Opening Statements: Wizards at Rockets, Game 52
Without much deliberation, we’re going to get right into the goods…
Teams: Wizards at Rockets
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Radio: THE FAN-FM 106.7
Spread: Rockets fav’d by 8.5 points.
Wizards tickets … anyone?
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Q #1: The Rockets are on their second-longest winning streak of the last five seasons (six games)—they won seven in a row in January 2012. What has gone most right during the current run?
Mitchell Felker: If you asked Chandler Parsons, the answer would be that the offense has been more fluid (or “poppin’,” as Coach McHale would say), with better ball-movement and players making the extra pass. James Harden missed the first two games of the run against the Spurs and Mavs, and the other players had to rely on each other in his absence. And the offense has looked a little smoother since his return. But mostly its been because Dwight Howard has looked like his prime-self, averaging 24.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, two blocks and a steal per game, while shooting 59 percent from the field and a whopping (for Dwight) 71 percent from the free throw stripe over that span. His free throws are a roller coaster game-to-game, but this is the Dwight Howard that Rockets fans were hoping for.
Q #2: Which Rocket does the NBA sleep on most? (Chandler Parsons, like Harden and Howard, is obviously exempt from being an answer. Most are wide-awake on him.)
Mitchell Felker: Honestly, I think the answer is Jeremy Lin. A lot of fans would disagree (there are multiple “trade Jeremy Lin” posts in our forum alone). But he is putting up numbers comparative to the Linsanity days, and he has been much more efficient this season than at any time in his career. His role has changed week-to-week this year due to all the injuries the team has sustained. But if the Rockets can continue this roll they are on and Lin can finally get comfortable in his role as microwave offense off the bench, I think he could make a real run at the Sixth Man of the Year. Terrence Jones is also a name you should familiarize yourself with. His move into the starting lineup mid-December coincided with the Rockets winning eight of their next ten games. He’s been a godsend.
Q #3: Have you at least seen James Harden try to play better defense over the course of his time in Houston? And how confident are you that he’s developed the offensive discipline to lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals (or just the Western Conference Finals)?
Mitchell Felker: With Harden it’s more about his effort and attention to detail than defensive talent. For a player that has such a high basketball IQ on the offensive end, it’s strange how lost he can get when his team doesn’t have the ball. He ball watches constantly, and while he has excellent hand speed and can pick the pockets of anyone he guards, he gets caught relying on that instead of using fundamentals and proper technique. The hope is that as the games become more important, he’ll zero-in his focus on that end.
On offense, there is a constant struggle for Harden on when to assert himself as the superstar and when to just be the shooting guard on a very good offense. The Rockets’ roster is full of players that excel in one-on-one and pick-and-roll situations as the ball-handler, so like the early days of the Miami LeBrons, sometimes the offense devolves into my turn, your turn, with little off-the-ball movement. Also, none of the Rockets’ players had ever played with a superstar big man prior to Dwight Howard’s arrival on Houston and the team really struggled to integrate him into their fast-paced offense. Things are smoothing out and—like I said before—Dwight is beasting folks lately. So I guess my answer is that the offense we see today won’t be the one we see come playoff-time. No one needed the regular season to iron out all the details more than the Rockets did, and every game down the stretch will bring more chances at learning about each other and building chemistry. But even with all that, they are still sixth overall in offensive efficiency, according to Hollinger’s metric.
True or False … with Mitchell Felker.
True or False: As goes the stigma about the last game before the All-Star break, this is totally a trap game for Houston.
100% true. The Rockets have a nasty habit of playing down to their competition anyway (no offense, Wizards fans), and with the long break coming up, I’m sure Dwight and the boys are already looking forward to New Orleans. Not to mention, the last substantial streak the Rockets had (the aforementioned Terrence Jones run) was upended by the lowly Utah Jazz.
True or False: Daryl Morey is neither Elvis, nor a dork.
False. You sir, must have never heard of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Morey is king among all those brainiacs. He was one of the founding members of the conference and is easily its most popular contributor. There was never a more suitable nickname.
True or False: The Rockets will trade Omer Asik before the deadline.
True. No, false. True? Daryl Morey will not trade him in a salary dump. He has a set worth for Asik and he won’t dip below that just to pacify him. Plus, in the few games that Asik has played since becoming one of the most overqualified backups in the Association, the Rockets have been elite. That kind of 48-minute rim protection is unheard of in today’s NBA and with both his and Jeremy Lin’s $8.6 million cap figures coming off the books in the summer of 2015, the Rockets have no problem going into that high-profile free agency with near max space. But if someone steps up to the plate and offers Morey what he is looking for, I think both sides (Asik and the Rockets) would prefer to move him.
True or False: You really can’t even argue that Royce White was the worst first round pick in NBA history and it’s not something you should take pride in even if he were true.
False. Morey has made his name as a man who is not afraid to take risks, such as trading a useful player now for an asset later, and at the time White represented the ultimate risk. He used the 16th pick on a player most pundits said was a top-5 talent were it not for all his personal issues. It was a total all-or-nothing move and it obviously came up nothing, but if he had to do it all again I think Morey would still swing for the fences. Plus, he’s got an excellent sense of humor (the man’s nickname is Dork Elvis for crying out loud), so he doesn’t mind ribbing himself about burning a mid-round pick in the same 18-month span that he managed to acquire two of the top 10 or 12 players in the league. And lets not forget that the 5th pick in that draft (Thomas Robinson, who Morey later traded for) is now on his third team in three years, so it could have been worse. As always, the NBA draft is a crapshoot.