On the second night of a Back2Back, and the second of three games in four nights you might expect a loss. Being without James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Clint Capela, you’d assume it.
For a bit of perspective, the Rockets are a “top heavy” team in that most of their salary is concentrated in a very few players, and they were without $94 million in player salary, or 65% of their total payroll in the three missing starters.
In still other terms, the Rockets were without their top three scorers (yes Capela is currently #3). That is to say, an average of 76pts, 28rbs, 16ast, 3.4stl and 3blk. That’s...a lot. It also includes their two actual PG/Playmaker types.
One might look at the scoreboard and think the Rockets didn’t make a game of it. They did, until it all fell apart in the 4th quarter. The fourth quarter saw New Orleans apply strong defensive pressure, get very hot shooting, and the Rockets makeshift offense imploding, all at once. (112pts isn’t so bad for a makeshift offense, though.)
Don’t think it was hot Pelicans shooting, that is was all the Rocket’s fault? Lonzo Ball, yes, Mr. Jr. High push shot, went 7-12 from three. He’s worked on his shot, now it just looks like one long shooting hitch that is also, somehow, a shot, but it goes in, and it’s slightly quicker than previously.
A series of unforced errors on the Rockets part rendered any attempt at a comeback futile. That’s a shame for Rockets fans and the team, as a win tonight might have earned more trust for peripheral players, and more minutes for the younger, fresher, legs.
In my opinion, letting younger players work through problems will lead to better results down the road. An deep bench getting real minutes makes for a fresher team come the playoffs, and also if the team needs to steal minutes for the primary players, or just shake things up, at any time.
The good parts?
Eric Gordon returned from injury and generally his shot looked, well, perfect. Until he got tired and started shooting it flat. He also missed a shocking number of free throws, but that should come around quickly. Gordon put in 20pts in 22 minutes, going 4 of 7 from three. Eric Gordon shooting like he did tonight should open up a lot for the Rockets offense, and brutally punish trapping and double teams. It’ll take some time to get that rolling, but a healthy Gordon is one of the Rockets’ biggest assets.
Isaiah Hartenstein was a (somewhat delayed) revelation tonight notching a career high 19pts, 9rbs, 4ast and 2blk in 34 minutes. This comes against a New Orleans team that has legitimate big man talent, in Derrick Favors, Jahlil Okafor (don’t laugh, he’s a man trapped in the wrong time), and probably Jaxson Hayes and also the mere presence of No Doubt HoF player Zion Williamson in the same building.
This talent, matched with generally tall Pelicans squad, makes shooting tough (and is evidently immune to over the back calls of any sort, which makes them even tougher). When Hartenstein went out, the Pelicans generally made their push on offense.
Chris Clemons had a pretty good night, but against a tall team like New Orleans his height hurts him more on defense. He can dunk pretty easily at 5’9”, however. And he can shoot.
What is Thabo Sefalosha doing on the roster? This is the kind of game he should have played in, and he did not. His and Nene’s contract need to be moved off the roster, if at all possible. Maybe out there, somewhere, somehow, is an athletic player who rebounds, defends, can set a pick and is, oh, 6’10” or so. I can dream, anyway.
The Rockets have a playable 2nd center, and could get Capela some rest? Will MDA trust the young big enough to develop him? That remains to be seen.
It’s a shame this one slipped away, but not unexpected.
Biggest positive tonight?
This poll is closed
Eric Gordon’s return.
Isaiah Hartenstein, playable center.
Chris Clemons, very entertaining player.
This game wasn’t against Dallas.