While the Rockets have benefited from their new additions in recent wins over Portland and Memphis costly turnovers and a lack of practice time inevitably caught up to the team Sunday.
Entering last night’s contest versus the World Champion: San Antonio Spurs, many felt the two teams were headed in different directions. Houston began Sunday as the leaders of the Southwest Division having buoyed their roster with recent additions Corey Brewer, Alexey Shved and Josh Smith. Conversely, San Antonio used their 2oth different starting line-up in 30-games and had won just once in their last eight games.
Though analysts had begun to speculate that perhaps injury and age was finally catching up the Spurs it’s important to remember this team has dealt with several issues:
- As mentioned the Spurs have trotted out several different starting line-ups not allowing the team to build any consistency
- Further to the above, the team has only fielded their normal starting 5 plus Ginobili in one game this season
- In the past 10-games only 3 teams have played a harder schedule (Houston being one of those teams)
- Their strength of schedule for the entire season has been harder than most teams
- Of their 32-games, 9 have been against Eastern teams of which they lost once: to Brooklyn by 2 points.
- Given their dominance over the East it’s conceivable they could win over 90% of the remaining 21 games versus the East for an additional 19 wins.
- Although pundits worry the Spurs may be in trouble, its important to remember each of the 17 years of Tim Duncan’s career the Spurs have posted 50-win seasons. I believe he’ll make it 18 straight now that their schedule gets slightly less hectic and players like Mills are returning from injury (predicting 55).
Bottom line, there is no shame in losing to the World Champions who were desperate for a win on their home court in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter.
Dec 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) looks on from the bench against the Houston Rockets during the second half at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 110-106. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Three Keys To the Loss:
ONE: This is not a new problem for the Rockets as they rank 29th in the league for turnovers with 17.3 per game. Last night stood out because they committed the most turnovers of the season with 25 and James Harden was responsible for 9 of them including one in the last minute of the game. On this ninth turnover he was attempting to hoist up a three point shot to tie the game. Post game Harden accepted all the blame for the loss saying:
“Me, myself. I was terrible, terrible, just too much indecision, which is rare for me.”
It’s fair he shoulders some of the blame given he committed 36% of the turnovers, but part of the problem fully rests in unfamiliarity with the new recruits and let’s give San Antonio’s defense some credit as well.
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TWO: Expanding on the point above let’s be fair and recognize Josh Smith has literally had no time to learn the offensive and defensive sets nor have Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved given their arrivals were so recent and coincided with the holiday break.
While we can be disappointed in the loss there are so many positives to pull from the past three games that moving forward it’s easy to be encouraged by some signs on the floor. The bench which has languished in the cellar in terms of production should definitely see improvements specifically tied to the addition of Brewer, but also with Motiejunas now joining them and healthy bodies returning.
The problem moving forward is the team is going to have to learn on the fly based on their schedule, especially in January:
- They have 17 games
- They are on the road for 11 of these games
- They have 4 back to back series
- They don’t get two days off in a row until the end of January (January 26th and January 27th)
The positive may actually prove to be that they will be on the road for so much of the month. There are two Eastern road stretches from January 4th to 8th (Chicago, Cleveland and New York) and January 11th to 14th (Brooklyn, Orlando). These two Eastern road trips may afford the coaching staff with an opportunity to work with the new recruits either via practice or film sessions.
In the interim the new recruits will need to take what they learned last night and apply their lessons quickly as they’ll face another test tonight versus the Washington Wizards.
THREE: As much as the loss can be directly attributed to turnovers and unfamiliarity the key is how you respond. The combination of Patrick Beverley allowing one uncalled foul to stay with him for the remainder of the game and Harden feeling indecisive are both fixable situations.
Beverley should know better than anyone that a player must learn to forget a disturbance quickly since his role is to be a pest on whoever he guards on the opposing team. Just as shooters forget their misses and keep shooting until they hit, Patrick must also learn to put this behind him. And, he’ll need to correct this quickly because if the opposition learns they can get under his skin that easily he might start seeing more opponents utilizing the same tactics on him.
As for James Harden feeling he was responsible for the loss, he’ll need to talk through whatever reason he was indecisive with the coaches and work with the new recruits on what to do in different scenarios on the floor. Communication is the key.
Dec 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) is fouled while shooting by San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) during the second half at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 110-106. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
While the entire starting unit had their issues last night and unusual issues as per above, Dwight Howard was the one player who seemed unfazed by the Spurs attempt to take him out of his game and in my opinion played his best game since returning from injury. You can see he is delighted to have Josh Smith playing beside him and I suspect he’ll work diligently to help get him up to speed quickly.
Play of the night:
While teams practice scoring multiple points in rapid succession to end quarters or at the end of games, other than Reggie Miller we don’t often get to see it occur. Last night though, Donatas Motiejunas initiated a rare 6-points in 4.9 seconds. As the first quarter drew to a close he connected on a 3 point shot and then stole the ball, passed it to an open Corey Brewer who hit another 3 pointer.
I’ve said since the Brewer trade this was going to pay huge dividends for Houston in terms of their defense, transition offense and the bench, but the fact Brewer has suddenly become a lethal 3-point specialist is extremely encouraging. He shot 6 for 8 from behind the arc last night and there were some moments on court where you can see moving forward how he’ll be the direct benefactor of the sharp passers on the team like Harden, Terry, Motiejunas, Smith and even Howard. His 25 points were a pleasant surprise. If he keeps this up he’ll quickly enter the discussion for Sixth Man of the Year candidacy.
As always we invite you to add your thoughts in our comment section below.
Check back later today for our Game Day Countdown as we prepare for the second game of the back to back facing the Washington Wizards.