5 Things the Rockets Must Do Post All-Star Break to Be a Serious Contender
The Rockets came within a whisker of losing to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night at Toyota Center. Riding a six-game winning streak and heading into All-Star break, it wouldn't have been all that surprising to find the Rockets going down to an inferior opponent. The game before a break can be a trap for teams not good or mature enough to recognize its importance. For a while on Wednesday, it appeared the team was prepared as they blew out to a 19-point third quarter lead.
Photo by Groovehouse The team has a chance to improve after Harden and Howard's All-Star turns.
But, the Wizards chipped away and with 4 seconds left in the game, they had a two point lead. Fortunately, former Rocket Trevor Ariza lost his damn mind and fouled James Harden before the inbounds pass could be put into play giving the Rockets one free throw and possession. Harden sank the shot from the charity stripe -- one of the 16-16 he shot from the line -- and then drove to the basket on the last play for a Eurostep lay in and, ultimately, the win.
It was an exhilarating win, but having to get to that point was equally exasperating. There will be more games like this, but if the Rockets intend to be a serious contender, they still have some work to do.
5. Feed the post.
Dwight Howard has been a beast recently. He's averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks over the last 10 games. No wonder the Rockets are 8-2 in that stretch. Part of the success has been due to the fact that his teammates have learned how to get him an entry pass. As Matt Bullard is happy to remind fans during the broadcasts, the entry pass is an art. He should know, he fed that same pass to Hakeem Olajuwon who knows how many times. But, in addition to allowing Howard to take advantage of inferior defenders -- something he faces quite often in this center-deprived NBA -- it forces teams to double team him and leaves his teammates wide open. The Rockets have the offensive weapons to exploit double teams and it should lead to plenty more wins.
4. Take better threes.
One way to make teams pay for double teaming Howard is from beyond the arc. The Rockets have been a terrible three point shooting team this year, ranking 21st in percentage despite taken more threes than any other team. But, in the last 10 games, they have shot 38 percent, a full three percentage points higher than their season average and, if maintained, would put them in the top five in percentage. One of the keys to doing that is taking good threes. Too often this year, they have forced up shots from distance on isolations or in transition. Getting shots in the flow of a half court offense has taken them half a season to learn, but there is no reason to think it won't result in a better percentage from beyond the arc.