In the month of November, the Rockets won three more games than the Texans have lost in their entire season...so far. Such is the distinction between a team bottoming out and one clearly on the rise. The most recent evidence of both being a loss to the Patriots for the Texans and a win over the Spurs for the Rockets.
In the latter, the Rockets amassed a 23-point lead before surrendering it and trailing in the second half. They rallied to win on the road against a San Antonio team that had only two losses in 16 tries. It was as impressive and heartening a win for the Rockets as the Texans' loss was depressing and not surprising.
Making their recent streak all the more remarkable, James Harden sat out three of the team's last four games, Jeremy Lin did not play against San Antonio and will be out for another two weeks with a deep knee bruise and strain, and Chandler Parsons played through excruciating back spasms, even sealing the win over the Spurs with a breakaway dunk before crumpling to the ground in pain.
In short, the Rockets are NOT the Texans.
In San Antonio, the Rockets battled back against a run by clearly the best team in the Western Conference, something even coach Kevin McHale admitted afterwards might not have happened a month ago. Assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said during a halftime interview that they believed all along the team would be better in November and December than it was in October. Given the Rockets' record and the level of dominance they are displaying over mediocre teams, never mind wins against good teams as on Saturday night in San Antonio, that may be an understatement.
Most impressive, this is a squad that wins as a group. Dwight Howard is the team's third leading scorer behind Harden and Parsons, yet he is most often the guy you see up off the bench congratulating players as they come off the floor and cheering for big plays. Omer Asik, despite still being brought up constantly in trade rumors, is finding his role as a defender and rebounder off the bench. Both Lin and Patrick Beverley have done well and Aaron Brooks has gone from third-string point guard to the second best three-point shooter in the NBA.
Speaking of, the Rockets have started to find their rhythm, shooting nearly 42 percent in the last five games and quickly moving up the NBA rankings in that category. Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi have been particularly effective off the bench as scorers.
The Rockets lead the league in scoring, are second in field goal percentage, third in blocks, second in rebounding, second in three pointers attempted and first in three pointers attempted and, perhaps the most telling stat, fourth in plus-minus differential, which measures the difference between what they score and what opponents score.
Needless to say, they are one of the hottest teams in the NBA and they still aren't fully healthy. Emergence of Terrence Jones
As if that weren't enough, second year power forward Terrence Jones has emerged as one of the better young bigs in the league. He is averaging 10 points, 6 rebounds and over a block a game, but since entering the starting lineup, he has blown up. In the last 10 games, just one game removed from his first start of the year, he is averaging 14 points, shooting 56 percent from the floor and 46 percent from the three point line, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. He set career highs for himself with 24 points against Boston and 16 rebounds against San Antonio.
When the season began, the concern was who would man the power forward spot. That question appears to have been answered by the athletic Jones who seems to have found himself on offense and, in particular, on defense, where he often looked lost last season.
And while the Rockets have not become and are not likely to be a defensive juggernaut, they are improving in that category as well and should see additional improvement as the season wears on.
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That what might be the most intriguing aspect of this young team: its potential for improvement. They have been a relatively poor three point shooting team thus far this season as players who have traditionally been good beyond the arc have struggled. As they get to a more normal percentage, the Rockets will begin to see their overall percentage improve as well.
With only one month under their belts, it is realistic to think they have not yet tapped their potential as teammates, which would suggest their turnover rate, near the highest in the league, will begin to shrink as well.
If they can get consistent defensive play on the perimeter and Howard can continue hitting free throws at key moments like he did in San Antonio, this team is going to be dangerous come playoff time and will, hopefully, help us forget we also live in a town with the Texans and Astros.