Game Day: Houston Rockets Need A Culture Shift A.S.A.P.
By Tamberlyn Richardson
Game Day: Houston Rockets vs Boston Celtics
Entering week 3 there is wide spread panic setting in for Houston Rockets fans as their home team have done something they avoided like the plague last season…. losing 3 games in a row. Sure, it happened, but not until the Western Conference Finals versus the Golden State Warriors who went on to win the Championship Title.
We knew there would be growing pains when Ty Lawson was added to the squad, especially since James Harden is used to having the ball in his hands. While some can point to the 4-0 week the Rockets displayed in week 2, there was warning signs of what occurred in week 3 because those wins came with Harden taking back control of the ball handling.
Entering today’s game it would be normal to assume the Rockets would win given they have a far more talented team on paper, but given the Celtics just beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and the way Houston appears to be reeling all bets are off.
With that I give you the break down of the Monday night game:
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston
Game Time: 8:00 PM EST – 7:00 PM CT
TV: ROOT in Houston and CSNHD in Boston
Radio: 790 AM in Houston, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston
The Rockets swept both games versus the Celtics last season:
January 30th, 2015: HOU 93 – 87 BOS
November 1st, 2014: BOS 90 – 104 HOU
Celtics: No injuries reported
- UPDATED TO ADD: Trevor Ariza– groin – questionable for Monday
- Sam Dekker – back – day to day (and oddly remains with the club though McHale said he would join D-League)
- Montrezl Harrell twisted his ankle versus Dallas and is listed as day to day for tonight
- Patrick Beverley sustained a twisted ankle, listed as day to day
- Dwight Howard sat out versus Dallas for rest so should be good to go, however rotoworld lists him as day to day for his back
- Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery, no update on scheduled return date
Celtics: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger
Rockets: Ty Lawson, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard
Grading the Match-ups:
Point Guard – Isaiah Thomas vs Ty Lawson:
This will be the battle of two diminutive point guards, problem is Thomas is on fire, so much so he’s been moved from the bench to the starting line-up. He’s a sharp shooter and difficult to stop on drives or in transition. Conversely Lawson hasn’t proven to find his niche with his team yet and his lack of bonding is resulting in virtually everyone suffering on the court. Harden is having issues when he doesn’t have the ball in his hand, not to mention a seeming lack of interest and energy especially defensively, Ariza and whoever mans the center position also ends up having to make up for the lack of defense neither Lawson or Harden are bringing and its flowing down to the bench for whatever reason.
Edge: Isaiah Thomas, no contest Thomas has this one in the bag, at least until Lawson showcases an ability to captain the offense he’s become a liability not an asset.
Shooting Guard: Marcus Smart vs. James Harden
Raymond Felton had his best game in years facing James Harden this past Saturday which speaks to how horribly Harden was defensively. The bearded man isn’t getting off easy tonight as he faces a man who’ll doggedly guard him and just had a huge scoring night against Russell Westbrook scoring 26 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 3 assists. This new line-up Celtics coach Brad Stevens is using offers the best of all worlds with both an offensive and defensive point guard, both of whom can create their own shots and also who can handle the ball to set up their teammates.
Edge: James Harden – As bad as his consistency and shooting efficiency have been, what’s more disconcerting is his poor defense and seeming lack of interest. Surely his pride will kick in with the numerous reports of the Rockets down fall (like it did in week 2). The question is will he be the one handling the ball or will Lawson?
Small Forward: Jae Crowder vs Trevor Ariza UPDATE: Ariza is now listed as questionable for tonight, giving legs to this possibility KJ McDaniels has been recalled from D-League
Crowder is the working man’s version of Kenneth Faried. It’s a given he’ll bring energy and defense to the floor and battle offensively. He’s not a big offensive threat but he’ll hold Ariza in check. What we don’t know is how Ariza is feeling after tweaking his hamstring in the game versus Dallas and also suffering two big falls.
Part of the Maverick’s onslaught can be attributed to Ariza not being able to cover the typical ground he normally does. After playing every game last season it’s unlikely he doesn’t suit up, but it does highlight the fact Ariza has to carry too much of the defensive load.
Edge: Even – If I was sure Ariza was 100% I’d give him the edge, but since we aren’t sure let’s call it a wash
Power Forward: Amir Johnson vs Terrence Jones
I called for Amir Johnson to end up finishing the season as a starter, who knew it would take less than 2 weeks for it to occur. I wasn’t a big proponent of the Celtics adding David Lee and saw the inevitable of him ending up near the end of Steven’s bench. As a Toronto native and Raptors fan I’m all too familiar with what Johnson brings to the court. It was a very sad day when he left to join the Celtics. Speaking to how much he meant for Toronto the one position they’ve had trouble with this season is in fact replacing what Johnson brought to the starting power forward role.
For Boston, Johnson will be the man on defense who does the extra bit, set the best screens, runs the court, gets the critical offensive rebound or knocks away a crucial shot and provides the best help defense. All of which hardly ever shows up on the stat sheet and he’ll also score without ever having a play called for him.
Through the disaster of last week the player who stood head and shoulders above everyone for their energy, efficiency, scoring and yes even on the defensive end was Terrence Jones. In the past 2 games he replicated 23 point scoring efforts and was a beast around the rim blocking 7 shots (4 vs. Denver and 3 vs. Dallas) he also was decent on the boards an area he hasn’t typically been strong in (grabbing 7 and 6 rebounds). More importantly his field goal percentage was gaudy as he shot over 70% from the field.
Slight Edge: Terrence Jones though I’m inclined to go with Johnson it’s hard to deny how well Jones is playing and when you couple that with Dwight Howard playing it may result in Johnson being moved onto Howard since Sullinger won’t have the ability to guard Howard.
Center: Jared Sullinger vs. Dwight Howard
Coming off a big win over the Thunder where Sullinger grabbed 15 rebounds he’ll be brimming with confidence, but he’s tended to be a streaky player and part of those rebounds came facing Enes Kanter who isn’t exactly a defensive beast who blocks out, albeit Sullinger has been averaging a double-double through the past 7 games. Only the Toronto Raptors have held Sullinger in check through 9 games and that was with him facing a strong defensive line-up.
The simple fact is the Rockets are better with Dwight Howard on the court, period. Capella has done his part, but it’s too much to ask a second year player with just 12 regular season games last season to bring the same attributes to the court. With the Rockets playing such poor defense this season could part of the problem be the lack of big man Capela not communicating? Head coach Kevin McHale said when Howard isn’t in the line-up there is no communication which certainly seems to indicate Capela needs to talk more.
Howard’s numbers this season are 16.7 points and 12.7 rebounds with 2.0 blocks per game. Those are pretty heady numbers for the man who unfortunately can’t put on the Superman uniform for all 82.
If or should I say
when the Rockets resolve their issues fans will be thankful Howard is healthy for the post season, but until the Rockets turn a corner they’ll have to suffice with the quieter Capela learning to speak on the defensive end when Howard is resting.
Edge: Dwight Howard With so much focus on how poorly the Rockets have been playing and Howard seemingly being the difference maker, expect a strong showing from his this evening.
Celtics: Kelly Olynyk, Evan Turner, David Lee, Tyler Zeller, Avery Bradley
Rockets: Marcus Thornton, Corey Brewer, Clint Capela, Patrick Beverley
Edge: Boston – Given how the Rockets have been playing it’s hard to give them an edge at any of the positions, but hopefully they’ll be dialed in today. In contrast the Celtics are an unusual case since most of their roster is talented, but almost all of the players would be better suited to being reserves with arguably the exception being Amir Johnson. Obviously coach Brad Stevens also sees it this way since he’s been utilizing a far different line-up focusing on chemistry as opposed to who thought would be the starting 5. Meanwhile David Lee who was touted as such a great add not only isn’t starting he’s found himself at the end of the rotation (I did say that would happen).
Keys to Winning:
Get Out To A Good Start:
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With the pressure on their backs of how poorly they’ve played this season the Rockets can’t afford to start slowly or with any lethargy. Anything less than a solid, focused effort won’t go over with Clutch City who had to already deal with watching their Rockets wearing “Clutch City” shirts versus Dallas get lambasted looking like they could care less.
Play 48 Minutes of Defense:
Okay enough already. Who are these impostors? This can’t be the same team who excelled defensively the majority of last season while Dwight Howard was out injured can they? How is it possible the only time they remotely come close to looking like last season’s team is with the one man who missed half their games on the court. It’s time they go back to the basics and just play fundamental tough nosed defense for 48 minutes.
Three Ball Anyone?
The Rockets continue to shoot the three ball at a league high 32 attempts per game despite ranking 29th hitting only 28.4% of those attempts. Perhaps it’s time the Rockets rethink this strategy and get back into a winning mode until they have a chemistry working
Pressure Boston’s Defense:
While the Rockets have fallen all the way to 29th in defensive ranking, conversely the Boston Celtics currently rank 4th allowing 12.1 points less per game. which is reflected in the Rockets 28th rank for opponent points per game vs. Boston’s 5th rank. Quite frankly, Houston need to fix this aspect of their game first and a win against Boston would be a good start.
The odds makers remarkably give Houston a 5.5 point edge with an over/under of 208.0
Let’s be frank, anything less than a Houston Rockets win will require sweeping changes. Either a roster shake-up or possibly even a coaching change or trade. That might sound overly dramatic, but this is the Western Conference where teams need to win close to 50 games just to get the 8 seed. Granted the East have started the season looking like the stronger Conference, but the Rockets can’t afford to believe that trend will continue.
Houston by 2
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