Houston comes into tonight rested and on a bit of a roll after back-to-back wins over San Antonio and Memphis. According to the Houston Chronicle, Dwight Howard sat most of the second game with tightness in his back. Whether it was strictly back issues or foul trouble against Memphis, he has started to round into form as Zach Lowe mentioned in his Western Conference Power Rankings:
Gulp. In the 16 games since that column ran, Howard has shot 55-of-101 on post-ups — 55 percent! That would have ranked no. 3 among 70 players with at least 100 post-ups last season, per Synergy Sports. His points per possession on post-ups over that span would only rank about 25th among those 70 guys, mostly because his turnover rate is still too high. The Rockets would benefit from shifting a couple of those post-ups each night into pick-and-rolls with James Harden and Jeremy Lin.
Howard looks spry again, and he has proven me and other critics wrong. He has dunked out of the post several times in those 16 games after having zero dunks out of post-ups before that. His post-ups demand attention now, and that's a huge boon for Houston.
Now in come the Pelicans, fresh off their first win over a .500 or better opponent. Luckily for the Pels, minutes were sparse as only Ryan Anderson (40) logged more than 32 minutes in the wire-to-wire win over Denver. New Orleans did not just beat the Nuggets, they never trailed.
Houston presents a few problems for the Pelicans. Who will guard Dwight Howard? Can the Pelicans control the defensive glass (Houston posts a 27.1% ORB%)? And can the Pelicans defend without fouling?
Houston leads the NBA by a significant margin in Free Throw Rate (FTr). I do not think there is one signal answer to guarding Howard, although Jason Smith's six fouls would be a welcome addition, if his knee is up to it. Rebounding is going to have to be a team effort; Ryan Anderson attempting to box out Howard alone is a recipe for disaster. On the fouling front, the team needs to take advantage of their wingspans and stop swinging wildly at the ball.
Despite the apparent disadvantages, there will be opportunities for the Pelicans as well. Houston has not been a good defensive team this season. While the exploits of James Harden were highlighted throughout the month of November, the bigger problems have been turning the ball over (Houston turns the ball over at the second highest rate in the league) and controlling the defensive glass themselves (their DREB% of 73.3% is 21st in the NBA).
The Pelicans can rebound on the offensive glass (3rd in the league) and can force turnovers (8th in the league). Turning those offensive rebounds (Pelican layup attempts have been lacking lately) and those turnovers into points (fast break execution has been a life sentence without parole thus far) will be critical to keeping pace. No lead will ever be safe against the Rockets and long lulls in scoring will likely result in big runs for Houston tonight.
With that, our keys to the game:
- Rebound on both ends
- Dig smartly at Howard in the post
- Make layups
- Avoid too many fouls