The Asik Effect
HOUSTON - Every good team needs an identity – a calling card or foundation; something upon which it can reliably lean when nothing else seems to be working.
Having had less than two full weeks together, it’s no secret that the Rockets are still searching for their own defining characteristic. Finding it is going to be a matter of time, trial and error. That point can’t be hammered home enough, actually. This team is still very much in its infancy and the inevitable growing pains have been present for all to see.
But amid all the attention understandably devoted to youth, turnovers, missed shots and an offense that remains very much a work in progress, something else has quietly come together and risen in a way that suggests the Rockets have tapped into something that could potentially carry them through some of their rough patches. Through the season’s first six games, Houston has been a rock solid defensive team – a top-10 unit, in fact. The Rockets came into Saturday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons ranked No. 8 in the NBA in defensive efficiency; a standing that figures only to improve in the wake of Houston’s 96-82 victory.
Now make no mistake: Two triumphs over the winless Pistons have undoubtedly provided a helpful boost to the Rockets’ statistics on both sides of the ball. But it’s not as if Houston has simply suffocated Detroit while allowing their other opponents to score at will. The Rockets have gotten the job done defensively by employing a strategy that’s probably been around since the day Dr. James Naismith hung his first peach basket: Funnel everything toward that giant in the middle and let him take care of the rest.
That’s an oversimplification to be sure and one that trivializes the excellent work others have done on the defensive end. But let’s face it: Omer Asik has had a transformative effect on the Rockets’ ability to get stops with his world-class rim protection and rebounding. He is simply a joy to watch on the defensive end; always in the right spots, altering everything in sight and snatching errant shots with his hands that appear to be magnetized whenever a rebound opportunity arrives anywhere in his vicinity (related: the Rockets rank No. 3 in the league in rebound rate). And Saturday night he even chipped in on the offensive end as well, matching his career high for scoring with 14 points to go along with eight rebounds and a career-best four steals.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who paid attention to what Asik did during the preseason – or during the first two years of his career, for that matter – but it did seem only appropriate that in a game the Rockets dedicated to Head Coach Kevin McHale, a big man would help lead the way.
“It’s big, it’s real big,” said Chandler Parsons when asked about the Asik effect. “If you block your man out, you know Omer is getting the rebound. When a shot goes up, it’s just a good feeling having him back there. And especially when you get beat off the dribble, having him back there just gives you more confidence on the court and allows you to do a lot more.”
That confidence, and the Rockets’ defense in general, figures to face its toughest test of the season Monday night when the NBA champion Miami Heat come to town. Miami’s position-ambiguous attack currently ranks tops in the league in offensive efficiency and few finish at the rim with quite the same ferocity and efficiency as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Houston’s defensive rotations will have to be tight. Paint protection will be of premium importance.
And standing at the center of it all will be Asik, contesting every shot and fighting for every rebound, providing a bedrock upon which these young Rockets can always rely.
(On the defense) “I thought our defense was really good both halves. Our pick and roll coverages was outstanding. That's a big difference that we made that we continue to improve. Last night against Memphis, we shot 37%. We're still not shooting as well as we need to. We put a great emphasis tonight on converting defensive rebounds and conversion from defense to offense and scoring in transition and playing faster and moving the ball. You can tell we were better tonight at moving the ball. Earlier in the game, I thought that we were almost unselfish to a fault. I'd rather err on that side this early in the season than on the other side. I saw a lot of improvement tonight. Again, we didn't shoot it well but I saw improvement and that's good for these young guys to see.”
(On the win) “This is an important win. You're always leery of a wounded animal and Detroit was wounded. They needed this win desperately and we did too. I liked our energy. We played good, especially with the second unit. I think the second unit came in and really boosted us. Tony Douglas played well. Marcus Morris was outstanding. Carlos (Delfino) was outstanding. It's nice to see James (Harden) knock down some 3's. It's a big win.”
(On being the acting head coach) “I was nervous at first. I coach everyday in practice. We have inter-squad games. The first time I walked out into a game without a notebook in awhile. I kept tonight in perspective. I kept thinking of Kevin (McHale) and his family and what he's going through. That's something far more important than me coaching a game for the first time in five years.”
(on the importance of Asik defensively)
It’s big, it’s real big. And it’s the same way on rebounds, too. If you block your man out, you know Omer is getting the rebound. When a shot goes up, it’s just a good feeling having him back there. And especially when you get beat off the dribble, having him back there just gives you more confidence on the court and allows you to do a lot more.
(defense what this team can lean on while the offense is still finding itself?)
I think so for sure. I think our defense needs to lead to our offense. We have much better offense and much better pace to our game when we get stops and can get on the break and it all starts with our defense and not allowing teams to get second opportunities on the offensive glass.
(On the win) “It was a great win for us. It's always good to break a losing streak. Our defense was good tonight. We had some easy shots early on, some offensive rebounds. I thought that overall, our defense was pretty good. They (Detroit) were on a losing streak and we were on a losing streak so someone had to end it. We needed this one.”
(On the situation with Coach Kevin McHale) “It's a tough situation that he is going through right now and all we can really do is keep him our prayers and continue to play hard and to be a product of him and keep working.”
(On the importance of the win) “I thought both teams were desperate for a win. We had dropped three straight so we were trying to get the win and that was the emphasis coming into this game.”
(On his rebounding game) “The one emphasis that they (the coaches) put on me is rebounding. They know that there are some times where guys are a little bit bigger and the best thing that I can do is go out there and rebound.”
It was good for us to come out here and get a win, especially for Coach McHale and what he’s going through. I think defensively we played well and offensively we moved the ball a lot better. Hopefully we can build off this game.
We’re going to start putting things together. I think defensively we’ve been playing pretty well; offensively we’ve just got to get a feel for each other … hopefully things will come together soon.
Defensively I think we’re always going to be in the game ... We’ve got to focus on stops because that’s what good teams do. Even on nights when our shots aren’t falling and guys aren’t moving on offense, we can always rely on our defense.
(feel better after seeing shots fall in the third)
Yeah, I’ve been practicing a lot on my shooting mechanics. It felt good to see a couple go in. They go in and you get a sigh of relief. So hopefully just stay in the gym and keep working.
DETROIT PISTONS COACH LAWRENCE FRANK
(On teams play) “I was extremely disappointed. Your resolve is tested everyday regardless of what your record is. We knew that this game going in was going to be a test of character. Four games in five nights and back to backs and the road trip hasn’t gone well. Could we build on last night and we didn’t. We gave up 28 fast break points. We have to put more into it. It was very disappointing within the score 62-56 and then for a ten or eleven minute stretch it was twenty two to one. It’s a tough one to swallow and we’ll have to keep on figuring some things out.”
(On the 22-to-1 Rocket run what happened) “Offensively our spacing, pace, over handling the ball, turnovers and just not doing the things that we needed to. There was no offensive energy out there at all. We didn’t even give ourselves a chance doing that run. I don’t make excuses why because I know were capable of doing more. I just focus on the game.”
(On the teams play) “There was more to it than just tired legs. Playing against OKC yesterday our guys were enthused playing against them and we had a lot more energy. It seems like we’ve been playing the teams that are so called lesser teams. Our energy has dropped. That’s where our inconsistency has set in. I think we’ve been not necessarily losing games but it seems like just from the jump ball our energy hasn’t been there. We have to do a better job understanding what it takes to win. I knew we would have trouble playing consistently for 48 minutes but sometimes inconsistent for 48 minutes still wins. The way were playing right now is unacceptable. Guys should be upset right now.”
(On the teams play) “Houston made some adjustments to put a stop to some of our offense in transition that we had going on. That’s a good team out there. The Rockets are a great team and they execute all there stuff well and they got a lot of fast break points. We just have to get better everyday and that’s what it comes down to. A lot of us are coming from winning teams but all of that is in the past. This is a whole new program and family so I’m worried about what we have here.”
The Rockets registered their first home win of the season, knocking off the Pistons by a 96-82 count tonight and sweeping the season series with Detroit for a third consecutive season. Houston now owns seven straight wins (3/22/07-11/10/12) over Detroit at Toyota Center.
Houston extended its active franchise-record for consecutive victories when holding an opponent under 90 points to 32 in a row (last loss: 81-84 on 3/3/10 vs. Sacramento).
The Rockets went 21-of-26 (.808) from the free throw line tonight, which came on the heels of a season-best .933 outing (14-15 FT) from the charity stripe last night at Memphis (11/9/12).
Houston registered a season high in fast-break points tonight, outscoring Detroit by a 24-9 margin off the break. Last night against the Rockets, the Grizzlies took a 21-5 scoring edge off the break at Memphis (11/9/12).
All 13 players to enter the game tonight for the Rockets scored at least two points. With the new active list rules, it marked the first time 13 Rockets scored in a single game.
James Harden registered 20 points (6-14 FG, 6-7 FT) and five rebounds tonight, which was his fourth 20-point outing of the season. In the last meeting at Detroit (10/31/12), Harden joined Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade as the only NBA players in the last 25 years to post at least 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and one block in a single game.
Omer Asik matched his career high in scoring with 14 points (5-12 FG, 4-4 FT) tonight, adding eight rebounds and a career-best four steals. He originally set his career high in points with 14 vs. Sacramento (3/21/11). Asik came into tonight’s game with two straight double-doubles (11/7/12-11/9/12) and four consecutive 10-plus rebounding games (11/2/12-11/9/12).
Marcus Morris had 12 points (6-7 FG) to with career bests in rebounds (8) and steals (2) tonight. Morris previously recorded six points (3-10 FG) and seven boards at Detroit (10/31/12).
Jeremy Lin led the Rockets with a game-high eight assists tonight.
Chandler Parsons finished with eight points off of 2-of-6 shooting night from beyond the arc. Parsons now has at least one 3-pointer made in all six games this season.
Rookies Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas each made their NBA debuts tonight. Jones registered two of Houston’s three blocks on the night. Jones actually stood as the only Rockets player this past preseason to record two multi-block games.
Brandon Knight, who led the Pistons with 15 points (5-15 FG) in the last meeting at Detroit (11/10/12), topped the team again tonight with 16 points (6-10 FG) and seven assists.
Greg Monroe finished with 12 points (4-10 FG), 11 rebounds and two blocks tonight, marking his fourth double-double of the season.
Tayshaun Prince netted 13 points (2-6 FG) to go with six rebounds tonight. His season high still stands at 18 points at Phoenix (11/2/12).