in a game together in December as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard have all missed games due to injury.

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San Antonio a Legacy of Winners:

While teams set a bench mark of winning 50-games it is a remarkable stat Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich hold over the past 17-seasons in that every single season they’ve registered 50-wins.  The bottom line is you can never count out this team and while many pundits are saying perhaps this is the season the Spurs fall off the ladder I wouldn’t bet against them stringing together a 20 plus win streak especially since Patty Mills is scheduled to return from injury tonight which will bolster their already capable bench.

Walking Wounded:

San Antonio:

Kawhi Leonard is expected to miss the game with a hand injury. Note: in the Christmas Day game announcers shared a story that Popovich was told by team doctors in 40 years they have never seen an injury of the sort Leonard is dealing with.

Tony Parker is listed as day to day, however Popovich will likely error on the side of safety which has me thinking he’ll miss another game


Terrence Jones remains on the injured reserved list, however there were reports this week out of Houston that he was spotted working out on a treadmill which bodes well for him moving toward a return

Bench Mob:

The Spurs bench while having provided on-going relief to the starters remains the fourth best bench in the Association while the Rockets have languished at the bottom of the league. With their new recruits and returning healthy bodies this like the Rockets’ offense should be an evolving stat that features growth in the coming month to six weeks.

Key Match-up:

Tim Duncan though in his 18th year remains a top producer and is averaging a double-double to show for it: 16.7 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game and a PER of 15.7.  Knowing how Popovich likes to rest his core three of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker the fact Tim is logging so many minutes in the absence of the other teammates has to be a concern, however expect Duncan to weather the storm until Parker at a minimum returns.

It’s been a rare site the past few seasons to find a player who averages a double-double yet both Duncan and Howard boast this achievement. Howard averages 18.5 points per game, 11.9 rebounds per game, 1.8 assists and a PER of 15.4

Howard will have his hands full facing Duncan and his ability to hold down the future Hall of Famer will be the key to the match-up this evening.

History on Rockets side:

The Rockets hold a rare stat in the league in that they’ve won 6-straight games versus the Spurs. Only Houston and Oklahoma City have a consecutive win streak greater than two of the champs.

Keys to Winning:

  • Slow the pass, no team in the NBA passes the ball as smoothly as San Antonio or as patiently: they simply keep passing until a man gets an open shot
  • Push the ball in transition: with the addition of Smith we could see some real speed on the wings. Houston needs to take advantage of that speed.
  • Houston needs to lower their turnovers (17.1 per game), San Antonio will make you pay for those mistakes like no other team in the NBA.
  • As I noted recently the acquisition of Brewer has dramatically changed the fortunes of the Rockets’ bench. Time to continue that trend.
  • Ginobili like Duncan has been logging heavy minutes in the absence of Parker and excelling in the role.  Houston will need to address his ability to score and more importantly his ability to get his teammates involved.
  • Ultimately it will be the Rockets second ranked defense shutting down San Antonio’s passing lanes which will determine the winner

The Pick:

The odd makers are calling this as a close game given Houston’s consecutive win streak over the champs, but the fact San Antonio is desperate for a win and are the hosts they favor San Antonio by 1-point. I’m inclined to agree especially considering Smith is still working his way into a line-up without having the benefit of practice with his new team. I think San Antonio’s luck may finally result in them edging out the Rockets, but I won’t be surprised if Houston pulls this out in the last minute via the hands of their MVP candidate James Harden. Sound confusing? Well lets just say whoever has the ball in their hands last will have the edge tonight.

See you back here after the game where we’ll rank the team’s performance and individual players  on their execution