Houston Rockets Split Road Trip and Prepare for 3 Game Home Tilt:
Last week the Rockets had 3-games on the road to complete their 4-game trip. In the end they took a split, however the two losses definitely highlighted the areas Houston is most vulnerable… rebounding and battling big front courts. To launch the week I take a look at the 3-games from last week, the three slated for this week and look at the status of Houston’s two super stars.
Last week’s games:
Wednesday Lost in Portland 100-105: Though their other loss was a thrashing this loss to Portland was the most devastating as it gave Portland the advantage in a tie-break should the two teams tie at seasons end. While many thought the loss of shooting guard Wesley Matthews might signal a decline in production for the Blazers it has resulted in an opposite effect. LaMarcus Aldridge is already playing with a messed up thumb on his non-shooting hand, but has raised his level of play since Matthews left. Point guard Damian Lillard who suffered a tough January shooting 37.1% has recovered and is back to shooting 47.1% in February and so far 42.4% in March.
Thursday Loss in Utah 91- 109: While the loss to Portland hurt them in the standing (they fell to fourth) this loss was bad for the Rockets’ egos. Make no mistake this wasn’t a trap game given Utah have been on fire coming out of the break going 10-2 (11-2 after Monday’s thumping of the Hornets). What it did highlight is the need for Dwight Howard‘s return as soon as possible. Word is he’s on track to return by the end of March which should allow him time to get back into a game flow and rhythm with his teammates.
Sunday Win in Los Angeles vs. Clippers 100-98: Given the recent history of games between these two teams and the Clippers ability to hold Harden in check in previous outings this game represented a break through. Sure Houston beat them once already this season, but the manner in which they beat the Clippers on Sunday was important. When Matt Barnes threw James Harden to the ground it woke up the bearded one who went on to take over the quarter. From that point on the game became a chippy, cheap shot taking mess (and by that I don’t mean field goal shots). Perhaps what came out of the day was the fact many teams, fans and possibly even the refs are sick and tired of the Clippers nonsense of constant complaining coupled with the dirty plays they themselves repeatedly commit.
REMINDER: There is no need to flop against Matt Barnes. https://t.co/sljCnqbd0b
— Complex Sports (@Complex_Sports) March 16, 2015
Games this coming week:
All three games on tap will be at the Toyota Center which offers coach Kevin McHale an opportunity to get in some practice time with his team. Each game offers an opportunity for a win with the first two against teams well out of the running and by the time Saturday comes around the Suns may be in a must win situation given they started this week 2 games behind the Pelicans and 3 games back of Oklahoma City. Regardless look for Houston to go 3-0 this week.
- Tuesday vs Orlando
- Thursday vs Nuggets
- Saturday vs Suns
We’ve been hearing via reports Howard feels more explosive and in better shape than he was to start the season and that he was on track to return to the line-up by the end of March. Monday he actually practiced with the team which is a very positive sign. I’m wondering if he might actually return ahead of schedule since the team is at home all week and hell have an opportunity to practice several times.
Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard practices with team – @MarkBermanFox26
— Breaking NBA News (@sporting_nba) March 16, 2015
Harden production drop off worrisome:
Over the course of the season Harden has repeatedly put the team on his back which is why he continues to be considered the top candidate for MVP. Lately though his production has dropped off. Looking back over the year he suffered a similar fall off just prior to Howard’s return from his first injury when he sat out 11 games. This go round we’re seeing nights that the fatigue is showing, however he is offsetting this slide by upping his assists and rebound totals. In other words it appears he is trying to distribute more in an effort to have a more balanced attack so the final outcome doesn’t ride solely on his shoulders.
This points to the other concerning trend I’ve noticed in his recent games which is the discrepancy in his scoring from the first to second half and specifically in the fourth quarter. All season Harden has been the man who the Rockets relied on to finish and win games for them, but is he worn out from carrying that load? Looking at the last three games you can see a common pattern:
Portland: Harden scored just 18 points and those all came by the 4:30 mark of the third quarter
Utah: Another tough shooting night resulted in just 15 points of which he scored just 2 points in the final frame
Clippers: Though he scored 34 points and broke out of an 0 for 8 three point shooting slump from his two previous games, it’s when he scored them that’s telling. All of his successful 3-point makes came in the first half and he scored 30 of his 34 points by the end of the third quarter registering just 4 points in the fourth.
Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones and Corey Brewer specifically have been stepping up to help Harden, but if I’m Keven McHale I’m a little concerned by this pattern. Thankfully the teams they face this week should offer an opportunity to reduce Harden’s playing time. At some point will McHale follow suit with other coaches who are resting their stars? If he does it likely won’t happen until ‘Howard returns and even then with the West so tight Harden might just have to keep repeating his efforts with big first halves and continuing to involve his line mates.
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