Closing the season strong: Three takeaways from Sunday’s 114-109 win over the Wizards

Apr 9, 2023; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Houston Rockets center Boban Marjanovic (51) shoots the ball as Washington Wizards guard Xavier Cooks (12) defends in the second quarter at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Closing the season strong: Three takeaways from Sunday’s 114-109 win over the Wizards

The Rockets ended their second consecutive 60-loss season on a high note by beating the Washington Wizards 114-109 in Sunday’s season-finale. The Rockets head into the summer on a three-game winning streak, just their second of the 2022-23 season. Jabari Smith Jr. finished his rookie season with a 20-point game, while Tari Eason completed his first NBA campaign with 16 points. Houston finishes the season with a 22-60 record, a two-win improvement over last year.

A glorified preseason game

The Rockets were one of the few teams to have an injury report on Sunday that didn’t read like a novel, and unlike most teams, they started four of their usual five starters, but that doesn’t mean they went all out to try to win this game. Kevin Porter Jr. was held out as a way to preserve an extra $2.3 million in cap space by keeping his 60 games played bonus for next season from being labeled as “likely” because he did not hit that mark this season, and they ran out some goofy lineups which included Frank Kaminsky playing 17 minutes and having him share the floor with Usman Garuba and Boban Marjanovic, a lineup usually reserved for garbage time.

The Wizards were even more unserious in their pursuit of a win. They sat their top three scorers, Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, and Kyle Kuzma, and only played fourth leading scorer Corey Kispert 12 minutes, in which he scored 18 points.

K.J. Martin and Tari Eason play all 82 games

Only 10 players entered the final day of the regular season having played in all of their team’s games. Two of them are on the Rockets, and both played on Sunday.

Eason became the first rookie since Mikal Bridges, Collin Sexton, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in 2018-19 to play in all 82 games, while K.J. Martin joined him in the All-82 game club. It’s an especially impressive accomplishment for Martin, who was getting DNP-CDs and getting sent down to the G League just two years ago and has now gotten to the point where he’s an indispensable member of the team.

“We didn’t know what he was gonna be,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said on Thursday. “He has etched his way into our lineup, into our leadership group, into the hearts of the fans, and the way he’s played has been so consistent this season.”

End of an era?

Sunday likely marked the end of the Stephen Silas era in Houston. The Rockets have yet to pick up the option on his contract for next season, and it would seem logical that if they were interested in retaining him, they would’ve done so already. Silas is 59-177 in his three seasons as Rockets head coach, and he stands to become the franchise’s first coach not to make it to a fourth year since Tom Nissalke almost 45 years ago.

The Rockets completely dismantled the James Harden, Russell Westbrook veteran-laden roster Silas was hired to lead before he coached his 10th game and went all-in on a rebuild that saw them make seven first-round picks in a two-year span. Their starting lineup that finished this season was younger than the lineup Kelvin Sampson, and the University of Houston won an AAC Championship this season.

Next up

The NBA Draft Lottery will take place on May 16. The Rockets will have a 14% chance of landing the top pick and a 52.1% chance of picking in the top four.

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