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Pistons at Rockets preview: We live in James Harden’s world

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How do you solve a problem like James Harden?

Houston Rockets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Coming off a loss to the Dallas Mavericks where Luka Doncic put up a 40-point triple-double, your Detroit Pistons will try to slow another dynamic, Texas-based offensive engine, James Harden. Only problem: James Harden has been better than Luka this season.

Game Vitals:

When: Saturday, December 14, 2019, 9:00 p.m. EST
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass

Analysis:

James Harden has been unstoppable this year. He’s averaging functionally 40 points a night (!), which means that 41 Luka dropped would be average for him. 25 games into the year, Harden already has FIVE games of 50+ points, including 60 (IN THREE QUARTERS!) against the Atlanta Hawks:

One out of every five games, James Harden drops 50 or more. That’s INSANE.

How does Harden do it? Same way he’s always done it - threes, layups, and free throws. He’s shooting a career-high 14 threes a game at 36 percent, a career-high 13.6 free throws a game at 88 percent, and a career-high 25 shots a game at 45 percent.

So, what can the Pistons do about it? Zach Lowe has documented how other teams have tried doubling Harden at half-court, forcing the ball out of his hands. It does seem smarter to have the likes of Ben McLemore, Austin Rivers, and Danuel House Jr. beat you:

The Pistons, though, got crushed against Dallas when they tried to trap Luka. Their lack of communication and rotation behind the trap meant... this happened:

So maybe trapping is an option, but not the first one. What about Bruce Brown Jr.? Harden is smaller than Luka (who torched Brown), and Brown had success against Harden last year. I, personally, hate to rely on one guy to do all the defending of an all-galaxy offensive player like Harden, but it’s one option the Pistons will have at their disposal.

Maybe it’s zone? Dwane Casey has used the zone off and on this season as a way to promote communication on defense when that’s been lacking, and the Pistons made a nice little run in the fourth quarter of the Dallas game playing zone. However, as we know from watching literally any Syracuse basketball game, “The Way You Beat The Zone Is To Shoot Over It,” and Houston’s gameplan is already to space the floor and shoot a ton of threes.

Who knows what the gameplan will be for Detroit, but no matter what, it’ll have to be matched with exceptional execution for the Pistons to have a shot in this one.

Projected Starters:

Detroit Pistons (10-15):
Bruce Brown Jr., Luke Kennard, Tony Snell, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

Houston Rockets (17-8):
Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Danuel House Jr., P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela

Stray Thoughts:

  • Tony Snell is averaging six field goal attempts a game, and I would fine him every game he doesn’t take at least eight shots. He’s faded into the background of far too many games (which was the knock on him coming out of Milwaukee).
  • The Pistons made a concerted effort to get Luke Kennard going last game. It didn’t work, as Luke went 3-13 from the floor, but I hope they do that again tonight.
  • Russell Westbrook also plays for the Rockets, he is also quite good. However, between the 60 points they average collectively, I feel like you stand a better chance of winning if Harden scores 45 and Russ scores 15.
  • “Hey, Laz! Houston played last night in Orlando. Maybe that means Harden won’t have it on the second half of the back-to-back?” Au contraire, mon frère:

Prediction:

Detroit Pistons 112, Houston Rockets 124