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Houston Rockets: Slippery Slope

Less than a week ago the Rockets were riding a 4 game winning streak and had climbed up to 4th place in the Western Conference. Now, they've lost 3 in a row (two by double digits), and have slipped into 7th place; just 2 games ahead of the 9th place Minnesota Timberwolves for the final playoff spot. This year's Rockets squad has been a very tough team to figure out so far. How did they beat the Nuggets on the road by 9 points a month ago, and then turn around and lose to the Nuggets without their two best players in Houston? There has to be a reason for the inconsistency.

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So what's the common theme in their losses? Looking at their team splits, it's rebounding. In their wins the Rockets are averaging 5.5 more rebounds than in their losses; every other stat is basically even in wins/losses. During the 3 game losing streak, the Rockets are being out-rebounded by an average of 12 rebounds per game.

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One idea that may seem crazy, but it could fix the problem, is giving Chase Budinger more playing time at the expense of Kevin Martin. Per 36 minutes, Budinger averages 3 more rebounds, and shoots better from the 3-point line and from the field overall. Looking a little deeper, Budinger's offensive rating (an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions) is higher than Martin's (113-112). Is it a guarantee fix? Of course not, but the numbers support at least trying it. Budinger is a better rebounder, an equal shooter, and is equally bad on defense; it's worth a shot. Right now Martin averages 14 more minutes per game (32-18); I'd like to see McHale change that to something close to a 50/50 split.

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As an individual talent, Kevin Martin is the better player. However, basketball is a team game and the numbers suggest that Buddinger could be a better fit right now. They have an easy stretch of games coming up against New Jersey, Cleveland, and Charlotte; I think this is the time to try something new.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.