After some publicized struggles with defense, wins and Carmelo Anthony, the Houston Rockets have righted the ship. Carmelo is gone, the defense has perked up and the Rockets have won four in a row and seven of their past nine games. After mostly sleepwalking (and arguing) their way through an easy victory against the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers, things are suddenly about to get much more difficult.
When: 8 p.m. EST
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
In the past nine games, the Rockets have the seventh-best defense in the NBA. For those who are curious, somehow the Pistons are ranked sixth, by the way. Houston also has a net rating of +6.7, ranking fourth. In short, whatever plagued the team in the first couple weeks seems to have resolved itself.
The team’s net rating with the three stooges known as Carmelo, Michael Carter-Williams and Marquese Chriss has been -9, -21.7 and -28.6, respectively. In that nine-game streak, Caremlo got 107 minutes before he was unceremoniously let go, or perhaps put out of his misery, while Chriss has played just 16 minutes and MCW 11.
It hasn’t been former Piston James Ennis who absorbed all those Anthony minutes and helped turn the season around, however. It’s been Gary Clark. Yup, Gary Clark. Clark was an undrafted, undersized rookie forward on a two-way contract who has suddenly become a mainstay in the Rockets’ rotation.
Clark, as it turns out, is PJ Tucker with training wheels. A versatile, gritty defensive-minded forward who can shoot a respectable 3-ball and has just one less block in the past nine games than starting center Clint Capela despite playing 33 percent fewer minutes.
The other Rocket to watch out for (pick your poison, right?) is Eric Gordon. He’ll be matched up against the lesser defensive guard on the floor for the Pistons (pick your poison, right?) and he could go off. Gordon has been ice cold from 3 this year, hitting on less than one-quarter of his attempts with no improvement since the team’s hot streak. But the Pistons have a habit of turning into slump-busters for opposing shooters.
This game is going to hinge almost completely on guard play, in fact. I imagine that Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin will be somewhat stymied by Capela and PJ Tucker, respectively, who are really solid, versatile defenders who match up well against the Pistons.
That means it’s Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock, and Glenn Robinson III against Chris Paul, James Harden and Ennis. Wonder who’ll be likely to prevail in that showdown?
Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock, Glenn Robinson III, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond
Chris Paul, James Harden, James Ennis, PJ Tucker, Clint Capela