It’s the Rockets’ Pace That Will Kill You
If you have followed the NBA long enough, you know that Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni wants to play fast. He wants to play an up-and-down pace that’s built on quick shots and taking a lot of them. For Rockets guard James Harden, the system plays to his strengths. For his teammates, it’s been a little bit of a learning curve and the results so far in seven games have been mixed. In the Rockets’ wins, the games were decided in the third quarter, where their pace and effectiveness on offense simply outpaced their opponents.
“The goal is to play at a certain pace where teams can’t really set up their transition defense,” Rockets forward Ryan Anderson told Basketball Insiders. ”I think that’s where we’re at our best, in transition running. That’s how this team has been set up. I think when we play like that as a whole and everyone is sort of in this mode of moving the ball, getting into second actions, other pick and rolls, exposing mismatches quickly and making quick decisions, that’s what it’s all about and that’s where we’re going to be really good.”
For some players, the D’Antoni style takes some getting used to, but anyone who’s played a lot of pick-up basketball will admit that a free-flowing offense come very natural to scorers.
“It’s definitely a natural style of basketball,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of a pick-up style of basketball, but at the same time, there is a flow and a system that has to be in place. It’s not just mindlessly going to a pass. It’s spacing, going into things with a tempo, maybe not just running like a chicken with your head cut off. You’re doing everything with a purpose. That’s something that Coach has really preached, and it’s something that I think we’re getting and we’re learning. We’re going to get a lot better than this. We’re excited to see where that goes.”
One area the Rockets have been exposed recently is defensively, and they have to find a balance between playing with pace and accepting that defense is required too.
“That’s what Coach has been doing for his whole career,” Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said. “That’s all he’s been doing—running, running, running and outscoring teams. So that part he has down. The part that we’ve been working [on] is playing on both ends, and he’s accepted the fact that in order to win that’s what we have to do. He bought into it and now that’s what we have to do.”
“[The system] just gives you a lot of freedom,” Ariza added. “It gives you more opportunities to get more looks at the basket, and it keeps the defense on their toes. The defense has to consistently get back in transition, has to find shooters, and it’s harder for them.”
Harden, who is leading the NBA in assists (12.7 per game) and touches (98.6), has taken pretty naturally to running the offense.
“I’m able to control the game a lot more,” Harden said. “Just advanced passes, you’ve got guys running out, guys that are prepared to shoot the ball and guys that are rolling to the basket. It’s just a variety of things where I can get the ball in my hands earlier, and it makes my job a lot easier.
“We’ve got so many offensive weapons that it makes my job a lot easier. I just got to pick my spots and make the right play. Guys are knocking down shots and even when we aren’t knocking down shots and aren’t making those shots, they’re still good shots. So, we just got to continue to take those shots.”
Harden and the Rockets know that becoming an elite team in the Western Conference won’t be easy, especially as they try to find the balance of pace and defense on the fly. One thing has been pretty clear after seven NBA games: it’s a group of guys that genuinely like the situation together.
“This group, this coaching staff as a collective unit, we’re all tied in together,” Harden said. “Everything isn’t going to be perfect, but we’ll fight through it with each other.”
The Rockets’ 4-3 record puts them in the seventh seed in the West. The big challenge for Houston will be the next 10 games on their schedule. The Rockets will see the Spurs, Trail Blazers and Jazz twice in that span as well as matchups against likely playoff teams like the Pistons and Thunder. By the end of November, the Rockets should have a good sense of who they really are and whether their pace will be the great equalizer they want it to be or if it will be their ultimate undoing.
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