After a long break, Rockets attack Hawks again

After an unusually long break in the schedule that included Thanksgiving, the Houston Rockets will get back to work Friday when they host the Atlanta Hawks.

The Rockets, who have lost five of their last six and won just once at home this season, last played on Sunday, suffering a 127-120 home loss to the Golden State Warriors. It’s rare in the NBA to have so many days off between games, and that stretch could prove crucial for the Rockets as they continue to build and develop their young roster.

Houston is so focused on maturing guards Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green. For the Rockets to continue their path forward, however, they need to see growth from rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr. while also building a reliable bench to support their starting unit.

Smith, who finished third overall in the 2022 NBA draft, has had an uneven start to his career. But Smith won’t be 20 until May, and when he blitzes like he did against the Warriors (22 points and seven rebounds), alongside his ability to impact the Rockets as a whole, you have to remember his individual potential.

“In order for us to keep moving forward, we need his progression,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said of Smith, who is averaging 10.9 points and 6.9 boards per game. “(That) was a good start for him.”

Three Houston reserves have taken the initiative to get juice off the bench: rookie forward Tari Eason, second-year Usman Garuba and third-year swingman KJ Martin. Eason in particular has shown a penchant for ball hawks and will do whatever it takes to light a fuse.

Eason and Martin combined for 31 points, 12 rebounds and four steals against the Warriors. Garuba added six rebounds (three offense) and two steals in 22 minutes off the bench.

“He’s at the top, he and KJ especially bring the energy, and then (Garuba) also brings great energy,” Silas said. “Having Tari out there playing the way he plays — he comes with the basketball — it’s great to have that energy on the floor.”

The Hawks ended the Sacramento Kings’ seven-game winning streak Wednesday with a 115-106 home win. Trae Young hit a game-high 35 points on 11-of-19 shooting while Clint Capela (11 points, 14 rebounds) and De’Andre Hunter (13 points, 10 rebounds) added double-doubles. The Hawks have alternated wins and losses in their last nine competitions.

Young praised the Hawks’ success in “playing fast, playing aggressively (and) going downhill” against the Kings, necessary facets for an offense that ranks seventh according to Basketball Reference.

“If we get in the paint, whether it’s scoring in the paint or shooting at someone on the wing or in the area, that puts out a good offense,” Young said. “We’ve done a good job of getting into the paint and making games.”

Atlanta has displayed a mediocre offense, a modest surprise given the roster build with Young at the controls. Part of the lack of penetrating power could be due to guard Bogdan Bogdanovic being sidelined with a knee injury he picked up in the off-season.

– Field level media

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