The loss to the Memphis Grizzlies highlighted some changes that should be made for the Houston Rockets to have more success.
Tuesday’s loss against Memphis wasn’t that surprising when you consider how well the Grizzlies have been playing as of late. Their 121-110 victory over the Houston Rockets was their sixth straight, the NBA’s longest current streak other than the streaks of the top two teams in the Western Conference. Pair that with Russell Westbrook missing the game and that’s a lethal combination.
Still, the Rockets were within six points with 2:32 remaining in the game before Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies pulled away late for a comfortable home victory. Given that the margin was so small with less than three minutes left, I can’t help but think some coaching adjustments might have changed the outcome of this game and could be beneficial for the team going forward.
Let’s start with a more general adjustment that should have been made before the game even tipped off:
Better Evaluation on When to Sit Russell Westbrook
I have to say, when I saw Russ was sitting out against Memphis in favor of playing against the Portland Trail Blazers, I was a bit confused. Yes, the Rockets are a better team than both clubs and they’re both below .500. But one, Memphis was playing at home, two, they had won five in a row going into the matchup, and three, Portland is 3-7 in their last 10.
Maybe Coach Mike D’Antoni and the coaching staff thought Russell Westbrook would be sorely needed to help slow down the backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but they haven’t exactly been themselves this season. Since Russell is being forced to sit out one game for every back-to-back, a current assessment of opponents’ momentum, matchups and chances of winning should be run going forward.
Going by these three criteria, Russell Westbrook should have been in the lineup on Tuesday to help the Rockets get the week started with an important road victory. Even on the second night of a back-to-back, Houston should have been able to take care of an underperforming Blazers squad that’s seven losses below .500 on the season.
Remember that Isaiah Hartenstein Exists
I’m not saying that Isaiah Hartenstein is the second coming of Moses Malone or anything but he definitely deserved to play more than four minutes on Tuesday. Coming off a 17-point, 15-rebound night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, it seemed like he was primed to start earning a few more minutes in the rotation to see if he could keep it up.
Instead, the 7-footer played just one-third of a quarter before being shut down for the night, despite Clint Capela getting into foul trouble with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter. After Clint remained in the game for another few minutes, he eventually picked up a fifth foul before being replaced by…Tyson Chandler.
Chandler has had a remarkable career so far, but he has not shown the type of impact in a game that Hartenstein has in his young career. At a certain point, it was apparent that D’Antoni would rather go with a small-ball lineup that was giving up numerous offensive rebounds than have Hartenstein out there. It’s time to unleash Isaiah for longer stretches to see how he can help the lineup when Clint is hurt or in foul trouble.
Encourage Better Shot Selection
To be honest, this suggestion is mostly aimed at James Harden. He’s averaging over 37 points per game, he’s embarrassing defenders on a nightly basis and he should be the frontrunner for another MVP award. Still, his shot selection could be much better than it has been.
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Considering his athletic ability and craftiness, The Beard could get to the basket on virtually any possession if he wanted to. Realistically, it wouldn’t be ideal for his health and the team’s offensive strategy to drive that often, but him venturing closer to the basket more often would certainly help the Rockets.
There have been numerous occasions where James has a slower, bigger opponent guarding him one-on-one and he settles for a stepback 3-pointer. While these shots go in often, there have been plenty of poor shooting nights as a result of this tactic.
The rest of the team isn’t immune to poor shot selection as well. Westbrook still takes too many long and midrange shots early in the shot clock and guys like Ben McLemore and Eric Gordon sometimes take outside shots way too early that lead to wasted possessions.
It’s time for Mike D’Antoni to tweak his “seven seconds or less” mindset and start to emphasize smarter basketball on both ends of the floor before he ends up leading the team to another disappointing playoff exit.