ADDING DEPTH

Patrick Creighton: Rockets get just what they needed

Brandon Wright is exactly what the Rockets needed. NBA.COM

All season, I have held this to be true: After James Harden, Clint Capela is the most indispensable Rocket.

I know, I know.  You just want to jump out of your seat and scream at me, “Come on, Creight! Chris Paul? Ever hear of him?”   Believe it or not, I have, but I didn’t say who was the bigger name, bigger star, or better player, I said who was the most indispensable.  That’s why its been Capela.

It’s Capela because the Rockets haven’t had another player like him.  They didn’t have someone with his size and skill set to run the offense the same way when he wasn’t on the floor.  The high pick-and-roll with Harden and Capela has become a staple in the Rockets offense.  Capela is the team’s best rebounder and only legitimate rim protector.  Where Harden and Eric Gordon can compensate for missing Chris Paul for a while, no one on the roster can bring what Capela does on the floor.

Until now.

While most people are excited about the prospect of the Rockets signing Joe Johnson as a free agent, I’m much more excited about the team bringing on Brandan Wright.

The Rockets have needed another big man for a while, but not just any big body.  They needed someone athletic, who can finish at the basket, protect the rim, rebound, play defense, and run the floor the way Capela does.  A traditional low post big body center doesn’t fit what the Rockets do, especially offensively.

Wright is exactly that kind of athletic big who can run the floor.  With a skill set similar to Capela’s, the Rockets no longer need to change their offense when Capela is off the floor.   

While miscast in Memphis with the grind-it-out Grizzlies, he’s averaged 5 pts, 3.5 boards and a block in under 14 mins per game this season.  Previously, in a more up tempo style in Dallas, he showed more scoring production.  With the ball moving skills of Chris Paul and James Harden, it should be expected his point production would improve, but a block a game in under 14 mins?  That’s the other rim protector the Rockets needed.

While Joe Johnson is a bigger name and someone Rockets fans are likely more familiar with, Wright could very well be the more important signing.

 

It wasn't pretty, but it wasn't ugly either. That just seems par for the course whenever the Rockets play the Pelicans. Regardless of injuries on either side, these two teams just always manage to play each other competitively, whistle to whistle. Houston pulled out ahead tonight, but it wasn't without a fight.

Jrue Holiday and Josh Hart in particular, did an excellent job defending James Harden tonight, forcing him to shoot 3 for 11 from deep. The Pelicans often swarmed Harden and forced him to give up the basketball. It helps the Eric Gordon is starting to find a rhythm from three-point range (4 of 7 tonight and 3 of 7 Saturday against Chicago). Westbrook was also forceful offensively to help pick up for Harden's early struggles.

Clint Capela has really stepped it up for Houston these past four games (11 points, 20 rebounds, and 2 blocks tonight on 5 of 6 shooting). Capela has managed to grab 13 or more rebounds in Houston's last four outings. Capela had struggled greatly to start the season, forcing head coach Mike D'Antoni to rely on smaller units with P.J. Tucker at center. However, the Rockets aren't going to go as far as they want in the postseason if they aren't getting a strong 30 minutes a game from Clint Capela, so it's encouraging that he's starting to play well.

The Rockets took a 7-point lead after a surge from Westbrook to end the first quarter and for the most part, held that lead for the duration of the game. New Orleans made a strong push in the fourth quarter the battle back, but at that point it was too little too late.

Star of the game: James Harden didn't have a the best three-point shooting game, but still managed to log 39 point, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in the process on 62.6% true shooting. He was effect at driving to the rim, drawing fouls, getting floaters, and finding shooters. Harden scored 19 of his points in the 4th quarter, effectively dragging Houston to victory despite a strong late push by New Orleans that cut the lead from 17 at one point down to as low as 6.

Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook was dialed in from the first quarter, particularly from mid-range where he scored 12 of his points on 6 of 8 shooting. In a night where Harden was really struggling to gain a rhythm, Westbrook really helped pick up the slack for Houston especially in the units without Harden. Westbrook finished the game with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals on an efficient 57.1% true shooting. It's unlikely Westbrook will shoot that well from mid-range this season, but on nights where he's on like this, the Rockets will gladly take it.

Key moment: Russell Westbrook's stretch to end the first quarter gave the Rockets a 7-point lead and the Pelicans were never able to capture the lead from that point forward. Westbrook scored or assisted on the final 6 points of the quarter (within 56.8 seconds) and was forceful defensively.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston to play the Los Angeles Clippers at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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