Soaring Rockets take on rising Pelicans

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There is strong statistical evidence supporting the notion that the Houston Rockets are gaining confidence under second-year coach Stephen Silas.

And additional confirmation of how much the Rockets have progressed on offense comes by watching them play, particularly during their five-game winning streak — the longest in the NBA.

Houston is set to host the New Orleans Pelicans at Toyota Center on Sunday, trying to match its longest winning streak in more than two years. The last time they won more than six in a row was Nov. 4-19, 2019 (eight games).

Friday night, five Rockets scored in double figures in their 118-116 victory over the visiting Orlando Magic, a win that came with rookie guard Jalen Green (hamstring) sidelined for a fourth consecutive game. Moreover, his backcourt mate, Kevin Porter Jr., did not return following the intermission after aggravating a left thigh contusion that requires constant nursing.

Porter was amid a dynamic performance with eight points and six assists in 18 just minutes. But even without him, Houston found ample scoring as Eric Gordon tallied 24 points, including the game-winner with 1.6 seconds left, while Christian Wood paired 20 points — 16 in the third quarter — with 14 rebounds.

The Rockets assisted on 33 of their 44 field goals. Garrison Mathews (16 points) and Alperen Sengun (13 points and five assists off the bench) recorded timely 3-point baskets in the fourth quarter. Jae’Sean Tate (15 points) recorded four assists along with Wood and Armoni Brooks.

Ball movement and unselfish play enabled the Rockets to overcome their attrition. Earlier this season, while mired in a 15-game losing skid, Houston did not perform with such cohesion.

“They’re definitely getting more confident but they’re also getting more comfortable,” Silas said. “We threw a bunch at them early in the season and we were disjointed for sure and guys didn’t know where or when.

“And now they’re starting to get a better understanding of the where and the when and the how, and for us to be as good as we can be, moving the ball has to be paramount. And in order for us to do that we have to play with force and play with space and we’ve been doing that the last five (games).”

The Pelicans, 4-2 over their last six games, are also on the rise. New Orleans topped the Dallas Mavericks 107-91 on Friday for its third double-digit victory during those four recent wins.

After looking lost at the start of the season without forward Zion Williamson (foot), the Pelicans have found a rhythm with Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas working in tandem.

Valanciunas has been available and exceptional: 18.6 points and 12.1 rebounds in his 25 games. His range shooting has been a boon to the Pelicans offensively. Despite going 0-for-6 from beyond the arc over his last two games, he is shooting 46.9% from deep on the season and but hit a career-high seven 3-pointers (on eight shots) in a 19-point victory over the Los Angeles Clippers last week.

Ingram recorded a career-high 12 assists in the win over the Mavericks and continues to show the versatility needed to keep the Pelicans afloat with Williamson sidelined. It was a rocky start for New Orleans without Lonzo Ball orchestrating the offense, but Ingram has provided some stability lately and the Pelicans have begun to show flashes of potential despite the injuries.

“We just continue to get better,” Ingram said. “We’re going to have some good games, we’re going to have some bad games but as long as we continue to learn and adjust, it’s encouraging.

“I’ve been encouraged every single game, seeing something new from all our guys. We just have to figure out how to be consistent with it.”

–Field Level Media

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