The Houston Rockets are making LaMarcus Aldridge’s life look easy

An hour or so after Game 2’s final horn—after dust settled, blood dried, and small children stopped crying—Chandler Parsons stood in front of his locker, showered, dressed in clean clothes, all ready to explain the unexpected carnage the world had just witnessed on national television.

A few minutes into the scrum, a reporter asks Parsons about Portland’s sweet, soul-crushing big man, LaMarcus Aldridge. With lifeless eyes, Parsons scratches his beard and gives an answer:

…ain’t nobody in the world who can guard him one-on-one right now. You can’t even really knock Terrence, or Omer or Dwight’s defense because they’re playing him tough and contesting everything. There’s nothing much left to do besides just straight up double-teaming him to get the ball out of his hands and make their other guys beat us.

This wasn’t hyperbole. It wasn’t crazy. It wasn’t an excuse. Aldridge is out of this world right now, torturing one fan base while another dances on his shoulders. He has 89 points in 81 playoff minutes, shooting 59.3% from the floor with a 41.6 PER. Nobody has a higher True Shooting percentage or Offensive Rating. Nobody has more Win Shares. His shot chart resembles a well-manicured lawn.

Aldridge is just the third player to score at least 40 points in Games 1 and 2 on the road in NBA playoff history, joining Michael Jordan and Tracy McGrady. Furthermore: Only four other players in NBA history have scored at least 89 points in their first two games of a playoff season: Jordan (112 points in the 1986 playoffs and 105 in the 1988 playoffs), Jerry West (101 in the 1965 playoffs), Elgin Baylor (89 in the 1961 playoffs), and McGrady (89 in the 2003 playoffs). What Aldridge is doing happens about once every 20 years.

Which brings us to the million dollar question. How do the Houston Rockets stop him? Aldridge is a mid-range specialist. His sweet spot gives analytical NBA thinkers a migraine. If Omer Asik or Dwight Howard puts a knee in Aldridge’s behind and nudges him out to 18 feet, then gets a hand in his face to strongly contest an off balance jumper, there’s no shame if the ball goes in. This is good defense. But when this exact sequence happens roughly 19 possessions in a row, it’s time to try something else.

Here’s a look at how the Rockets guarded Aldridge in Game 2, and what they might want to try as the series heads to the Pacific Northwest. Read More »

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Huq’s Pen: What a complete embarrassment

  • Before this series began, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be writing about the team being down 0-2 heading to Portland.  It was conceivable the Rockets could go down 0-2 in the next round against San Antonio, and in the next round, against the Thunder, I thought that prospect was a near certainty.  But against the Blazers?  While I predicted Houston in 5 on ESPN, I knew 1-1 was a distinct possibility.  But down 0-2 heading to Portland?  It looks like I really underestimated (perhaps willfully ignored) the importance of good coaching in professional sports.  Trust me, there will be much more on this point later.
  • I said on Twitter before tipoff, and also in my Game 1 rant-cap, that I wasn’t overly worried/disappointed with Dwight Howard’s play because, as Charles Barkley said, what we saw in Game 1 is essentially who Dwight is.  Howard came out last night on a completely different level, starting the game out scoring 13 of Houston’s first 15 points, seemingly on a mission to destroy the basket support as he finished every play with one of those dunks where he pulls the whole rim down and hangs for aesthetic effect.  It was breathtaking to watch and by halftime, Superman had 25.  But heading into the third quarter, I tweeted that it worried me that while Howard and Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge were both having historic first halves, leading to the tied score, Aldridge’s efforts were more sustainable while Howard’s were likely to taper off.  Lo and behold, Howard scored just 7 more points the rest of the way, while Aldridge continued his tear to the tune of another 40+ performance.  That whole train of analysis is not meant as a knock on Dwight.  32-14-4 is more than enough to expect from one’s superstar center.  My assertion was simply based upon the observation that Howard’s game is more prone to being stopped by adjustments (more on this) than Aldridge’s.  Howard made comments following Game 1 about needing to demand the ball more, but I never thought effort or intensity were really the problem.  Sure, he can flex his muscle and dunk the ball down as hard as possible, but a timely double-team or help defender here or there can completely throw him off.
  • If you’re a fan of the Houston Rockets, you’re wondering what an ‘adjustment’ is.  My apologies.  Allow me to explain as simply as possible.  An ‘adjustment’ is basically when, in a game, something is happening over and over again, perhaps by one of the teams, and then the other team’s coach says, “hey guys, we need to make an adjustment.  let’s stop doing ‘x’ and do ‘y’.”  And then typically, some different result ensues.  I’ve poured over the past two years worth of video from the Houston Rockets to find some tape to better illustrate the concept, but unfortunately, did not find anything.

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On the NBA: Let’s make playoff love, not war

The playoffs show us something curious: the difference between the ideal and the practical. A “bad matchup” suggests, to me, not some rare quirk of the game or misnomer, but that we evaluate players with too much lack of the particular. When I hear X is better than Y, but Y is just a bad matchup for X, I think: You’re measuring incorrectly.

Better, worse… who cares? Rankology and hierarchy be damned. We should look at the pantheons of players and teams like a periodic table, not a one-way list. Some mix well, others don’t—the goal, as a viewer and lover of the game each season, is not necessarily to determine who is best. Everyone loves that base bit of pride, surely—stick your finger up in the air with Aloe Blacc on in your Beats, I dare you to do it without swelling with self-worth at the thought of war won through your surrogate ballers—but the strange and varied permutations of humanity-by-way-of-athletes is what truly beats our hearts.

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Houston Rockets vs Portland Trailblazers: Some thoughts about the benches, Harden’s defense, and adjustments

First, the benches

Click for a full-sized, interactive version

Click for a full-sized, interactive version

At the end of the regular season, the Portland Trailblazers was the most bench-allergic team in the league. Portland played its bench 29.55% of the time, or dead last in the league. I’ve noted that, given the bench data, the Golden State Warriors and Trailblazers are in precarious states because they both play their benches very little, and their benches aren’t very good. One injury to an overworked starter portended disaster. One Andrew Bogut injury later, I feel pretty proud of my prediction (though bad for the Warriors). And while the Blazers might not be injured, they are most definitely tired. Take a look at Portland’s field goal attempts and their opponents’ over the course of the season.

Portland The Blazers accelerated their pace through January, but have played significantly more slowly since. Their opponents, who were once being run off the court to the tune of four fewer field goal attempts per game in January, have now turned the tables and are out running the Blazers. Think the Blazers lack of bench utilization has something to do with these trends?

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Huq’s Pen: Assessing the Houston Rockets’ Game 1 loss

  • If Patrick Beverley has been lost, you can kiss the Houston Rockets’ title hopes this year goodbye.  You can stick a fork in them.  They don’t have a chance in hell without Beverley.  I guess we will find out in a few hours.  When Red94 went to press, it was believed that Beverley had suffered a sprained knee with the fear being that the injury was serious.  He limped to the lockerroom at the close of things last night and it didn’t look good, but we will just have to wait a few more hours and see.  But I’m bracing for the worst.  The Rockets can still win this series without Beverley, but it will be tough doing anything else of significance.
  • Isn’t it funny how your whole world can change just at the drop of a hat?  One minute, the Rockets were coasting to a Game 1 victory, nursing a double digit lead with less than five minutes remaining, having absorbed a historic night from the Blazers’ best player while their own two stars didn’t have their best games…and the next, they are down 0-1, having coughed up the home court advantage and possibly facing the impending news that they have lost their starting point guard.
  • Dwight Howard might have had the most unimpressive game of anyone in the history of anyone who has ever scored 27 points and pulled down 15 boards.  The Rockets completely crumbled offensively down the stretch, as they have been prone to do, also making critical errors defensively…but make no mistake, that game completely turned when the Blazers went to the Hack-a-Howard, killing Houston’s momentum and obviously stopping the clock while the Blazers clawed their way back in.  There should be no question left: the next time Portland employs the strategy, Howard should be yanked immediately, unless he’s demonstrated a consistent stroke already at the line on the night.  Now is not the time to worry about hurt feelings.  If you can’t hit your freebies, you sit, because otherwise, you are hurting the team.  The problem for McHale is that, for his part, Howard was otherwise dominant protecting the paint.  With the big man out of the game, the lane looked like the Red Sea upon Moses’ arrival and the Blazers wasted no time taking the ball straight to the rim.

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