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Houston Rockets Game Day: Forget the Swag – Show Pride and Win

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets Game Day:

The Rockets enter tonight’s game following two embarrassing losses sandwiched between a win versus the Pacers. Although I thought they would come out with a vengeance versus Golden State they allowed 15 fast break points in the first 8 minutes Wednesday. Given the problems they showed at defending the Warriors transition offense they’ll get a great opportunity tonight to see how much they learned from that shellacking. It’s no secret the Suns are a small ball team and guard centric so they’ll be looking to run.

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Story lines:

  • Those two losses to Golden State proved costly as Houston fell from 4th to 6th in the West and second in their division to third. So in less than a week Houston went from having home court to a bottom seed.
  • Phoenix has their own issues to contend with given how quickly Oklahoma City and San Antonio are charging up the ladder. They’ve benefited from a relatively easy strength of schedule and now they’ll need to win facing tough teams.
  • To that end, the Suns next ten games will provide a huge test for Phoenix as they face Houston to start and finish the ten games and in between will see: L.A. Clippers, Washington, Chicago, Golden State, Memphis, Portland, Utah and Sacramento. All but two of those teams are above .500 teams. Utah and Sacramento are the only teams sub-500 while five of the teams are top 4-seeds.

We take a look at the match-up:

Team Rank:

Houston: following the losses to Golden State they’ve dropped to 6th in West and 3rd in Southwest Division

Phoenix: 8th in West, 3rd in Pacific Division

Offense: Houston: 14th (103.5 points per 100 possessions) – Phoenix: 4th (107.2 points per 100 possessions)

Defense: Houston: 5th (allowing 99.5 points per 100 possessions) NOTE: the 2 losses to Golden State moved Houston from 2nd where they’ve sat all season down 3 spots– Phoenix: 19th (allowing 103.8 points per 100 possessions)

Net: Houston: 9th with a positive point differential of +3.9 – Phoenix: 11th with a positive point differential of +3.4

Pace: Houston: 6th with a pace of 98.48 possessions over 48 minutes – Phoenix: 2nd with a pace of 99.18 possessions over 48 minutes

Points Per Game: Houston: 8th  –  Phoenix: 3rd

Rebounds Per Game: Houston: 13th – Phoenix: 17h

Assists Per Game:  Houston: 17th – Phoenix: 20th

Opposition Points Per game: Houston: 13th –  Phoenix: 28th

Notes: Houston has experienced some major shifts in just a week dropping dramatically downward in several categories, most notably defense as highlighted above (thanks mostly to Golden State).

Stats via nba.com

Notable Stats:

  • In their first game December 6th Houston held Phoenix to 37% from the field and 25% from three while they shot 41% from the field and three
  • In the December 6th game Houston out rebounded the Suns 57 to 40
  • Neither team takes care of the ball particularly well, Houston ranks 29th with 17.5 turnovers per game and Phoenix ranking 25th with 15.2 turnovers per game
  • Phoenix are the 10th best three point shooting team (36.1%) while Houston rank 13th (35.4%)
  • It should be lights out from behind the arc as Houston take and make the most threes (33.5 attempts/11.8 makes) while the Suns take the third most threes (26.9) and make the firth most (9.7)
  • Where things will be interesting is who defends the three better. Houston rank 5th best allowing 5.9  while Phoenix rank 11th allowing 7.6 threes.

stats nba.com

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Bench:

  • In the loss Wednesday to Golden State Houston’s bench was one of the few bright spots. Corey Brewer continues to impress. They still rank near the bottom of the Association, but improvements are being recognized as the reserves spend more time together.
  • They’ll be in it versus Phoenix who boast top scoring bench with 43.7 points per game and the 7th best differential in the Association with a +5.7

Full bench stats at hoopsstats.com

Key Match-up:

Seriously this is the most guard dominated team in the Association so the key is to slow the three guard line-up. Jeff Hornacek will march out all three of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at times in the game. Dragic specifically will have something to prove as he was once the point guard of the future for Houston.

Will coach McHale chose to force the Suns to match his big line-up or will we see a more active small ball line-up featuring more run of Brewer with James Harden.

Markieff Morris has been posting career highs for the second year in a row, but his buckets come primarily from the field. And new addition Brandan Wright has joined the top bench scoring team with the likes of Gerald Green who can be a streaky shooter.

From the front court of Houston we should see a more focused effort from both Dwight Howard and Josh Smith who have a little something to make up for following their selfish performances Wednesday. I suspect we’ll get a good dose of effort from them both.

The good news is Phoenix aren’t known as defenders so hopefully the Rockets can rediscover their defense specifically in transition.

Walking Wounded:

Phoenix: No one is listed as injured or out

Houston:

  • Terrence Jones remains out with nerve damage to his foot

Keys To Winning:

  • Pace: Rockets should look to dictate pace in order to not allow any big runs or flow to develop for the Suns
  • Defense of the three: with all the guards as well as bench players like Green who can hit the three with ease Houston need to clamp down on the perimeter.
  • Turnovers: the Rockets will need to take care of the ball so they don’t prompt the fast breaking Suns to charge out and take advantage of those turnovers.
  • Pride: they’ve not shown up in two of the three games for a full 48 minutes. Let’s hope the lessons learned on Saturday and Wednesday will have driven home the need to remain focused for an entire game.

The Pick:

The odds makers have Phoenix favored by 2.5 points. While Houston’s Achilles heel has been transition defense they should have enough wounds remaining from their recent losses to warrant a focused effort and desire to get back on track. Still, I think it will be a close game with the Rockets taking it by 5 points or less.

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