The Houston Rockets ended their four-game losing streak with a 136-105 blowout over the reeling San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center on Friday.
The Rockets have had a seesaw start to the 2018-19 season, to say the least. Their recent losing skid was preceded by a five-game winning streak in which things seemed to be getting on track for head coach Mike D'Antoni.
Chris Paul's return to the lineup after a three-game absence was a success with 14 points and 10 assists in 28 minutes. James Harden and Clint Capela also registered double-doubles in the win. Harden finished with 23 points and 10 assists, and Capela dropped 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 20 points, while DeMar DeRozan had 18 points and five assists.
Chris Paul, Eric Gordon Have Rockets Ready to Return to Elite Status in West
Paul's shooting (5-of-13) against the Spurs left a lot to be desired, but there's more than one way to make an impact on the court. He was able to create open shots for his teammates on passes like this one to Harden:
Houston's defense during its four-game losing streak was abysmal, allowing 124 points per contest. Paul was out of action for the last three games of that run, including when the Rockets gave up 135 points to the Washington Wizards and 128 points to the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul's 105.8 defensive rating entering Friday is, by far, the best on Houston's starting five; PJ Tucker is second at 109.3.
The Spurs' 105 points were the fewest Houston has allowed since a Nov. 15 win over the Golden State Warriors.
After a horrendous start to the season, Gordon is finding his shooting form. He entered Friday hitting 28.9 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. The Indiana native was shooting 43.2 percent from three-point range in his previous three games and went 8-of-16 from there against San Antonio.
The Rockets have experienced a significant drop in offensive production from last season. They ranked first in scoring efficiency and second in points per game in 2017-18, but those numbers have fallen to ninth in efficiency and 20th in points per game.
Houston's roster isn't as deep as it was one year ago. Gordon's scoring ability off the bench is critical for head coach Mike D'Antoni's team to reach its full potential. He was on point against the Spurs, leading to one of the Rockets' best all-around performances of the season.
The return of Paul and rise of Gordon have the Rockets ready to round into form and become a true Western Conference playoff contender as the calendar flips to December.
Gregg Popovich Must Embrace Modern NBA for Spurs to Find Success Again
It's hard to argue against Gregg Popovich's resume as an NBA head coach, but the future Hall of Famer made some comments earlier this week that summed up a lot of the reasons San Antonio is currently two games under .500.
Speaking to NBA.com's Sam Smith, Popovich didn't hold back on his disdain for the three-point shot:
“I’ve hated the three for 20 years. That’s why I make a joke all the time (and say) if we’re going to make it a different game, let’s have a four-point play. Because if everybody likes the three, they’ll really like the four. People will jump out of their seats if you have a five-point play. It will be great. There’s no basketball anymore, there’s no beauty in it. It’s pretty boring. But it is what it is and you need to work with it.”
Whether Popovich likes it or not, the reality of the NBA today is that having three-point shooters is critical to be successful. The Rockets nearly made as many threes (22) as San Antonio attempted (28).
Once regarded as being ahead of the NBA curve, Popovich sounds like he's still coaching for the early-2010s version of basketball. San Antonio's style of play this season is illustrative of that philosophy.
The Spurs' 24.7 three-point attempts per game rank 29th in the NBA, ahead of only the Cleveland Cavaliers' total (23.9).
Per NBC Sports' Dan Feldman, the Spurs have finished at least 5 percent below the NBA average in threes attempted per game in each of the past four seasons.
Bryn Forbes is San Antonio's most prolific three-point shooter, but his 5.2 attempts per game would rank sixth on the Rockets.
There are many problems facing the Spurs this season—Dejounte Murray is out for the season with a torn ACL; Lonnie Walker IV has just started playing in G League games after tearing his meniscus in October—but this is the first time Popovich has seemed like he's swimming in the deep end.
San Antonio's future success depends on Popovich finding a way to embrace what is working in the NBA today.
The Rockets return home to Toyota Center on Saturday to host the Chicago Bulls at 8 p.m. ET. The Spurs will play the Portland Trail Blazers at the AT&T Center on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.