On Tap: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  December 18, 2005

Post-Game Update: Losing to a team at the end of a road trip that is without one of its two stars stings, that was one the Lakers should have had. The Laker offense in the third quarter sputtered as they looked too much to find mismatches or to go at McGrady when he got his fourth foul, rather than just run the offense and execute it. That’s where they lost the game, not the last play. Some quick stats from the third quarter (by my count): Kobe and Lamar together were 3 out of 7, the rest of the Lakers were 1 for 7; the Lakers were 0 of 5 from three point range and just 1 of six from shots inside the key. Combine those numbers with some slow defensive rotations (leaving Howard and Wesley good looks) and the Lakers go from a game in hand to a tight contest. About that last play, the Lakers have been much better this year about help defense but it disappeared there — McGrady drove past D. George (can’t blame him, McGrady can’t be stopped by one guy) but Smush just waves at him and neither Odom (on Swift) or Brown (on Howard) rotate aggressively. And that’s the ballgame.

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First, let me say a couple things about the win against Washington: Good teams win when they don’t bring their “A” game. The Lakers were flat in the first half but in the second half they found some energy — Kobe providing much of it in the third quarter — and shot 50.7% (eFG%) from the field as a team to get the win. Besides the usual stellar performance from Kobe, good games from Chris Mihm (a team high +8 for the night, thanks to his defense) and Devean George (+7, and was rewarded by Phil with key minutes at the end).

Now they get the Rockets, who, back at the start of the season, were considered a team that could challenge San Antonio for the crown in the West (and count me among the people who thought that). But then they got off to a tough 3-11 start and media pundits — specifically Charles Barkley and the TNT crew — were quick to lay the blame at the feet of Yao Ming. But if there’s one thing Laker fans should know, and Barkley too of all commentators, it’s that you have to have a good team around your stars to win. And right now Houston does not.

Yao is not the problem, so far this season he has been himself — his numbers are pretty much at his career levels. He has a PER of 22.8, has a true shooting percentage of 57.9% and is pulling down 16% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor and thee team is +14.8 per 48 minutes when he is on the floor. The only center in the league with a higher PER right now is Marcus Camby. As a team, the Rockets have done a lot better since the outside part of their inside-outside game returned — Tracy McGrady. He is scoring 25.6 points per 40 and has a PER of 24.8 and is +15.5. He remains one of the best players in the game and doesn’t look like his sore back is slowing him much in the couple of games I’ve seen,

What has hurt the Rockets is that there is no support for the two stars. Bobby Sura was lost for the season and the Rockets offense has not run well without him the past two seasons. Stromile Swift was the big free agent acquisition but he is scoring just 16.8 points per 40 minutes, is +0.2 and has a PER of 15.3 — all average numbers for a guy who was going to put them over the top. Derek Anderson and David Wesley have not been impressive.

Look at the production by position and you see the only two positions the Rockets get above-average offensive production from is the three and the five — McGrady and Ming. On both offense and defense, it is the other three positions of the floor dragging the team down.

This year’s Rocket’s team is playing good defense, they are ninth in the NBA with a defensive rating of 104.2 (points per 100 possessions). What has lagged is their offense, even in the last 10 games (where they are 6-4) they have an offensive rating of 104.3, up just 1 point over their season average (which is 22nd in the league).

The Rockets come in hot, winners of 6 of their last 8, but the Lakers catch a break and get Houston in the back end of a back-to-back, the Rockets lost to the Clippers last night. Los Angeles need to come out and take advantage of this, try to run on a Rocket’s team that plays at the second slowest pace in the league. Do that and they can keep this hot streak going.

Kurt

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7 responses to On Tap: The Houston Rockets

  1. yao was definitely a part of the problem during the losing streak without mcgrady. he should’ve stepped up more, at least around consecutive loss number four or five. more damning evidence that he’ll never be a great center, just a very good one.

    not only is it a back-to-back, it’s the rockets’ fourth game in five nights of a road trip. if the lakers don’t blow away their energy level it will be pitiful indeed.

  2. I don’t know if it was just because he was playing against his old team and had something to prove, but Kwame looked pretty good to me in the last game. He was actually being agressive and I hope that he will start being consistant and turn out to be the player that all of us hoped that he would be.

  3. kwame’s been looking good since he came back off IR. i think it’s a combination of 1) coming off the bench, so he’s gotta earn his way back into the rotation, and 2) replacing Mihm instead of playing beside him, as PJ pointed out, this opens up the lane a bit, and for now it seems to be working just fine. I also hope this improvement continues, considering that we mostly called Kwame a bust for the first 10 games we saw of him, wouldn’t it turn out to be a great big nice Christmas surprise to see him turn in double-doubles on a consistent basis?
    Tonight we should outplay Houston if only because we should have way more energy, having some rest, and Houston playing a tough road schedule, and, the fact that our starters haven’t had to play as much lately with such strong bench play.
    I hope to see a little bit of Andrew as well, against Yao, we might have to go 3 deep at center, and it would be good experience for him.
    Also, hope to see the trend of letting the second unit stay out there a while, seems to really be working much better now, Luke is such a factor in this.

  4. Phil commented today on how the second unit runs the offense better. The have been keeping leads and in some cases extending them.

    I want rebounds and defense from Kwame. The points will come.

  5. it’s probably a very good thing kwame is coming off the bench now. everywhere i see people praising his performances… his numbers probably wouldn’t be as sexy if he was back in the starting lineup.

  6. Loved listening to Worthy’s in game analysis. They should do that more. He said that we should be looking for these guys to be able to run the offense “without thinking too much” by mid January. That loss was just another chapter in the education of a team. Hoping it’s not a trend of playing to the level of your competition.

    LO 5 turnovers. Chris MIhm 1 point.

  7. At the start of the second quarter the broadcast team seems to go to someone for an interview, calling it “live wired” or something. Worthy was a good choice. The game before it was Michael Clarke Duncan, which was less interesting. Not that I’d tell him that.