Houston Rockets start 2015 facing rising talent Anthony Davis and his much improved New Orleans Pelicans.
Following a win to Charlotte on New Years Eve the Rockets will look to stay in the win column in a match that has two significant story lines:
- Which big man will have a greater impact on the game?
- Which top 3 player will take control of the game?
Battle of the Bigs:
The teams have played one game this season in Houston which resulted in a loss for the Rockets behind the huge night of Anthony Davis. In the win Davis had thirty points, fourteen boards, three assists, 2 steals and five blocks.
While Dwight Howard had a decent showing in the loss (17 points, 13 boards, 2 assists, 3 blocks) it was Davis who led his team in the victory. I’ve noticed Howard hasn’t been that engaged in the past couple of games and I’m not certain if it is a matter of him rounding back into form following injury, integrating the new players or if he isn’t getting enough touches. The bottom line is he needs to start putting up bigger numbers and offering a solid two way option for the Rockets to utilize. In his past 3-games he is averaging less than 10 field goal attempts and 10 rebounds (and the rebound number includes the 17 he grabbed in San Antonio).
In my opinion we need a strong statement game from Howard as Josh Smith continues to assimilate and this would be the perfect time to make that statement.
The Ins and Outs of the Paint:
You can bet the pregame reports for each team will feature specific advantages in and out of the paint:
New Orleans ranks first overall in points in the paint and in efficiency plus +50.1 points and plus +13.6 in the paint respectively.
Conversely Houston ranks seventh outside the paint with a plus +8.6 and fifth in scoring with plus +66.4 points.
Whoever does the best job of limiting this advantage of their opponent will have the edge in the game tonight.
The Dominant Southwest Division:
Without question the Rockets belong to the strongest division in the league. Currently every southwest team except the Pelicans rank in the top-8. With their 16-16 record they sit just one game back of the 8th place Suns, and if they played in the Eastern Conference their record would find them sitting in 7th.
Watching them lose close games like their last outing versus the Spurs it becomes clear they aren’t that far removed from that 8th seed. In that loss to San Antonio they literally helped them tie the game on the last play of the fourth quarter (Asik tipped in the lob) prior to losing in overtime. As with most young teams they need to find consistency. Once they do they will close out games and not only believe they can win but gain the confidence of knowing they can win.
- Eric Gordon: out indefinitely – shoulder
- John Salmons: personal – day to day
- Terrence Jones remains out: leg/nerve
Neither bench has had a stellar start to the season however we’ve seen glimpses in the past few games from Houston they could start climbing out of the basement given the addition of Corey Brewer and Donatas Motiejunas playing with the reserves. In the Washington game it was the efforts specifically of Brewer, Joey Dorsey and Jason Terry that got them back in the game.
In the last 5-games the Rockets efficiency is -3.4 however that would rank them 16th compared to 29th where they were prior to the trade/Smith addition. I’ve been harping on what I suspect will be improvements given the changes and finally have some qualified stats to base my argument on: in the past 5-games the Rockets’ bench ranks 15th in scoring 32.4 points per game.
New Orleans while sitting ahead of them for the season (22) are experiencing a slide over the past games with an efficiency registering minus -20.8 (29).
For all bench stats visit hoopstats.
The big match-up falls on new recruit Josh Smith tonight who’ll have his hands full with Anthony Davis hoping he doesn’t go full on video game mode. While Omer Asik should have ample reason to shine in games vs his former team his last outing saw a conservative two points and 11 rebound effort.
Keys to Winning:
- As per above Houston dominates outside the paint and New Orleans dominates inside, so the answer in the simplest terms: make them a jump throw shooting team and clog the paint.
- You can’t stop Davis, but the Rockets needs to limit his touches and his effectiveness especially in the paint area. This match-up will be Josh Smith’s biggest test since joining the team.
- Aside from Davis, the Rockets need to prepare well for Tyreke Evans. Although his field goal percent is down from last year (43.6% down to 42%) every other category (except a very minor dip in free throws) is up. The surprising stat is he ranks number 8 in efficiency at his position with a +16.
- You would think with Ryan Anderson on your team you would be among the league leaders in 3-point prowess, but surprisingly New Orleans rank 25th in makes with 6.1 per game (Anderson makes more than a third of those with 2.3 per)
The Crazy Pelican W/L stat:
The Pelicans currently rank dead last in the Southwest Division with a record of 16-16. The interesting stat line here though isn’t how they garner their wins, rather when they do.
Going back to December 18th they haven’t won two games in a row, but they haven’t lost two games in a row in this period either. If you’re a superstitious sort that doesn’t bode well for the Rockets since New Orleans lost their last game to San Antonio. Given this win/loss, win/loss teeter-totter stat it would mean they are due to win.
The odds makers are calling for a 2-point Houston victory. It will be tough to shut down Anthony Davis especially if he goes video mode. I’m inclined to stick with the stat I mentioned above (re: New Orleans being due to win this one). I’ll cross my fingers hoping Howard joins James Harden in factoring in a win, but something tells me this could get ugly.
See you back here after the game where we’ll rank the team’s performance and individual players on their execution in our Post Game Rocket Fire.