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Kevin Porter Jr., Eric Gordon reveal secret to Rockets’ 3-game win streak after 1-16 start

Rockets, Kevin Porter Jr., Eric Gordon

Coming off a three-game winning streak, the mood in Toyota Center has been more jovial of late. Gone is this feeling of uneasiness and in is the feeling of stress-free basketball. Winning, even on a small scale, alleviates so much pressure for NBA teams, and the Houston Rockets are a good example of that right now. After an intentionally light practice, the Rockets were all smiles as they approached media for their regular appearance.

“It feels good to get off that slide that we were on, but also against quality teams,” said Stephen Silas. “It’s a big difference. People are happier. I’m happier. People are really thinking about themselves. When you go through a streak like that, you get kind of introverted and think about yourselves instead of the group. It seems like as our assists go up and our play gets better, we’re thinking about each other, which is very important for our group.”

Silas brings up a great point: the Rockets are moving the ball a hell of a lot better than they were before. On the season, the Rockets are 16th in assist percentage (58.4%). During the winning streak, they’re second (70.7%). Due to the improved floor spacing, Houston is rocketing up the league in 3-point attempts per game after taking a dive by its normal standards. And because there are better shooters out there to actually take those shots, makes have gone up.

“Everybody’s moving,” said Eric Gordon. “Whenever someone’s open, we try to get the ball to him. It’s been good that way. That’s how it should be. When they’re open, they should be able to get that shot.”

The person who has made all of this possible is receiving his proper due: Rockets forward Garrison Mathews. In what could have been perceived as an act of desperation but turned out to actually be a good idea, Houston inserted Mathews into the starting unit after Jalen Green went down with his hamstring injury. As a result, the Rockets now have some of the best floor spacing they’ve had since Mike D’Antoni was the head coach.

“You got to do something different,” said Gordon on Houston’s response to the losing streak. “And offensively, we’ve been struggling all year and that set the tone for us. Our defense has been pretty good, and it’s really been good the past few games. But offensively, we just needed to pick it up. It was good to get Garrison back [from the G League] to knock down shots.”

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Silas confirmed at practice that both Mathews and Armoni Brooks will stay with the regular playing group to provide floor spacing. It is to be determined whether it will stay that way when Green returns from injury.

“We have another shooter to space out the defense,” said Kevin Porter Jr. “[Defenses] can’t heavy help or else there’s a 3 coming. Garrison coming in and hitting those corner [3s] really helped C. Wood and I get the ball in drive and kick and make everything easy for us.”

As much as things have looked up for Houston of late, one thing still eludes them this season: a road win. It will be a big test to see if Houston can carry this hot shooting on the road against Oklahoma City. When the Rockets play in Houston, they’ve shot 35.3% from 3-point range as a team — good for 10th in the NBA. This percentage drops down to 30.8% on the road — good for 27th in the league.

“There’s familiarity of being in this gym as much as we are and knowing the surroundings as opposed to being on the road,” said Silas. “There’s adversity with being on the road. There’s probably a mental component that goes along with it as far as all of the things that go along with a road trip. For younger guys who haven’t experienced that quite as much, it could be tough.”

Eric Gordon expanded on this issue of playing on the road, noting that it doesn’t just apply to shooting. Learning to play well on the road is a skill acquired over time.

“That’s where you have to have a little bit more togetherness,” said Gordon. “You have to cut down on a little bit of everything. Turnovers and mistakes. After that, you just have to play your game and stick to what you know best.”

Whatever the case, the Rockets aren’t ready for this win streak to end. The group has a lot of confidence in their ability right now. They want to take advantage of the rhythm they have.

“Momentum is a real thing and we have a lot of it right now,” said Porter. “So we want to keep this momentum. Play the exact way we’ve played, but a little better. We’re going to get another win, even on the road.”