May 26, 2022

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Finally, handing the keys to the young guys to close out the season

4 min read

The Rockets have just five games left – starting Friday night against the Kings – and it’s going to be a four-team race to the bottom with Houston (20-57) battling Orlando (20-57), Detroit (21-56) and Oklahoma City (22-54) for the worst record.  

I was livid after this two-game winning streak after the home team came away with two meaningless victories against a Blazers squad better suited for the G League. For both games, the Blazers started Trendon Watford, C.J. Elleby, Drew Eubanks, Brandon Williams and Keon Johnson. Unless you’re in the top 1% of diehards, you had never heard of any of these players. Meanwhile, for Houston, on Friday night, Christian Wood played 27 minutes, Eric Gordon played 21 minutes and Dennis Schroder played 23 minutes. On Saturday, Gordon sat, but Wood played 24 minutes and Schroder appeared in 29 minutes. What was the point?

On Friday, the Rockets won, 126-106, with Jalen Green leading the way with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting and 5-for-10 from 3. On Saturday, they blew the Blazers out yet again, 115-98. Green led the way again with 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting and 6-for-11 for 3s. Alperen Sengun finished with 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Afterwards, I wondered loudly what had been accomplished. The team relinquished its hold on the worst record in the league, a position that guarantees no worse than the fifth pick in the draft.

It struck me as utterly myopic to suffer through 70 games of misery, only to potentially squander away its lottery odds at the end. That’s why I was so elated to read Monday that the organization had decided to shut down its vets.

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Aches and pains and lottery gains

San Antonio Spurs guard Joshua Primo, left, dribbles as Houston Rockets guard Daishen Nix defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
San Antonio Spurs guard Joshua Primo, left, dribbles as Houston Rockets guard Daishen Nix defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

Ahead of the Rockets’ Monday matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, the team listed Wood, Gordon and Schroder all as questionable; Wood with a tight left hamstring, Gordon with right groin soreness, and Schroder with a sore left shoulder. Aside from protecting lottery odds, the move allows the team to get a close look at rookies Daishen Nix and Usman Garuba.


“Very useful to see what those guys can do, get an opportunity to play against quality teams, get an opportunity to play together, like some of the guys that have been playing a bunch of minutes,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “It’s a positive, because they’ve been working all year, drill work, go down to the G League and come back and more drill work. Now, they have an opportunity to play.”

Garuba is the only one of Houston’s four first-round draft picks last summer to have had a disappointing rookie campaign. He missed time with various injuries (most notably a fractured left wrist) and also was a victim of Houston’s glut up-front, particularly before Daniel Theis was traded. It is a good thing that he’ll be getting more time as his offense has a very long way to go to be NBA-ready.

As for Nix, I welcome the opportunity to get a closer look. I was hopeful he would play a prominent role in the team’s second half, but that was before the trade was made to acquire Schroder. I have a hunch that Nix may very well end up the team’s starter at the position long-term.

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It’s Jalen Green’s world

Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (0) puts up a shot between, from left, Sacramento Kings forward Trey Lyles (41), guard Davion Mitchell (15) forward Harrison Barnes, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 30, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (0) puts up a shot between, from left, Sacramento Kings forward Trey Lyles (41), guard Davion Mitchell (15) forward Harrison Barnes, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 30, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)Michael Wyke/Associated Press

Green scored 30 and 32 points respectively, in his last two games, hitting six triples in each contest. Over his last five games now, he’s averaging 27.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2 assists on 47.6% shooting from the field and 46% on 3s in 34.1 minutes per game. In March, he has averaged 20.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists, shooting 48% from the field and 38.7% on 3s, in 33.5 minutes per game over 17 games. For the year, Green’s averages are now up to 16.4 points on 41.7% shooting from the floor and 33.7% from 3.

It looked almost effortless at times for Green against the Kings. With his shot falling the way it has, defenders have looked completely helpless attempting to defend his first step.

It begs an interesting question. Is Green’s recent outburst a product of Silas’ cautious handling of him or is it evidence that such production might have come sooner had he been given more freedom earlier in the year? We’ll never know and there isn’t proof either way.

One thing is very clear: Green has arrived. He’s ready. He should not be relegated to the role of a bystander next season as he was for much of this year. He’s ready to shoulder the responsibility that comes with being the second pick in the draft, and the first lottery pick of an organization’s rebuild.

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