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Mar 18, 2024 7:57 pm

Streaking Rockets continue to pick up pace, with Wizards up next

jalen green

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 paste 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.

“Even before Alpie went out, like I said, the increase in pace has really been good for our guys,” Udoka said. “There was carryover from that tonight, probably our most complete game of our season, front-to-back.”

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 on Monday.

With Sengun and rookie Cam Whitmore (knee) sidelined, the Rockets’ postseason odds appeared miniscule. 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.

“Coming down the stretch here, we understand what’s at stake if we want to have a real shot (of the playoffs),” VanVleet said. “We’ve got to play our best these last couple weeks, and I think that the group has found that swagger and energy as we make a little push here.”

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 Bulter logged substantial minutes.

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.

“It’s such a long season,” Wizards guard Jordan Poole said. “People get hurt through the course (of it). Guys have got to stay ready when their number is called and get their opportunity, and show all the work that they put in.”

–Field Level Media

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