Following back to back home losses of 20 plus points the Houston Rockets hit the road looking to register their first win of the season. Entering tonight’s game other than the obvious primary goal of getting a “W” there are several key objectives to accomplish. At the top of that list is for the team and specifically James Harden to rekindle their scoring touch.
In addition, the Rockets need to discover some sort of offensive chemistry and the team as a whole needs to offer a full 48 minutes of defense punctuated with energy and focus. While that sounds like a tall order, it’s the components the Rockets utilized last season to garner success.
In review of their 2 losses the Rockets completely underestimated the Nuggets and versus the Warriors they ran into a well oiled machine who kept their championship core in tact. Certainly the addition of Ty Lawson to the starting line-up has and will continue to present issues until the aforementioned chemistry has time to develop.
Yet the concerning part of the losses was the absence of focus and energy especially on the defensive end. Given the competition on tap there are no guaranteed or easy opponents over the next 5 games, so the Rockets need to take each contest in isolation and begin to build positive habits to carry forward.
To that end, let’s take a look at the match today versus the Heat and how the teams match-up:
Venue: American Airlines Arena, Miami
Game Time: 6:00 PM EST – 5:00 PM CT
Radio: 790 AM
Last season the Rockets swept the Heat posting wins of :
Of note, the timing of this game versus Miami might serve to bolster James Harden’s confidence since he came on rebound shy of a triple-double in the November 4th game: 25 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 10 of 10 from free throw line, 6 of 13 from field, 3 of 7 from three. His average through these 2 meetings were 26.5 points, 100% from the line, 46% from three and 50% from the field.
- No injuries to report
- Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery, no update on scheduled return date
- Terrence Jones will miss today’s game due to the injury sustained to his eye lid versus Golden State (required stitches)
- Dwight Howard is out for rest given the back to back set schedule.
Terrence Jones sat out Rockets practice with the cut above his right eye. He's out for Sunday in Miami.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) October 31, 2015
Grading the Match-ups:
Point Guard – Dragic vs Lawson:
No doubt Lawson is feeling the pressure of a) trying to fit into his new teams’ schemes and b) helping his court mates not suffer while he does. What he needs to do versus Miami tonight is what he did while with his old last season … dish out assists. In his past 2 meetings vs. the Heat he had 9 and 12 assists.
Dragic for his part had more mediocre outings than big nights versus both Denver and Houston last season, however the Heat have looked solid so far this season and like all teams, new seasons allow for fresh starts. Part of that includes having now spent time with his entire starting line-up which he was in short supply of last season given Chris Bosh’s injury.
Edge: Goran Dragic At this point, it feels unfair to expect Lawson wanted to out perform quality point guards given his short tenure in Houston, rather it’s better if Lawson just focuses on keeping things simple through fundamentals on offense and focus/effort on defense. What might push Lawson ahead is the fact Dragic will have issues contending with Lawson’s speed especially laterally, but let’s stick with familiarity on this match-up.
Shooting Guard – Dwayne Wade vs James Harden
James Harden has been anything but MVP like so far and it’s hard to decipher if this is simply the foreign role of not being the primary ball handler affecting his shooting and game performances or if there are residual effects from his preseason injury. Regardless he needs to find some semblance of consistency, so facing the team he has historically had solid performances against would be an excellent start.
Wade is still capable of pulling out the Flash at any given moment, though he can’t do it on a nightly basis now with the team being cautious to make sure he gets through the season healthy. He’ll keep Harden honest on both ends, but if both players bring their A game it should provide plenty of highlights.
Edge: James Harden There is an old basketball adage which states when shooters get in a slump the way to get out of it is to continue shooting. I’m applying that here and will continue to until he breaks through. He is the best shooting guard in the league and eventually that will be the difference in the Rockets winning a game.
Small Forward – Luol Deng vs Trevor Ariza
When Deng was in Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau rode him to the point of exhaustion because he represented the best 2-way player on the team. After the Bulls handled a situation poorly (he had a spinal tap due to an illness and word is there were issues either with the fact they put him through that procedure or that it caused damage) which led to his departure for Miami. Truth is he’s never been the same since that procedure, however he’s still a quality 2 way player. Odds are he’ll spend some time guarding Harden instead of Ariza so it’s essential Ariza has a strong offensive day to keep Deng and the Heat honest
Edge: EVEN Ariza was the Rockets most consistent 2-way player last season and like Harden I feel he’s due for good shooting game, but Deng’s name should be Mr. Consistency. Let’s call it even given both players have strong defensive upsides.
Sir Charles In Charge
Power Forward: Chris Bosh versus Montrezl Harrell
I’m guessing with Jones out due to the cut he received on his eye lid and subsequent stitches coach McHale is going to have to insert Harrell into the starting line-up. There are options like playing Ariza at the four (and he may very well be the guy who guards Bosh) and inserting Brewer in at the 3, but then the Rockets lose the energy he brings off the bench.
I think we’ll see McHale mix up the lines today at times going with Beverley on the court with Lawson and Harden in small ball. If Harrell can continue his production and not pick up early fouls there will be some leeway, but to expect him to guard Bosh feels like a severely unfair task.
Edge: Chris Bosh – The man who missed 30 games due to blood clots on his lungs and 38 in total last season is going to put up huge numbers today and if you play one off fantasy games he’s a great selection to deliver copious goodies.
Center – Hassan Whiteside versus Clint Capela
The fact the Rockets are electing to rest Howard against Miami and play him against OKC says a couple of things. First they think they can win both games and second they view OKC as the better team. It is encouraging the team remains confident and aren’t just going for broke against Miami by playing Howard, however it will put pressure on Capela and newly signed Chuck Hayes to have solid outings.
Nonetheless the Capela vs Whiteside pairing is intriguing as they are both young, talented and block specialists. Whiteside probably has the advantage of production on both ends, but Capela will definitely have the psychological and emotional advantage. Having witnessed first hand what Chuck Hayes can do to get into opposing centers heads this has the makings for an interesting evening the Miami center.
Edge: Hassan Whiteside As much as the match-up is intriguing the sheer number of games Whiteside has played gives him the edge. However, let’s hope Whiteside can still be lured into an emotional state.
Both benches are drastically different, so pulling from last seasons stats won’t help. In the case of Houston they’ll be going deeper in the rotation given the missing players (either through injury/rest) to the front court and Miami has players returning, rookies and new signings.
Don’t ask me why, but something tells me today’s signing of Chuck Hayes will end up playing positive dividends. Also Marcus Thornton and the Rockets bench are going to come out dialed in with a purpose tonight.
Slight Edge: Rockets additional experience and Chuck Hayes first game back gets the sentimental edge
Keys to Winning:
- Through 2 games the Rockets are tied for 24th with 17 turnovers per game. While no team wants to commit turnovers in Houston’s case it’s like a double edged sword as their offense relies on a quick pace and offense. When the team is turning the ball over it doesn’t allow them to get into a rhythm and they are having to extend additional energy on the defensive end attempting to stop the turnovers from turning into scoring plays.
- Not to be obtuse, but the Rockets need to improve their dead last field goal percent of 35.5% and 29th ranked points per game average (88.5). Obviously you can’t control how a player shoots, but you can make an effort to increase ball and player movement which should lead to better shot opportunities.
- Likewise the Rockets need to improve their three point percentage currently ranked 29th at 29.5% while they are taking the third most attempts. Again, the squad needs to get better attempts which has to occur from ball movement.
- Rebounding, if there is some light arguably rebounding can be pointed to as an advantage as the Rockets rank in the upper half of the Association and in the top (6) in offensive rebounding. Closer examination however pinpoints another major area to fix. While the Rockets grab offensive boards they aren’t doing as well defensively. Offensive boards are great because it allows for second chance scoring opportunities, but not performing well on the defensive boards gives the opposition extra chances and it stops the Rockets from getting the ball up the court quickly which is part of their offensive mandate. Fortunately the Heat offer some respite as they are league worst offensive rebounders, averaging only 4 per game. Look for Houston to capitalize on this.
- Miami are dead last in pace, so if Houston can marry defensive rebounding with increased pace it offers an opportunity to gain an edge. Conversely Miami rank high in assists which means they move the ball with a purpose and generally get good shots via their efforts.
- Miami rank among the better defenders of the perimeter, which again adds the onus on getting solid outside attempts
- Points in the Paintis bound to be a factor today as neither team has defended the paint well in their first two games although Houston has performed better offensively in the paint. Dragic in particular isn’t the best defender of drives or lateral quickness, so Lawson and Harden should look to give Dragic and Wade a constant diet of drives to the paint to wear them out. Then the pair either need to score in the paint or pitch the ball out to open, waiting 3-point shooters.
- Maintain emotions – Above all Houston need to stay focused on keeping things simple by playing fundamental basketball. Obviously defense is the overriding key for the Rockets, but maintaining an internal calm while bringing external energy is also key. They can’t allow themselves to worry about another loss, so maintaining focus is crucial. One win will build confidence and with the Thunder awaiting them tomorrow night a win today would be the best preparation.
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The odds makers favor Miami by 4 points which means the real line is closer to 5.5 points since home teams generally get a 1.5 automatic advantage. The over under is 206 points.
Of all the varied stats the one which stands out in review of these two teams is point differential through 2 games:
- Miami scores 10.5 points per game more
- Miami allows 10.5 points less from their opponents
That adds up to a whopping plus +21 point differential for the Heat who have a full complement of healthy bodies who are predominantly used to playing with each other.
Houston on the other hand enter today’s game with 2 front court players with 14 (Capela) and 2 (Harrell) regular season games experience alongside a returning vet who hasn’t even practiced with the team (Hayes). And a franchise star (Harden)who is shooting 25.6% from the field or 13.6 % from the three and likely more than a tad frustrated. As noted in the match-ups it’s only a matter of time before the real Harden shows up, so let’s hope that occurs today and he gets enough support from his teammates to achieve that elusive “W”. But, like I predict Harden will come out of his slump I also feel the Rockets have a lot to overcome in a lot of areas in one game.
Let’s hope history is on the Rockets side given their recent dominance of the Heat. In the interim I’ll simply pull for a competitive game with improvements and predict whoever wins the defensive rebounding battle will win the game.
Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the early season. Above you find the link to the Miami season preview and as always stay with Space City Scoop for all things Houston Rockets.