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Houston Rockets Game Day: Statement Time For Smith at Palace

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets Game Day:

Playing back to back games is the hardest part of every NBA team’s schedule, especially when they occur on the road on the opposite coast. Factor in missing your star center and the second night of the series is against a team who haven’t played since Wednesday.  Counter that with being on a four game winning streak and your opponent being on a four game losing streak.  Then just to make it all that much more interesting, make it against an opponent who waived the multi million dollar player who has been your biggest addition this season.  Sounds exciting, right?

As I outlined in my Josh Smith article, the best thing that could happen aside from the win would be the organic benefits that would arise from the win. It would show Smith how vested the team is and should work to build team chemistry which is crucial as the team will likely be without the services of Dwight Howard for another extended period. After tonight there will only be 5 remaining games until the All-Star break and with just James Harden going to New York every win between now and February 11th is crucial. The eight days off will be a welcome respite especially for players like Trevor Ariza who’ve been over taxed due to all the injuries so far this season.

Oct 23, 2014; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy gives instructions to guard D.J. Augustin (14) and forward Josh Smith (6) and forward Cartier Martin (35) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons beat the Sixers 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Certainly tonight offers drama aplenty as the Detroit fans will arrive en masse to make their displeasure heard. What I find interesting is it’s not as if Smith was the one who offered himself a 4 year $54 million dollar contract, or said he’d rather play small forward or chose to be waived. If the fans are mad they should be rightfully mad at ownership and management for making all those decisions.

Houston will be without the services of their star center Dwight Howard who is once again out of action due to swelling in his right knee. The same knee that put him out of commission for 11-consecutive games earlier this season. In addition, his right ankle is also banged up.

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Story Lines:

  • Smith’s return to team who waived him
  • Rockets third in West, Detroit remain outside playoff seeds
  • With a 17-7 road record Houston tops the Western Conference and league wide are second to Atlanta (17-5).
  • Both teams are on four game consecutive streaks, but while Houston is on a winning streak the Pistons are on a 4-game losing streak
  • With the win over inter division rival Dallas, coupled with Clipper and Blazer loses Friday the Rockets have sole possession of third entering the night
  • To that end, all three teams are in action again tonight: Blazers play Milwaukee and Clippers play San Antonio.
  • Social Media and national sports outlets are on fire with anticipation of Smith’s first visit back to Detroit  since being waived, and the previously quiet Piston players are suddenly making statements regarding his exit from the team

Van Gundy Losing Patience:

During the 4-game losing streak coach Stan Van Gundy has become increasingly perturbed with his teams’ defense, or rather the lack of it and hasn’t held back to the media in that regard:

After the 114-110 to Toronto (that was no where near as close as the score suggests):

“Our defense is terrible,” Van Gundy fumed. “It really is. It’s terrible.” “We played well offensively,” an irritated Van Gundy said. “We just played no defense. We couldn’t stop them at all. If you can’t win scoring 110 then you don’t deserve to.”

And after the 2o point (69-89) loss Wednesday to the basement dwelling Sixers:

“We weren’t ready to play,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached a game where one team’s effort was that much better than my team’s effort. I mean, it was a joke.”

Jan 28, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy reacts to a missed shot during the fourth quarter of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers beat the Pistons 89-69. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the break down versus the Pistons:

Team Rank:

Houston: 33-14 enter the day having moved up to 3rd place in the west and 2nd in Southwest Division

Detroit: 17-30 are 4th in Central Division, 10th in East and despite have a losing record are just 2.5 games back of the 8th seed

Offense: Houston: 14th (103.3 points per 100 possessions) – Detroit: 23rd (100.7 points per 100 possessions)

Defense: Houston: 2nd (allowing 99.1 points per 100 possessions) – Detroit: 16th (allowing 103.7 points per 100 possessions)

Net: Houston: 9th with a positive point differential of +4.1 – Detroit: 19th with a negative point differential of -3.0

Pace: Houston: 4th with a pace of 98.6 possessions over 48 minutes -Detroit: 17th with a pace of 96.0 possessions over 48 minutes

Points Per Game: Houston: 8th  –  Detroit: 21st

Rebounds Per Game: Houston: 13th -Detroit: 3rd

Assists Per Game:  Houston: 16th – Detroit: 19th

Opposition Points Per game: Houston: 12th –  Detroit: 19th

Stats via nba.com

Bench:

  • Detroits bench ranks 22nd at -4.3 in efficiency (point differential) to Houstons’ bench which ranks 27th at -10.3
  • Pistons’ bench score 34.6 ppg ranking 13th while Houston’s bench score 27.3 ppg ranking 26th
  • Over the past 10 games Detroit has fallen to 16th in scoring with 32.5 ppg while Houston have climbed to 12th with 34.6ppg

Full bench stats at hoopsstats.com

Key Match-Ups:

How can we not make Josh Smith versus Greg Monroe the key match-up of the night. Smith says he has nothing to prove, but that’s hard to believe as deep down you have to think he does.   Obviously Donatas Motiejunas will need to try to replicate his career high scoring effort from last night as he meets big man Andre Drummond and along with Dorsey do his best to keep him off the glass. Examining the numbers the disparity in scoring isn’t that large, however rebounds is another matter all together :

Monroe/Drummond score 15.3/12.4 points and grab 10.3/12.8 rebounds for a total of 28.1 points and 23.1 rebounds

Motiejunas/Smith scores 11.3/10.9 points and grab 6.2/5.4  rebounds for a total of 22.2 points and 11.6 rebounds.

Obviously the big advantage for Detroit is on the boards, therefore the guards and wings will need to help the bigs to offset this advantage. Conversely, Detroit will have their hands full trying to figure out how to stop James Harden and his league leading 27 points per game. Following two straight games of sub 20-point efforts expect Harden to look to break out versus the Pistons.

To be honest, I was surprised when checking the stats that Detroit don’t rank in the top ten of “in paint” differential (12th) but they do rank sixth (42.6) in scoring with 42.6 ppg. Conversely with the size and power of the Rockets it’s surprising they rank 22nd for “in paint” scoring (36.6). Then again Houston rank 5th for out of paint scoring ( 66.1) while Detroit rank 28th with 54.9 ppg.

Walking Wounded:

Detroit:

  • Brandon Jennings: out for season following surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon

Houston:

  • Dwight Howard is out indefinitely with swelling in his right knee and a sore right ankle

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Keys To Winning:

  • If there was ever a night to get out to a fast start tonight would be it. Jumping on the Pistons would quiet the rowdy Palace crowd. The Rockets ideally need to be leading  before Smith enters likely near the end of the first quarter because you know the crowd is going to go nuts.

Of note, in the game versus Toronto the crowd got pretty rowdy following a blatant fragrant hip check and elbow by Andre Drummond to James Johnson after he dunked on him and embarrassed him. Hopefully Houston will be prepare for the vitriol that may be coming Smith’s way although I reiterate he’s not the one who decided to give himself that contract or waive himself. The blame for those decisions rests on the shoulders of the Pistons ownership and management. Let’s hope it’s simply vocal and not physical tonight.

  • Pace: Houston boasts a much faster pace (4) than Detroit (17) so they should look to control the speed of the game
  • Defense: Detroit rarely shows any defensive prowess although they have the talent to do so. They might be amped to do it this game, but will they sustain it for 48 minutes?
  • Pistons tend to protect the ball well with only 14 turnovers per game while Houston have had issues all season in this regard averaging 17.3 per night.
  • Houston continue to attempt and make the most 3-pointers: 33.5-11.8; comparatively Detroit rank 8th in attempts 25.4 and 10th in makes with 8.7. However Jennings hit close to two of those a night. The return of Jodie Meeks offsets this partially as he makes 1.4 per game. Unless the Pistons start out shooting hot from behind the arc I say they look to pack the paint to limit Drummond and Monroe’s effectiveness and force Augustine into being a facilitator.

The Pick:

The odds makers have Houston favored by 4.5 points which is very interesting consider the Pistons are at home and have been resting since Wednesday, not to mention the magnitude of the game given the background.

Detroit can be a nightmare when they come prepared to play on both ends and they certainly should be dialed in to play following Van Gundy’s post game comments after the Philly blow out.  However, the same can be said for Houston who as a team should be taking this match personally just to show Smith they have his back and to prove a point.

It’s a hard game to predict given all the additional emotional complications and the fact Detroit is rested. It could just as easily be a one point game as it could be a blow-out for either side. Bottom line there is a reason they say defense travels so I’m banking on that and am picking Houston by 9 points.

Enjoy the game and join us afterward for player grades.

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