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Rockets at Pistons preview: Mike D’Antoni is in a new kitchen but uses same recipe

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Led by James Harden, the Houston Rockets make their only visit to the Palace of Auburn Hills.

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the modern day small-ball, pace and space play could be pinpointed back to one guy who rarely gets the credit he deserves: Mike D’Antoni.

The Houston Rockets’ first year head coach found success in the mid-2000s with the Phoenix Suns and the now famous “Seven Seconds or Less” offense (fantastic read on the squad) headlined by Steve Nash.

D’Antoni’s new Nash is MVP candidate James Harden, who will casually put up a triple double on any given night. Lending a helping hand to D’Antoni’s spacing and also new to Houston this year is Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, both legitimate beyond the arc.

Assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik is in charge of Houston’s defense led by Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverly, and Clint Capela.

The Rockets - with Harden and now D’Antoni - are a fun watch and I’d be shocked if we saw a repeat of last year’s debacle in Houston.

Game Vitals

When: November 21st, at 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, MI
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit


James Harden is off to a remarkable start to the season and continues to shoulder a large portion of the Rockets’ offense. Just how much does Houston depend on Harden’s offensive abilities?

That tweet is nearly three weeks old but the numbers are almost exactly the same (usage rate - 33%; assist rate - 59%).

That, my DBB friends, is incredible.

Harden is such an offensive force that he can do anything by doing nothing.

For example:

What, exactly, did he do there? Anything out of the ordinary? He started 80 feet away from the hoop, handled token pressure and ended up with an uncontested dunk - after a made basket!

It’s my only guess that the Knicks were caught up in what Harden “might” do with the ball that they didn’t consider what he is actually doing with the ball.

This happens All. The. Time.


Mike D’Antoni brought his exact SSOL playbook with him to Houston. So while, he’s new and they got a couple new players, the system and schemes are nearly identical.

Random Phoenix Suns’ set from mid-2000s:

And here is the very first play of Houston’s preseason game in China (It's pronounced "Gina"):

It’s part of D’Antoni’s Through Set(s). The playmaker (Nash/Harden) enters the ball on the wing, cuts through on the strong side and when the ball is reversed, the playmaker comes for a hand-off. From there, it’s read and react.

Remember our friends in Clipper-land who like to initiate action by screening for the screener? Here is Houston’s version with Nene screening Anderson’s man followed by Anderson screening (back peddling?) for Harden:

Stan Van Gundy has been around and seen some things, obviously there are wrinkles to all play books but nothing Houston throws at Detroit should seem complex (vice versa as well).


Clint Capela, Nene, Montrezl Harrell, and Ryan Anderson suck up most of Houston’s frontcourt minutes - Andre Drummond should be licking his chops.

Capela is a nice, young big but can be bodied on both ends of the court. However, you have to actually body him for him to get bodied.

In hoops speak, this means establishing position; offensively, this is a very inconsistent part of Drummond’s game.

Earlier in the year, Dwight Howard had a field day in the paint against these Rockets finishing with 20 points on 8/10 shooting and 14 rebounds. He was physical the entire game going mostly against Capela and Harrell.

It’s there for the taking.

On a side note - how ‘bout them Hawks?



James Harden, Patrick Beverly, Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza


Ish Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Andre Drummond, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris


Houston has no problem with a game at a 120 point pace and will probably look to make that a reality. It’s important for the Pistons not to get sucked into an up and down track meet but to also push the ball at appropriate times. A fine line indeed.

In the half court, Detroit should look to run Ryan Anderson into the ground with non stop pick and rolls with whoever he’s checking. Make that man move.

When Harden is on the bench, the Pistons must make a run and put points on the board. If Sam Dekker wants to assume ball handling duties, I’m cool with that:

Rockets 103, Pistons 106

Community Question

Would Houston’s championship teams of 1994 and 1995 been able to beat a Michael Jordan led Bulls team?