Jan 3, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) celebrates with teammates after the end of the third quarter against the Miami Heat at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Heat 115-79. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Three Keys to the Win:
Following their worst loss of the season the Rockets needed a feel good game to erase the memory of how poorly they played in New Orleans. Coach Kevin McHale was so miffed with the entire starting line-up he sat them virtually the entire second half Friday. Obviously he didn’t just spend his time on the sidelines fuming since there were some big changes implemented in the game versus Miami which netted immediate benefits.
The first was the re-insertion of Donatas Motiejunas into the starting line-up. Although the Rockets trailed after the first quarter Demo was productive early scoring 9 points. I give Demo props because he’s a young player who easily could have had his confidence shook after performing well only to be automatically moved to the bench when Smith arrived.
The fact he continued to produce in that capacity and then effortlessly responded with the change back shows his character and maturation of his game. One reason Motiejunas excels is Rockets’ team’s offense isn’t based on specific sets. They run the offense based on a read and react of what the defense gives them. Given this, Demo is much more familiar with what his teammates natural tendencies are while Smith still needs to learn what each players’ propensity is in different situations.
Making Dwight Howard a priority in the offense allowed the Rockets to function with more diversity on the offensive end and opened the floor for the shooters. As I cited in the pregame Rocket Countdown I felt the Rockets hadn’t been giving Dwight enough touches which essentially was removing a key component of their offense. In his prior 3-games he had a total of 24 touches, so his 13 touches last night and 9 free throw trips resulting in 23 points showcased how important it is for the Rockets to include him.
To accommodate this strategy McHale also played Howard and Harden often at separate times to allow for the constant presence of a scorer on the floor. Howard excelled playing with the reserves (specifically with Corey Brewer, Jason Terry, Josh Smith and Kostas Papanikolaou) as their energy and outside scoring ability offset his inside presence.
In concert with my first point moving Josh Smith to the bench at least in the interim takes the pressure off him and allows him to fit within the natural flow of the game. His skill set is much more pronounced playing beside his head band brothers: Corey Brewer and Jason Terry as the combination of their energy is tangible. Their cumulative efforts resulted in 29 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals a block and a combined +/- of plus +60. Perhaps the natural flow can also be attributed to the fact Brewer is also new and Papanikolaou is a rookie so they can develop their own short hand playing together.
The fact he played 28:03, second only to James Harden (28:12) actually speaks to how much coach McHale believe Smith will contribute. For the short term Smith playing with the bench allows McHale the opportunity to ease him into the team’s schemes and player tendencies. The question is whether Smith will continue to accept this role given his minutes should still be high.
Next: McHale takes a calculated risk