Houston Rockets enter the day in a position H-Town hasn’t seen much of this season: the SEVENTH playoff seed.
More impressively the Rockets have been playing their most complete ball of the season and suddenly are within a game of sixth place Portland. The Blazers have hit a tough stretch of their schedule while the Rockets still have tough matches on tap, but they have completed their series against the top 2 teams in the West.
How ironic all it took to seemingly wake up the Rockets were the second and third seeds of the East and double digit winning records. Though we know the Rockets have a tendency to get up for big games these wins have appeared to be more about what’s been lacking all season – focus and consistency. Today they’ll meet up with another up and coming East team in the Hornets. And, oh yeah they just happen to be on a 6-game win streak, the longest current streak in the NBA. Spread that around will ya, because the Rockets have literally been streak busters having ended 2 home court win streaks in Toronto (12) and Atlanta (14). In other words THIS Rockets team is the one we expected to arrive in October!
The hive may be known most for one of their owners – Michael Jordan, however his squad this season is very impressive as it featured top 10 capable ranking on both ends prior to suffering some key injuries. Still, like the Rockets they’ve recently moved up to the fifth seed and are only 2 games out of third and one and from taking over fourth. Suffice to say this is a big game for both squads with post season implications on the table.
With that, let’s break it down:
Game Day: Houston Rockets versus Hornets
Venue: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte NC
Game Time: 7:00 PM EST – 6:00 PM CT
TV: ROOT and Fox Sports Southeast
Radio: 790 AM and WFNZ 610 AM
Earlier this year the Rockets took the game in Houston, but it was during a phase when the Hornets were at the opposite end of the spectrum to their current residence having lost 12 of 15 games.
In direct contrast to this period the Hornets entered the All-Star break on a 3 game win streak and kept posting W’s when teams started back up. To wit, the Hornets are have won 12 of their past 14 games and are on a 6-game win streak.
- December 21: CHA 95 HOU 102
- Spencer Hawes – back, is unlikely for Saturday
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – a re-injured shoulder (labrum) required season ending surgery
- Terrence Jones – illness , listed as day to day
Keys to Winning:
As per above the Rockets boast an incredibly solid offense while the Hornets hold the clear edge defensively. In spite of the numerous injuries suffered in Charlotte all season they boast a top 10 offense (10) and defense (9). Post All-Star break the Hornets have the the fifth best defense and shocker the Rockets rank 8th. Notably these numbers aren’t truly reflective since it represents such a small sample size.
For example the Raptors who have the top offensive rank since the break rank near the bottom of the board defensively in the same time frame. However simply removing the game right after the break (they hadn’t been home for several weeks due to the All-Star set-up) and the game Kyle Lowry sat for rest and the their results would rank 4th defensively. That said, it’s better to be trending toward improvement post ASB then in the opposite direction.
Use the KISS principle: Well if you are unaware KISS means Keep it simple silly in layman terms: ie. Rebound and Defend:
Utilize reserves for versatility: Houston will need to play up to their very best level on both ends of the court, but most importantly J.B. Bickerstaff will need to demonstrate an ability to utilize his reserves appropriately to address the versatility of Charlotte.
DON’T Turn Over The Ball: It’a a pretty fundamental point, but seriously the Rockets need to take care of the ball. Charlotte has several guards and wings with amazing speed to make the Rockets pay.
Stop the drives and protect the line:The two areas of the game the Hornets can dominate is both Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker are capable of driving the paint to score or set up their outside shooters. If they can shut them down they’ll have a much easier chance of winning.
The odds makers have made given Charlotte a 4.5 point edge with an over -under of 215.5 points and early action on the Hornets.
So, the Hornets got hit early with the loss of Michael Kidd Gilchrist followed by Al Jefferson. Just as they got back the former the latter was gone again for failing the drug testing policy rules (marijuana). Then as he was preparing to return, Gilchrist suffered a torn Labrum and had to undergo season ending surgery.
In hindsight it may have led to the Hornets rise back up the ladder. Why? First they jumped ahead of the trade deadline to snag Courtney Lee to replace Gilchrist in the starting line-up. Then they moved Al Jefferson to the bench placing him in a role he could excel in. AJ is benefiting from the floor spacing of Frank Kaminsky and versatility (and size) of the two Jeremy’s (Lin and Lamb). Nic Batum has also made a massive difference to the starters, Steve Clifford has proven to be as adept at coaching offense as he is defense and most importantly Kemba Walker has taken his freakishly fast driving game and finally added a reliable jump short.
Just remember while other pundits wax on about the Pacers, Hawks, Wizards and Pistons playoff potential, the only team outside the current top 4 (Cavs, Raptors, Celts and Heat) I anticipate being a factor are these Hornets. They are on a terror of late inching ever closer to the Heat and Celtics above them in 4th and 3rd respectively. I’ve warned all season this team could be a true underdog that no one sees coming and given their current upward trend they should finish no lower than 5th, though I’m sure they are gunning for third. I almost want them to finish aligned versus the Celtics as that would prove to be an excellent match. Anyway I digress….
For the Rockets they appear to have re-discovered the form that brought them success last season with this road trip having won all but the Bulls game so far. I’ve learned not to get too excited about this squad when they do have a win streak, but this is the first time all season my gut has said,…. hey I think they are back (or perhaps it’s simply fear of Warriors and Spurs). Either way I’ll take it.
As much as I’d love to hand this one to the Rockets, I have a feeling this will be a highly competitive game that the Hornets win by 5 possibly even in overtime.
For more exciting news and stories on the Charlotte Hornets FanSided site: Swarm and Sting
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