In a game that was far too close, the Houston Rockets took down the New Orleans Hornets, holding on for a 100-96 victory. After going into halftime with a nineteen point lead, the Rockets seemed poised to cruise to an easy victory against a younger, even less experienced Hornets squad, yet faltered down the stretch and nearly gave a much-needed victory away.
Spurred by a run that stretched from the late third quarter into the fourth, the Hornets cut the lead to two with just 1:23 left in the game, but Chandler Parsons and James Harden made shots for the Rockets when they needed them to carry the Rockets to victory.
At the end of the night, the game still goes down as a win, no matter how lackluster the 2nd half performance was. Let's break it down in a "Three Up, Three Down" segment.
1) Is the Shooting Drought Over?
Coming into the game 24th in the league in three point shooting percentage, hitting on under 30% of attempts, the Rockets shot 35% from behind the arc tonight, with Marcus Morris hitting on 3-5 and Toney Douglas making 4-5.
The Rockets have been outperforming their record in the early going, with a top ten defense being paired with an offense that has consistently found players open for shots. The only thing missing was that the players could not convert the open looks. If Douglas, Morris, Delfino, Lin, and Parsons can shoot well going forward, this team is going to be very well positioned to make a run at the playoffs.
James Harden is pretty much going to be a constant throughout the season, but it's the players around him that will make the difference. The last few nights have given Rockets fans hope that this offense could be pretty darn good.
2) Omer Asik Keeps Up Strong Play
Though Jeremy Lin gets all the pub as Daryl Morey's big time free agent signing this off-season, what is often lost in the shuffle is that Omer Asik was the Rockets' primary target and first meeting of the free agency period. Not only did Asik shut down the paint as he's been doing all year, he cut with conviction on the pick-and-roll and threw it down when he got the opportunities.
With yet another double-double, Asik is now tied for fifth in the category among centers, a remarkable feat for someone who had registered just one in his previous two years combined. If you're keeping track at home, Asik has scored in double figures each of the last five games, with a double-double in four of five.
3) Improved Ball Movement
After not scoring 100 points in their previous four contests, the Rockets eclipsed that mark the last two games, a crucial development moving forward. Obviously, the improved shooting played a large part in why the Rockets shot 45% from the field (vs. a team average of 41% on the year), but improved ball movement was also important in that efficiency. The Rockets, as they did for the first 45 minutes against Miami, moved the ball extremely well, keeping the ball moving and hitting the open man.
God knows that Omer Asik is not going to make 6 field goals unless the passing really is solid.
1) Inability to Put Away Hornets
Midway through the third quarter, the Rockets were hitting on all cylinders, building up a 21 point lead that seemed to be insurmountable. Unfortunately, with mediocre defense, the likes of Brian Roberts and Greivis Vasquez burned the Rockets and brought the Hornets back into the contest.
Down the stretch, the Rockets hit when they needed to, but this was not a game where James Harden should be counted on for nearly 40 minutes. I would've loved to see Daequan Cook
and Cole Aldrich get some burn late.
2) Jeremy Lin Looks...Bad
Tonight, there really wasn't any other word for it; Lin looked bad. He had a few key rebounds when the Rockets really needed him, but, outside of one fearless transition layup early, we saw the somewhat passive Lin from the last few nights.
I've said that the Rockets have been underutilizing Lin, that they need to get him the ball with a chance to penetrate and make a play, but I'm not so sure I stick by that assessment now. The offense has run the best with Harden dominating the ball, and Lin has struggled in the paint as of late. I think, at least for now, the team needs to ride this out with Lin and hope that with time, his knee can get to full strength. There really isn't much of another option.
3) Hero Ball
As Dave wrote about earlier this week, the Rockets have relied far too heavily on hero ball for late game offense. Tonight, that trend unfortunately continued. Isolations were in vogue late in the game as Harden took the shot clock down before either shooting a prayer or dishing off to Parsons for an equally bad shot. Fortunately, the Rockets made just enough shots to keep this game out of reach, but if a couple of those lucky ones didn't fall, we could be talking about a terrible upset right now.
Yes, this trend is indicative of a team not playing under their head coach, but Kelvin Sampson is experienced enough to draw up plays for the offense. Let's hope that with time together, this team can build up a group of late game plays they can rely on to avoid this brand of offense.