Category Archives: Houston Rockets

The Texas Triangle and its neighboring franchises

A week ago, the Portland Trail Blazers finished their first road trip through the Texas Triangle since 2007, playing consecutive games on the road against the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Houston Rockets. They survived, which is always a question when teams travel to the Lone Star State for three games over a handful of days. Portland even had a chance to sweep after impressive wins over the Spurs and Mavericks, but they couldn’t muster enough defense to contain a Rockets squad, one that was missing Terrence Jones.

Overall, Portland finished a respectable 2-1. So too did the New York Knicks, who finished their trip through the Texas Triangle three weekends ago.

At least a couple teams each year (2.8 to be exact since 2000) play a combination of the Mavericks, Spurs, and Rockets in consecutive games with the results often disastrous. 42 trips have been made through the Texas Triangle since 2000 with 17 ending in three straight losses. Only nine finished with two or more wins with two leaving with a sweep: the 2002 Sacramento Kings and 2008 Boston Celtics. Since 2000, teams are a combined 30-96 against the Texas Triangle, good for a winning percentage of 28.6.

Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of their performance against the three Texas teams since 2000, when the West became the premier conference. (Any feedback on how that table looks is appreciated. Trying something new here.)

You might notice some teams missing from that table, specifically six from the East and four from the West. The Bobcats have been lucky enough (especially in 2012) to not slog through a road trip in Texas. Miami last went through the Texas Triangle in 1996 while Cleveland, Indiana, Philadelphia, and Toronto all went through it in 1997. For the West, Denver last took the trip in 1991, Phoenix in 1993, Charlotte/New Orleans in 1997, and the Lakers in 1998. The Lakers actually swept the Texas Triangle that year without Kobe Bryant for all three games, though Dallas was significantly weaker back then. They had neither Steve Nash nor Dirk Nowitzki and finished the season 20-62.

You might also notice the franchises neighboring Texas avoiding the daunting road trip. A factor that impacts scheduling in general, some teams go through the Texas Triangle more or less than others because of geography. Memphis, Oklahoma City, and New Orleans haven’t made the trip since moving from Vancouver, Seattle, and Charlotte, respectively. Also, like mentioned before, Denver and Phoenix haven’t made the road trip in over 20 seasons.

That’s a nice edge to have over the rest of the league, especially for the Grizzlies who went through the Texas Triangle four times in their final two seasons in Vancouver. Another benefit comes from the teams closest to Texas often included in road trips featuring the Mavs, Spurs, and/or Rockets. Portland finished their road trip not with the Texas Triangle but a road loss to Oklahoma City, and from March 7 to March 14 they’ll have another road trip of Dallas-Houston-Memphis-San Antonio-New Orleans. Had New Orleans not been rattled by injuries, the road trips to the that region of the league would only be more brutal than they already are.

Sure, that also means the Southwest Division is more competitive than others, but it’s more of a problem for the entire West with how each team plays each conference foe at least three times per season. Had divisions led to Dallas, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, and San Antonio playing each other six times instead of four, then there might be a problem. 

Right now there just isn’t any other area like Texas and its neighbors just north or east of them. A west coast trip often has Utah or Sacramento to capitalize on. The northern, central area of the league has Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Detroit to feed off of. The entire Atlantic Division has been a mess this year while the southeast has Orlando and Charlotte in rebuilding mode. New Orleans is the only weak link of the south, but they could luck into a top-5 pick next year and already hold one of the best young prospects in Anthony Davis.

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Houston’s twin’s towers: A permanent breakup or temporary?

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Playing Dwight Howard and Omer Asik together seemed hopeless from the get-go.

You could say Kevin McHale’s change in the lineup last night was a one-time adjustment, meant to match up with a smaller, hectic 76ers lineup that started Thaddeus Young at power forward, but the results of playing the two centers at once justify scrapping the ‘Twin Tower’ idea altogether. In 92 minutes, the Rockets were minus-35 in point-differential when Howard and Asik were on the floor, scoring at a rate that would’ve ranked far and away dead last in the league. Defensively, they flirted with the bottom ten in efficiency, that side of the court being where the two centers would be effective.

But not when they’re paired together.  

Enter Terrence Jones, the second-year forward who started in Asik’s place in last night’s overtime-loss. He had 10 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, and two threes in 37 minutes. Pick and choose which of those statistics is most surprising, whether it’s the threes he helped stretch the floor with, the rebounding that was very good for the playing time he was given, or even just the fact that he played 37 minutes even if the game went to overtime.

Or maybe Asik all but joining ‘Club Trillion’ in only four minutes of play stuck out more than whatever Jones did. It’s too early to peg just how many minutes he will receive if he continues coming off the bench, though he only played 10-15 minutes when he was a backup for the Chicago Bulls.  Who knows what McHale has in store for Asik and the Houston’s rotation going forward. 

Jones playing 37 minutes was also surprising, as mentioned earlier, but he made them count. 30 of them were with Howard, resulting in Houston being plus-eight in point-differential in that timeframe. The starting lineup with Jones and Howard was even better as they logged 25 minutes as a unit and were plus-11. Defensively, they had about the same efficiency as any lineup featuring Asik and Howard together, but the offense was so much better. It also helps when Jeremy Lin makes, say, nine three pointers, though his defense continues to be a question mark going forward.

It was obviously only one game (I feel like I’ll have to type ‘SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT’ in every post for another month) and the absence of James Harden and Michael Carter-Williams, the triple-double of Tony Wroten, and the 36-point outburst of James Anderson were just a few reasons to take last night’s results with a whole saltshaker. 

But Houston’s experiment with playing Terrence Jones at power forward was a necessary one, in my couch potato opinion, regardless of the opposition. Tonight, the Rockets match up with the Knicks, another team featuring a small ball starting lineup. Let’s see what McHale does next.

All stats are from NBA.com.

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