The Houston Rockets are off to a sound start to the season, and reinforcements are reportedly on their way.
Houston improved to 5-3 on the season with a hard fought 101-99 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. James Harden continued his dazzling playing, racking up his first triple-double of the season with 26 points, 15 assists, and 12 rebounds.
Harden got off to a quick start in the game, tallying nine points, doling out six assists, and grabbing three boards in the first quarter. He finished 9-of-19 from the floor though he was just 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. However, it was the Rockets’ defense that secured the win by getting two key stops down the stretch.
“It was important for us,” Harden told reporters after the game. “The only way we’re going to get to where we want to go is on the defensive end. The game wasn’t pretty at all, but defensively we got stops.”
Ryan Anderson chipped in with 20 points as he made 5-of-11 shots from the field and was 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Eric Gordon added 15 points, and Sam Dekker contributed 10 points off the bench.
Houston went through a lot of changes this offseason. The Rockets changed coaches bringing in offensive guru Mike D’antoni. They also lost Dwight Howard, Jason Terry, Donatas Motiejunas, and Terrence Jones.
Harden has flourished in first-year coach Mike D’antoni’s system. The 27-year-old moved to point guard and is averaging 30.6 points, 13.0 assists, and 7.6 rebounds a game. He is shooting 49.7 percent from the field along with 39.4 percent from beyond the arc. Harden had a streak of four games with 30 points and 12 assists snapped against the Spurs.
Harden is not the only Rocket digging D’antoni’s system. Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Trevor Ariza are also shooting the ball well from beyond the arc. Gordon is in the league to get buckets, and he has done just that, reaching double figures in seven of the eight games so far. Anderson is a fantastic long-distance shooter, knocking down three three-pointers as well as 48.0 percent of his shots from long-range this year.
Clint Capella, Montrezl Harrell, and Nene Hilario have exceeded expectations, filling the hole left by Howard’s departure. Capella has been solid as a rebounder and defender. His offense still needs some work, as he is not much of a threat outside the paint. So far, the 22-year-old is contributing 9.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 20 minutes a game. He has reached double figures in three consecutive contests.
Harrell has seen sparse action so far. But when the 22-year-old has gotten on the floor, he has produced, averaging 6.5 points along with 3.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in four games. Nene’s career is winding down, but he is still a quality low-post scorer and produces 7.0 points a game while shooting 60.7 percent from the field.
Houston is the sixth highest-scoring team in terms of points per game (107.9) though their offensive rating is even more impressive (111.7), which is fifth best in the league per Basketball Reference. The Rockets are making a league-high 13.0 triples a game. They are sixth in the league in three-point percentage (37.3 percent) as they are launching a league-high 34.9 treys a game.
The biggest issue facing the Rockets going forward is their defense. Houston is permitting 106.8 points per contest, and their defense rating is slightly worse at 110.2, which ranks 26th. Opposing teams are shooting 45.2 percent from the floor, along with 37.0 percent in their three-point attempts.
Houston was very good defensively against San Antonio on Wednesday. The Rockets held to the Spurs to 39.3 percent (33-of-88) shooting from the floor, and 30.4 percent (7-of-23) shooting from beyond the arc. They had seven steals as well as four blocked shots. Ariza was the most active defender, with six deflections along with four steals.
There could be more good news for the defense on the horizon as guard Patrick Beverley is expected to return from injury soon. Also, restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas may finally sign.
Patrick Beverley getting re-evaluated
Beverley underwent surgery on his left knee at the end of October and was slated to miss roughly three weeks of action. He has already done some light shooting and running during his rehab sessions. According to Calvin Watkins of ESPN, Beverley will be re-evaluated today to see if his three-week timetable is still on schedule. If so, the six-foot-one point guard could be back by November 21.
Update: ESPN is reporting that Beverley practiced on Friday, and would return this week. Houston has four games next week starting with Philadelphia on Monday. The Rockets play at Oklahoma City on Wednesday, host Portland on Thursday and then hosts Utah on Saturday.
Beverley is very defensive oriented and likes to be aggressive on that end of the floor. He enjoys harassing opposing point guards by using his strength and physicality. Beverley was ranked fifth among all point guards in defensive RPM last season.
Offensively, Beverley is a good distributor and excellent three-point shooter. He made 40 percent of his three-point shots last year and is a 37.7 percent shooter from distance for his career. He doesn’t get to the line much as he doesn’t really get to the hoop that much. Beverley averaged 9.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists while shooting 43.4 percent from the field overall.
Donatas Motiejunas may rejoin team
Marc Stein of ESPN recently reported that after weeks of silence on the six-foot-10 Lithuanian’s status, there is now a little noise to starting to bubble. Stein said that Rockets have offered a multiyear deal that begins at $7 million a season, with the possibility that it could increase to $8 million per season due to incentives. He added that the deadline for a deal is likely around Thanksgiving, as any deal after November 23 would leave less than three months before the league’s annual trade deadline, thus making Motiejunas ineligible to be included in any potential deals.
One of the holdups in the deal is that the Rockets are unwilling to fully guarantee the first season of the deal due to questions about Motiejunas’ back. The 26-year-old has been plagued by injuries throughout his four-year career. He has yet to play a full season, and he missed 45 games this past season.
Motiejunas is a stretch-four who plays hard and has some nice low-post moves. He doesn’t provide much rim protection though he is a good physical defender when he is healthy.
The seven-footer struggled mightily last year, averaging 6.2 points and 2.9 rebounds while shooting 43.9 percent from the floor and 28.1 percent from beyond the arc in 14.8 minutes of action. For his career, Motiejunas averages 7.0 points along with 4.0 rebounds in 19 minutes per game.
Houston played seven of its first eight games on the road. The Rockets will play five of its next seven games at the Toyota Center. They will square off against the Spurs on November 12.
[Featured Image by George Bridges/AP Images]