Opening Statements: Wizards at Rockets, Game 30 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at Rockets, Game 30

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Updated: December 29, 2014

Washington Wizards at Houston Rockets - Dec. 12, 2012

After consecutive home losses to teams that figure to make the playoffs this year (Phoenix and Chicago), the Washington Wizards rebuilt their confidence by beating two teams who currently don’t figure into the postseason picture (New York and Boston). Their reward for beating up on two lesser teams, and playing the second easiest schedule in the NBA up to this point, is to head on the road for five games against playoff-caliber teams that each present their own unique set of challenges.

The Wizards are scheduled to play consecutive games against the Rockets and the Mavericks, get two days of rest before taking on the Spurs and the Thunder on consecutive days, and, after another day of rest, take on the Pelicans. It is still early in the season, but this trip is a substantial litmus test.

If the Wizards go winless, or win just one game during this trip, their early-season success will be easily attributed to both their schedule and their membership in the weaker Eastern Conference. Two or three victories on this trip will serve notice to all of the NBA that the Wizards are formidable opponents both at home and on the road. If the Wizards win four or all of the games on this five-game road trip, the words “title contender” will be prematurely bandied about, but justifiably so.

The first team on this validation road trip is the Houston Rockets, led by James Harden, Dwight Howard and newly acquired forwards Josh Smith and Corey Brewer. The good news for the Wizards is that they could be facing a fatigued Rockets team that lost to the short-handed Spurs (no Kawhi Leonard, no Tony Parker) on Sunday, 110-106, in a game that saw them go 4:45 without scoring in the fourth quarter. The bad news is, the Rockets—regardless of whether they played last night or not—still present matchup issues for the Wizards. Patrick Beverly is a professional pest, Harden has every offensive weapon known to man,  Smith (when motivated) can step inside or out, Trevor Ariza has the answers to the test (since he played for the Wizards the last two years), and Dwight Howard can clog the lane and prevent those wonderful John Wall spins from occurring.

Joining me to discuss tonight’s matchup is Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina).  Michael is an NBA writer who has been published at Sports on Earth, Grantland, Bleacher Report, The Classical, Triangle Offense, and the ESPN True Hoop Blog Red94.

 


Teams: Wizards at Rockets
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Television: CSN+
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Rockets fav’d by 4 points


Q #1: Josh Smith is now a member of the Houston Rockets, and in his first game against the Grizzlies he looked engaged and serious about contributing. Last night against the Spurs he reverted to his Detroit Pistons ways. Long-term, do you think this is a beneficial move for the Rockets and does he compliment their two best players, Dwight Howard and James Harden?

Michael Pina: If long-term means “the rest of this season,” then this signing has low-risk, high-reward written all over it. Smith fills a void in Houston’s starting lineup and adds depth to a frontcourt that will surely be tested in the playoffs. He’s an above-average, versatile defender who should fit like a glove as Houston’s third or fourth scoring option. The Rockets don’t need to run plays for Smith, so long as he’s used as a driving facilitator (few players his size are better while passing on the move) who can get easy buckets in the post and in transition. The upside is humongous.

Q #2:  Josh Smith is obviously a nice move, but I’m sure Kevin McHale and Daryl Morey are well-aware that quickly it could backfire. What personnel move(s) still need to be made?

Michael Pina: Smith could backfire, for sure. But Houston has to like its roster as currently constructed. Morey surrounded his two superstars with a solid mix of blooming youngsters and seasoned veterans. The defense is rugged, the bench is well-rounded, and Houston’s overall ability to score in the half-court is greatly improved from a year ago. Kevin McHale has championship ingredients at his disposal, it’s just a matter of discovering the right recipe to cook up something scrumptious.

Q #3: When Trevor Ariza left the Wizards for Houston, there was serious concern in D.C. that his 3-point shooting and his on-ball defense would be sorely missed. Rasual Butler has helped with the 3-point burden and a relatively easy schedule has masked any glaring defensive deficiencies the Wizards may have, so the jury is still out on how much Ariza is truly missed. He’s slightly banged up right now, but, overall, how would you assess his 2014-15 season? Has he made everyone forget Chandler Parsons?

Michael Pina: Things have cooled down considerably since the first couple weeks of the season, when Ariza was taking and making 3s at an ungodly rate. He’s still launching outside shots like there’s no tomorrow, but connecting at a clip that’s below his career average. For now, this isn’t all that much of a concern, because everything else has been wonderful. Ariza’s defense has helped everything else fall into place, with the Rockets surrendering 95.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the court and 109.3—which would make the Lakers blush—when he sits. Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler is the only player averaging more minutes per game. Ariza’s an important cog and a huge upgrade on the wing. Houston is lucky to have him.

Q #4: You recently wrote about James Harden’s MVP-caliber season. Could you build the same case for John Wall?

Michael Pina: The MVP race is more open and less predictable now than just about any time I can remember. James Harden, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Marc Gasol, and Anthony Davis make up a long list that World’s Best Player LeBron James still may join if the Cleveland Cavaliers ever get their act together. And if the Washington Wizards win the Eastern Conference, John Wall’s name will deservedly find its way there as well. Wall might be the best all-around point guard in basketball, a genius passer who single-handedly creates open looks with unstoppable penetration. He’s the best defender at his position, too, and makes teammates better. Unlike several other MVP candidates, Wall’s team’s offense doesn’t crater when he comes off the floor, which hurts his case. But even if he probably won’t actually win, it’s a great sign for Washington, D.C., that putting the 24-year-old’s name “in the conversation” can’t be laughed at.

 

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.