New York Knicks Preview: Keys To Defeating Houston Rockets

Just one day after losing 102-89 to the Detroit Pistons, the New York Knicks will take on the Houston Rockets. How can the Knicks defeat Houston?

Oct 4, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) defends during the third quarter at Toyota Center. The Rockets won 130-103. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-17 NBA regular season hasn’t started in the most ideal of ways for the postseason hopeful New York Knicks. Though the win-loss record isn’t something to harp on after just three games, the Knicks are currently 1-2.

Both losses have come by double-digits and all three games have been rather underwhelming from a defensive perspective.

On Wednesday, November 2, the Knicks will have a chance to right the ship against the 2-2 Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden. It will be New York and Houston’s first meeting of the 2016-17 NBA regular season, but not the first encounter between these reformed rosters.

The last time the Knicks played the Rockets, Houston dominated New York en route to a 130-103 preseason victory.

The preseason is rarely indicative of what’s to come in the regular season, but this may be a rare exception. New York’s erratic defense will be matched up against one of the most explosive offensive units in the NBA.

The question is: what must the Knicks do in order to defeat the Rockets and pull to an even .500 at 2-2?

Oct 19, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dribbles as Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (left) defends during the second half at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

5. Don’t Foul

James Harden has an uncanny ability to drive the lane, play an angle, and draw a foul from a quality defender. It’s been the signature of his game over the past four seasons, as Harden has established himself as the most oft-fouled man in basketball.

For the New York Knicks to experience success against the Houston Rockets, Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah cannot afford to get into foul trouble.

That’s much easier said than done, but Lee and Noah are far too valuable to the Knicks to get into foul trouble. Noah is the Knicks’ defensive anchor, best rebounder, and primary facilitator, and Lee has stabilized the offense with his timely scoring.

To lose either player would be a devastating result given the relatively thin nature of the Knicks’ second unit.

Beyond Harden, the Rockets play an up-tempo style that’s likely to cause temptation as far as fouls are concerned. Stopping the fast break with a foul is an age-old strategy, but New York must be wise in choosing which players do so.

There are some players whom the Knicks simply cannot allow to get into foul trouble, and two of them will have the task of protecting the basket from Harden.

Nov 1, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; New York Knicks guard Justin Holiday (8) leaves the court after being injured during the second quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

4. The Second Unit

Though it’s ideal to believe the New York Knicks won’t foul James Harden, he has a frustrating tendency to bust that game plan wide open. When he drives, most players don’t have options other than fouling a player as quick, strong, and skilled as Harden.

Thus, if Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, or any other Knicks player does fall into foul trouble against the Rockets, then the second unit must step up.

Even if the Knicks manage to avoid foul trouble, the second unit needs to be better. Brandon Jennings scored a season-high 12 points against the Detroit Pistons, but he’s otherwise struggled as it pertains to scoring.

Against a Houston Rockets team that has no trouble pouring in 100 points, the Knicks will need Jennings to maintain the momentum he developed against Houston.

Jennings will be joined by a number of key reserves who could be asked to play important minutes. Those players include Willy Hernangomez, Justin Holiday, Maurice Ndour, and Lance Thomas—all of whom are capable of a big performance.

If the Knicks are hoping to avoid a 1-3 start, then the unsung heroes must rise to the occasion against an explosive Rockets squad.

Nov 1, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (25) goes to the basket against Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) and guard Ish Smith (14) during the first quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

3. Pound It Inside

The Houston Rockets gave up a significant measure of defense in order to build the current roster. The defense took an even bigger hit when it was announced that Patrick Beverley would miss time due to an injury.

With Beverley out, the always slashing Derrick Rose needs to continue to play with aggressiveness when attacking the rack.

Clint Capela has upside as a rim protector, but he’s surrounded by too many erratic defenders to establish himself this early in his career. That’s exactly why Rose and the New York Knicks should look to attack the rim whenever possible.

Getting Capela in foul trouble would essentially strip the Rockets of any and all resistance that it has at the rim.

Rose is joined by a number of capable players when it comes to creating penetration or simply taking it inside. Brandon Jennings can take his man off the bounce and both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis should be going to the post more often.

The Knicks need to pound it inside against a team that struggles to do much of anything well on defense.

Nov 1, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; New York Knicks guard Courtney Lee (5) talks with forward Carmelo Anthony (7) during the third quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

2. Work On Defense

The New York Knicks allowed just 102 points against the Detroit Pistons. That isn’t necessarily a low number, but it’s normally a sign that a team played well enough on defense to secure a victory with quality offensive production.

The reality is, New York played atrocious defense for three quarters against the Pistons—a result of a lack of effort rather than ability.

The Knicks almost refused to put a body on players during Tuesday’s 102-89 loss. That includes Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, who all but refused to press Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris.

Harris and Morris both scored upwards of 20 points against the Knicks, which makes Wednesday’s clash with Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson—better shooters—even more concerning.

The Houston Rockets are going to score a fair amount of points, but the Knicks need to make them work for it. The transition defense must be better than it’s been in the first three games, and New York must close out with more intensity.

Houston may still reach 100 points against the Knicks, but if New York plays hard, a win will be attainable.

Oct 15, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) talks with head coach Mike D’Antoni during the second half of the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Toyota Center. The Grizzlies defeat the Rockets 134-125. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

1. Make Someone Else Beat Them

James Harden is going to post absurd statistics against virtually every opponent he faces. His offensive skill set is as well-rounded as any player’s in NBA history and his usage rate is certain to rank in the Top 5 in 2016-17.

Thus, if the New York Knicks are hoping to defeat Harden and the Houston Rockets, then the gameplan should be to make someone else beat them.

Harden is averaging 32.3 points, 11.8 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 1.0 steal, and 3.3 3-point field goals made through four games. He’s an offensive juggernaut with a head coach, Mike D’Antoni, who’s enabling him to dominate the ball.

The best chance New York has at defeating the Rockets is to test Harden’s teammates and make them work for their offense.

Harden has two games with at least 30 points and 15 assists, and both of those games were losses. The most successful strategy against ball-dominant players has long been to let them dominate the ball and only bring a double team when it’s absolutely necessary.

Even if Harden feasts, having the other four defenders stay on their man will enable New York to prevent Houston’s other players from developing any type of rhythm.

Harden may go off, but the goal is to win games—not to prevent gaudy fantasy basketball numbers.

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