VIDEO: Dennis Scott and Greg Anthony preview the Spurs-Rockets matchup
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the league’s five-game Christmas Day slate with a key stat for each team, along with an explanation of what it means. Here’s a look at the day’s fourth game, San Antonio at Houston (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), the first meeting between the two teams that have shown dramatic improvement as the season has gone on.
San Antonio Spurs (25-5)
The stat: The Spurs rank first in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the month of December.
The Spurs have had the league’s best defense since the third week of the season. They’ve allowed 9.2 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, the biggest differential since the league started counting turnovers in 1977.
On the last day of November though, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “We are not good offensively, and may not be until March.”
Well, he lied.
After scoring 102.5 points per 100 possessions through November, the Spurs have scored 114.2 this month, 116.4 over their last 10 games. The Spurs have shot much better this month, and have also grabbed a greater percentage of available offensive rebounds, turned the ball over less, and gone to the free-throw line more often.
With the league’s No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense in December, the Spurs have outscored their opponents by 22.2 points per 100 possessions in their 12 games, a mark that’s more than seven points per 100 possessions better than any other team.
Going back to 1996-97, the best NetRtg a team ever posted in a month in which it played at least 10 games was plus-16.9 by the Chicago Bulls in November of ’96. With four more games this month (all against teams that are .500 or below), the Spurs are set to crush that mark.
More Spurs notes from NBA.com/stats
- The Spurs lead the league with 13.3 post-up points per game. They’re led by LaMarcus Aldridge, who averages 4.9 post-up points per game.
- All five of the Spurs’ losses have been on the road, but they still rank second with a road NetRtg of plus-11.2 points per 100 possessions.
- Kawhi Leonard leads the league with 6.1 spot-up points per game.
Houston Rockets (15-15)
The stat: The Rockets have been the most improved team since Thanksgiving, 11.6 points per 100 possessions better than they were through Nov. 25.
James Harden has seen a small bump in how well he’s shot, but the biggest jump has come from the Houston role players. Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Ty Lawson and Marcus Thornton all have a post-Thanksgiving effective field goal percentage that’s at least eight percentage points better than what they shot before Thanksgiving.
The schedule has been a factor in the Rockets’ improvement. Before Thanksgiving, the Rockets played six games against teams that are currently under .500 and five against bottom-10 defenses. Since, they’ve played 10 games against teams currently under .500 and nine against bottom-10 defenses. So it’s not quite time to believe that they’ve found all the answers to their problems or that they’re looking good for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
In the next nine days, the Rockets will face the Spurs (twice), Hawks and Warriors. After this stretch, we’ll know if they’ve truly turned the corner.
More Rockets notes from NBA.com/stats
- The Rockets have attempted 37.5 percent of their shots from 3-point range, the second highest mark in NBA history (behind their own mark from last season). But the Spurs have allowed their opponents to shoot just 23.3 percent of their shots from 3-point range, the lowest opponent mark in the league.
- Harden leads the league with 3.9 free throw attempts per game off of drives. But the Spurs held Harden to just 5.0 free throw attempts per game last season, the third lowest mark among his opponents.
- Harden shot 9-for-23 when Danny Green was the closest defender to him last season.
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions