Micro ball prevails again
The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Pelicans in Houston 117-109
For the second game in a row, the Rockets did not play a player taller than 6'7" for the entirety of regulation and won. For all of the skepticism its' gotten, Mike D'Antoni's new, twisted version of small ball is now 3-0. Houston has essentially forgone the rebounding battle in all games without Clint Capela in favor of forced turnovers and an extra-spaced floor and it's working.
Defensively, the Rockets had no answer for rookie Zion Williamson, who scored 21 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the field and 5 of 7 shooting from the free throw line. The Rockets threw P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore, and James Harden on them, all with little success. Nonetheless, Houston managed to force New Orleans to shoot 10 for 33 beyond the arc and made them turn it over 21 times, which aided in their efforts to win the possession battle.
Houston's success with the small-ball unit shouldn't overshadow how hopeless Houston is long-term without this version of James Harden (40 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 blocks). Harden was attacking mismatches throughout the game and the Pelicans never really found anyone who could consistently stay in front of him. Once they finally did, his shot, which had betrayed him for the month of January, started dropping.
It'll be interesting to see if Clint Capela misses the entire stretch of games before the All-Star break and comes back rested and healthy. Considering the success they've had with it, Houston has no other choice but to continue playing this small-ball unit until teams give them a reason not to.
Star of the game: James Harden had easily his best game of the new year, tallying 40 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 blocks on 12 of 24 shooting from the field and 7-15 shooting from beyond the arc. Harden was assertive from the start of the game to the finish and confidence-wise, he looked like the Harden of old. With a spaced floor, the Pelicans had no one-on-one answer for Harden for the vast majority of the game.
Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook didn't have the same level of efficiency as he did throughout the month, so honorable mention for today goes to Ben McLemore. McLemore chipped in 22 point on 6 of 12 shooting from the field and 4 of 9 shooting from beyond the arc.
Key moment: Defensively, the Rockets really locked in in the fourth quarter, only allowing 16 points from the Pelicans while scoring 25 of their own. They seemed to get their switching down pat and by the fourth quarter, Houston was seamlessly executing their rotations on a swing. By the end of the fourth quarter, the Pelicans were actually leading 93-92, but this fourth quarter surge gave Houston a secure 8-point victory.
Up next: The Rockets finish off their homestand against the Charlotte Hornets at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday.