Friday, April 12, 2024
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NBA Preview: Houston Rockets (32-35) at Washington Wizards (11-57)

Houston Rockets coach Ime Udoka made himself clear when asked about the loss of Alperen Sengun coinciding with the recent resurgence of Jalen Green.

The Rockets (32-35) had just extended their winning streak to five games with their 117-103 home victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, part of a longer stretch of seven wins in eight games as they enter Tuesday’s visit to the Washington Wizards.

The last three victories for Houston have come without Sengun, the Rockets’ leading scorer and rebounder.

Udoka noted that without Sengun and his presence as a low-post scorer, the Rockets have more lanes to drive to the basket. That scenario benefits Green and his exceptional athleticism. But Udoka also said that the Rockets’ commitment to a hastened pace has undergirded their recent success, and their pivot to that style of play unfolded before Sengun suffered right ankle and knee injuries against the Sacramento Kings on March 10.

Green, named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday, has grasped the opportunity. His assertiveness began with Sengun on the court, with Green only ratcheting up his production now that the Rockets require additional scoring on offense.

“Jalen is really hitting his stride as of late. That’s helping us,” Rockets guard Fred VanVleet said.

Green averaged team highs of 26.3 points and 8.7 rebounds last week while shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and 45.8 percent from 3-point range.

With Green thriving, the Rockets suddenly look like a confident outfit. As a result, Houston was within three games in the loss column for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference as of Tuesday morning.

With Sengun and rookie Cam Whitmore (knee) sidelined, the Rockets’ postseason odds appeared minuscule. But by elevating their play, they have made staying in the chase for a playoff berth a viable proposition, one built on maintaining their recent stellar play and renewed self-assuredness.

On Sunday, the Wizards (11-57) had to dig deep into their bench against the Boston Celtics. Five rotation players were sidelined in their 130-104 loss, the fourth in a row for Washington.

With Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija, Bilal Coulibaly and Tyus Jones unavailable, the Wizards started Justin Champagnie and Patrick Baldwin Jr. At the same time, Jules Bernard, Johnny Davis and Jared Butler logged substantial minutes.

Coulibaly was ruled out for the season on Monday because of a fractured right wrist.

That made the challenge facing the best team in the league even more arduous for the Wizards, who dropped to 2-12 since the All-Star break.

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