Hornets 107, Rockets 99: New Orleans Pulls Away Late

There's already been plenty of discussion in last night's thread. So I'll quickly touch on three additional topics from the game.

The Rockets' Defense

I mentioned in the pre-game that Houston's defensive struggles are strange to see. But I meant that from a historical sense more than anything else. The current roster's struggles should not come as a surprise. Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin struggled to stay in front of offensive players. Luis Scola bit on the various throw-away pump fakes David West seems to perform involuntarily. Yao, healthy, is a better defender than one might imagine, but Yao, unhealthy, is quite poor. I suppose Shane Battier is still a rather good defender; however, against an offense without a high usage wing threat, his contributions are minimized. 

The Rockets were tabbed by many to make the playoffs, and they still very well could. Despite last night, I don't think Houston and New Orleans are teams of vastly different quality. But as long as the Rockets continue to allow easy penetration, wide open jump shots, and shooting fouls to cover for mistakes, they won't contend. Between Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, and the 20-odd minutes of Yao, the offense will still be adequate. If, and it's a major if, the defense ever decides to show up, they should be back in the thick of things.

Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor

Ariza's box score impact was negligible last night. In general, the season hasn't started on the right offensive foot for Trevor. For the fourth straight night though, he was huge on defense. Primarily matched up with Kevin Martin, he held him to 5 for 12 shooting (though Martin turned it into an efficient night anyway, scoring 18 points on those 12 shots). 

An interesting byproduct of Ariza's man defense has been his steals total. In general, many players with high steal rates hang around in passing lanes or step up at the right moments in help defense to strip balls. We've got a great example of this on our team in Chris Paul. Ariza, however, has been stealing a lot, and most of his steals have come in a man-defense setting. He's simply taking the ball away from his assignment, usually on the perimeter. The locations of his steals allow New Orleans to release into transition. Last night, we even saw Ariza successfully lead two fast breaks off his own steals. 

Transition Offense

You'll remember Monty Williams saying he wanted to increase team pace. We harped on it (probably too much) during the preseason because we've seen how efficient a fast-paced Chris Paul attack can be. 

Is it happening? The raw pace numbers will say it's not. Despite a 95 possessions at Houston and a 99 possessions at San Antonio, the team pace is still slower than league average at 93.1 possessions a night.

Transition and semi-transition possessions, however, have drastically increased. 

A large contributing factor is the willingness of other players to push the ball forward. Ariza and Belinelli have both pushed forward consistently, through four games. Where previous Hornet teams attempted to find Chris Paul immediately on a defensive rebound or stop, this team is willing to push to at least half court before looking for him. It's obviously in the team's best interest to have Paul lead every fast break. Waiting for him every time, though, wastes transition opportunities. Couple the team's tendency to break with an efficient defense, and you have quite a few more fast breaks than in years past.
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