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Game Day Countdown: Houston Rockets Need to Heat Up Following Blow-Out Loss

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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It’s simple, the Houston Rockets need to heat up.  They’ll get the opportunity tonight to amend for their lackluster effort resulting in a blow out loss last night in New Orleans.

A better effort across the board is required on both ends of the court as the team literally looked like a D squad and that might be being generous.  Making their path difficult will be the Miami Heat who have their own issues having lost 3 consecutive games and who arrive on well rested legs having not played since New Years Eve.

The 20-game analogy:

I once heard this 20 game analogy: the premise is there are 20 games broken into 4 categories that every team goes through each season:

  • 5 games they lose that they should win
  • 5 games they luck into wins on nights they play poorly enough to lose
  • 5 games they murder their opponent
  • and 5 games they get slaughtered

Let’s put last night in the last category. Surely no one on the team will be happy about losing so completely to an inter-division team, but the reality is how they lost that is the concern. Rising star Anthony Davis had a mild night at the office given his prowess this season. Rather, it was the entire Pelican team which played with effort and energy and most importantly functioned as a unit. What makes this loss such a bitter pill to swallow is they lost to New Orleans on December 18th as well

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Warning Signs:

Earlier today I touched on some issues the Rockets are dealing with of late, having lost five of their past eight games.  Specifically there are glaring areas that stand out as to why the Rockets are having issues:

  • I feel the biggest problem offensively with the Rockets lies with Dwight Howard who just isn’t getting enough touches. Averaging 8-field goals in his past 3-games doesn’t cut it. I touched on this in Rocket Science, but my question is why he isn’t getting the touches. Obviously he isn’t getting the ball in the post, but is that due to the team ignoring him or because he isn’t presenting himself (i.e. gaining the positioning under the basket). McHale needs to address this moving forward, but for the purposes of tonight the Rockets need to take advantage of Miami’s depleted front court defenders and make Howard a primary scoring option.
  • Josh Smith is 14 of 41 since joining the team. While the Rockets don’t expect Smith to become the primary scorer or ball handler he is going through the adjustment period all players do when they join a new team. Of note, I found the statement by McHale following the Spurs loss that he wanted Smith to shoot more and pass less puzzling. Smith is actually a gifted ball handler/passer, so from my perspective he could be the one to help get Howard more involved and/or return to the passing we saw from him in his first game versus Memphis which led to wide open shots from the perimeter. It’s not time to panic yet, as he’ll become more accustomed to the habits of his teammates with time and then he’ll be more productive. Unfortunately, there just hasn’t been available practice time so he’ll have to suffice with learning these tendencies via his in game experience.
  • We’ve touched on turnovers all season and it continues to be a issue. Last night they coughed up the ball 19 times and have regularly hit 20 or more in their last few losses. Part of this is the new players and part of it is simply focus. Although Miami is ranked low defensively they actually flourish in the open court, so the emphasis on protecting the ball is key in tonight’s game.
  • If you look at teams like Oklahoma City and Chicago they are perfect examples of teams who had to integrate their stars back into the rotation and suffered some growing pains doing it. Houston is doing this with Howard returning, but they’re also integrating new players who aren’t familiar with their system. Factor in the team is addressing these changes on the fly without available practice time. To reiterate, I wouldn’t panic yet, but the team does need to try to expedite the learning curve for the new players at the very least especially if they want to maintain their position in the ever competitive Western Conference.

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Walking Wounded:

Miami Heat:

  • Justin Hamilton is listed as day to day with a concussion. He’ll need to pass the concussion test which has 6 different levels.
  • Josh McRoberts out indefinitely following knee surgery

Houston:

  • Terrence Jones remains out with leg/nerve issues
  • Alexey Shved remains questionable for tonight with a sprained ankle

Bench Mob:

Both benches rank in the bottom tier in efficiency and scoring. Over the course of the past 5-games though Houston has climbed to 13th in scoring (37.4) and 14th in efficiency +1.8 while Miami remain in the lower tier at 26th (26.8 points per game) and 19th in efficiency at minus -4.8.

For all bench stats visit hoopstats.

Key Match-up:

There are two key match-ups this evening:

Dwyane Wade versus James Harden:  It doesn’t get much better than this and before you start thinking Wade is losing a step I’ll remind you of his performance Christmas Day versus LeBron James. Wade is averaging 23.2 points and 5.6 assists per game, however there was news his on-going knee issues had surfaced after their past game. The question will be can his knees hold up to match the desire in his heart.

Harden’s numbers of 27.2 points, 6.8 assists and 6 rebounds per game are all better than Wades season averages, plus he’ll be looking to rebound from last nights catastrophe. .

Chris Bosh versus Josh Smith: Over the years Bosh and Howard were often pitted against each other, so the fact Howard will be vying against Chris Anderson instead should be a distinct advantage for Houston. What this means is once again Smith will be left to handle the heavy work versus the primary scoring option for Miami in Bosh.

Bosh is averaging 21.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2 assists versus Smith who counters with 13.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Interestingly when Bosh used to face team mate Luol Deng it was his length and speed that led to some of his worst performances. Smith offers the same athleticism, length and defensive abilities and with Bosh just back from injury this could be a factor.

Keys to Winning:

  • Miami might have Chris Bosh, but other than him there isn’t much presence up front for the Heat so the Rockets need to go early and often to Dwight Howard to capitalize on this advantage.
  • Unlike previous seasons the Heat just don’t have the same 3-point shooting specialists (averaging 21.4 attempts and 7.7 makes per game) so while I believe Houston should look to utilize their advantage in this area I caution them to use it as a mix to augment their paint attack
  • Limit Wade’s ability to get to the line by forcing him into a perimeter shooter
  • Deng is the best two-way player on the team and will likely be assigned to slow Harden. It’s likely Ariza will be assigned to guard Deng so it’s important he gets rolling offensively to offset this strategy. In other words if both Ariza and Harden are scoring the Heat won’t have the manpower to defend both.
  • The Heat are deceptive ranking 26th in defense which seems like a huge advantage for number 2 ranked Houston. The truth is on any given night Deng, Wade and Bosh can make life difficult for opposing teams, so the key will be to bring energy and effort defensively and shut down Miami early

The Pick: 

The odds makers have Houston favored to win this one by 6.5 points and an over under of 197.5.

Miami’s record doesn’t accurate reflect their abilities and they arrive on two full days rest. Although Houston are playing on the second night of a back to back series they rested the majority of their starters in last night’s loss so they should have fresh legs.

I’m inclined to believe the Rockets will just have too much fire power for the Heat to contend with specifically if they utilize their front court advantages. I’m calling for a rebound effort and a 10 point plus margin of victory.

Also, look for Harden to get back on track and ensure Howard and Smith are more involved from the onset.

Check back with us post game for our Rocket Fire Recap grading the players and tomorrow for our Rocket Science game analysis.

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