During the 2013-14 season, New Orleans went 1-3 against Houston, beating the Rockets 105-100 in the final game of the regular season. In preseason, the Pelicans whipped the Rockets, but as you probably guessed, their big guns didn't play. On Thursday, we'll have no such luck as both sides will be without just one starter apiece: Eric Gordon and Terrence Jones.
With the departure of Chandler Parsons, many (including myself) believed the Rockets would need to avoid the injury bug to keep their head above the water in the Western Conference. Well, Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones have missed 43 games out of a possible 69. However, Houston is currently third in the standings with a nifty 18-5 record. How?
A new defensive focus (more on this later) and better than expected depth. Their unexpected but very timely contributions from Jason Terry, Isaiah Canaan, Donatas Motiejunas and Kostas Papanikolaou have helped their superstar, James Harden. Although his efficiency has taken a hit this year, Harden's numbers have been first class, thus helping explain his 4th best PER in the league.
There is no mystery as to the Rockets strategy on a game-by-game basis: get looks at the rim, get to the free throw line or shoot three-pointers. It's a simple philosophy, but most teams are unable to stop it.
It's particularly impressive that despite the loss of Howard for the majority of their games played so far, they've responded to their decrease in attempts at the rim and the foul line with a sizable increase in three-pointers. In 2013-14, they led the league with a 3 point rate of 32.6%, which produced 26.1% of their points scored. This season, that rate has jumped to 42.3% and the three ball is supplying 35.9% of their points.
In laymen's terms, the Rockets are almost just as likely to shoot the ball from behind the arc than anywhere inside of it!
3 Keys to Victory
- Run them off the 3 point line. In most circumstances, the Pelican defenders should not sag off good shooters on the perimeter to help assist in any breakdowns behind them. 3 points is worth more than 2. Trust Anthony Davis, Omer Asik and any of the other Pelican bigs to handle the paint area.
- Box-out. Another reason for wanting defenders to stay at home with their original assignments is to limit Houston's offensive rebounds. They are the league's second best team in that department. If defenders help, it would allow one of their athletes no resistance to the offensive glass.
- Movement on offense. Teams that like to push the pace are not fans of opponents doing the same. It would benefit us greatly to have them work more than they're accustomed to on defense. However, a larger reason for this is because suddenly the Rockets are a good defensive team. Believe it or not, they have the NBA's second best defensive efficiency! They have been very good at getting opponents to simply miss shots. I'm sure Jrue Holiday remembers Beverley well and Trevor Ariza is no slouch neither, but Harden is now reportedly playing defense a lot more often. Therefore, the Pelicans need to ensure they don't let the ball nor personnel stagnate, chase down their own misses and play with a whole lot more intensity than we witnessed in the win against the Jazz.