The Washington Wizards finish their two-game road trip in Houston against the Rockets. Can the team build on the momentum of their victory over the Hornets? Will James Harden or Jeremy Lin play? Will an ashamed Ernie Grunfeld walk away from basketball forever upon realizing just how much better at GMing than him Daryl Morey is? Find out tonight!
Where, When, and What Channel? Tip off is at 8 p.m. in Houston and the game can be seen on Comcast SportsNet.
Why Should I Care? Because the Wizards came this close to getting James Harden! OK, maybe it's more complicated than that, but the recent flurry of interest in Harden among Wizards fans should provide you with enough reason to watch tonight's game. Houston is also a really fun team to watch, with an incredibly skilled backcourt that features two guys who can score off the dribble, a bunch of forwards who almost solely spot up for three pointers, and a center who only shoots at the rim. Basically, Houston is playing almost .500 ball this year without much in the way of established NBA players largely because the players they do have fit together seamlessly, something that the Wizards can hopefully learn something from.
Are The Rockets Good? Not really, but they're better than they're supposed to be. The Rockets' deal to acquire Harden was treated as a step toward rebuilding the team from scratch, and yet they're basically what they were last year when the team had a lot more veterans and, on paper anyways, more talent.
How Do the Wizards Match Up With Them? Not really well. Houston's offense is run almost entirely through its backcourt, basically neutralizing the Wizards' above average defense against forwards. Meanwhile, Harden is strong and physical, two things that aren't going to make life any easier for Bradley Beal and Jordan Crawford. Meanwhile, the Rockets' best defender, Omer Asik, is a good help defender who should make life difficult for any guards who go into the paint.
What Are They Good At? The pick and roll, and good doesn't begin to cut it. The Rockets are second in the NBA in points per possessions from pick and roll ball handlers this year as per MySynergySports.com, and that's without a particularly good big man to roll to the basket (which in turn makes it harder for the guards to score). Asik was an almost Joel Anthony-bad offensive player with the Bulls, yet playing with not one but two elite pick and roll players in Lin (44th in the NBA in points per possession on pick and rolls despite his shooting troubles) and Harden (second in the league despite being a shooting guard) has turned him into a usable offensive weapon. Houston's pick and roll attack is helped by the team's legion of stretch fours, all of which have range out to the three point line.
What Are They Bad At? Other than getting Dwight Howard to play for them? Defending pick and roll dive men. Despite Asik's mobility and length, Houston just doesn't do a good job of protecting the rim from bigs on pick and rolls. Some of this is a result of the frontcourt needing to cover for the relatively slow-footed Lin and Harden, some of it is an indictment of coach Kevin McHale's poor committment to defense, and some is just an unfortunate side-effect of playing a bunch of young big men (Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris) with short arms and not much athleticism. Kevin Seraphin, Nene and Jan Vesely (assuming we ever see him again) should at least in theory be able to exploit this, although it hurts that the Wizards don't have any pass-first players who can run the pick and roll.
Was Linsanity a Flash in the Pan? Yes and no. While Lin hasn't lit the world on fire as a Rocket, the handle, ball-hawking, rebounding, and ability to pass in transition are still there. He's not getting to the line as much and not making mid-range shots the way he used to, but Lin is still a decent pick and roll player who should return to his previous performance level once he irons out a few kinks in his game. Keep in mind, too, that at this time last year, the guy had only played about 300 minutes in his entire NBA career.