Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets


San Antonio Spurs (17-4) @ Houston Rockets (9-10)

Previous meeting: Spurs won 114-92

OffRtg: Spurs 106.7, Rockets 103.0
DefRtg: Spurs 98.2, Rockets 104.2
NetRtg: Spurs 8.5, Rockets -1.1

There are many different styles through which to build a successful basketball program, though the one common thread between champions is that each picks a style–a culture really–that generally begins at the top of the organization and permeates throughout.

In general manager Daryl Morey and franchise player James Harden the Houston Rockets have the foundation for such a culture in place.


Houston hired Morey to bring a statistical perspective to the basketball court, an effort to crack the magical mathematical formula to basketball’s success. Offensively the most efficient shots are those taken at the rim (highest percentage shot), three-pointers (largest return on investment), or free throws. Building a game plan around attempting and preventing these two shots theoretically offers a team its best chance for victory.

In James Harden the Houston Rockets boast a star whose offensive game generates each of these three shots in bunches while eschewing almost everything else.

Already Harden is proving to have a profound effect on these Rockets, who have adopted their franchise player’s tendencies. The Rockets attempt 27.2 three-pointers a game, second to only the New York Knicks. According to, through December 3, the Rockets are also second in shots attempted at the rim with 32.1 per game and attempt the fourth most free throws with 25.4 per game.

Every shot in between Houston practically ignores, ranking 22nd, 29th, and 30th in shots taken from 3-9 feet, 10-15 feet, and 16-22 feet range.

In theory the Rockets shot selection should eventually lead to a dangerously potent offense, and to that point they already rank 10th in the league in offensive efficiency with a rating of 103.

I say in theory because though they are choosing their shots well, they’ve struggled converting them–they’re merely tied with Phoenix for the 16th best three-point shooting team percentage-wise and finish at the rim at a percentage slightly below the league average.

Defensively these Spurs are perfectly suited to handle such tendencies. Though the Spurs have been just middling in preventing shots at the rim, they’ve been superb in defending them once taken, holding teams to below the league average at 59 percent.

As always Popovich teams rarely foul, and this season the Spurs are absolutely stifling three-point attempts.

Meanwhile, though the Rockets do well to keep shots away from the rim they allow three-pointers in bunches and remain quite vulnerable to teams capable of spacing their defense out and moving the ball around.

In their first meeting the Spurs simply picked Houston apart, breaking their defense down until ultimately Matt Bonner was able to do this:

Tonight’s game could hinge on the Rockets ability to find efficient shots versus the Spurs ability to force opposing offenses to move towards their third or fourth options.

Given that Harden is currently struggling with a tweaked ankle, and the Rockets inability to convert enough shots to truly make the Spurs defense pick a poison in pick and rolls, the math favors the Spurs.

  • ThatBigGuy

    Can we make Harden go right? Or is that too much to ask?

  • Fireball

    Spurs opponents try to force Manu to go right and have not been successful. And I think its pretty dumb to think that such a strategy works. Or is it a common strategy to force right-handed players to go left? I never heard of that …

  • agutierrez

    If I hear another comparison between Harden and Manu, I think I’ll throw up. Other than the fact that Harden is left handed, can drive and score, he’s not even in the same league. Manu is as complete and accomplished a player as there is anywhere on the planet. Come back in 7 or 8 years and maybe then we can discuss if Harden ever became the player that Manu is and has been for well over a decade.

  • Spurholic in Mumbai

    Just a thought, not related to Rockets match, would you take a 98-68 score or 132-102, ie points diff of 30 points. Would the former qualify for a better D? Could this team become a defensive stopper later in the season or is it destined to be the Steve Nash’s Sun, fun in the regular season yet a perennial underperformer in the playoffs?

  • neverthehero

    are you kidding me? If the Spurs picked up Harden for Manu right now, our second team would be unstoppable, someone that can regularly score 30 points and get people into foul trouble.

  • Graham

    If they favor that hand they do. Most premier guys tend to get their offhand up to the point that its no longer a liability.

  • Graham

    He’s got the same skillset, and is of to a decent start. The comparisons are apt now that He’s proven not to be a flash in the pan. Manu’s simply the gold standard he has to be compared to the rest of his career.

  • Len

    Harden has moves to counter such simple defensive approaches, similar to Manu. From what I’ve seen Harden likes to step back and shoot 3 pt dribbling to his right and he has a nice crossover. Manu has an array of such moves – Same ones as Harden plus the behind the back, the right to left euro step and is great at splitting double teams once they’ve forced him right.

  • DieHardSpur

    @5adc3e7eb5974b1a3713ab24c65bdc0c:disqus Harden is a volume shooter (ie. Richard Jefferson) with great handles. If you look at the “points scored” your right. Unfortunately, there are other factors. Harden is completely ineffective without the ball. Look at the gaudy numbers he has been putting up in Houston… 30 pts 8 ast … he has to have the ball in his hands. When you look at everyone else’s numbers, you will see this. Also, have a look at his shooting percentages… he is usually 8 of 28, or 10 of 22… Not inefficient, but not nearly as effective as the masses think. the main reason that makes him “good” if you will, is his ability to make free throws in bunches. He is usually 8 for 9, 11 for 13… something like that.

    While i agree he is good, he is not great (yet). Manu has competed, won, and dominated on every level that modern basketball has to offer. Euroleague titles, Euroleague MVP, Fiba Gold Medalist, Olympic Gold Medalist, 3 time nba champion, 3 time all star, 6th man of the year on the best team in basketball… the list goes on and on. Manu also retains the highest winning percentage of any NBA player ever to play more than 500 games. Career winning percentage of 71-72 %…

    Harden has a loooong way to go before reaching the ELITE STATUS of a first ballot HOF Player.

  • DieHardSpur

    Oh, and uh…. our second team is already unstoppable. reference the SAS @ MIA game where we were fined for sending our guys home and were within a last minute three pointer of taking the game.

  • Jesse Blanchard

    It’s my personal experience playing basketball that the only players you can effectively force to their off-hand are those without a pull-up jumper. It’s easier to pull-up going to your off hand than it is going towards your strong hand. Which is why Manu pulling up and stepping back behind the three-point line whilst going left is so amazing.

  • Jack “Poophead” Vincent

    ur doing a good job buddy. keep it up.

  • Len

    I was thinking about Manu and the hall recently. At first I argued that he will be a first ballot guy. But then I saw the list of guys that had to wait. Some awfully good players had to wait. And it’s generally the best of the best and have the stats to back it up that get the first ballot. Manu, to his credit, has put the team before his stats. But in this case it will hurt him a bit. All things considered, I think Manu and Tony will get to the hall but both will probably have to wait a few years, Timmy ofc will not have to wait.

  • Len

    Spurs actually try hard at defense. They aren’t anywhere as bad as the 7 seconds or less teams.

  • NYC

    I will never tire of watching this video. Never.

  • ThatBigGuy

    But it’s the basketball HOF, not the NBA HOF. He’s a first ballot guy by virtue of his entire career, including an Olympic gold medal and Euro League championships and MVPs.

    There are many guys in the HOF who never played in the NBA.

  • DieHardSpur

    Len See ThatBigGuy’s post below.

    Manu is the most widely decorated basketball player ever. I will have to do some checking, but I am sure that the list of Euroleague AND NBA champions is really short. Not to mention added to the list of Olympic Gold Medalist and, to a lesser extent, FIBA Gold Medalists. That puts you into some pretty rare company.

    Also, many NBA greats long outstay their welcome (i.e. Hakeem). Manu is smart enough to quit when its time. I would bet a dollar to a donut that he doesnt sign another NBA contract. This would enhance the impression left in the minds of fans, not “playing until the wheels come off” as Timmy said. He has too much passion and competitiveness to sit on the bench and play 10 minutes a game.

    That being said – it will be a sad day in San Antonio when “El Contusion” hangs up his sneakers. It wont be 5 minutes before his Jersey is in the rafters though…

  • Andrew G

    Any update on Kawhi?

  • Len

    I know what Manu’s accomplishments are and I know what an extremely creative, competitive and clutch player Manu has been. I really do. I am saying that 1st ballot HOF is very, very hard to get.

    Guys like Worthy, Mullins, Nique, Tiny, Gervin, Dantley, Maravich, Walt Frazier, Dumars and Rick Barry are not 1st ballot.

    Those are some very, very accomplished players. Manu has a chance to be a 1st ballot. But imo, it’s a long shot for 1st ballot. But as I said, I do think he’ll get in.

  • Len

    Sabonis did not get in on the 1st ballot. I understand he didn’t win any NBA rings but he absolutely dominated the European and Russian leagues for nearly a decade. And he was very good in the NBA too.

    It’ll be an interesting decision. It’s certainly not a sure thing.

  • Len

    Sabonis had an olympic gold in 88, fiba gold in 82 and was a 5 time european league champ. As well as the 8 time european player of the year. Just sayin.

  • DieHardSpur

    @56c72dc0e54ca5dbcf9f00de7ee6479c:disqus ….. but not a 3 time NBA Champion??? I think we can all agree that the NBA is the highest level of basketball competition.

    Manu has three times as many rings as LeBron…

  • DieHardSpur

    that post was for @56c72dc0e54ca5dbcf9f00de7ee6479c:disqus. I dont know who the hell Perfectiondecks is…

  • Len

    I guess we’ll see. I’m rooting for him to get it. It would be awesome if all 3 did it. I’m just not counting on it.