On the heels of a last second loss to San Antonio Sunday ,the Rockets enter tonight seeking to find their own brand of wizardry as they face the third ranked Eastern Conference Washington Wizards. On paper it looks like an even match, however unlike the Hawks and Raptors I’m not buying the early hype.
A Misleading Record:
While I won’t deny Washington boasts some major talent in John Wall and Bradley Beal mixed with a good front court of Marcin Gortat and Nene plus the reliable vet Paul Pierce this team’s record feels like fools gold. They have a record of 22-8, but have only faced 8 teams who currently have a winning record of over .500. Of those games they’ve only won twice: once versus the Cavaliers early when they were still in their getting to know each other phase and once versus the Clippers at home. All of the top seeded Eastern teams have beat them with Toronto laying a spanking on them 103-84 which isn’t reflective of how badly the Raptors crushed them.
Suffice to say the fact they haven’t fared well versus top teams has me projecting that their current road trip which will pit them against the Rockets, Mavericks, an improving Thunder squad, the World Champion Spurs and Pelicans could just as easily produce an 0-5 result as not.
The Wizards own the fourth ranked defense holding teams to 99.2 points per 100 possessions, just slightly below the Rockets number two ranked defense which limits teams to 98.2 points per 100 possessions. Once again these numbers can be deceiving given the competition each team has faced. The Wizards strength of schedule while listed at .452 includes the eight winning teams that they have a 2-6 record against .
Looking at stats can be misleading as the Wizards have the third best field percentage (47.2) and are tied for fifth in field goals made (39.3). Further those stats can easily be misconstrued when you consider the teams they’ve faced aren’t defensive powerhouses or they’ve lost to the ones that are.
Conversely, the Rockets numbers are skewed based on the lack of bench personnel who were filling in for injured players and doesn’t incorporate the new recruits given the short period of time they have been with the Rockets.
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Martell Webster is listed day to day recovering from the back surgery of months ago and may see action tonight
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
Alexey Shved has an injured ankle and is questionable
Washington has the seventh ranked bench in the NBA versus the bottom ranked Houston bench. To put this in perspective Houston’s bench has averaged less points than Brewer scored on his own last night in San Antonio. I’ll reiterate I feel the combination of the new roster additions of Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved, the return of healthy bodies like Kostas Papanikolaou and Donatas Motiejunas now coming off the bench makes them extremely deep and versatile. Moving forward I believe the Rockets bench depth will reap huge benefits, they just need time to gel and develop chemistry.
Though they play different guard positions this game will come down to which team can control the opponents best player.
Houston should try to force John Wall into becoming a field goal shooter and cut off his passing lanes while Washington should try to stop the leagues’ leading scorer James Harden (right, easier said than done). If Beal is tasked with stopping Harden it could be a very long night for the Washington shooting guard.
History on Rockets side:
Prior to losing to the Hawks this month, Houston had won 19-consecutive home games versus Eastern teams.
Keys to Winning:
While the Wizards rank number one in 3-point percentage (39%) they sit on the opposite end of the spectrum for attempts ranking 28th (15.6 per game) and 27th in 3-point shots made (6.1 per game).
The Rockets take the most threes per game (34.1) and make the most threes per game with 11.8 almost double what the Wizards make.
Therefore, unless the Wizards decide to start hoisting up shots from behind the arc they could find themselves at a major disadvantage especially when you consider how well the Rockets defend the three.
James Harden and Trevor Ariza are both snipers however it is Corey Brewer who is excelling since joining the team from behind the arc having hit 11 of 17 from deep.
The odds makers are calling for a 4-point Houston victory. Obviously I’m in the camp who still needs to be convinced the Wizards are as good as their record. Don’t get me wrong I believe Washington are a good team, who’ll make the playoffs and most likely do so with home court advantage. I just believe they’ll need to develop more consistent habits and that their current stats will take a dip as they face stiffer competition.
Meanwhile Houston have their own concerns in regards to integrating their new acquisitions, I’m in agreement with the odds makers even though the home team played a tough opponent last night and Washington are rested. Washington has to convince me they are of the same ilk as Houston. Also look for James Harden to garner another 30 plus scoring night.
See you back here after the game where we’ll rank the team’s performance and individual players on their execution