Rockets Howard still unsure about game two

Houston_RocketsAs the Rockets prepare for game two of the western conference finals, the only thing that is certain is the Dwight Howard that took the floor to start the series will not be available for Thursday night’s game. That’s not to definitively rule him out of the contest after he suffered a left knee sprain in the first quarter of game one, but it was clear watching him try to labor through the pain in several short stints that followed, he will not be the same player, if he plays, this soon after the injury. On Wednesday’s day between games, Howard said the knee felt no better.

“The same. The same,” Howard said, when asked about how his knee felt the day after he suffered the injury. “You know, it was very sore.  It was throbbing during the game.  But just another test that I think I’ll be able to overcome.”

At Thursday’s gameday shootaround, Howard was wearing a brace on his left knee and coach Kevin McHale said he was trying to get comfortable with it, calling him a game-time decision.

Howard, who would certainly be limited if he should try to play through the injury, missed 41 games, mainly due to a right knee injury during the regular season. While it’s accurate to say they’ve successfully dealt with him being out or limited during the season previously, their means to cope with the absence are quite different.

When Howard missed his 41 regular season games, the Rockets turned to the same player 38 times to fill his void. Donatas Motiejunas, who finished eighth in most improved player voting this season, averaged just over 30 minutes a game in those games he played without Howard. He averaged 13.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, while shooting 51.1 percent  from the floor, while he took on the role of top low-post option and presence. But with the back injury and subsequent surgery he had late in the season, he is not available to fill-in this time.

Enter Clint Capela. The 21-year old rookie, played in just 12 regular season games for the Rockets, while spending the bulk of the season with the Rockets d-league franchise in the Rio Grande Valley. But he’s played in all 13 of the Rockets postseason games as Howard’s primary backup at center. He’s shooting 67 percent from the floor in the playoffs and has made his last ten shots. His per 36 minute averages are excellent at 18 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes. Among players with at least 100 minutes played this postseason, his rebounding ranks third, behind only teammate Howard (15.0) and the Clippers DeAndre Jordan (14.0).  Similarly his blocked shot numbers would place him second behind only the Cavaliers Timofey Mozgov (2.9).

While he has thrived since joining the rotation, he’s only played roughly eight minutes per game. Potentially he could be leaned on a whole lot more. “When you have different players, you have different strengths on the floor,” McHale said about dealing with injuries and different lineups. “So when you have different strengths on the floor, you’ve got to play to different things.  But 90 percent of it is‑‑ Clint (Capela) is not going to turn into Dwight Howard overnight.  He might, but I don’t know.  He’s got to hit the weight room.”

After some laughter, he continued, “You know, those are really impossible questions to answer because different players bring different things, like we’re a different team every time we make a substitution.  Your team changes a little bit.  We’ve just got to go out there and play.”

Capela played one minute and 12 seconds in the regular season against the Warriors, missing his only shot in a Rockets 12-point loss back in November. In Tuesday’s game one, Capela was very effective, making all four his shots, grabbing four rebounds and scoring nine points in just under 13 minutes.

“They’re a different ballclub, for sure,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Capela has been playing really well, and I’m sure he’ll probably fill in at the 5 for him. You see the growth of him over the course of the season.
You know, we’re going to prepare as if Dwight is playing, and if not, we’ll adjust the game plan a little bit.”

Terrence Jones had his own injuries during the season and also was not available for many of the games Howard missed during the regular season. Jones first 21 games back after his nerve injurywere all played without Howard and Jones averaged 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game during that strethc. He has not been nearly as consistent or productive in the playoffs, as he’s come off the bench in the last four games. He missed eight of his ten shots in game one.

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Three-pointers on Game 5 & Rockets series victory

The Rockets handled the Mavericks in the postseason, similarly to how they handled them in he regular season. After beating Dallas three times in four meetings during the regular season, they accomplished the same through the first four games of their first round playoff series. Their game five 103-94 victory, propelled them into the second round for just the second time since 1997.

1. The Rockets needed another fast start, like they’d had in each of the first four games. They got it. Houston carried a nine-point lead into the second quarter, thanks to another hot shooting first quarter. Houston made 13-of-24 shots in the first quarter, including 5-of-10 3-pointers. In the playoffs, Houston is the only team shooting above 50 percent in the first quarter of their games and Houston is way up there at 55.4 percent.

Any hopes the Mavericks had of carrying momentum from their game four win into Houston was squashed almost immediately as they managed just 22 points in the first quarter and fell right back into their familiar shooting woes from their first two games in Houston to begin the playoffs. Dallas shot well over fifty-percent in their two games in Dallas, but they shot below 45 percent in all three games in Houston, including just 38 percent in game five.

2. Rick Carlisle certainly thought he found something with the insertion of Al-Farouq Aminu and J.J. Barea into the starting lineup for game four. Their starting five outscored Houston by 21 points in their 18 minutes on the court together and Barea dropped 13 assists, while scoring 17 points. Barea could not duplicate that performance. While he did have nine assists in game five, he was unable to create offense in the half court as he did in previous games.  He shot just 3-of-12 and Houston did a much better job of limiting his penetration off of pick and rolls. The Mavericks were (+22) with Barea on the court in game four, but a (-19) with him on the floor in game five.

Aminu was just as good, if not better, in game five as he was in game four. As noted below, his defense on Harden was strong in the fact that he made Harden work to get what he got. His contributions defensively overall and then additionally on offense were immense. He had 14 points on eight shots, mainly because he made his free throws (7-8). He grabbed nine rebounds and had a game high five steals and also had two ferocious fast break dunks during one of several Dallas’ outbursts in game five. For the series, Aminu shot 55 percent from the floor, 64 percent behind the 3-point line and 79 percent at the free throw line. All were way up from his regular season percentages of 41 percent (FG), 27.4 percent (3ptFG) and 71.2 percent (FT).

3. Kevin McHale said after the series clincher that Houston would not have gotten by Dallas in five games if not for Josh Smith’s play. That’s for sure. Smith was the Rockets second leading scorer in game five, just as he was for the entire series. He dropped 20 points in 22:27 of playing time, made 7-of-12 shots and grabbed eight rebounds in game five. He still made careless plays with the ball, committing four turnovers, but his overall contributions easily outweighed his mistakes in game five and over the course of the series. He electrified the crowd constantly with his creative and constant alley-oop passes to Dwight Howard and saved his best for last with some outstanding play in the fourth quarters of the series. He shot 69 percent in the fourth quarters and led the Rockets with nine 4th quarter assists – nearly all of them the aforementioned rim-rattlers he offered up to Howard.

In the five game series, he averaged 17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds while playing less than 26 minutes per game. (His per 36 minute scoring numbers were 24.5 points, again, second best on the team to Harden.) He actually outshot Harden from behind the 3-point line, 39.1 percent to 38.7 percent and made 51.5 percent of his shots from the floor. He was, however, consistently the Rockets worst performer at the free throw line, shooting 50 percent or worse in all five games and just 43.5 percent for the series.

Moving forward

After Houston’s game four loss, Trevor Ariza said, “I take a lot of responsibility because I didn’t play particularly well. I played with low energy. That won’t happen again.” He certainly played with better energy in game five, grabbing 11 rebounds for the second time in the series. Interestingly, he’s now had 11 or more rebounds in four of his last nine playoff games after accomplishing that only twice in the first 48 playoff games of his career. He was the Rockets second leading rebounder at 6.6 per game and in this series it was of great importance for him to contribute in that way because he was atrocious shooting the ball.

Ariza made only 13 shots in the five game series, while missing 32 times. He was just 5-of-22 on his 3-pointers as well. The Rockets were nearly unbeatable when Ariza hit at least 40 percent of his 3-point attempts during the season, going 24-3, until a pair of losses in the final week of the season to San Antonio, who obviously could be their next opponent. Advancing to the western conference finals likely isn’t happening unless Ariza starts making his 3-pointers. Because he means so much to their defense, he will be on the court regardless, but they’ll need something from him offensively.

– Harden had an MVP caliber regular season and could find out this week if he wins the award. And still, his numbers went up in the first round against the Mavericks. He also played fewer minutes per game. While it is completely accurate to say that Al-Farouq Aminu did a good job of defending Harden, it’s also accurate to say Harden still got his. He scored at least 24 points in all five games and took fewer than 20 shots in all but one game. That one game was game three, when he took 24 shots and made 15 of them on his way to a career playoff high 42 points. Clearly in game five, Harden had too many turnovers (6), but even his turnovers were down from the regular season (3.9 per game to 3.8).

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Also Harden’s usage rate actually went down in the postseason from 31.3 to 29.3. It was a huge bounce back series for Harden, who struggled in both of his previous playoff appearances with Houston, shooting a combined 38.3 percent from the field in his first 12 playoff games with Houston. The contributions from his teammates were also evident compared to last season’s short playoff trip. He averaged two more assists per game compared to last postseason, while playing nearly eight fewer minutes. After playing 40 minutes or more in all six games against Portland last season, Harden played 39 minutes or less in all five games of this series.

– To no one’s surprise, Howard clearly and handily won his matchup in last year’s post season against Portland’s Robin Lopez. Well, he did the same thing against Dallas’ Tyson Chandler.

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Matching up against DeAndre Jordan will be tough, but it will be the first time to see that matchup in awhile since Howard missed all four games against the Clippers. Howard was outstanding against the Spurs this season averaging 21 points, 14.5 rebounds per game and shot 71.7 percent from the field in four games.

Game one of the Rockets western conference semifinals series will begin on Monday, May 4 at Toyota Center, with Houston holding home court advantage over either the Clippers or the Spurs and hosting games one, two and if necessary games five and seven.

Spurs roll continues, Grizzlies crush Pelicans; West at-a-glance 4/9

The Spurs tied an NBA record with the most consecutive wins by 12 points or more as the topped the Rockets with a second-half onslaught. The 2008-09 Cavaliers did it, then lost in the eastern conference finals to Dwight Howard’s Magic. The 2011-12 Heat did it, then won the NBA championship.

Last night: Grizzlies 110, Pelicans 76; Spurs 110, Rockets 98; Mavericks 107, Suns 104; Blazers 116, Timberwolves 91

Six of the nine teams in the playoff mix were on the floor on Wednesday night. Only one of the games though remained close in the fourth quarter. The Mavericks got a huge night from Tyson Chandler, who had 23 rebounds, and a big shot from Dirk Nowitzki late to push back the Suns. The win clinches the 7th seed for the Mavericks, while the loss eliminated the Suns from the playoff chase.

The game of the night was expected to be in San Antonio, where the blazing hot Spurs hosted the Rockets. It was pretty good for the first 24 minutes, but right at the end of the second quarter, there was a glimpse of what was to come. Trevor Ariza hit a 3-pointer with 5:38 remaining in the first half to give the Rockets an eight-point lead. The Spurs called timeout. The Spurs took just two minutes to tie the game with an 8-0 run, then finished the half with a four-point lead.

They opened the third quarter and added to that 16-4 run and essentially ended the game. Less than 10 minutes later, they had a 15-point cushion as the Rockets managed to hit just three of their first 12 shots of the second half. The lead for the Spurs did not dip below 12 the rest of the game.

The good news for Houston is Dwight Howard continues to have a huge impact on the game, albeit in limited minutes. He had 16 points and 11 rebounds in his 22 minutes of work and has pushed his per 36 minute averages to 24.2 points and 14.4 rebounds in his six games since his return. He’s also shooting 66 percent from the field.

The bad news is they no longer control their destiny for the division crown and the number two seed.  More explanation below.

The Grizzlies were in control of their game from start to finish against the Pelicans. New Orleans shot just 35 percent and Anthony Davis was held in check, with just 12 points and five rebounds. The Pelicans still control their own destiny, but their remaining schedule, as mentioned several times the last several weeks, is brutal. While the Thunder’s is much more manageable, see below.

LaMarcus Aldridge returned for the Blazers and they blew out the Timberwolves. The Blazers still have a very remote chance of moving up to the three or two seed, but are almost locked in at number four.

Tonight: Blazers at Warriors

In what cold be a second round playoff preview, although nobody is predicting that, neither team really had anything to play for. The Warriors have home court advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Blazers are almost locked in to the number four seed, with only a small chance of finishing the season with a better record than the the five seed. They must finish with a better record than the five seed or they will not have homecourt advantage in the first round.

Here’s the look at the west standings and the remaining schedule. Click the graphic to enlarge.

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Click here for tiebreaking procedures

With just one week of games left, it’s time for a brief discussion on finishing scenarios. Friday night will be a huge night to help crystallize what each team needs to do to claim the best possible seed. On Wednesday night, the Grizzlies earned the tiebreaker over Houston since the Rockets can no longer have a better division record than Memphis and the Grizzlies will have a better conference record if the two teams are tied at the end of the season. If the Spurs beat Houston on Friday, then San Antonio will also have the tiebreaker over Houston.

The Clippers also have the tiebreaker over Houston based on better conference record, although if the Rockets win the Southwest division, that tiebreaker would be in favor of Houston as division winners win tiebreaker from team not winning a division.

If the Rockets win out, they will need one loss from Memphis to give Houston the southwest division title and the number two seed. As seen in the chart above, Memphis plays their next three games on the road and they are just 2-4 in their last six road games, including losses to Detroit, Washington and Boston.

NBA Vine of the Night – I wouldn’t normally dip into such a meaningless, uninteresting game, but here is a recent D-league call-up putting a first round draft pick on his keester. But it only is fun since the fallen player took to twitter to acknowledge the play. The NBA can be fun.

Here was Gary Harris’ acknowledgement on twitter.

Bonus vines

Check back daily for the latest updates.

Howard’s return is imminent for Rockets

Houston_RocketsDwight Howard has not played in a game for the Rockets since January 23, when he played just under nine minutes against Phoenix. He’s had a bone marrow aspirate procedure in early February and was expected to be re-evaluated four weeks after that date. Things have progressed positively as his rehab work has now included on-court basketball activities.

Houston has been forced to play without power forward Terrence Jones for the last two games because of pneumothorax (partially collapsed lung) and no definitive time table has been given for his return. Following the Rockets 110-100 win over the Pacers, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale made it sound like the Rockets next game is at New Orleans on Wednesday and it could be Howard’s next game too.

“We’re so down on bodies. We don’t have a lot of practice time. We may just have to start throwing him out there & let him get some minutes in the game, whether he starts off at 15 or 20 minutes, you know just get game time,” McHale said. “He’s gotta start playing here pretty soon, otherwise the season is just going to go by and you can’t wait for the playoffs to come back. So, we’ll see.”

Howard has missed 38 games this season and while Houston has gone a remarkable 25-13 in those games, Houston has been getting out-rebounded regularly, including by a 40-35 margin by the Pacers on Monday night.  Houston is 22-10 in the 32 games that Howard has played. He’s averaging 16.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game this season.

Josh Smith, has been spending much of his time playing center in Howard’s absence, but he, too, is among the walking wounded, playing through a right ankle sprain against the Pacers. Smith had 18 points on 4-of-6 3-pointers and five rebounds in just under 29 minutes off the bench in the win.

Houston has 12 games remaining, including six of their next eight on the road.

 

NBA power rankings: What they’re saying about the Rockets

Here’s a look at where the Rockets sit in the various rankings for this week:

USA TODAY – compiled from a group of ten voters:

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Houston is behind Golden State and Portland. Howard is again listed as questionable for Wednesday night’s rematch against the Warriors who are a league-best 17-2 and are riding a 12-game winning streak into their game Monday night against the woeful Timberwolves. Click for full rankings.

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Yahoo – Marc Spears

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Spears adds a positive note on Howard, though it was not echoed by anyone following Rockets Monday practice. Seeing them in the five spot might be a bit low, they have wins against two of the teams ahead of them, San Antonio and Memphis. But they have also lost two games to teams ahead of them, Golden State and Memphis. Click for full rankings.

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ESPN – Marc Stein

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Up four spots from number seven a week ago. The Harden note should be 25, 6 and 6 as Harden is one of just two players even averaging six points and six rebounds a night. The other is Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who is averaging less than nine points per game. Click for full rankings.

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SI.com – Matt Dollinger

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One more instance of media picking up on only one of the things that McHale said about Dwight Howard. Before the Rockets Saturday win over Phoenix, McHale said he didn’t expect McHale back anytime soon. Then during his post-game press conference, just several hours later that same day, McHale said, “hopefully we’ll get back Dwight back and Isaiah (Canaan) back, hopefully, relatively soon.” So which is it? Most nationally media outlets picked up the comment from before the game and completely ignored the one after the game. Click for full rankings.

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NBA.com – John Schuhmann

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The only non-top five ranking comes here. It appears to be due to the belief from Schuhmann that injuries are eventually going to slow Houston down. Also, note their recent winning streak actually moved them UP to seven from eight a week ago. If their defensive rating stays top five all season, then the Rockets will be ecstatic. Should note that the Mavericks are one spot ahead of the Rockets after a week that had the Mavs losing badly at home to Phoenix (who the Rockets beat easily the next night) and a pair of wins against eastern conference teams that required buzzer-beaters. Click for full rankings.

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ProBasketballTalk.com – Kurt Helin

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Yet another site clinging to one McHale quote, but not the other. Also, a hat tip for Donatas Motiejunas, who is averaging 14 points, 7.8 rebounds and shooting 58 percent in his last five games. He also has not picked up more than three fouls in any of the five games, while averaging over 31 minutes per game. Click for full rankings.

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By the way, my power rankings would look like this:
1. Warriors, 2. Blazers, 3. Rockets, 4. Spurs, 5. Grizzlies
6. LA Clippers, 7. Mavericks, 8. Raptors, 9. Cavaliers, 10. Bulls
11. Suns, 12. Wizards, 13. Hawks, 14. Kings, 15. Pelicans
16. Bucks, 17. Thunder, 18. Heat, 19. Nuggets, 20. Celtics
21. Magic, 22. Nets, 23. Pacers, 24. Jazz, 25. Lakers
26. Hornets, 27. 76ers, 28. Knicks, 29. Timberwolves, 30. Pistons

Rockets Defense, Ariza’s presence and Dwight is hated? (really?)

Sat down with Bleacher Report for a “Finish the sentence” video on the Houston Rockets. The third ‘sentence’ hits on something that’s become very popular narrative the last couple of days – players don’t like Dwight Howard.

My thoughts on the Rockets fast start, Trevor Ariza’s presence and why do players hate Dwight Howard can be found in the video. (by the way – I think players hating Dwight Howard is a bit much.)

Watch:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2273395-whats-the-biggest-reason-for-the-houston-rockets-hot-start

(pay no mind to the reference to CSN Houston! & sorry I could not embed the video.)

Rockets silence Wolves, 113-101, improve to 7-1

While it may have taken awhile for the Rockets to get going, once they did, they made easy work of the youthful Timberwolves, 113-101 before an enthusiastic Mexico City crowd. Houston remained undefeated in Mexico City, now 2-0, after turning a scant four-point halftime lead into a 21-point second half-advantage to equal Toronto and Memphis at 7-1 with the league’s best record.

Dwight Howard returned from a one-game absence with flu-like symptoms, to dominate the paint with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, not to mention countless altered shots at the rim. Even better, he and James Harden combined for just a single turnover. Houston came into the game, second in the NBA for most turnovers per game at just over 19 per contest. They had just 13 in the game, that, along with their strong work around the rim defensively, made it rather easy to eventually pull away from the Wolves.

It was another night where Harden could not find the range on his shot, missing 15 of 23 attempts. He shot just 35 percent, already the fourth time in eight games, he’s shot worse than 36 percent in a game. He did that just 13 times all last season.

But it was also a night where he picked up 10 assists. It was already his third 10 assist game of the season, something he did only 12 times last season. Each double-figure assist game has come away from Houston and each has come in a Rockets victory. Only John Wall, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo have more 10-plus assist games this season. Harden’s 7.5 assists per game place him 6th in the league.

The Rockets played their sixth game with at least one starter missing, but got a big lift from a pair of rookie reserves. Terrence Jones missed his fourth game with a leg contusion and Pat Beverley was out for a fifth time with his hamstring injury.Kostas Papanikolaou and Tarik Black provided a jolt of offense, combining to make nine of their 14 shots for 24 points off the bench.

Papanikolaou found his 3-point shooting stroke, making all four of his 3-point attempts, despite coming into the game as just a 28 percent (8-of-29) 3-point marksman on the season. He also had four assists in a game, three of which came on consecutive possessions in the first half that resulted a three point play for Howard, a 3-pointer in the corner for Harden and then a dunk for Harden.

Black did was he has done since arriving in Houston, throwing everything he has into rebounding and finishing at the rim. He was 5-6 for 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.

It wasn’t just the rookies that kept things rolling offensively in the Rockets highest scoring game of the season. Jason Terry, continues to show that he still has more to give. He launched three 3-pointers and made them all and is now shooting 55 percent (18-of-33) on the season.

Houston scored the first five points of the second half, then minutes later put together a 19-6 run to extend their lead to 87-70, before coasting to the victory.

Up next: Houston (7-1) hosts Philadelphia (0-7) on Friday night at Toyota Center. The Sixers are the last remaining winless team in the NBA, and this is the second and final meeting of the season between the teams. The Rockets beat the Sixers, 104-93 earlier this season in Philadelphia.

Rockets beat Heat, 108-91, for 5-0 start

No matter how things played out on Tuesday in Miami, it was a pretty safe bet that if the Rockets emerged from the game still undefeated, it would be their most impressive performance of the season. They beat the previously unbeaten Heat, 108-91, and without a doubt it was the Rockets best work of the season.

James Harden was once again spectacular, turning in a near triple-double performance with 25 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds. Four of those rebounds and three of those 10 dimes came during the final six minutes of the fourth quarter as the Rockets closed out their fifth consecutive double-figure victory to open up the 2014-15 season.

Dwight Howard added his fourth double-double of the season with game-highs of 26 points and 10 rebounds. He put the Rockets on his back in the fourth quarter with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

Once again the Rockets long-range shooting continues to be blindingly good. They made 17 more 3-pointers on 37 attempts, connecting at a 45.9 percent clip. Trevor Ariza continued his blazing start making 5-of-8 attempts, scoring 19 points. He’s now 21-35 (55 percent) on the season on 3-pointers.

Houston has made at least 12 3-pointers in each of their five games and the 71 3-pointers overall is the most in NBA history in the first five games of a season.

After a tight first half that has neither team take a lead of more than seven points, the Rockets took just a two point 57-55 lead to the second half. Miami tied the game briefly at 59, before Houston went on an 18-5 run to push their advantage to 13 points. Twice in the fourth quarter the Heat closed to within three of four points. In both cases the Rockets had answers for their charge.

After the Heat closed to 83-80 early in the fourth quarter, Houston went on a 7-0 run holding the Heat scoreless for nearly four minutes. When the Heat again cut the lead down to 90-86 at the seven minute mark, the Rockets called timeout and then put an end to the contest.

Houston scored 13 points over the next 3:56. The Heat scored none. Trevor Ariza buried three of his five 3-pointers during that stretch that put the game away.

Houston played without Terrence Jones, who missed the game with a leg injury, and also without Tarik Black, who missed his second straight game with a thigh bruise.

Next up
Houston (5-0) hosts San Antonio (1-1) on Thursday night.

Rockets Notebook: Houston on cruise control

Rockets notebook

Taking advantage
When the schedule was released it was pretty apparent the Rockets were dealt a big break. All that remained was the Texans going all in and taking the whole pot. Four teams that were not playoff teams last season and were not expected to make any serious improvement this season would elcome the Rockets to the 2014-15 season.

Three games in, the Rockets have hardly been tested on their way to a 3-o start. Their average margin of victory over the Lakers (0-4), Jazz (1-2) and Celtics (1-1) is 14 points and James Harden has been able to sit out the entire fourth quarter of two of their lopsided wins because, well, the games were so lopsided.

The soft patch of the schedule continues for one more game with Monday’s game against Philadelphia (0-3), before they finish their second back-to-back of the season against the Heat on Tuesday night.

As easy as 1-2-3
The Rockets 3-point shooting has been excellent thus far and while the competition, or lack thereof, should be noted, the Rockets must be given some credit for taking and making shots. As a team, the Rockets are shooting 42 percent on 3-pointers,  having made 38-of-90 shots, including at least 12 makes in each game. They rank second in the league in 3-point accuracy, trailing only the Hawks (48 percent). Houston finished 15th last season at 36 percent.

Houston made two significant additions to the team in hopes that they could help raise the team’s shooting from long-range and so far, so good. Trevor Ariza, acquired in a sign-and-trade deal with the Wizards, leads the Rockets across the board with 18 attempts and 10 makes, connecting at a 56 percent clip. Jason Terry, who was added just before training camp, in a trade with Sacramento, has come off the bench to make 6-of-11 3-pointers.

A third addition to the team, 24-year old rookie Kostas Papanikolaou, has rebounded tremendously from the preseason with his 3-point shooting. In the preseason, Papanikolaou launched 32 3-pointers, but made only seven of them for a lousy 22 percent. Through his first three NBA games, he’s made an impressive 5-of-11 3-pointers and along with Ariza, is helping the Rockets capably replace Chandler Parsons, who departed for Dallas in the offseason.

Additionally, the Rockets opponents are unmercifully bad from long range. After the Lakers (3-10) and the Jazz (3-18) made a woeful 21 percent of their 3-pointers in the first two Rockets victories, the Celtics nearly posted an all-timer. Boston missed their first 22 3-point attempts, before Jeff Green finally knocked one down. Boston finished 1-of-25 for an insane four percent. Through three games, Rockets opponents are 7-of-53 (13 percent). That’s three fewer makes than Trevor Ariza has by himself.

Bumps and bruises
When the Rockets depart for Philadelphia, they’ll have four of their 15 players dealing with some sort of injury. Both Dwight Howard and his backup Tarik Black, both suffered leg injuries in the win against Boston on Saturday night. Howard said after the game he banged knees in the first quarter  and it was really sore. This time it was his right knee, he had hurt his left knee similarly, knocking knees with a teammate in practice during the preseason.  Howard remained in the game and played through it, although when he checked out of the game with 5:47 remaining, just three seconds after throwing down a slam for his 13th and 14th points of the game, he went straight to the locker room to get it looked at and began to get treatment. He said he hoped to play against Philadelphia on Monday, but would know more Sunday and of course Monday before the game.

Black, a rookie from Kansas, took a shot to his left quadriceps during the second quarter, and while he tried to keep it loose after halftime by riding the bicycle while he was out of the game, he did not return. After the game, he said he didn’t think it was that bad, and figured he’d be ready to go on Monday.

Guard Pat Beverley missed the Celtics game with his hamstring injury suffered against Utah and is listed as day-to-day. He has had a history of quick, nearly miraculous recoveries from injury, but unfortunately he’s had an incredible amount of practice with recovery in the last two seasons, having worked through a torn muscle in his mid-section, a fractured right hand, an abdominal strain, a right knee sprain (meniscus tear), dehydration in the playoff series that included a visit to the hospital and now this strained hamstring.

Rookie center Clint Capela has been inactive all three games so far this season as he continues to work through a groin injury, although he has been able to do some work in practice recently.

 

 

 

Rockets shooting stars and rookie returns

Rockets Notebook

UPDATE: Starting point guard Pat Beverley is considered day-to-day with a strained left hamstring. He was injured during the fourth quarter of the 104-93 win over Utah on Wednesday. His availability for Saturday’s home opener against Boston has yet to be determined. He told the Jenny Dial Creech, Mark Berman and other local media at Friday’s practice he felt good, but wasn’t sure about playing on Saturday.

Shooting stars
The Rockets can go ahead and punch their ticket to the second round of the playoffs if they keep shooting 3-pointers as they have in the first two games. They are making an incredible 46 percent of their 3-pointers through two games. They’ve made 26-of-56 3-pointers and that’s with Troy Daniels starting the season 0-of-5. Trevor Ariza had made 9-of-15 3-pointers, while Jason Terry, who played very little in the preseason has made 4-of-6 3-pointers. Additionally, Pat Beverley, Kostas Papanikolaou and Terrence Jones have each made half of their attempts

James Harden deserves a ton of credit for the high accuracy rate because he’s been dishing the ball out exceptionally well. All 10 of his assists in the win over Utah were on 3-pointers for his teammates. On the season, Harden has assisted on 12 of the Rockets 26 3-pointers made this season and he’s made four of the others.

While facing two of the league’s worst team’s in the Lakers and Jazz clearly is a factor and the team’s percentage is sure to drop, if they keep getting the shots they have been getting, it might not drop much.

Early rookie returns
While rookies Clint Capela and Nick Johnson sit on the sidelines, two other rookies are important parts of the second unit. I wouldn’t expect  Papanikolaou to start banging home four 3-pointers in a game with regularity, but the more he’s played, the better he’s been able to find the range on his long-range shots. What has remained fairly constant is his that he knows what he is doing. He looks like he will be able to provide the Rockets some of what they lost with Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin when it comes to play-making. He had four assists in each of the first two games and is making solid entry passes into the post, which is hugely important for Dwight Howard to take advantage of teams that do not bring double-teams to defend him.

Tarik Black is the back-up center and he has been needed a lot already since Howard can’t seem to stay out of foul trouble. While he effort and energy has remained consistent with what he offered in the preseason, his positive effect on the games has waned. He’s no longer playing against players like himself hoping to make a roster, thus even against two bad teams in the Lakers and Jazz, the opposing front court players have been a bit too much for him. In 40 minutes, Black made just 2-of-7 shots and has grabbed only four rebounds. Black, though listed at 6-11, is well short of that and is going to have to learn quickly how to overcome the height disadvantage. It wouldn’t hurt if Howard stopped committing avoidable fouls.

Here’s the accompanying podcast as they prepare for the home opener against the Celtics.