Rockets

Rockets Flying High Post All-Star Break

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After a quality road win over the Boston Celtics, the Rockets are winners of five straight. They are now just one game back of the third seed in the Western Conference. The team is fully healthy for the first time since October and is coming together in the latter half of the season. What factors have contributed to the win streak? Can they keep it going heading into the postseason?

Chris Paul and Clint Capela Return

Chris Paul‘s 2018-19 campaign has been marred by an early season suspension and a plethora of injuries. Since the All-Star break, though, he has averaged 18.7 points, 10 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. His resurgence has given the Rockets considerably more freedom on offense. Opposing teams have to now account for two Hall of Fame guards rather than just one.

 

 

Chris Paul is one of the greatest passers of all time. In the above clip, his vision on the break allows him to hit Eric Gordon on the wing for three. While Paul was injured – or playing like a shell of himself in January when he was shooting just 36% from the field – the Rockets had no one to create offense when Harden was on the bench. Now, though, the Rockets are able to get consistent open shots on the perimeter throughout the game.

Clint Capela broke his thumb in January and was out for six weeks. He returned immediately after the All-Star break and has quickly re-established himself as the presence on the glass the Rockets so desperately needed. Over their last five games, the Rockets are third in the league in defensive rebounding rate at 76.4%. For reference, the Rockets were second to last in defensive rebounding rate when Capela was injured. Capela will never be the most talked about player on the star-studded Rockets, but the only way this team can go far in the playoffs is if he stays healthy.

Kenneth Faried…For Three?

Kenneth Faried was brought in last month to be a short-term replacement for the injured Capela. His play was so strong, though, that he has received an increased role even with Capela’s return. Typically known for playing small-ball lineups, Coach D’Antoni has instead opted to play Faried and Capela together in spurts. This has been due in part to an unanticipated development – Faried learning how to shoot threes.

Faried has more three-pointers made in his last three games than he did in his entire career up to that point. While his main skills remain his athleticism and high energy, the development of a three-point shot gives the Rockets the ability to play two big men at the same time. This could potentially be a nightmare matchup for the Warriors, who don’t have the personnel to guard multiple bigs. The Rockets did, in fact, beat the Warriors last week, and Faried’s 20 point and 10 rebound night was a big reason why.

James Harden Stays Hot

While Harden’s legendary 30 point streak came to an end against the Atlanta Hawks last week, he has continued to play at an MVP level. Here he is icing the game over the Boston Celtics:

In addition to the game against the Celtics, Harden also willed the Rockets to a win against the Miami Heat at the end of February. He scored 58 points in a game in which the Rockets trailed by nineteen during the third quarter. Harden is in the midst of the best season of his career and has shown no signs of letting up. Hopefully Harden continues leading the Rockets to victories while piling up astronomical numbers.

Moving Forward

The Rockets have 19 games remaining in the regular season. At 38-25, they have all but locked up a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. It looks like the Warriors will snag the one seed, so the Rockets desperately need to get to the third seed to have the easiest road to the Conference Finals. Currently, they are a game back of the Portland Trail Blazers for that spot. To get there, the Rockets will need a couple of things to happen:

First, the Rockets must stay healthy. All season long they have battled injuries, but are finally at full strength.

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Last season, the Rockets absolutely decimated teams with their top three players on the court. Now that they are all finally back and playing together, there is no reason why they shouldn’t do the same to close out the year.

HITTING SHOTS

The other main need for the Rockets is for role players to hit open shots. On open three-point attempts this year (closest defender 4-6 feet away), the Rockets have shot just 34.9%. They generate the most open looks of any team in the league, yet have not been hitting them at a high clip. Ideally, now that the team is healthy, some of the pressure will be taken off the role players. They won’t need to play as many minutes and will have fresher legs throughout the game. If guys like Eric Gordon – who is shooting a nearly career-worst 32% from three – can get into a rhythm, the Rockets will be absolutely unstoppable.

All year, the Rockets have been getting open shot attempts. Now that they’re back at full health, though, it’s time to start making them. If that happens, the Rockets should have no issue getting to the three seed and avoiding a second-round matchup with Golden State.

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About Zach Zola

Zach Zola is a student at Brown University studying English. He grew up in New York, but has been a die-hard Rockets fan since the days of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He believes that James Harden is the only King James in the NBA.

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