The Houston Rockets are like the Minnesota Twins of the NBA; a model for consistent regular season success.
From spots 1 through 12, the Rockets’ rotation lives its philosophy of understanding their role, playing within their strengths, and ceding to the better man when necessary. They now have a seven game winning streak and a 7-1 home record to show for it.
The Milwaukee Bucks need that level of cohesiveness for their no-superstar system to work. For the most part, the Bucks have been the anti-Rockets, heavily reliant on defensive stops and undergoing constant lineup renovations that threaten to derail a season that’s just begun.
Milwaukee Bucks: 96.9 (24th)
Houston Rockets: 102.8 (9th)
Milwaukee Bucks: 99.2 (16th)
Houston Rockets: 101.9 (21st)
Milwaukee Bucks: 95.2 (10th)
Houston Rockets: 92.9 (21st)
Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings, Shaun Livingston, Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute, Andrew Bogut
Houston Rockets: Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons, Luis Scola, Samuel Dalembert
Box Score Advantage: No Quarter
The Rockets have upped their fourth-ranked first quarter production from 25.9 to 29.3 points over the past three games. Conversely, the Bucks have declined from their sixth-ranked 25.2 points in the opening quarter to 22.7 points in the last three games. Milwaukee is not a team that thrives playing from behind, so scoring points early and often is critical if the Bucks want to extend their road winning streak to three.
Matchup to watch: Brandon Jennings vs. Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry is this year’s oxymoron personified. Everyone is talking about how no one is talking about him. No point guard crashes the boards harder (10.4 TRR) than Lowry, who currently owns the fourth best PER (22.48) and seventh highest true shooting percentage (57%) among fellow point guards. Lowry does most of his damage as the pick-and-roll ball handler, averaging 1.01 PPP, shooting 49% overall and 47.4% on threes out of this set.
In addition to making Brandon Jennings’ job hard on defense, Lowry is a tireless defender himself. Jennings averages 1.12 PPP in transition, so look for the Bucks to push the ball hard off rebounds to take advantage of Jennings’ quickness and decision making. If he can recover quickly off the inevitably Luis Scola pick, something Jennings has done nicely this year, Lowry will have a much tougher time getting open looks around the basket.
Get used to this play: Luis Scola sets a pick for Kyle Lowry. Lowry takes off for the hoop, as does Scola. If neither shot is there, Kevin Martin is hitchhiking along the perimeter, waiting for an outlet pass and a spot up opportunity (1.09 PPP, 41.5% 3FG).
Houston is playing red hot basketball right now with a set lineup, while Milwaukee’s rotation gets the reset button treatment on a nightly basis. The Rockets know who they are; for the Bucks, that’s a known unknown. It’s harder to win in Houston right now than in New York or Miami, so it’s reasonable to expect a usual “tied at half, trail by ten after three quarters” scenario.