For the first time all season the Rockets are three games over .500. It's a task that has been bizarrely and frustratingly difficult for the team to accomplish.
They got to this point with Patrick Beverley missing a game and Dwight Howard missing all three during the current win streak.
The Rockets have had to piece together the lineup during the three wins (including a squeaker over the largely Anthony Davis-less Pelicans). They've been helped by the trade for Josh Smith and their newer smaller lineup, with Corey Brewer starting and Trevor Ariza shifting to power forward.
Now Dwight Howard is on the mend, he's getting better and could be active for the Spurs game tonight. Even if he isn't ready Wednesday, he will be ready soon. The question when he does return is: do you stay small, or go back to the twin towers lineup?
A look at the two different lineups.
While it might be tempting to go with the starting lineup they have used for a big chunk of the season with Howard playing center and Clint Capela at power forward, the small ball has worked. With Brewer and Ariza and only one big, the floor is very spaced with shooters (or a fast break/slasher extraordinaire in Brewer) on all sides. James Harden is able to operate more freely and be more of a playmaker.
It doesn't hurt that during the three wins the Rockets have been lighting it up from the three-point line. The team is also playing faster and more aggressive during the small ball stretches.
The twin towers lineup provides length, rebounding and two guys that can that play well in the pick and roll with Harden.
Really, we are talking about the first seven minutes or so of the game. Either way J.B. Bickerstaff goes, after subs come in the Rockets will revert to more normal lineups and their standard big man rotation (plus J-Smoove).
What the small lineup does better than the twin towers lineup is provide energy. While that might not be as easy to quantify with a stat, it's undeniable. Brewer gets out and sprints down the court with every rebound. It doesn't turn into points every possession, but it does force the defense to consistently make sure they are on their toes.
With the bigger lineup, there really isn't that one guy that is going to put consistent pressure on the defense — and take pressure of Harden — like Brewer. Capela will help you get more rebounds then a smaller lineup would, but is the tradeoff worth it?
What might help make up Bickerstaff's mind is more than Brewer vs. Capela is Ariza vs. Capela.
Ariza has been fantastic playing power forward over the win streak. It just hasn't been his hot shooting; the defense on opposing fours/bigs has been great. He held his own against Dirk Nowitzki and Anthony Davis, two of the league's best at that position.
Going forward, smaller just might be the way to go. It maybe be a strange-looking lineup, but it is getting the job done. And as the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.