News And Notes: One Step Closer
Injury updates, improving defense and playoff preferences
HOUSTON - If everything breaks in their favor, tonight could see the Rockets clinch their first postseason appearance since 2009. With a win over the Suns this evening and a Utah loss against Oklahoma City, Houston would punch their playoff ticket. But if the Rockets are to do so tonight, they will likely have to accomplish the feat without the services of Chandler Parsons and Carlos Delfino.
Parsons is still dealing with a right calf strain he suffered against Sacramento last week. The injury has forced him to miss the team’s last two games and he confirmed this morning that he won’t be able to dress against Phoenix tonight. Delfino, meanwhile, continues to battle the same flu-like symptoms which have kept him out the past two games as well (he also missed the Sacramento game, but that was due to a foot injury). Houston head coach Kevin McHale dubbed Delfino “50-50” for tonight’s contest, but Delfino did not practice yesterday, nor did he take part in this morning’s shootaround.
Nonetheless, the Rockets should still have more than enough firepower remaining to extinguish a Suns team that has lost nine in a row and 17 of their past 19 games. Phoenix ranks 29th in offensive efficiency and is a bottom-10 club on both defense and the boards as well. The Rockets, meanwhile, have won four of five and have of late looked increasingly dangerous due to the fact they have started to show signs of pairing a capable defense with their already explosive offense. Since March 1, Houston’s defense has performed at a top-10 rate, a development starting point guard Jeremy Lin attributes to an increased team-wide understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.
“I think we’re getting to the point where we’re finding out what works,” he said. “Certain types of coverages, certain schemes just work better for our team. We noticed earlier on what would work on offense and I think later we’ve started to develop what it means, and what we need to do, to (be a good defensive team) as well.
“That’s being more aggressive on pick-and-rolls, having our bigs get up on the pick-and-rolls, having our guards pressure the ball more. I just think that causes more problems and allows us to get out and run more.”
Indeed, the Rockets’ greatest strength in the half court this season has been their ability to contain ball-handlers running the pick-and-roll. Houston is 10th overall in points per possession allowed in such situations according to Synergy Sports and when the opposing ball-handler attempts to score via a screen-and-roll Houston has forced a turnover more than 18 percent of the time. As Lin noted, the latter point is especially pivotal given that those turnovers are the fuel that powers the Rockets' lethal transition attack.
With just five games remaining and a playoff berth so tantalizingly close, the last few days have understandably featured a great deal of talk regarding which postseason matchups might be more advantageous for the Rockets. Of course you’ll never hear the players or coaches publicly state a preference one way or the other. Their message instead has stayed consistent with what they’ve preached all season: take care of their own business and let everything else fall where it may.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” said Parsons when asked if he had a personal preference toward finishing with the West’s 6th or 7th seed. “I think we’re in a great situation. I think we should finish out the season strong and win as many games as possible. Whoever we play, whether it’s Denver or San Antonio or Oklahoma, it really doesn’t matter to me. I think we can beat any of them.”
Lastly, Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced today that the team has assigned center Tim Ohlbrecht to Houston’s single-affiliation NBA D-League partner Rio Grande Valley. Ohlbrecht was actually signed by the Rockets from the Vipers on Feb. 25, 2013, which marked his first-ever Gatorade Call-Up to the NBA. Central Division Champion Rio Grande Valley (35-15) opens the 2013 NBA D-League Playoffs against the Maine Red Claws (26-24) on Thursday, Apr. 11.
Ohlbrecht (6-11, 255, Germany), who has seen action in three games with the Rockets, averaged 13.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.63 blocks in 32 regular season games (29 starts) with Rio Grande Valley in 2012-13. He was also named a 2013 NBA D-League All-Star, registering 12 points (6-9 FG) and a game-high 12 rebounds for the Prospects in a 139-125 win over the Futures squad. At the time of his signing, Ohlbrecht led the D-League in field goal percentage (.605, 164-271 FG) and stood 13th in the league in blocks per game (1.63).