(FYI this is post is made with the assumption that Dwight Howard plays tonight.)
Tonight the Rockets make their way to Detroit to play the Pistons at 7:30pm EST. Both teams are on the second night of a back to back, the Rockets coming off a win against the Knicks and the Pistons coming off a loss to the Nets.
The Them: You have probably heard quite a bit about the Rockets at this point. The team that was expected to be a front runner in the race to dethrone the Warriors, is currently 7-10, fired it's coach, and has a superstar who is shooting like crap. (James Harden is shooting just 40%) And both their offense (99.7 OffRtg.) and defense (106.3 DefRtg) are really struggling. Dwight Howard has been hurt and has missed some games, and Ty Lawson has been downright terrible. The reality is that almost no one on this team is playing the way they were expected to before the season started. While I would think that they will turn it around at some point, there is absolutely something broken with this team. As in, them turning it around will not just be as simple as riding out the storm and waiting for (insert factor here) to regress to the mean a little bit. The team is shooting like crap from deep, which is not actually that big a surprise since there are not actually that many good shooters on the team. And the defense has been downright awful. (their DefRtg is 5th worst in basketball) The team relies hugely on James Harden, who trails (barely) only Westbrook and Cousins in usage rate. They play the famous "Morey-Ball" where they shoot tons of 3s, layups, and free throws. And they do just that. The problem is that they can't hit any of them, they have shot even worse than the Pistons from deep (which, wow. That is not easy to do) only they also take almost 6 more attempts more per game. Outside of Harden, Dwight Howard is still really good, even if he has fallen a long ways. Trevor Ariza can shoot the 3 (we think) and also can defend. Patrick Beverly is a freaking defensive menace on the perimeter, and Terrance Jones is actually playing ok based on him enjoying good returns on his newly added 3pt shot. (shooting 41% from deep) Off the bench, Ty Lawson has seen his minutes fall off a cliff, and he has also played like absolute garbage, but it would be foolish to assume that he will keep that up all season. Marcus Thorton can still score in bunches on occasion, Corey Brewer runs out in transition all the time, Clint Capela is actually shaping up to be a real player, and Jason Terry is somehow still canning 3s and running all over the place. In theory there are a lot of good players here (obviously why people thought they would be good this year) but it is not working. A lot falls on Harden really struggling with his efficiency, but the rest of the team has done poorly. Although I am still nervous, because the Pistons have had some bad luck with catching teams on the wrong night so far this year.
Matchups to watch:
Andre vs. Dwight: This is pretty obvious, not only are these two really good in a lot of the same ways. But Andre is constantly being compared to Howard which will certainly result in both of them playing with a little extra umph tonight. It will be interesting to see how Andre covers the paint in this game, because Harden will certainly get some penetration that will require Drummond to help on, but that opens up lobs. Andre is good enough that he should in theory be able to stop those at the same time, but it is always different once the game starts. Honestly though, I feel good about this matchup. Howard is a lot smaller than Andre, and Howard is still a bit hurt. Howard also is not exactly known as a big time battler (although he is not nearly as bad as his reputation on this front.) but Andre legit gets pissed and just destroys everyone in front of him with some regularity. Regardless, this will be fun to watch these two battle inside. Both guys are used to controlling the paint pretty well every night, and now they will really have to battle for that right.
KCP vs. Harden: Harden has struggled all year, and KCP has shut down every guy he has faced. (outside of an outburst by Crawford) This figures to be a good matchup for KCP, who is smart about avoiding fouls, and is also easily big enough to play with Harden. And given how poorly Harden has shot, this should be a bad game for Harden. KCP will generally keep him from the easy paint shots that he loves to feast on, which will cause Harden to lean on his lazy(ish) tendencies of jump shooting. HOWEVA, this should still scare you, for the same reasons that I was scared by Crawford. Harden is a lot better shooter than he has been so far. He figures to explode soon (and already has on several nights. I believe he has scored 50 points 3 times already) and if that happens, then no matter how good KCP plays on defense, it will not matter. The other concern is that, if Harden gets KCP into foul trouble, the Pistons might be doomed. There is not any good backup for KCP, and no one else will have any shot at guarding Harden, Jackson has looked slow with his leg hurt, and Johnson would likely gift a free throw marathon for Harden. So there is a lot of potential for this to go horribly wrong for the Pistons, but I am still pretty confident it will be ok, because KCP has been THAT good on defense so far this year. (and FWIW if he shuts down Harden it is officially acceptable to lose your shit over how good a defender KCP has become. Like go streaking or something, I'm sure the police will understand and not arrest you, they might even join you.)
Jackson vs. Hurt(?)/bad decisions: I think he is hurt, but regardless, if he is playing he needs to play better than he has the past couple of nights. He has made better decisions passing the ball lately, but he cannot keep up the diet of shots he has had. If he is so limited that he has no choice but to pull up for contested jumpers, then he should just pass it and hope someone else can do something. It is not a great option, but he is not good as a contested jump shooter. He needs to be smarter, but he has also shown a bit of a thing for rising to the occasion/bouncing back strong after a bad loss. So I think he will probably be ok this game, although it should be remembered that he will have to be on his toes whenever he has the ball because Patrick Beverly is a awesome defender.
The Pistons vs. Pace: The Pistons have generally not played at a super fast pace, but they will probably play at a high pace tonight. For one the Rockets play really fast so they don't have a ton of choice. But also the Rockets are truly horrific in transition defense, as such the Pistons will likely be looking to push on every chance they get. If they can make the right decisions and take advantage then they will have a much easier night.
Eternal sadness vs. Not eternal sadness: The bench gotta show up. It's been a wee bit better the last few games, but until they are better for an extended time I am going to worry about it. Also given the expected high pace of the game the bench might need to give a few more minutes than usual.
Blake vs. Lawson: Assuming Blake is still playing (I hope it is because Dinwiddie is still hurt) this could be an issue. Lawson has been a literal pile of poop so far, but he is super fast with the ball, which is the worst thing for Blake to try and deal with. As such, Steve Blake might end up being just what the doc ordered for Lawson.
Cackle with knowing glee if:
Andre is clearly much better than Howard and is dominating his soul all night.
Harden is taking lots of bad shots and missing them.
KCP causes naked people outside.
Jackson has a bounce back game.
The Rockets are still broken.
Run for the hills if:
Harden is hitting everything/gets KCP into foul trouble.
Jackson is still doing lots of stupid stuff.
Dwight has taken what Andre is doing personal and has a throwback game and dominates Andre.
The Rockets suddenly look like the running and gunning monster everyone expected.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Jackson has a bounce back game.
Harden is shut down to a crazy extent by KCP
Pistons win handily.
This should actually be pretty fun, the Rockets play at a fast pace, and there are 2 matchups that pit strength against strength. And I think that the Pistons will have a bounce back game.
What do you think? Think KCP will dominate Harden or the other way around? Think I'm stupid? Let me know! We all get smarter!