Which Teams Can Beat the Houston Rockets at Their Own Game?
There are a few teams uniquely qualified to defeat the Houston Rockets while playing their brand of basketball.
The Rockets play at one of the fastest paces in the league, which allows the offense to maximize its opportunities. Houston uses a formula whereby the players rely exclusively on free-throw attempts, shots at the rim and three-point field goals.
Houston’s style isn’t necessarily easy to emulate, because it requires a specific personnel.
Indeed, mimicking the Rockets requires great ball-handlers who can finish in traffic, athletes that attack the rim and hit shots from downtown, as well as players that draw a lot of fouls.
It's worth noting, teams normally go with the identity they've used throughout the entire season, and therefore, switching gears seems counterproductive. However, the Rockets can "fool" opponents into speeding up the game and playing Houston's brand of basketball.
The list of teams capable of successfully reproducing that type of style is relatively small, but there are a few units qualified to do so, and they could beat Houston when the postseason arrives.
5. Golden State Warriors
Houston owns the Golden State Warriors. Dating back to last season, the Rockets have won five of their seven contests against the Dubs, because they have snuffed out their three-point shooters.
Nonetheless, the Warriors are a top-five three-point shooting team, and that will certainly put fear into the Rockets. In Golden State’s last two victories over Houston, the Warriors nailed 22 of 53 treys (41.5 percent).
Granted, the Warriors’ profile isn’t all that similar to the Rockets’, but Golden State’s backcourt has become a bit more intent on taking the ball to the hoop in addition to firing away from deep.
It would be interesting to see whether the Dubs could in fact outmatch Houston if they both played the exact same way. The Warriors have the three-point shooting coupled with the athletes to make it happen.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers are heavily dependent on jump shots to win games, which makes them a bit of an underdog according to John Canzano of The Oregonian. Per NBA.com, the Trail Blazers are among the league’s bottom third in field-goal attempts in the restricted area, and consequently, they don’t really draw fouls.
Portland is average in terms of free-throw tries, which means it lives and dies by jumpers. Prior to the All-Star break, the Blazers were a top-four three-point shooting team per NBA.com, and it resulted in a 36-17 record.
Post All-Star break, the shooting has plummeted to a bottom-third level, and the Blazers are 15-11 since. Portland has struggled in the second half of the year, but if it were to get hot against the Rockets, the Blazers could certainly defeat them with a barrage of treys.
Damian Lillard is a terrific ball-handler, and he would likely give Houston fits, while LaMarcus Aldridge is a stud on the interior. This combo might reproduce some of what James Harden and Dwight Howard do for the Rockets. Given that these teams are projected to meet in the first found of the playoffs, perhaps the Blazers should start embracing the strategy.
3. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns use a blueprint awfully similar to Houston’s. The Suns run a series of pick-and-rolls with their perimeter players and get looks either at the rim or from long range.
Phoenix also uses some pick-and-pops to stretch defenses thin. The Suns are a top-10 three-point shooting team, and they aren’t shy about putting them up either. Indeed, Phoenix is fourth in long-distance attempts per game.
The Suns' ability to get shots at the rim allows them to generate free throws at a top-10 rate. Phoenix has lost two out of three contests versus Houston, but the games were quite competitive. The Suns lost a three-point game at home with Eric Bledsoe sidelined in late February. Granted, the other defeat was a blowout in which the game got away from Phoenix.
Provided that Phoenix is connecting on three-point bombs, it can replicate Houston’s game plan and possibly emerge victorious.
2. San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs’ motion offense would give Houston huge fits. The Rockets have had some regular-season success against the Spurs this season, but that’s hardly indicative of things to come.
The Spurs played the Rockets three times through the first half of the season when San Antonio was still figuring out its strengths and weaknesses. Head coach Gregg Popovich has since found the right recipe as evidenced by the team’s 29-5 record since February 1, per NBA.com.
The Spurs lead the league in three-point shooting, and they are not at all shy about firing them up. NBA.com tells us that since February, they have increased their three-point attempts in every month in an effort to open up the floor. What’s more, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw have proven to be tough customers in the low-post area because of their combination of footwork and passing.
Hence, the duo generates a lot of attention, which opens up driving lanes for the likes of Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder were seemingly constructed specifically to mock Houston. The Thunder don’t actually emulate the Rockets’ style during the 82-game grind of the regular season, but once Houston shows up, OKC evolves into a Houston doppelganger.
Houston simply does not have the necessary perimeter defenders to even slow down the combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, which Durant made clear to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman. Consequently, the Thunder find driving lanes for finishes at the rim.
OKC also forces defenders into collapsing in the paint, which creates open looks from trey, where the Thunder are making 37.4 percent of their shots against the Rockets. Kevin Durant and Co. would surely easily dispatch Houston at its own game.
All stats accurate as of April 11, 2014.