Apr 7, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Houston Rockets guard D.J. Augustin (4) goes up for a layup against Charlotte Hornets center Mark Williams (5) during the first quarter at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Holding on: Three takeaways from Friday’s 112-109 win over the Hornets
Kevin Porter Jr and Jalen Green scored 26 points apiece as the Rockets won their penultimate game of the season, beating the Hornets 112-109, giving them their 21st win of the season, which eclipses last season’s total. The Rockets had to withstand a fourth-quarter 3-point flurry from the Hornets, who made 8-of-16 in the game’s final 12 minutes after hitting just 5-of-25 through three quarters. Alperen Sengun finished with 14 points and a career-high 21 rebounds.
Beating a skeleton crew
The Hornets are going to finish the season with the NBA’s fourth-worst record, but they really played no one responsible for leading them to their 26-54 record. Against the Rockets on Friday, the Hornets sat their five leading scorers, LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington, and Kelly Oubre Jr. Svi Mykhailiuk, who played in his 18th game for the Hornets, entered the game as their leading scorer, averaging 9.4 points per game. The Hornets have been playing with this skeleton crew for a while, as Ball and Hayward have combined to play in just 86 games this season.
On the other hand, the Rockets played all their guys, minus Jae’Sean Tate, who missed his 10th straight game due to left knee soreness.
Jabari Smith Jr from the midrange
Smith shot 4-of-7 from the field in the first half, but what made his first half unique was where his shots came from. More than 60% of Smith’s shots this season have come from behind the 3-point line or inside the restricted, but he did not attempt a 3-pointer in the first half against the Hornets, and only two of his shots came at the rim as the Rockets rookie continues to embrace the midrange game.
Smith shot just 33% on midrange shots before the All-Star Break, but that number has jumped to 43.6% since. The Rockets have eschewed the midrange shot ever since James Harden arrived more than a decade ago, but Smith’s size and shooting ability can make that an efficient shot moving forward. He can get that shot off, no matter who is defending him. The key in the future will be if he can get to his spots and if his teammates can get him the ball.
Smith finished the game with 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting, with only two of those shot attempts coming from long distance.
The Rockets went into the All-Star Break with an NBA-worst 16.9% turnover rate, but that number has dropped to 14.2% in the 22 games since. Still not good, but it has them tied for 20th. That progress was halted on Friday, at least for 36 minutes. The Rockets committed 17 turnovers through the game’s first three quarters, which led to 17 Charlotte points. Fortunately for the Rockets, the Hornets were just as sloppy also committing 17 turnovers, leading to 28 Rockets points.
Both teams cleaned things up in the fourth quarter with the Rockets turning the ball over only twice while the Hornets avoided giving the ball away altogether.
The Rockets will play their final game of the 2022-23 season when they visit the Washington Wizards on Sunday afternoon.