Game Preview and Analysis: Hornets @ Rockets

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Published: December 29, 2009

Matchup: Hornets(13-15) @ Rockets(18-13)

Off Efficiency: Hornets 102.5(20th), Rockets 103.6(16th)
Def Efficiency: Hornets 105.9(22nd), Rockets 103.5(16th)

The Rockets are a hard team to understand.  They hold an 18-13 record, yet have perfectly average efficiencies.  They beat teams like the Lakers and Cleveland, but lose to Golden State and the Clippers.  They’ve had a huge number of road games, and managed to win half of them, despite the lack of any superstars to carry them over the top.  The Rockets rebound at the same rate as their opponents, generate steals at the same rate, get half as many blocks, and in general, shoot worse than their opponents.

So how do they win?  The little things.  The give one less foul a game than opponents.  They grab two more offensive rebounds, making up for their scoring problems.  They turn the ball over one less time per game.  They defend hard and get under the opponents skin – generating one more technical free throw than their opponents per game.  All those things add up to about a 4-5 point advantage per game.  That matters.

So how do you beat them?  Try and limit the shots of their speedy point guard duo of Lowry and Aaron Brooks, two of their most efficient players.  Try and make Carl Landry, their most dangerous offensive weapon, into a passer.  Try to make the Rockets count on Trevor Ariza to be their scorer, and entice him into trying to be a one-on-one hero.(Put Peja on him, maybe?)

Sadly, the Hornets aren’t very good at stopping speedy point guards and Landry is an unconventional post scorer who is hard to stop with good interior  defenders, much less what the Hornets have shown so far.  Oh, and the Hornets have sucked on the road, that doesn’t help either.

Injuries:

Hornets: No Sean Marks.
Rockets: No McGrady, No Yao Ming, and Ariza is Day to Day.

Positional Analysis

PG: Aaron Brooks v Chris Paul
Advantage: Hornets
Brooks is a low-turnover speedster with an okay stroke from deep.  He gets most of his assists off of drive and dumps under the basket, where he creates havoc and then gets Scola, Landry or Andersen and easy score.  Paul’s ankle still isn’t at full strength, and when he gets beat the help defense has been slow to cover him.  I expect Brooks will look fairly good against the Hornets.  On the other side, the Rockets don’t usually contain Paul very well, as Paul has an advantage in either strength or speed versus both Brooks and backup Kyle Lowry.  There’s also the fact that Paul’s floor game is much superior to either of theirs.

SG: Trevor Ariza v Devin Brown
Advantage: Rockets
I’m tempted to make this even.  Devin Brown isn’t much – he can handle slowish players defensively, and his offense is essentially spot up shooting – but Ariza makes him look damn efficient.  Ariza takes 16 shots a game, which is more than Chris Paul, and only manages 1.02 points per shot.  That’s not just bad, it’s abysmal.  It would be similar to the Hornets running their offense through Bobby Brown.  Sure, Ariza plays defense alright and isn’t bad on the boards for a shooting guard, but he really needs to fix his shot selection.  You know, by taking half as many shots.

SF: Shane Battier v Peja Stojakovic
Advantage: Rockets
Battier is having a little bit of a down year, as his shooting has slumped some.  Regardless, he’s still a supremely intelligent player, and has a history of making Peja Stojakovic look terrible.  Since the Hornets rely on getting something from Peja to stay in games, how this battle shapes up could be pivotal.

PF: Luis Scola v David West
Advantage: Even
David West used to dominate Scola.  Dominate him.  Early last year and the season before he would take Scola down low and make Scola foul him repeatedly, using the Argentine’s energy against him.  But in the last two games last year, the pendulum started swinging the other way as Scola’s energy wore West down as the game went on, and West began settling for face up jumpers.  Judging by the way West has been playing this year, I think it’s likely Scola will do the same to him again.  Now, Scola isn’t going to destroy West offensively either, but there is no advantage to be had here.

C: Chuck Hayes v Emeka Okafor
Advantage: Hornets
Hayes rebounds alright, finishes badly, and is always shorter than the players he faces, but he also does a great job making opposing centers suck wind after exhausting themselves trying to move him.  Dude is like a boulder.  Okafor is still a savvy guy, though, and his speed and general smarts will allow him to outperform Hayes in several different ways.

Bench
Advantage: Rockets
Lowry and Landry make a pair of excellent substitutes.  Both are amazingly tough (Landry is insanely tough) and are more efficient scorers than the players they replace.  Landry scores well inside, while Lowry gets to the line enough to score at a decent clip despite bad shooting percentages.  Budinger and Andersen fill out the Rockets bench, with Budinger providing energy and shooting(this has slipped recently, though).  Andersen plays hard, and hits the mid-range jumper well for a big man.  Though the Hornets top four reserves(Collison, Thornton, Songaila, Posey) typically play alright, Landry and Lowry are a one-two punch they aren’t likely to match without Thornton getting hot or Posey submitting his two-times-a-month good game.

I also hope Jeff Bower lets Julian Wright get some run again tonight.  I think his energy could help against a team that buries their opponents with effort.  Especially if Battier is crushing Stojakovic.

Enjoy the game.

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