Phoenix Suns vs. Houston Rockets: Postgame Grades and Analysis for Houston

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2013

Phoenix Suns vs. Houston Rockets: Postgame Grades and Analysis for Houston

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    The Houston Rockets, with the help of Jermain O'Neal, stole one from the Phoenix Suns

    Literally. They won 101-98 after goaltending was called on a James Harden three that didn't look as if it had any chance of going in. Again, thanks, Jermaine.

    After building various double-digit leads in the first half, it appeared as if the Rockets were poised to run away with a lopsided victory. But then the Suns went on an 11-4 run to close out the half and we had ourselves a ballgame.

    Nothing changed in the second half. Phoenix actually had the lead in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter as the Rockets, courtesy of an uglier than ugly three-point clip, seemed on the verge of a meltdown.

    One big shot and two enormous free throws by Jeremy Lin later, and Houston had tied it up. One monstrous defensive stop later, and the Rockets had a chance to win the game. And one botched three-pointer that turned into a game-winner later, they had won.

    It wasn't pretty, but the Rockets got the win and remain hot on the heels of the Golden State Warriors for sixth place in the Western Conference. 

    Sometimes ugly yields results.

Point Guard: Jeremy Lin

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    Grade: B-

    Get ready for a fiesta consisting of me second-guessing myself. And we'll start with Jeremy Lin.

    Part of me wanted to berate the hell out of him. He was just 5-of-14 from the field (0-of-4 from downtown) for just 13 points. Don't ask me why, but his three-point shooting irritates me. His shots are flat, lack rotation and his legs barely leave the floor. They bounce off the front of the rim so frequently, you'd think he was aiming for it.

    Defensively, Lin still has his issues as well. He was the driving force behind Goran Dragic's (kind of) huge night and continues to struggle with his lateral movements. He's got to communicate better off pick-and-rolls as well. Either switch, or don't. Not both, which Lin tends to do, seemingly second-guessing himself halfway (hey, we have something in common).

    All that aside, Lin was the real hero down the stretch. He hit a clutch fadeaway and two huge free throws to tie the game. Toss in his six assists, and he won me over.

    I was smitten by his ball control as well, which was great for him. He had two turnovers, but remained relatively poised when dribbling through traffic. That assist total of his would have climbed (like James Harden's) had the Rockets (Harden included) knocked down more of their open shots.

    Harden may have (technically) hit the game-winner, but Houston wouldn't have remained as close as it did in the final minute with out Lin's rim attack.

    Discriminate against that.

Shooting Guard: James Harden

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    Grade: B-

    Some will call me cruel, and some will call me naive, but I prefer "honest."

    This was one of those games that made you appreciate James Harden's presence, yet loathe it at the same time.

    He gives the Rockets someone to defer to in crunch time. For the most part, that's what they did here. He just didn't deliver. Not in the conventional sense anyway. His game-winning shot didn't even go in, and it didn't look like it was going to. Jermaine O'Neal bailed him out.

    Harden finished with 33 points, but was just 9-of-21 from the field and 2-of-8 from three-point range. To make offensive matters worse, he also committed nine turnovers.

    The bright side? He continues to improve on defense.

    On a team that I still believe would be lost on the boards without Omer Asik, Harden does a nice job jostling position under the rim. He's great at reading passing lanes and first steps as well (three steals).

    What I will say in defense of his offense is that he seemed very much aware of his deficiencies from the field on offense. Cognizant of his transgressions from the perimeter, he attacked the rim incessantly, culminating in a 13-of-14 showing from the charity stripe.

    For much of the game, he could be found over-passing, which contributed to his nine turnovers (though over dribbling was a cause as well). He managed to finish with six assists and would have had more than 10, had any of his teammates knocked down the three ball consistently. To put it simply, he missed Chandler Parsons.

    Actually, as long as we're speculating on what he was missing, he was definitely pining for any kind of touch from the floor.

Small Forward: Francisco Garcia

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    Grade: C+

    Some of you aren't going to like this.

    Francisco Garcia dropped 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting, but he was 3-of-10 from deep. It was awful. He kept shooting, but they hardly fell.

    His accuracy from inside the arc was impressive (3-of-3), but not enough to eclipse his long-range woes and his defensive ones.

    That's something else that was troubling here. Garcia isn't overwhelmingly poor on the defensive end, he's just ineffective. Screens and dribble changes throw him off, and he needs to contest shots better on the perimeter.

    Rebounding is also something Garcia must work on. Once a shot goes up, he's already back-pedaling or sprinting toward the opposite basket. He needs to be more prepared for attempts that carom off the rim and past the foul line.

    Down the stretch, the hope should be that Garcia continues his hot shooting. He's converted on over 43 percent of his deep balls since joining Houston.

    Tonight, was just not his night.

Power Forward: Greg Smith

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    Grade: B

    Consider this a gift.

    Greg Smith was effective on the offensive end. He hit on 5-of-7 shots for 12 points and even pitched in five rebounds, one steal and one block. His footwork on the block is really coming along.

    What irked me?

    His defense.

    Smith was a big part of the reason why Luis Scola was able to torch the Rockets for 28 points. He wasn't reading switches or closing out especially well, and his defense when guarding back-to-the-basket sets still needs some work.

    Again, it wasn't all bad. Especially on offense. But not so much on defense.

    Smith is quick for someone of his build, so the potential to be better is there. Right now, though, the instincts (rotations, awareness, etc.) are not.

Center: Omer Asik

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    Grade: B+

    This should be worse, and I'll admit that. But this was one of those games that makes you wonder where the Rockets would be without Omer Asik.

    The big man grabbed 22 total rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end. While that attests to his ability to battle for position in the post, it's also emblematic of Houston's poor shooting (43 percent overall and 17.2 percent from deep).

    What I really still don't understand about Asik is the method to his madness after grabbing an offensive board. Instead of going back up hard, he either a) passes it out immediately (which I'm kind of OK with) or b) floats it back up toward the rim (which I'm totally not OK with).

    It seems Asik forgets that he's a seven footer. He needs to use his size and go back up strong.

    That in mind, I admire Asik's tendency to trail plays. He runs the floor fairly well for someone his size, but mostly, he's the last one up the floor.

    What should be a flaw is something he often turns into a weapon, slyly sneaking into plays and setting nice screens or traipsing his way toward the rim off a pass for an easy two.

    Did I mention his rebounding? 

    Oh, I did? Well he grabbed 22 of them, so it's worth mentioning again. 

    Those boards, along with his two blocks and two steals more than made up for his poor shooting night (3-of-9) and poor close-outs of Luis Scola off switches.

Sixth Man: Terrence Jones

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    Grade: B+

    I love it when Terrence Jones is let loose. He's a phenomenal athlete that is going to be a valuable asset for the Rockets moving forward. Just like he was in this one.

    Jones shot 5-of-8 from the field for 11 points. He was effective when moving off the ball and picked his spots on offense quite nicely.

    I thought he provided some great effort on the defensive end as well. He grabbed six rebounds in just 23 minutes and used that superior length of his to keep the Suns out of the paint. Which is saying something, because the Rockets struggled to do that all night.

    That said, I do find myself wishing he would be more of a floor spacer. Not just because he's struggled to shoot the three ball this season, but because he hardly looks toward the basket when he catches the ball beyond the arc. And when he does, it's usually to attack the rim.

    Still, Jones had a fine night and provided an offensive punch off the bench, something that has become somewhat of a foreign concept in Houston.

Rest of Bench

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    Grade: C+

    If I wasn't such a bag fan of Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas, this grade would be much worse.

    Motiejunas didn't see much playing time, but the way he navigates the floor and reads screens continues to make me giddy.

    Beverley was aggressive (10 shots), but he converted on just 40 percent of his attempts for nine points. I was impressed with a few of his defensive sets, though. He did a nice job pushing opposing wings left and forcing the ball out of their hands.

    Outside of that, there wasn't much else to see. James Anderson was a non-factor, and another personal favorite of mine, Thomas Robinson didn't play.

    It was not a productive night for Houston's bench by any means.