KEYS TO SUCCESS

Here's how the NBA shutdown helped the Rockets

Composite photo by Brandon Strange.

The NBA shutting down for the Rockets was a good thing as it allows this new reformed Rockets squad to get more comfortable with each other. This also gives coach Mike D'Antoni time to analyze his players more. After four months of rest, this team can become much more dangerous for the playoffs.

Before the All-Star break started, this team had a lot of changes. They had just traded Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks. Inside that trade, multiple players from opposing teams were moved. In that deal, the Rockets received Robert Covington from Minnesota Timberwolves. Covington became a great fit because of his shooting ability, length, and athleticism. He came up huge against the Los Angeles Lakers by shooting 57% from three. The Rockets also required Jeff Green, so they were able to stretch the floor more. Green has become useful because he averages 10.4 points per game and shot 41.2% from three. Now the Rockets have acquired Luc Mbah a Moute which will help the defense when he arrives in Orlando.

Covington feels more comfortable with the Rockets offensive set now but it took some time to get used to. Covington was able to grab additional help from his teammates when it came to learning this offense.

"Just getting more accustomed within the offense. I didn't know too much; I was just out there playing and being guided. Its helping me be more fluid with everything," Covington said on Sunday during the press conference.

Since practice has begun for the Rockets, they have focused more on defense. The Rockets are ranked 19thth in points allowed on the season. The first thing each player has said is that the communication must be better. They lacked communicating on the floor this year because of the holes on defense. Tons of breakdowns on defense allowed easy scoring for opposing teams. The Rockets are ranked 20thth in field goals allowed and 25thth in steals.

"We're getting better every day." We've been doing [a] really good job of communicating on the court," Covington said. "We're paying attention to the little things. Some guys are getting better because we're holding each other more accountable."

If the Rockets want to win a championship in Orlando, their defense must be better.

Now that D'Antoni was given more time to analyze his players, he has put a new offensive set in. GM Daryl Morey told the media on Friday that D'Antoni was working on a new offense. D'Antoni wants to explore the offense more, so he is able to use all of his weapons properly. His focus is not to over coach them because of their individual talent. Having James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Gordon, guys who can get their own shot, it is better to be hands off at times.

"You've got to be careful; you don't want to overcoach them. Most of the emphasis is on turning up what we do, and just trying to make it better," said D'Antoni on Sunday. "We did try to add some wrinkles."

Now that Westbrook and Harden both know their roles, things can become much easier for the Rockets. Both players know how to be effective at the same time without getting in each other's way. This team will become much better because of the rest, and urgency to correct their past mistakes.

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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