Can Rockets End 2014 On High Note


The Rockets enter their last game of 2014 looking to shed their recent bad habits and get back in the winning column.

Following a loss to Washington, (their 4th in the last 6-games) coach Kevin McHale decided enough was enough. Though Houston is exhausted having played 3-games in four nights the coach knew it was necessary to hold a practice yesterday to address some bad trends and to offer new recruit Josh Smith insight into the Rockets system. Smith cannot be held responsible for the last 2-losses, but the team hasn’t utilized his skill set effectively and further the team has appeared confused on both ends.  It’s likely McHale integrated specific offensive plays for Smith and addressed precisely how the defense would adjust to incorporate Smith.

Given the quality of the past 6 opponents the fact Houston will be able to test their newly formatted system against the lowly Hornets is fortunate. Charlotte are struggling this season and the addition of Lance Stephenson has not panned out as expected. Stephenson has missed the past 7-games with what the team is calling a pelvic sprain and rumors are the team is shopping him.  Adding to the Hornet’s malaise is news their leading scorer Al Jefferson will miss the next month due to a groin strain.

ESPN – Hornets’ Jefferson (groin) to miss 4 weeks #NBA

— NBA News (@NBANewsLive) December 31, 2014

Charlottes’ troubled season:

It was thought by many (including me) that Charlotte would improve this season following their playoff appearance and defensive improvements last year, but with these key injuries their 10-22 record doesn’t look to be improving any time soon. The loss of Jefferson is devastating given he was the Hornets’ leading scorer, rebounder and much of the offense ran through him.

Now the Hornets will need to rely on point guard Kemba Walker to take on more responsibility with the knowledge opponents will be game planning for the young guard without concern of Jefferson’s presence.

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Rebounding beasts:

Prior to Jefferson’s injury one area the team was excelling in was defensive rebounding garnering 32.5 per game, but the loss of Jefferson (6.7) and Stephenson (5.8) accounts for 13.5 of those defensive boards.

Houston who rank 4th in offensive rebounding and 9th for total rebounds will have a huge advantage in this area today.

Hornets perfect medication for Rocket woes:

Following the practice session yesterday the arrival of Charlotte offers a great opportunity to work out the kinks of the adjusted offense and defense. Charlotte ranks 28th in opponent field goal percent and 3-point shooting and 24th in opponent scoring and that was with Jefferson in the line-up. It’s likely Bismack Biyombo will replace Jefferson and while he brings a defensive intensity his offensive prowess is no match to big Al.

For their part Houston will look to get back on track offensively especially given their recent malaise.  The past two games have highlighted a growing concern regarding their shooting and ball movement. Often on the offensive end the ball was sticking and players appeared to be ball watching instead of moving to an open spot and offering a target for the ball handler.

Defensive Intensity:

As much as there has been a concern over the Rockets offensive decline the more pressing concern is how much the team has fallen off on the defensive end since the return of Dwight Howard. Given the team already boasted three top defenders in the starting line-up of Howard, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley the addition of Smith and James Harden‘s improvement this season on the defensive end should eventually translate into improving the current second ranked defensive team.

The last two games Houston allowed San Antonio to shoot 47% and Washington 48% however on the season they have held opponents to 43.3%. For the Rockets to be successful and climb higher in the Southwest Division and in the West they need to regain this defensive dominance.

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Walking Wounded:


  • Jannero Pargo is listed as questionable: back
  • Lance Stephenson is out indefinitely: groin/pelvic region
  • Al Jefferson out til late January: groin


  • Terrence Jones remains out: leg/nerve
  • Alexey Shved is questionable: ankle

Bench Mob:

Charlotte features the 15th highest scoring bench in the Association while Houston sits in the basement. Corey Brewer has been a huge benefit almost single handedly lifting the Rockets to overcome Washington. Donatas Motiejunas battled versus the Wiz and was frustrated by the lack of calls from the zebras. As he and the bench become more familiar with each other I continue to believe they’ll reap the benefits once they gel.

Key Match-up:

It’s simple, with a injury riddled line-up sans Jefferson and Stephenson the key is controlling Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson

Keys to Winning:

  • Although you can’t sleep on any team, tonight should be more about integrating Smith on both ends of the court and building confidence.
  • Regain form on both ends of the court
  • Shut down Kemba Walker’s passing lanes and force him into being a shooter
  • Take advantage of Charlotte’s poor defense: they allow teams to shoot 46.2% from the field and 36.7% from behind the arc.
  • With Jefferson out, look to dominate on the boards

The Pick:

The odds makers are calling for a 12-point Houston victory. Sounds about right though we could be in for one of those major blow-outs especially if the team responds to the practice yesterday.

Look for James Harden to garner another 30 plus scoring night. AND for all you Isaiah Canaan hope for an early blow-out as he’ll likely see action along with Kostas Papanikolaou should the game be in hand early.

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