Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings http://www.red94.net Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings Fri, 18 Apr 2014 23:16:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 History in Hindsight: A look back at the 2009 Portland-Houston series.http://www.red94.net/history-hindsight-look-back-2009-portland-houston-series/14321/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=history-hindsight-look-back-2009-portland-houston-series http://www.red94.net/history-hindsight-look-back-2009-portland-houston-series/14321/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:00:00 +0000 Paul McGuire http://www.red94.net/?p=14321 Five years is an eternity in the NBA. Five years ago, the Houston Rockets were supposed to be championship contenders.  Their goal was not to just get to the second round or to the Conference Finals, but to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy up in June.  The trio of Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and new [...]

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Five years is an eternity in the NBA.

Five years ago, the Houston Rockets were supposed to be championship contenders.  Their goal was not to just get to the second round or to the Conference Finals, but to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy up in June.  The trio of Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and new arrival Ron Artest was supposed to be Houston’s answer to the Garnett-Pierce-Allen trio that had just won the championship for Boston.  It had defense in Artest and Shane Battier, it had offense in Yao Ming, McGrady, and Coach Rick Adelman.  And after the Yao-McGrady Rockets had suffered for years with the lack of impact role players, Luis Scola, Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks, and others were supposed to be capable of finally supporting the trio of stars.

So much has changed since then.  McGrady, Yao and the renamed Metta World Peace are no longer in the NBA.  Scola, Landry, and Battier are barely hanging around, and not a single member of that 2008-09 team is still on the Rockets today.  But just like this year’s Rockets seek to eliminate the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, so did the Rockets five years ago.  They would defeat the Blazers in six games, in what has been Houston’s only playoff series win since 1997.

Five years is just as long for the Portland Trail Blazers as it is for Houston.  Portland still has two players who played against Houston, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge.  The rookie Batum started, but he was benched throughout the series in favor of Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez, and LaMarcus was just a young power forward with a great jump shot, the clear second option to Brandon Roy.  Roy was at his absolute height before his knees gave out, and I will observe this: Roy in Round 1 scared me more than Kobe Bryant did in Round 2.  Earlier that season, Roy had hit a buzzer beater game winner against the Rockets, a shot which was replayed over and over in NBA TV commercials over the next few years.  It was one of Houston’s worst losses of the season, and furthermore gave the Blazers homecourt advantage over the Rockets in the first round.

But even though Portland was the slight favorite as the series began, they were young and inexperienced.  It was the Blazers’ first playoff series since 2003, and in Game 1, both Roy and Aldridge came out unprepared.  On top of that, Blazers coach Nate McMillan committed the single greatest coaching blunder of the series.  McMillan had two tough centers in Joel Pryzbilla and the then healthy Greg Oden.  Perhaps confident in them, he decided at the beginning of the series to have them as well as Aldridge guard Yao Ming straight up.  No double teams, no fronting.

It was a disaster.  With his size, skill, and shooting touch, Yao was as unstoppable in the post as few other players have ever been in league history.  The way to stop Yao was not to guard him in the post – it was to prevent him from getting the ball in the first place.  Sadly, that had always proven to be fairly easy.  Throughout the entire 2008-09 season, team after team would send small power forwards like Al Harrington to front Yao and deny him the ball.  Even though you would think it would be easy to get Yao the ball given his size, Yao’s lack of mobility and mediocre hands in fact made it a highly frustrating affair which was discussed by the Rockets and the outside media and length.  But with the Blazers not employing that defense to start the series, Yao came out absolutely scorching.  He finished with 24 points at the end of the first half of Game 1, hitting 9 of his shots and looking absolutely unstoppable.  Houston led by 18 points at the end of the half.  Portland had a highly efficient offense, but it was also very slow and methodical, which meant that they placed few points on the board.  Faced with such a deficit, the young team crumbled in Game 1, and the Rockets had retaken homecourt advantage.

The Blazers adjusted to Yao in Game 2, and employed the same fronting tactics used around the league.  Yao took just 6 shots in Game 2.  That game was remembered not for Yao Ming, but for his backup center, the great Dikembe Mutombo.  Those who weren’t Rockets fans back then have to understand how beloved Dikembe was in Houston at that time.  Year after year, the old man hesitated to return to basketball.  Year after year, he came to Houston, backed up Yao Ming, and wagged his finger whenever he blocked a shot.  You couldn’t help but wonder whether Dikembe could play more minutes, even at the age of 42.  But in Game 2, Mutombo’s body gave out.  On a routine box-out against Oden, he landed awkwardly and ruptured his quadriceps.  The Blazers crowd, knowing that this was the end for Mutombo, applauded as he was carted off the floor.  To add insult to injury, the Rockets lost Game 2 as Brandon Roy dropped 42 points.

The Rockets returned to Houston for Games 3, and 4, and then we saw Houston adjust to Portland’s adjustment on Yao.  To front a basketball player requires two players: one to prevent the entry pass, and a backside defender in case the pass goes through.  Thus, while Yao Ming was stymied by Portland’s defense after his brilliant Game 1, Portland’s defense also freed up Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola.  Scola and Battier led Houston to victory in Game 3, and then Yao Ming had another great performance in Game 4, with 21 points.  In another daring coaching move, when the Blazers had the ball down 87-85 in the closing seconds, Rick Adelman chose to substitute in Chuck Hayes for Yao Ming.  The move worked perfectly as Hayes drew the charge, and Houston had the 3-1 lead.  But Portland won Game 5, and thus the crucial Game 6 was played in Houston.

Not that national audiences, including myself, ever got to watch Game 6 live.  In the 2009 first-round playoffs, the Bulls-Celtics series utterly outshone every other first round series.  Despite the low stakes involved with two teams that everyone knew was not going to win the title, the games themselves were incredibly exciting, with 7 total overtimes in the 7 games.  The Houston game was scheduled right after Game 6 of the Bulls-Celtics series, but then that game turned into a triple-overtime affair.  By the time the Bulls secured the victory, it was halftime in Houston, and the Rockets were up by 15, largely due to a complete lack of Blazers production outside of Roy and Aldridge.  Just like Game 1, the game was largely over at that point.  In the closing minutes, Ron Artest, in a light parody of his infamous moment in Detroit, ran into the stands and was mobbed by the Houston crowd.  As the game ended, he grabbed a microphone and exhorted the crowd to congratulate the Blazers.

So now 5 years later, what does this series mean as Houston seeks to defeat Portland?  A lot has changed.  Roy is gone, Aldridge is now the main star for Portland, and they have an All-Star point guard in Damian Lillard.  The Rockets of the past are all gone, replaced by a new center and swingman duo.  But while the victory over Portland has been Houston’s only playoff win since 1997, the Blazers have not advanced to the second round since 2000, when they collapsed against the Lakers in the Conference Finals.  Both teams have been overshadowed over the past decade by teams like the Lakers, Spurs, and Mavericks.  Now they will both seek to have their moment in the sun.

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2013-14 Regular Season Retrospectivehttp://www.red94.net/regular_season_retrospective/14308/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=regular_season_retrospective http://www.red94.net/regular_season_retrospective/14308/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 11:00:10 +0000 Rob Dover http://www.red94.net/?p=14308 It is the nature of modern sports coverage and fandom to be constantly looking onwards to what is to come. The playoffs are going to be awesome this year, some of the kids in the draft are going to be superstars and you’d better have one eye on your cap sheet for when all the [...]

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It is the nature of modern sports coverage and fandom to be constantly looking onwards to what is to come. The playoffs are going to be awesome this year, some of the kids in the draft are going to be superstars and you’d better have one eye on your cap sheet for when all the free agents become available. But often this focus on the future at the expense of the past leaves us makes us forget the context of the situations we find ourselves in. People erase the predictions that went horribly awry and re-adjust their expectations based on current performance. So to avoid falling into that trap, let’s take a look back at some of the big questions that surrounded the Rockets before the season began and see where the team got to in achieving them.

Will the Rockets be able to integrate Dwight Howard into the team smoothly?

Fresh off a season full of much-reported personality clashes and a dip in production, there were legitimate concerns about whether the Rockets would be able to avoid the fate that befell the Lakers a season before and successfully mesh Howard’s game with the rest of the team. Last season the team was bereft of a legitimate post-up threat – would adjusting the focus towards Howard’s back-to-the-basket game bog down the high octane offensive attack the team had developed the previous year?

This has been a big success story. There have been zero problems with Howard’s off-court demeanour this year, no evidence of the locker room cancer narrative the media constructed before the season began. On the court, progress came in fits and spurts but overall has been very positive. After initially struggling to find the right balance between post-up and pick-and-roll the Rockets have gradually started to get it right. Howard’s post-game has been inconsistent all season and he is still prone to turnovers, but it does look a lot better than it did at the beginning of the year when he struggled to deal with double teams effectively and lacked the awareness to keep the ball away from poking hands.

A big help in that integration came early in the New Year, when the Rockets unveiled a new weapon – the lob. If you cast your minds back to the pre-season, you may remember that early attempts to lob the ball up to the rim for Howard made for painful viewing. Nobody had the timing down and many an attempt went careening off the backboard. But once the team got the hang of them, they magnified the threat the team posed from the pick-and-roll and now it gets the Rockets several easy baskets per game.

Who will be the Rockets’ Power Forward?

It’s easy to answer now, but nobody was quite sure what the Rockets’ rotation at the 4 spot would look like when the season started. The departure of Delfino meant that Terrence Jones was promoted to starter, but there was uncertainty about whether he was capable of holding the position. The excellent pre-season form of Omri Casspi propelled him ahead of Motiejunas in the rotation and it appeared as though the Rockets would look to continue to embrace the philosophy that had served them so well last season of playing four out one in. At the same time, McHale planned to experiment with running a twin-towers lineup of Asik and Howard in the front court to see if their combined presence would lock up the paint.

As it turns out, Jones overcame a slow start (he played just 15 minutes total in the first 5 games of the season) to make the starting job his own. Though he occasionally struggles with consistency, his high energy and tantalising physical skill-set have allowed him to fill in the cracks in the Rockets’ offence. He is there for offensive rebounds and put-backs. He will run the floor and crush the alley-oop if you throw it to him. And he knows how to use his pump-fake to get into the lane. There are still concerns on the defensive end, where he is not great at boxing out and occasionally makes mistakes in pick-and-roll coverage, but gone are the days when Rockets fans gazed wistfully at the trade market to find their starting power forward.

Behind him, Motiejunas has supplanted Casspi as the backup PF of choice. Unfortunately, D-Mo has failed to show the same level of growth as Jones this year. His maddening bouts of foul trouble continue to appear at inopportune times, and he frequently rushes his opportunities when he gets them in the post. Every now and then he puts together a game where everything clicks and he looks like the game-changing 7 footer Rockets fans hoped he would be when he was drafted, but those flashes are rare.

McHale was forced to abandon the dual-centre line-up of Asik and Howard early into the season as they were unable to provide enough of a defensive and rebounding edge to justify the way they killed the team’s offensive spacing. However, he has taken to running a small-ball lineup at the end of games with Parsons at the 4. Casspi no longer seems to be a regular option for anything more than spot minutes.

How will Lin and Asik adapt to their new roles on the bench?

As the pre-season drew to a close, it became clear that Patrick Beverley had supplanted Jeremy Lin in the starting point guard role. Many observers felt that this was a good tactical decision as it meant Lin would have the ball in his hands more as the leader of the second unit, although others railed at paying such a high salary to a back-up. There were also question marks about Omer Asik – from the outset he was purported to be unhappy with his demotion and it seemed to be only a matter of time before he was dealt elsewhere. Nevertheless, both were highly paid players who seemed over-qualified for the roles they found themselves in, so it was hoped that they would be able to provide a strong punch when the starters left the game.

Unfortunately, the bench unit has not lived up to expectations. Though Richard Li’s analysis would suggest that when they see the court they do not perform poorly, Coach McHale has been unwilling to entrust them with big minutes. Lin has struggled to remain consistent this season. His overall shooting numbers have been consistent (his 3FG% has experienced a slight uptick from 33.9% last season to 35.8% this year), but his scoring has tended to come in bunches and he has a tendency to go through periods where he just can’t get anything to go in the basket.  In addition, his assist numbers have gone down considerably, from 8.3 per 100 plays (per NBA.com/stats) to 6.2 per 100 plays. Though it would be unfair to say that his season was a disaster, he has not yet been able to reach the levels the team had hoped for when they signed him.

Early in the season it seemed as though the arrival of Howard was going to force the Rockets into dealing Asik. When he injured himself in early December, a narrative arose in the national media that he was in a strop and would not be playing again in Houston before the trade deadline (at which point he would be dealt). We may never know the full story, but although it appears Asik was upset at his situation, as the season went on he has grown to accept his position. Eventually he completed the rehab of his knee, and after shaking off the rust proved that he was still capable of being a very productive player. The recent stretch of games that Dwight sat out with an ankle problem have revealed just how good he can be when given playing time.

Will the Rockets achieve their pre-season goal of getting homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs?

YES THEY WILL! This was the goal management set the team for the regular season, so overall the Rockets have met expectations. Not everything has gone perfectly, but enough has gone well that they’ve ended up with a top-4 seed in an incredibly competitive conference. This is has been a season to be pleased with, and hopefully the playoffs will bring more satisfaction to Rockets fans.

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The Rockets Daily – April 16, 2014http://www.red94.net/rockets-daily-april-16-2014/14316/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rockets-daily-april-16-2014 http://www.red94.net/rockets-daily-april-16-2014/14316/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 15:57:10 +0000 mitchell felker http://www.red94.net/?p=14316   With 1st round homecourt advantage clinched, Rockets holding out James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin tonight, maybe more. — Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) April 16, 2014 Rockets make it official, announcing signing of Josh Powell in time to start shootaround with team in New Orleans. — Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) April 16, 2014 The Perfect [...]

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The Perfect Roster - Brad Doolittle put together an ideal roster, based of this year’s production and cap number, that would not only play great together, but also fit under the constraints of a typical GM’s allowance (75.7 mil).  LeBron was, of course, the main attraction and the rest of the list was made of guys you’d expect like Kevin Love, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.  The starting point guard and “Glue Guy”, though, may have caught some by surprise.

Glue Guy: Patrick Beverley

Few people seemed to realize the magnitude of the blow the Houston Rockets nearly suffered when it appeared that they’d lost Beverley for the season with a knee injury. Beverley leads the Rockets in RPM at plus-4.88, and also has posted 2.8 WARP on the season. His ability to hound opposing star point guards is essential, and while he’s not a traditional playmaker, he doesn’t need to be on this roster. Nevertheless, Beverley’s ability to knock down corner 3s gives him offensive utility. Finally, with a salary of just $788,872, Beverley offers as much bang for the buck as any role player in the league.

Snooze – Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose are in the middle of their Playoffs Preview, and while a lot of it has been silly back and forth, they have covered some interesting topics.  One of the items up for discussion today was their pick for sleepers outside of the top-5 (Miami, San Antonio, OKC, LAC and Indiana). 

Storm v. Beard – How much would it cost for YOU to shave your face?

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The Houston Rockets against LaMarcus Aldridgehttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-lamarcus-aldridge/14311/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-lamarcus-aldridge http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-lamarcus-aldridge/14311/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 12:46:04 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14311 On the year, LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 23.2 points and 11.1 boards while shooting 45.8% from the floor.  Against the Houston Rockets, in four games this year, Aldridge put up 26.8 points and pulled down 15.5 boards, shooting 44.7%.  He averaged 36.2 minutes per game against the entire league but played 39.1 minutes per contest against [...]

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On the year, LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 23.2 points and 11.1 boards while shooting 45.8% from the floor.  Against the Houston Rockets, in four games this year, Aldridge put up 26.8 points and pulled down 15.5 boards, shooting 44.7%.  He averaged 36.2 minutes per game against the entire league but played 39.1 minutes per contest against Houston.

Glancing at Aldridge’s shot distribution, against the league, he really likes the midrange elbow area.  Spanning from just beyond the free throw line over left towards the corner, Aldridge hoisted about 33% of his overall attempts.  That far left spot is also his most lethal area – Aldridge hit on 48% of his attempts from that zone.

Aldridge against the league

Against Houston, Aldridge is putting up just 27% of his shots from that free throw line to corner area, but more interestingly, in his favorite zone, the dead elbow area, his attempts are down from 12% of total attempts against the entire league to 4% against the Rockets.  For whatever reason, Aldridge wasn’t shooting as much from one of his pet spots against the Rockets this year.  When he did get a look from those areas, he was pretty lethal.  100% (4/4) from that same zone, and 46% from the zone just inside the 3 point line on the left.

Shotchart_1397651365601

 

In this series, Rockets fans will be grateful Daryl Morey didn’t look ahead and sell off Omer Asik for some draft picks because Aldridge is going to be seeing a ton of the Turkish center.  While I expect Terrence Jones to start Game 1, there is no doubt in my mind that Kevin McHale will be quick with the hook to relieve Jones with Asik if Aldridge gets going early.

What makes Asik so effective against Aldridge?  Let’s look at the tape:

Look at that shot.  Aldridge starts out trying to beat Asik off the dribble with the shot fake but Asik is too nimble.  He then turns his back, fakes, and has to fade again, forcing up a ridiculously difficult shot.  Due to his size and length, Asik is able to contest.

It’s not clear how much of Asik we’ll see because of his offensive limitations.  It might even be a better option to play James Harden at the ’4′ down the stretch.  But due to some of his defensive attributes, the minutes we do see Omer Asik this series will be pivotal given what he can bring to the table against LaMarcus Aldridge.

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Huq’s Pen: And so it beginshttp://www.red94.net/huqs-pen-begins/14303/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=huqs-pen-begins http://www.red94.net/huqs-pen-begins/14303/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:37:38 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14303 Despite not really being a true contender, Houston was among just a handful of teams whose season didn’t really matter.  All they would be judged upon would be their postseason play.  And now we’re here.  After an 82-game rollercoaster, the boys in red will be opening up at home this weekend against the Portland TrailBlazers.   The [...]

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  • Despite not really being a true contender, Houston was among just a handful of teams whose season didn’t really matter.  All they would be judged upon would be their postseason play.  And now we’re here.  After an 82-game rollercoaster, the boys in red will be opening up at home this weekend against the Portland TrailBlazers.  
  • The topic merits more than just a paragraph, but you can divide Houston’s 2013-2014 campaign roughly into four parts.  They opened up awkwardly, struggling to find their identity and struggling to find a suitable power forward – it cost them in the standings.  Upon the insertion of Terrence Jones into the starting lineup, the team took off but at the cost of Omer Asik.  Then, they got Asik back, roles were defined, and for a certain stretch, looked like the best team in the entire league.  After that, nothing mattered but getting to the postseason healthy, leading to the fourth segment when they lost Beverley and Howard and skittered to the finish line.  Despite the joy of last night’s victory, we still don’t really know who this team is.  Are they the defiant group that stomped the Pacers and Heat or are they the lazy cast that got steamrolled by the Bulls and tormented successively by Oklahoma City and the Clippers?
  • You have to really be grateful because the scheme by which things fell into place is the one that outlines Houston’s highest likelihood of a Western Conference Finals berth.  The stage is set for the Rockets to face the two teams in the West against whom they matchup best.  Despite the series sweep of the Spurs, I don’t think necessarily that Houston should be favored to topple their cross-state rivals.  But if given the choice between facing the Spurs, Clippers, and Thunder, the answer there is pretty clear.
  • The interesting thing about the Spurs is that they are the one “good” West team that simply cannot handle Howard and Jones.  As I said last night during the game, it almost feels like it did back in the 90′s when an aging Olajuwon, Drexler, and Elie simply could not keep pace with Payton, Kemp, and the Sonics.
    • The keys to this upcoming series against Portland will be Omer Asik and Patrick Beverley.  Several of you have been asking my opinion on whether McHale will open up with the Twin Towers.  To respond, I don’t think he will.  I think the team has settled into a groove and McHale won’t want to tinker with that chemistry by changing things up immediately.  If he replaces Jones before the ribbons are even cut, he will likely have lost the sophomore for the playoffs – young players have fragile self esteem.  But McHale will have a very quick hook.  If Aldridge gets going early, you’ll see Asik almost immediately.  And if Houston somehow drops Game 1 with Aldridge having a big game, I don’t have any doubts that McHale will then consider starting the Twin Towers from the opening tip.  Remember that last year against Oklahoma City, McHale showed that he isn’t averse to taking drastic measures, starting an ultra-small lineup with Patrick Beverley at the point.  
    • Patrick Beverley’s defense on Damian Lillard was one of the keys to Houston’s dominance over Portland this year.  My worry right now is that, so soon after the knee injury, Beverley’s lateral quickness may not be at the peak level that allows him to do what he does.
    • Houston’s ace in the hole is the ultra-small lineup they deployed in the comeback win against Portland which saw James Harden playing the power forward and guarding LaMarcus Aldridge.
    • I don’t want to be overconfident, but depending on Beverley’s health, I can see the Rockets sweeping these guys.  It could happen.  But most likely, I think Houston closes Portland out in 5.

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    How realistic is a Houston Rockets championship?http://www.red94.net/realistic-houston-rockets-championship/14305/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=realistic-houston-rockets-championship http://www.red94.net/realistic-houston-rockets-championship/14305/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 09:30:30 +0000 Justin Wehr http://www.red94.net/?p=14305 There are many reasons to believe the Rockets might have a legitimate shot at this year’s title. They went 4-0 against the team with the best record in the league. They have two of the top 10 players. They have one of the best records in the league since January. They are recovering from a [...]

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    There are many reasons to believe the Rockets might have a legitimate shot at this year’s title. They went 4-0 against the team with the best record in the league. They have two of the top 10 players. They have one of the best records in the league since January. They are recovering from a host of injuries. They have a favorable draw. They have Patrick Beverley, who will eat you for an afternoon snack.

    But what are their chances really? How do they compare to teams like the Spurs, Heat, Thunder, Clippers, or Pacers? To find out, I looked at the projections from three reputable sources: Vegas Futures, Hollinger Playoff Odds, and Sports Club Stats.

    According to these sources, only 4-6 teams are more likely to win the 2014 NBA Title than the Rockets. That’s the good news. The bad? The Rockets’ actual chances are about 4-6%.

    Put another way, the Rockets are about as likely to win this year’s championship as Dwight Howard is to sink a half-court shot. That’s the plain and painful truth.

    The chart below shows the estimated championship probabilities from the three aforementioned sources (Vegas Futures, Hollinger Playoff Odds, and Sports Club Stats). As you can see, the championship is very likely to be awarded to one of five teams: San Antonio, Miami, Oklahoma City, LA Clippers, or Indiana. The Rockets are next in line, but effectively out of reach.

    The bottom line: The Rockets have a very good team, good enough to challenge the best teams in the league, but in all likelihood not good enough to win 4 out of 7 games in four straight series.

    2014 NBA championship odds

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    Houston Rockets 104, San Antonio Spurs 98 – That’ll do ithttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-104-san-antonio-spurs-98-thatll/14302/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-104-san-antonio-spurs-98-thatll http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-104-san-antonio-spurs-98-thatll/14302/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 03:06:31 +0000 Forrest Walker http://www.red94.net/?p=14302 It took a while to get there, but the Rockets finally clinched home court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs happened to be the team in the way of it, and they also happened to get swept by the Rockets. The Spurs might have been resting starters late, [...]

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    It took a while to get there, but the Rockets finally clinched home court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs happened to be the team in the way of it, and they also happened to get swept by the Rockets. The Spurs might have been resting starters late, they may have let many key players sit the whole game, and they may have rallied back with their deep bench, but in the end a win is a win. The Rockets will bring the playoffs back to Houston for game one… right after one game in New Orleans.

    If you squint just a little bit, that was a great showing from the Rockets. Sure, much of it came against Cory Joseph and Jeff Ayres, but that’s not as big of an asterisk as it may seem. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is one of the best ever because his system is the team MVP. There’s a reason the Spurs won 60 games despite suffering injury after injury. To beat the Spurs’ bench is still to beat the Spurs’ system, something teams like the Miami Heat have learned well. The Rockets also seemed to face well against the starters for San Antonio, only stuttering when the Spurs bench stepped in. This has been a common malady lately, and one that likely stems from effort and urgency as much as anything else. Don’t let anyone tell you this wasn’t a good win.

    The most important factor in that win was getting the band back together. With Chandler Parsons back in action, head coach Kevin McHale had a full complement to work with, and he showed us something like his playoff rotation. The Rockets had some unpleasant defensive breakdowns when Ömer Aşık took to the paint, but overall the defense was an improvement. The Rockets ran people off the three point line, something that the Spurs in particular are lethal at. They hit some key shots to retake the lead late, but many of them were mid-range shots, and it was unsustainable for San Antonio. In a true playoff game, things might have gone differently. If all goes well, we should have a chance to check on that in a few weeks.

    The Rockets got into the swing of things, scoring at will (most of the time) and seeing every starter score in double digits. James Harden may have had the ugliest line of any starter, and he scored 16 points on 16 shots, racked up 7 assists and hit a cold-blooded stepback jumper to ice the game. He’s much more deadly this season than last, and hopefully this continues into May. His ability to create space has pushed his game to a new level. Even when he has a terrible shooting night, such as tonight, he can still parlay 4-16 shooting into a memorable and worthwhile performance. He was vulnerable to being shut down by good defenses last season. That’s increasingly a thing of that past, and the league needs to hunker down for a prime he isn’t even near yet.

    Dwight Howard shot 9-11, scored 20 points, pulled down 17 boards and just generally killed it tonight. He had a couple lapses defensively, lapses which will be picked apart on film, but he looked more like the mighty January Dwight and less like the ailing March Dwight. Duncan had a hard time scoring past him, nobody could check him on the block, and he went after offensive rebounds with aplomb. He doesn’t just look ready for the playoffs, he’s practically salivating at the idea. If and when the Rockets lose out, it won’t be due to a lack of willingness from Dwight.

    Chandler Parsons returned to score 21 points. Terrence Jones put together a double double, hustled his but off and deposited a very, very nasty one handed alley-oop jam into the highlight reels. Patrick Beverley scored 12 points and looked like his old self. The starters looked a far sight better than they have in weeks, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The bench? Well, that’s a different story. Lin, Garcia and Motiejunas all ended with more shots than points. Aşık’s defense wasn’t as stalwart as usual, though he did grab 8 rebounds in only 17 minutes. The bench may need a game to round into form. If only there were one more game in the season against a badly depleted lottery team, one more game the Rockets don’t care if they lose.

    The Rockets move to 11-4 against the Southwest Division with that win and have a chance to end at 12-4 in New Orleans on Wednesday. It may not have been the perfect game, but any win against the Spurs is a good win. This year, the Rockets managed to get that good win four times, clinch home court with the last one and get back on track for the playoffs. Nope, not a bad win at all.

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    The simplest way to measure individual offensive efficiencyhttp://www.red94.net/simplest-way-measure-individual-offensive-efficiency/14300/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=simplest-way-measure-individual-offensive-efficiency http://www.red94.net/simplest-way-measure-individual-offensive-efficiency/14300/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 19:56:39 +0000 Richard Li http://www.red94.net/?p=14300 UPDATE: I received a request to change points attempted per game to points attempted per 36 minutes. That made a lot of sense, so I did. The biggest difference resulting from this change is that I think this chart now very concisely captures the criticism levied against Russell Westbrook. He is 2nd in the league in [...]

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    Thumbnail

    Click for a full-sized, interactive version

    UPDATE: I received a request to change points attempted per game to points attempted per 36 minutes. That made a lot of sense, so I did. The biggest difference resulting from this change is that I think this chart now very concisely captures the criticism levied against Russell Westbrook. He is 2nd in the league in points attempted per 36 minutes with a whopping 53, just barely behind his 1st place teammate Kevin Durant, who has 53.61. The difference, of course, is that Durant converts on  55.83% of his attempts whereas Westbrook converts on 48.43% of his attempts, or right at the league average. Even infamous chucker Carmelo Anthony attempts to score less, and scores more efficiently, than Westbrook, and he doesn’t have Kevin Durant to pass to. 

    Sometimes, probably most of the time, the simplest solution is the best. Admittedly I haven’t always been good at keeping things simple, but I’m going to rectify the situation with this post.

    There are quite a few indicators available to measure offensive efficiency. Some combination of usage, effective field goal %, true shooting %, and points per possession is usually thrown around in the name of efficiency. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Efficiency is just about two components–number of times something is attempted and number of times those attempts are successful.

    In the case of basketball, we’re talking about trying to score and actually scoring. The above chart plots the number of points players tried to score per game against the percentage of their attempts that were converted (points scored / points attempted). For the record, the chart considers all attempted and scored 3pt-fgs, 2pt-fgs, and free throws. Only players who played at least 45 games and at least 22 minutes per game were included.

    Some of you might be asking, isn’t points efficiency (on the x-axis) the same thing as true shooting percentage? The answer is no, because a little known fact is that true shooting percentage isn’t calculated the way people think it is. For 3pt and 2pt fgs, it’s as one would expect. But instead of counting the number of free throws a player takes and including it in the formula, true shooting percentage instead uses a constant for all players. The constant represents what portion of a person’s scoring attempts comes from free throws. Worse, the constant was calculated using data from several years ago. So not only is it not player specific (since some players shoot more free throws relative to field goals than others), but it’s not even year specific.

    Basically, true shooting percentage is going to be less and less accurate the more an individual player strays from that calculated average constant. It just so happens that the Houston Rockets have two players that fit that mold–James Harden and Dwight Howard. True shooting percentage underestimates Harden’s efficiency because he takes a lot more free throws than average and makes them, but overestimates Dwight Howard’s efficiency because he takes a lot more free throws than average but misses them.

    Enough digression. Some things worth pointing out from the chart are:

    1) James Harden is 4th in the league at points attempted per game at 48.62, behind only Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Love. Harden is also above average in converting those attempted points at 52.2%.

    2) Big men are still more efficient than guards and wings, even though guards and wings are more proficient in shooting threes.

    3) You can see how Chandler Parsons’s oddly poor free throw shooting affects his overall scoring efficiency. Despite shooting 50% in FGs and 40% on threes, he’s slightly below average in points efficiency. Whereas Harden, who is worse in FG% and 3ptFG%, makes up for it in a big way by having and converting so many free throw opportunities.

    4) Omer Asik attempts to score the least out of all players in the sample, at barely over 10 pts per game. Compare that to Durant, who attempts to score over 57 points per game.

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    The Rockets Daily – April 14, 2014http://www.red94.net/rockets-daily-april-14-2014/14298/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rockets-daily-april-14-2014 http://www.red94.net/rockets-daily-april-14-2014/14298/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:22:41 +0000 mitchell felker http://www.red94.net/?p=14298 Rooting Interest - Last night in Portland, the Blazers beat the Golden State Warriors in overtime, 117-119.  And be sure, this game is absolutely deserving of discussion on a Houston Rockets forum.  It was perhaps the first time all season that I openly rooted for the Warriors, always afraid Steph Curry would end up in [...]

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    Rooting Interest - Last night in Portland, the Blazers beat the Golden State Warriors in overtime, 117-119.  And be sure, this game is absolutely deserving of discussion on a Houston Rockets forum.  It was perhaps the first time all season that I openly rooted for the Warriors, always afraid Steph Curry would end up in a first round matchup with the Rockets.  But with just two games remaining on Houston’s schedule and one for Portland, the Rockets are in a position where if the Blazers win their final game at home against the nothing-to-play-for Clippers, and the Rockets can’t beat either San Antonio or New Orleans, Portland will end up hosting the first-round and not Houston.

    It would be devastating from psychological standpoint, if not a strategical one, for the Rockets to play so much of the season in the upper-tier of the Western Conference, only to falter at the end and find themselves on the road for Game 1.  And the Rockets aren’t exactly going into the playoffs under ideal conditions.  The team peaked a month ago, losing only two games in February, while going 15-2 at one point.  But since April arrived they have been a mediocre .500 club.  Now, on the precipice of the playoffs, the Rockets find themselves injured (Howard, Parsons and Beverley have all missed games) and tired (Houston is the only team with two players, Harden and Parsons, in the top-ten in minutes played).  And with the Blazers victory last night, there will be no rest for the weary. 

    The Rockets (possibly sans Parsons) are forced to go all-out tonight against the Spurs.  And while a win would lock up the 4-seed and some much needed rest in their final game, a loss would send them to New Orleans with homecourt on the line.  Thankfully, the ‘Cans will be without His Excellency Anthony Davis and a few other rotation players, but as our own Forrest Walker pointed out, the Rockets (read: James Harden) could really use the rest.

    And now it seems that the Spurs, despite having the 1-seed locked up, will be going full-bore tonight in Houston.  Add that to the suddenly long list of problems facing the Rockets.  But Houston is 3-0 against San Antonio this season and a win tonight would help ease a lot of concerns facing the team this past month.  Just win, baby.

    Paper or Plastic - In Hickory-High’s newest weekly round table, they ask: What becomes a bigger playoff storyline– James Harden’s offense or James Harden’s defense?

    Lewis: If Dwight Howard is able to play at near-peak levels, then nobody will notice Harden’s defense. If the Rockets play the Trail Blazers, Harden’s going to be able to destroy them on offense. In four games this season, he’s averaging 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists against them. If the Rockets draw the Warriors, there are only two teams Harden has averaged more points against this year – the Knicks and the Lakers. In the playoffs, being able to break down elite defenses and score is vital, and that’s what Harden does best. He disrupts. He just needs to make sure he isn’t a turnstile on the opposite end.

    It’s already been said by almost anyone who watches the Rockets closely, but I must say it again: Harden is not as bad defensively as advertised.  His Clippers-mixtape went viral at the beginning of the season and has been low-hanging fruit for national pundits ever since.  Harden will never be a two-way force, but like some of the other Hickory-High guys said in the article, his problem is effort.  And I can’t imagine a scenario where James Freaking Harden’s effort will be lacking in the playoffs.

    Speaking of Which - The Short Corner noticed a little bit of good amidst all of the Rockets’ recent struggles:

    The James Harden of the past few weeks has been fully enabled — playing huge minutes for a Rockets team without both Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley and thus very much in need of bulk scoring to overcome its defensive limitations. The massive stat lines that have resulted have been met with shockingly little fanfare. There are bigger picture issues to sort out as the playoffs near, but the work Harden has done of late is an absurdly exaggerated version of his already terrific play. My favorite bit: Harden has somehow attempted 111 free throws in his last eight games — almost 14 a night. Knicks point guard Raymond Felton, by contrast, has attempted 114 free throws this entire season.

    The little fanfare is understandable.  The Pacers collapse has been fascinating; the Spurs run has been predictable but amazing; the race for the 8-seed in the East has been mesmerizing.  That last part may not have been “mesmerizing”, but watching the Knicks blow it sure was enjoyable.

    And I knew Harden was playing well despite the Rockets’ downward arc lately, but I didn’t realize just how stellar he’s been.  For the month of April (8 games), Harden has averaged 38.6 mpg, 29 ppg on 43%FG and 40%3pt, with almost 5 rpg and 9 apg and 2.5 (!!!) spg.  Not to mention he’s been in Rambo-level attack mode, getting to the line over 13 times a game and making almost 90% of his free throws.

    Harden hasn’t been quite as sharp as he was when Houston was peaking in February and March, but that is attributable to the lack of help he has had while missing such valuable teammates.  His shooting numbers are down slightly from those good ole days, but with Parsons banged up and Lin in a permanent funk, Harden has been responsible for most of the offense.

    Unless Wes Matthews turns into Dennis Johnson 2.0, I think it’s safe to say Harden’s offense will be a bigger first-round storyline than his defense.

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    To rest or not to rest?http://www.red94.net/rest-rest/14297/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rest-rest http://www.red94.net/rest-rest/14297/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:00:32 +0000 Forrest Walker http://www.red94.net/?p=14297 With two games to go before the playoffs, the Houston Rockets face a quandary. Should head coach Kevin McHale rest his starters (and key bench players) for these last two games? If so, how much? Perhaps most importantly, how does Portland’s overtime win over Golden State figure into it? Some teams will simply shut down [...]

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    With two games to go before the playoffs, the Houston Rockets face a quandary. Should head coach Kevin McHale rest his starters (and key bench players) for these last two games? If so, how much? Perhaps most importantly, how does Portland’s overtime win over Golden State figure into it? Some teams will simply shut down before the playoffs while some bear down on the starters. Which path will the Rockets take, and more importantly, which path should they take?

    As far as predicting the next couple games, the safe bet is on minutes for the starters. McHale has never been shy when it comes to minutes load, and it seems unlikely that he would change that up for two games. Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard were on a minutes restriction after returning from their respective injuries. That minutes restriction took exactly one game to get blown out of the water when the Rockets needed contributions from them late in a tight game against the depleted Pelicans. McHale might surprise, but the safe money is on a playoff rotation for the next two games.

    The issue, then, is whether this is best for the Rockets. With the 5 seed Trail Blazers beating the 6 seed Warriors, the Rockets still have to win a game or hope for a Blazers loss if Houston wants home court in the first round. The Blazers only have one game left on the last day of the season against the Clippers. Unless the Pelicans beat the Thunder, the Clippers won’t have a chance to catch up to the Thunder, locking the Clippers into the 3rd seed. In the far more likely scenario that the Thunder take care of business against New Orleans, The Blazers would stand a realistic chance of facing a Clippers team that’s ambivalent to a loss. In fact, the Clippers might even prefer to see the Rockets lose home court advantage on the off chance that this helps eliminate the Rockets in the first round.

    The easy way to avoid all this guesswork, then, is to simply beat the San Antonio Spurs and be locked into home court. In theory, the Rockets could lose to the Spurs, beat the Pelicans on the last day and be fine, but leaving anything to chance at this point seems like an invitation for trouble, especially given how iffy the effort level has been in seemingly throwaway games. Beating the Spurs, of course, is easier said than done.

    The good news is that that head coach Gregg Popovich is liable to rest all his starters, especially with homecourt locked all the way through the playoffs for San Antonio. For the Spurs, a chance to rest their aging core and let the bench face real competition is far more valuable than an extraneous win. The bad news is that the Spurs bench is still deadly. a focused, intense B team from San Antonio is more than a match for an apathetic, rusty A team from Houston, especially if Chandler Parsons continues to sit due to injury. The Rockets may still find themselves in a dogfight in their second to last game, a time period when they expected to be coasting.

    That coasting itself complicates matters, as it isn’t clear whether rest or rust is the bigger priority. If Beverley and Howard hadn’t gone down with health issues, the Rockets probably would have already been locked into the 4 seed and probably would be using this time to rest, not the earlier part of April. As it is, the starting lineup and the playoff rotation may need a game or two to round back into practice and ramp up the effort level. Unlike Miami or San Antonio, the Rockets can’t just jump back into the fray with no chemistry or gameplan concerns. Practice matters at this point, and the Rockets may be well served by playing normal minutes, even if the games meant nothing.

    The best middle ground may be  a scenario in which the starters play for about ⅔ of their normal minutes before sitting to let a rotation of bench and deep bench players take over. In fact, the Rio Grande Valley Viper group that comprises the end of the roster has been remarkably effective and in fact nearly turned a blowout loss into a win against Denver. That would give the rotations time to settle back in while minimizing fatigue and lowering opportunity for injury. The best case scenario would be a win against the Spurs, and a big enough margin so that the starters sit early.

    We should expect, then, a protracted dogfight ending with a Spurs win, because events going according to plan just wouldn’t be any fun.

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    Houston Rockets 111, New Orleans Pelicans 104: 15 to 0 run finishes the Pelicanshttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-new-orleans-pelicans/14293/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-new-orleans-pelicans http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-new-orleans-pelicans/14293/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 03:39:54 +0000 Eric Nielsen http://www.red94.net/?p=14293 This game really mattered.  After a run of games with Howard and Beverley hurt, the Rockets hold on the 4th seed was slipping. They were 5 and 5 in their last ten and their momentum late in the season seemed to be slipping away.  It wasn’t looking good for Houston for most of the game. [...]

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    This game really mattered.  After a run of games with Howard and Beverley hurt, the Rockets hold on the 4th seed was slipping. They were 5 and 5 in their last ten and their momentum late in the season seemed to be slipping away.  It wasn’t looking good for Houston for most of the game.  The Pelicans were playing without seven players tonight, but they led most of the game and were up by 11 with 9:20 left on the clock.  That’s when the Rockets woke up.  Desperate to get something going (and with Parsons out with hip and wrist ailments) McHale went with a line up of Harden, Lin, Beverley, Daniels and Howard.  That was the line up that finished the game on a 15 to 0 run to close it out.

    This game was important.  McHale had mentioned that Howard and Beverley were going to get 20 minutes.  Howard played 29 and Beverley played 33 and they were the difference.  Beverley is the true heart of this team and having him back on the floor changes the intensity level of the rest of the Rockets.  After missing 8 games, the Red Bull hit 4 threes and had 14 points in the 4th quarter.  His back to back 3’s with two minutes left were mercurial.

    Of course Rockets fans shouldn’t get too excited.  Their defense has been abysmal of late.  In the previous five games, the Rockets have given up an average of 124 points a game.  That improved somewhat tonight with Howard and Beverley back.  But, after giving up a 39 point second quarter to New Orleans, I was toying with titling a losing headline, “Are the Rockets the new Pacers?”  Ultimately, with the game on the line in the 4th quarter, the Rockets shut it down.  Lin had two giant late game steals and Howard had a critical block in crunch time.

    If the Rockets don’t plug some of the defensive issues, it will spell trouble in the playoffs.  This last stretch of games has seen the Rockets sleepwalking on defense.  I’ve been worried if the extended minutes that Harden and Parsons have been playing were evident in the teams lack of hustle.  Harden has played the 5th most minutes per game in the league at 38 and Parsons is 7th at 37.6 minutes per game.  How much will they have left in the tank in the playoffs?

    One of the biggest issues seems to be weak side help, with T Jones and D Mo still working on that facet of their young games.  While both players have gotten better at on ball defense, they are often slow to rotate.  Defensive rebounding has also been an issue during these rotations.  Another element of late has been the lack of getting back and stopping the fast break.  That LA game, Brewer’s performance, and the second quarter tonight have been difficult to watch.   The defense that was so circumspect over the beginning of the year has been back.

    Troy Daniels insertion was interesting and fun to watch.  Though he only shot 1 for 5, Daniels was a +19 for the game and his hustle sparked the Rockets and got them moving.  Earlier in the day, he had played 44 minutes and scored 30 points in a D League game with the Vipers.  Daniels then hopped on a plane and played an impressive 13 minutes.  With Parsons out and neither Hamilton nor Casspi getting it done, it was a great call by McHale.

    Howard looked pretty sharp in his comeback game.  He got 13 points, had a Rockets best +/- of +21 and held down the middle when it mattered at the end of the game.  Hopefully his ankle will look good after tonight and he’ll be right back in the thick of things, available to play at the high level he’s been at all year.

    Enough can’t be said about Harden!  His most impressive stat tonight was 13 assists to go along with his 33 points. He played a grinding amount of minutes again tonight (43) and has been our Cal Ripken Iron Man.  Other free agents have got to be looking at playing with him next year.  This guy is a beast night in, night out.

    The Rockets have been sleepwalking the last 10 games and tonight was similar.  It’s like they only wake up when they have to.  A lot of pundits have been downplaying the significance of the last stretch of games, but home court and momentum has been at stake.  This game could prove huge if Houston can clinch home court and the first round goes to seven games!  I know the energy level will rise for the playoffs.  It already has with Beverley being back.  Is this Houston team ready to go to the second round, or further?

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    Minnesota Timberwolves 112, Houston Rockets 110: Is it Lebron? Is it Durant? No, it’s…Corey Brewer?!http://www.red94.net/minnesota-timberwolves-112-houston-rockets-110-lebron-durant-ronnie-brewer/14291/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minnesota-timberwolves-112-houston-rockets-110-lebron-durant-ronnie-brewer http://www.red94.net/minnesota-timberwolves-112-houston-rockets-110-lebron-durant-ronnie-brewer/14291/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 03:25:17 +0000 Rob Dover http://www.red94.net/?p=14291 The Rockets have very little to show from tonight’s performance. They played lackadaisically for much of the game, the starters didn’t get any rest and they didn’t even get a win to show for it as the Timberwolves pulled out the victory on the back of Gorgui Dieng’s late game-winner. With the playoffs coming up, [...]

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    The Rockets have very little to show from tonight’s performance. They played lackadaisically for much of the game, the starters didn’t get any rest and they didn’t even get a win to show for it as the Timberwolves pulled out the victory on the back of Gorgui Dieng’s late game-winner. With the playoffs coming up, you want to keep your starters fresh, but tonight’s game was a masterclass in not doing that as McHale elected to play Harden 46 minutes and Parsons 43. This is the sort of game that the Rockets should not be having at this stage of the season. Either your team should be ironing out the last kinks before the playoffs come around or wrapping your stars in cotton wool. Houston did neither. I can only hope they don’t come to regret it.

    For the second game in a row, an opposing shooting guard found themselves white-hot against the Rockets. Last time it was Randy Foye with 30 points, but Corey Brewer came out and absolutely crushed that mark tonight with 51 (I repeat, 51!). He jetted out of the gate with 20 points in the first 14 minutes and then just kept on going. Off-balance circus shot? No problem. Half court buzzer beater? Naturally. His game is fuelled by steals and run-outs, and a sloppy and sluggish Houston team proved to be a perfect hunting ground for him (he had 6 steals to go with that points haul). Everyone took turns guarding him, and nobody stood up to the challenge.

    The first half started out very poorly. Transition defence was non-existent and Brewer was happy to set a fast-breaking example for the rest of the Timberwolves to follow. In the first quarter alone the Rockets gave up 15 fast break points (a tally which rose to an unspeakable 39 over the course of the game). And even when the Rockets did manage to get into a half-court setting they were not much better. Terrence Jones was the perpetrator of possibly the worst defensive breakdown of the year as he allowed Ricky Rubio to come off a pick and have an unchallenged drive from the three point line to the rim. Words cannot describe how ugly it looked – it felt like I was watching the Knicks out there!

    This was a game that on paper the Rockets should have cruised through. Minnesota’s bench play this season has been poor, and they were missing three starters in Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin. But the Rockets’ swiss-cheese impression on the defensive end forced them to work much harder than they needed or wanted to at this point. They were fortunate to be able to claw their way back into the game in the second quarter on the back of some hot three point shooting (8-14 in the first half), without which they would have been embarrassed. They lived at the line for the majority of the second half as the whistles started blowing, but they were never going to pull away while they were making the likes of Brewer, Cunningham and Dieng look like offensive geniuses.

    Harden, Parsons and Lin all had scary moments where they came up limping. Harden collided with Brewer while scrambling for a loose ball and grimaced in pain as he hopped it off. Parsons attempted a spectacular dunk over Turiaf and landed heavily on his tailbone to obvious discomfort. Lin rolled his ankle late on as he rushed to foul Ricky Rubio. The most lasting image in my mind from this game will certainly be both Harden and Lin lying on the floor after the game had finished, looking both exhausted and possibly hurt. Injuries are random, but one of the things research has shown is that they are more likely to happen when players are tired. At the end of a long season, to play Harden and Parsons for so many minutes was a reckless gamble from McHale.

    Then there were the players who missed out. No Jordan Hamilton (who was not listed as injured). Isaiah Canaan played just 4 minutes, with McHale preferring to go to an unusual lineup with Harden running the point guard rather than play the rookie (there were 20 minutes of the game where the Rockets had no true point guard on the floor). Shuffling everyone up a position and giving Garcia and Casspi big minutes actually worked pretty well (Casspi was +15 and Garcia +9 on the night), but the extra workload on Harden had a particularly detrimental effect on his defence. There were multiple fourth quarter possessions in which he completely ignored his man, often standing still near the paint as his assignment cut to the opposite side of the court. But what can you expect when you force him into extra ball-handling duties and give him a grand total of two minutes of rest all game?

    As an observer and a fan I am not quick to criticise, but tonight was baffling. Hopefully it won’t happen again.

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    Huq’s Pen: On Greg Smithhttp://www.red94.net/huqs-pen-greg-smith/14288/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=huqs-pen-greg-smith http://www.red94.net/huqs-pen-greg-smith/14288/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 12:45:03 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14288 In a move that came as a bit of a shock (to use that term loosely), the Rockets announced yesterday that they had waived forward/center Greg Smith and signed center Dexter Pittman to replace him for the remainder of the year.  First, before I dive into the obituary on Smith, a funny story on Pittman: [...]

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  • In a move that came as a bit of a shock (to use that term loosely), the Rockets announced yesterday that they had waived forward/center Greg Smith and signed center Dexter Pittman to replace him for the remainder of the year.  First, before I dive into the obituary on Smith, a funny story on Pittman: our days at the 40 acres collided, though I can’t remember for how long and in what year.  That in and of itself is depressing.  In any event, one day, word spread that campus legend Vince Young was on site at Gregory gym.  Naturally, myself and a few trusted colleagues headed over to check out the scene.  (If it comes as odd to you that anyone would interrupt their daily schedule to see Young, realize that this was a) before it was realized that he isn’t a very good quarterback at the professional level and b) this was on the 40 acres where the man stands behind only maybe Jesus Christ and Elvis Pressley as the most significant figures in human history.)  Young and his entourage were partaking in a game of pickup on the main center court, much to the delight of a massive crowd of onlookers.  Pittman was part of the aforementioned entourage.  I can’t remember who else.  Maybe T.J Ford?  In any event, Young played it safe the entire game, launching lazy perimeter jumpers but at one point went crashing down after absorbing contact from a driving Pittman.  Young turned and remarked to the crowd, “damn, that’s a big boy.”  That’s it; that was the story.  Slow news day.
  • I swear I have a post somewhere, specifically about Greg Smith where I devote at least half of it to a monologue about how difficult it is to forecast young players because the likelihood of success is so small.  I’m serious, I wrote about this but can’t find it.  Anyways, wow – this is why you just can never feel safe about player projection.  It is hard to succeed in the NBA – it is hard.  We don’t fully appreciate that.  I said in the other Smith piece–and probably put it much more succinctly–we often look at ten year vets who never amounted to much and deride them dismissively as “scrubs”…and while they may not rank highly on the NBA totem pole, in the job market, lasting ten years in one of the most highly specialized workforces in the entire global economy is damn impressive.  Now, to be sure, Smith isn’t going to flame out completely.  He’ll catch on somewhere quickly.  But the greater point stands.  We too often see a tantalizing stretch of play and assume long-term extrapolation as a guarantee.  After that game last year where Smith outplayed Dwight Howard (the irony) to the tune of like 20 and 10, how many of you thought Smith was the team’s future at center?  At the least, how many of you thought he’d be a long term fixture in the team’s rotation?  Had I told you after that night, or hell, after the end of last year when Smith closed out the season at power forward next to Asik helping the team to a sparkling overall +/-, that Smith would be outright waived in less than a year’s time (in favor of Dexter Pittman of all people), it might have come as hard to believe.  But this is the NBA, man.  It’s hard to succeed.
    • That leads me to a tangent.  We always talk about “surprises.”  What a huge “surprise” Chandler Parsons is and how great that pick was yada, yada, yada etc.  Patrick Beverley etc.  But you know what I find even more remarkable?  Delivered expectations.  Take Lebron.  The thing I find so amazing about Lebron isn’t that he’s this good but that he actually met the hype.  He actually met the hype!  This was a guy who had been followed since before high school, a guy about whom an NBA GM famously said prior to that draft that there were only five current NBA players he wouldn’t trade for, a guy whose high school games were televised nationally….and he met the hype!  He is in the conversation as GOAT!  They said he couldn’t shoot and needed a post-game and now a) he has the best postup efficiency stats in the league and b) is a 50-40 shooter!  Same thing with Harden.  He was acquired to be “the man” and he’s doing it!  Am I the only person here who finds that amazing?  I know that upon the basis of his per-minute efficiency stats, extrapolation was probably a natural conclusion….but still….I don’t think it’s really settled in for me personally that we essentially acquired a top-5 player before his prime for what amounted to a few months of Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and Danny Schayes’ younger brother.  Okay, enough.  Back to Smith.
    • What exactly happened here?  On the surface, I found myself often perplexed last season as to how Smith hadn’t been highly regarded coming out.  This was a fully grown NBA big with athleticism, maybe the best hands in the entire league, and, judging from the many times I spoke with him, a damn good attitude.  (I know a lot of guys are good at just feeding the media whatever it wants to hear but trust me…when someone has a bad attitude, they don’t even bother.  See: Will, T.)  Smith was atrocious defensively, especially with interior rotations but that’s fairly common with young bigs (see: Jones, T.) and something said young bigs can grow out of with more playing time (see: Jones, T.).  The actual reason Smith was cut was because he’s been injured all year, won’t be ready in time for the playoffs, and more importantly wasn’t deemed valuable enough to extend in the summer forfeiting 2015 cap space.  But still.  I beg to differ.  If Smith actually held even an ounce of the promise he showed last season, I don’t think he would have been let go this easily, playoffs/cap be damned.  You just don’t let good young bigs go for nothing: Pittman won’t see a second of playing time in the postseason with Asik and Motiejunas around, so I don’t buy the notion that they just had to have an extra big for the stretch run; they could have found creative ways to save the money.  No.  I think Smith ultimately just wasn’t as good as he looked to us on the surface.  I’d venture to guess that the coaches determined that he just wasn’t picking things up quickly enough to be able to help the team in the next two years.  This was a disastrously lazy interior defender of whom we’re speaking.  I think he just wasn’t showing any signs of ever getting better.  And that takes us back to our main point – success in this league isn’t a foregone conclusion.

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    Denver Nuggets 123, Houston Rockets 116: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzhttp://www.red94.net/denver-nuggets-123-houston-rockets-116-zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz/14287/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=denver-nuggets-123-houston-rockets-116-zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz http://www.red94.net/denver-nuggets-123-houston-rockets-116-zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz/14287/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 07:32:13 +0000 Paul McGuire http://www.red94.net/?p=14287 If there was such a thing as a schedule loss, tonight was it.  The Rockets were playing in Denver, having played another late game the night before in Los Angeles, which thus meant that they lost an hour through time zones.  If that was not bad enough, Denver, a team which has plenty of energetic [...]

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    If there was such a thing as a schedule loss, tonight was it.  The Rockets were playing in Denver, having played another late game the night before in Los Angeles, which thus meant that they lost an hour through time zones.  If that was not bad enough, Denver, a team which has plenty of energetic bigs who love to run like Kenneth Faried and Jan Vesely, was a terrible fit for a Houston team with such a thin frontcourt.  Combine that with Randy Foye going off against Houston like a mixture of Jason Terry and Jordan, and hey, there’s nothing that can be done, right?

    If viewed solely from the perspective of wins and losses, perhaps.  But tonight was a test about whether Houston could have just a little fortitude and come one step closer to securing that home court advantage they have fought all season for.  But at the very end, it was not the Houston players who will be playing in the playoffs who showed toughness, but rather the D-League players fighting for their next contract who nearly pulled off a miraculous victory.

    From the very beginning, the Rockets looked completely uninterested in this game.  They started 1-10 from the field, fell behind as much as 30-11, and were overall completely lethargic.  While they failed to hit a single three-pointer on offense, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov frequently just ran down the court, got the ball, and dunked.  Irritated by Houston’s poor effort, McHale went to his bench early, but in fact that seemed to make problems worse: substituting Motiejunas for Asik, for example, did not help stop Denver’s transition offense, and it only worsened Houston’s massive struggles on the glass.

    For the rest of the game, it was more of the same.  Houston would have a spurt which made it seem like they could get back in this game, but then Denver would respond with a run of their own.  In the 2nd quarter, it was Lin leading the charge, as he scored all 18 of his points in the first half.  In the 3rd quarter, it was better three-point shooting, before it collapsed due to Randy Foye being absolutely on fire, scoring 22 points in the quarter on his way to 30 overall.  Yes, Houston’s shaky perimeter defense did not exactly help, but once Foye started to get hot, he just began to hit everything, not to mention his 15 assists to just 1 turnover.  Even in the 4th quarter, when McHale decided to pull the plug early out of schedule concerns, the bench group led by Troy Daniels cut a 22 point deficit to 4 with less than 2 minutes left, but Foye hit a tough layup and Houston could not secure a rebound.  Same old, same old.

    • What is more important than tonight’s game is a look at James Harden’s health.  In the third quarter, Harden had a rough tumble with Aaron Brooks, and was slow to get up holding his right leg.  Harden did check back in a while later, his right knee wrapped in a bright red brace, but he remained passive for the rest of the game.  While it clearly is not too severe, Harden’s rough style of play means that you always have to wonder about injuries with him, despite his rugged build.
    • Houston has not held a team to less than 105 points since March 27, the last game when Howard and Beverley.  To say that Houston’s perimeter defense is all Beverley is unreasonable.  Probably the main reason for Houston’s weak defense is that just like last season, the defense lacks a suitable big man anchor when Asik rests; in fact, it is weaker as while Greg Smith was no defense stalwart, having him at all was better than nothing.  Defense, as Charlotte this season and Chicago in general have shown, is at times about effort and discipline, and a Houston team with the 4th seed all but wrapped is clearly just waiting for the regular season to end.
    • I say “all but wrapped up”, but it’s still possible for the Blazers to reach the 4th seed, especially after their 100-99 win over Sacramento tonight.  The magic number of Rockets wins and Blazers losses needed remains 2.  It would take a dismal collapse for Houston to give it up even after tonight.  But as long as it can still happen, the Rockets need to stop sleepwalking as they did tonight.

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    Houston Rockets @ Denver Nuggets 4/9/14http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-denver-nuggets-4914/14284/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-denver-nuggets-4914 http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-denver-nuggets-4914/14284/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:18:09 +0000 mitchell felker http://www.red94.net/?p=14284 Teams: Houston Rockets (52-25) @ Denver Nuggets (33-44) Time: 9:00 p.m. ET Venue: Pepsi Center Television: CSN Houston Notes:  The Rockets will be going for a three game season sweep of the Nuggets tonight, after winning the first two games 111-122 and 125-130. While the Rockets were toying with the Lakers last night, the Nuggets [...]

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    Teams: Houston Rockets (52-25) @ Denver Nuggets (33-44)
    Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
    Venue: Pepsi Center
    Television: CSN Houston

    Notes: 

    The Rockets will be going for a three game season sweep of the Nuggets tonight, after winning the first two games 111-122 and 125-130.

    While the Rockets were toying with the Lakers last night, the Nuggets have been resting since they played in Houston this past Sunday.  In that game, James Harden (game-high 32 points) was one of seven different Rockets who scored in double figures, and six scored 14 points or more.  Arron Brooks gave his best to upset his old team, putting up a line of 24-8-15.

    In the first game of the season series way back in November, Ty Lawson was a beast going for 28 points and 17 assists.  But it was not enough to overcome another seven Rockets scoring in double figures, this time led by Dwight Howard’s 25.  The Nuggets tried unsuccessfully to “Hack-A-Shaq” Dwight, as Howard scored 18 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, including 13 of 19 free throws in a 2½-minute stretch. 

    Injuries:

    Dwight Howard will test his ankle in shootaround today and if all goes well he could play against the Nuggets.

    Patrick Beverley will miss the game tonight.  There is still no timetable for his return, but with the way he is celebrating big plays on the bench it would not be a surprise if he were to return soon.

    Ty Lawson (ankle) and Wilson Chandler (groin) will miss tonight’s game.  Darrell Arthur is listed as day-to-day but is expected to play.

    Insider’s View – Q&A with Kalen Deremo of Roundball Mining Company.  Follow Kalen @PrincePickaxe.

    MF – Who have the Nuggets missed more this year, George Karl or Andre Iguodala?  Or is it Masai Ujiri that they miss most?

    KD – Definitely Masai Ujiri. Andre Iguodala was obviously huge for the Nuggets on the defensive side of the ball last year but the Nuggets had a much better team in general then, both on offense and defense. The Nuggets would have won more games this year with Karl as head coach but they still wouldn’t even be close to making the playoffs. I look at what Ujiri has done in Toronto and can’t help but think he’s the one indispensable asset the Nuggets chose to dispense of. Team chemistry, how the pieces fit together and simply having a roster with players who are innately inclined to play defense are three valuable resources the Nuggets lost when Ujiri left. However, if you want to know the real reason the Nuggets have struggled this season, I’d point towards injuries more than anything.

    Zach Lowe had a good piece on the development of Kenneth Faried.  To me he’s becoming the ultimate table-test guy (copyright: Simmons).  He brings energy, rebounding and some post work, but he lacks defense and shooting.  Do you see any room left for development in Faried’s game where he could become a starter for a championship team (when paired with the right big man, for a change)?

    It’s crazy. Five months ago I would have said no — hell no, in fact. Everybody thought he was just an energy guy who could come off the bench as a spark. At the beginning of the year all anybody could talk about was how limited Faried was, how he’s already reached his ceiling and that the Nuggets should explore trade scenarios for him while his value was still high. Yet here we are in April, with only a few games left in the season, and Faried might very well be the Nuggets best post player and second best all-around player on the roster. He’s averaged 19 points, 10 boards, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game since the All-Star break. His game has evolved more in one year than I ever thought it would his entire career. So, to answer your question: absolutely. Faried still needs to improve his defense, but once he gets that down, he could very well be on his way to an All-Star appearance or two if he keeps playing the way he has this spring.

    Danilo Gallinari is one of my favorite players in the league.  I was pretty upset when he hurt his knee last April and even more so when he had a second surgery this January.  What happened there and why did he wait so long to address the ACL?

    I’m not a doctor and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night (bad joke… sorry) so I’m not sure if I’m really qualified to answer that. All I know is that originally it was classified as a torn ACL, then it was revealed it wasn’t an ACL tear, then after having one surgery he needed total reconstructive surgery on his ACL. So whether it was torn or not — I don’t know. Again, I’m sure someone else can answer that better than I. The bottom line is that it appears somebody, though I’m not sure who, tried to take a shortcut (though I’m hesitant to use that word) hoping Gallo could return this season rather than just addressing what needed to be addressed way back when he blew out his knee in the first place. That’s what I’ve gathered from everything I’ve read.

    What do you expect out of the Nuggets this offseason?

    Honestly, I have no idea. The Nuggets new front office has been pretty hard to read since replacing Masai Ujiri and Co. last summer. They’ve had some good moves and some really bad ones. Brian Shaw went on record yesterday saying the team needs to rearrange the roster a bit this summer, which was encouraging. The problem is: I’m not so sure the Nuggets have the right people in place to make those moves effectively. The Nuggets have too many duplicates and fringe rotation players that are doing no good riding pine and logging erratic minutes here and there. They need to dispose of those types of players, clear up some cap room and bring in one or two players who will challenge for starting positions. If they can do that, as well as hit on their lottery pick, they’ll be in good shape heading into the 2014-15 season.

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    Huq’s Pen: Is James Harden underrated?http://www.red94.net/huqs-pen-james-harden-underrated/14283/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=huqs-pen-james-harden-underrated http://www.red94.net/huqs-pen-james-harden-underrated/14283/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 12:39:18 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14283 During a recent nationally televised broadcast–against whom I can’t remember–one of the play by play men said something like “Harden is one of the 10 or 15 best players in the league” and judging by his tone, you could tell he wasn’t fully confident in his assertion.  The other day, I heard a host on [...]

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  • During a recent nationally televised broadcast–against whom I can’t remember–one of the play by play men said something like “Harden is one of the 10 or 15 best players in the league” and judging by his tone, you could tell he wasn’t fully confident in his assertion.  The other day, I heard a host on local radio muse “it’s getting really hard to name 10 players in the league who are better than Harden.”  Getting really hard?  What am I missing here?  Now, to be sure, prior to the season’s start, ESPN’s panel ranked Harden as the 4th best player in all of basketball, but that panel is composed primarily of geeks like myself so it isn’t really reflective of the conventional wisdom.  So why is the conventional wisdom so down on Harden?  Obviously, his defense is the easy answer, but I’d venture to say that his offense isn’t fully appreciated.  (People who have watched this team day in and day out would agree that Harden’s defense has actually come quite a long way but his struggles early in the year were so widely publicized that he has not been able to recover in the court of public opinion.  As with most things, there is a bit of lag time before public perception catches up with reality and some of the commentary on Harden is reflective of that.  He’s bad but not atrocious as he was earlier.)  If we assumed that if Harden had average-level defense, he’d be considered the 4th best player in the league, then his actual defense should suffice to push him down to like 6th or 7th.  But I think if you asked most mainstream observers, they’d have Harden around 10th or 11th in the league.  That’s insane.  The guy is an offensive juggernaut.
  • Which leads me to my next point.  A big part of why Harden’s greatness offensively isn’t being properly recognized is that, as our own Forrest Walker put it to me on Twitter a few days ago, we are in a period right now where we have, essentially, two GOAT-candidates playing in the primes of their careers.  Let that sink in.  I listen to The Dan Patrick Show on my commute to work every morning and yesterday, some idiot called in ranting some nonsense pertaining to “the greatness of the college game” and “the watered down product of the NBA.”  What?  We’re in the midst of a golden age right now in the NBA.  Why is that so hard for people to accept?  I think it stems from two phenomenons.  For older folks, there’s a sort of contrived snobbery associated with romanticizing the past.  But I think with younger people, there’s a fear that acknowledging the significance of the present can be seen as naive or unsophisticated.  I remember when Rockets fans would say that Clyde Drexler was better than Tracy McGrady or would feel sheepish about opining the inverse.  Nonsense.  McGrady was the far more talented player.
    • Can we just freeze the standings where they are?  On the bright side, at least its looking like facing Memphis won’t be a possibility (a scenario which stood as worst-case), but Golden State slowly encroaching upon the 5th seed is scary, despite our dominance over that team.  As of right now, the standings stand (pun intended) for the best chance of a Rockets trip to the Western Conference Finals, especially with the news of Pat Beverley’s imminent return.  Everyone is saying “whoa, whoa, you want to face the Spurs?”  If the alternatives are Oklahoma City or Los Angeles, then yes, I want to face the Spurs.  I’m not saying I’d favor the Rockets in that series, but I’d at least give them even odds.  
    • Is there anyone alive who, more than Terrence Jones, fastidiously feasts upon pathetic frontcourts while doing nothing against good teams?  Jones carved up the Lakers last night in just three quarters but again, he probably won’t be on the court when it matters in the postseason.  Again, against Oklahoma City the other night, despite having played a solid game up to that point, Jones sat in the 4th as Kevin McHale opted to go small.  This was even without Patrick Beverley in the lineup.  It is just clear that McHale has much more confidence in his smaller players in those sorts of situations.

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    Houston Rockets 145, Los Angeles Lakers 130 – That little 130? I wouldn’t worry about that little 130http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-145-los-angeles-lakers-130-little-130-wouldnt-worry-little-130/14278/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-145-los-angeles-lakers-130-little-130-wouldnt-worry-little-130 http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-145-los-angeles-lakers-130-little-130-wouldnt-worry-little-130/14278/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 06:15:05 +0000 Forrest Walker http://www.red94.net/?p=14278 One hundred forty five. Depending on the context, that can be a lot of different sizes. 145 pennies? Not very impressive. 145 dollars? That’s getting somewhere. 145 yachts? Yikes, that’s a lot of opulence! Somewhere in the middle is the scale of NBA points. That’s about 40% more than the average NBA score. That’s a [...]

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    One hundred forty five. Depending on the context, that can be a lot of different sizes. 145 pennies? Not very impressive. 145 dollars? That’s getting somewhere. 145 yachts? Yikes, that’s a lot of opulence! Somewhere in the middle is the scale of NBA points. That’s about 40% more than the average NBA score. That’s a score of 115 at the end of the third quarter. That’s a score that nobody, no other team has managed in a game this year. It’s no coincidence that it happened against the “defense” of the remains of the Los Angeles Lakers, but a point is a point, even if Robert Sacre is on the floor.

    On a grander scale, something awesome and tragic all at once took place during the game, and it actually had nothing to do with the Rockets. Steve Nash tallied his 10,335th assists in his career, passing up Mark Jackson for 3rd all time in total assists. That’s a major milestone, and he came out of the game immediately after. That was clearly what the team was gunning for, and they got it. In a season like the Lakers are having, where nothing goes anywhere near right, hanging onto bigger picture moments like that becomes a necessity. This season will pass to dust soon enough, but Steve Nash’s historic career is something people will not only remember but also want to remember. Kudos, Nash, and kudos Lakers for helping him do it. Now we just have to hope his career isn’t over, because a league without Steve Nash is less magical by far.

    So what did the Rockets do? They scored. They scored a lot. Terrence Jones and James Harden shared the game high of 33. 33 is also Robert Covington’s jersey number, but unfortunately for the Rockets he wasn’t around to join in the twelve minutes of garbage time that comprised the fourth quarter. (Fortunately for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, however, he was around to help them win their first playoff game of the season.) His fellow rookie Isaiah Canaan was in Los Angeles, though, and he was happy to shoot. The cannon fired 8 times, hitting on 6 of them and racking up 15 points. Games like that are what rookies need to get into the swing of things and learn their teammates’ tendencies. Canaan may not be a playoff-worthy rotation option this season, but he’s showing a lot of promise and looks like another second round steal in the long term.

    What didn’t the Rockets do? Well… they didn’t really defend very much. That big 40 point quarter from the Lakers in the fourth made Houston’s defense look terrible, and indeed the defense was terrible in that quarter. It wasn’t amazing before that, but at least in frames one through three featured Ömer Aşık at the rim. He was a holy terror against the Lakers, dunking with aplomb for 10 points, grabbing 15 boards and getting a couple blocks in only 24 minutes. The other 24 minutes of the game? Those minutes featured Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas at the five, and it wasn’t exactly lockdown defense in the paint. Motiejunas has improved his defense lately, especially his man defense, but his rim protection leaves quite a bit to be desired. The good news that once Dwight Howard is playing again in the playoffs, that won’t matter any more.

    A lot of things from this game won’t matter when the playoffs come around. The Rockets got out to a big lead in the second half after playing around in the first half and letting the Lakers hang around. Even after building a 20+ point lead in their insane 49 point third quarter, the Rockets took their foot off the gas and the Lakers surged back a bit, prompting timeouts from head coach Kevin McHale. Harden was seeing how deep he could hit a three and Terrence Jones was trying to play around and get a triple double. Harden sat the entire fourth and Jones had to come out of the game with an injury. It appears that Jones only suffered a calf cramp, something far preferable to the myriad season-ending maladies that flashed though everyone’s heads.

    The Rockets played another game against a sub-.500 team and picked up another victory. That streak should be challenged tomorrow in Denver, as the Nuggets seek to get revenge for their thrilling overtime loss in Houston. On the plus side, the Rockets got plenty of rest, Terrence Jones’ 33 minutes leading the team. On the other hand, this is a team that sent Houston to overtime a few days ago. Today’s game went about as well as possible, and at this juncture could the Rockets ask for anything more? Do they even want anything more? The one thing everyone wants, 145 point games aside, is some playoff basketball already. The NBA playoffs start in 11 days.

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    How good is Pat Beverley’s salary (and how bad is Amare Stoudermire’s)?http://www.red94.net/how-good-beverley-salary/14276/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-good-beverley-salary http://www.red94.net/how-good-beverley-salary/14276/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 22:47:53 +0000 Richard Li http://www.red94.net/?p=14276 Let’s talk contracts. More specifically, let’s talk salaries. Who is overpaid? Who is underpaid? And who is the most overpaid and underpaid? To find out, I took three “overall performance” measurements, PER, WAR, and the newly unveiled RPM and correlated them with players’ salaries. The results are in the above table.  Salary is the player’s current [...]

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    Click for a full-sized, interactive version

    Click for a full-sized, interactive version

    Let’s talk contracts. More specifically, let’s talk salaries. Who is overpaid? Who is underpaid? And who is the most overpaid and underpaid? To find out, I took three “overall performance” measurements, PER, WAR, and the newly unveiled RPM and correlated them with players’ salaries. The results are in the above table.  Salary is the player’s current annual salary (against the cap, not overall), predicted is what the player should make according to my model, and value is the player’s predicted salary minus his actual salary.

    For the sake of disclosure, I removed from the sample anyone who didn’t have a PER, WAR, or RPM (they haven’t played at all, despite drawing a salary), and anyone who was making a minimum salary since that acts as a price floor.

    You might be asking why Lebron James isn’t worth $80 million. There are quite a few reasons. Here are the most important.

    1) The frame of reference for my salary model is current salaries. Therefore, the predicted value of players’ salaries, while not capped, is still calculated using those capped salaries.

    2) Player’s predicted values are directly proportional to their performance as measured through PER, WAR, and RPM. Thus, in order for Lebron James to be worth $80 million, his performance in those three measures would have to be about 3x higher than the next best player (Durant). He’s good, but he’s not that good.

    3) These types of models do not capture the fact that, in the NBA, having the best player is infinitely more valuable than having two or three really good ones. From the model’s perspective, if Lebron James’s PER is 30, his predicted salary is the same as two players who both have a PER of 15. In reality, we know he’s a lot more valuable than the sum of two parts.

    4) Players’ predicted values are driven down by some truly horrendous contracts, and some bad circumstances. Amare Stoudemire’s contract, for instance, is so monstrously bad that it drives down everyone else’s predicted salaries. Similarly, though for different individual reasons, so do Kobe Bryant’s and Derrick Rose’s (their performance measures aren’t good because they haven’t played very much). These expensive but poorly performing salaries deflate the value of players at the top of the salary scale.

    Onto the fun stuff.

    1) The top of the predicted list is what you would expect.

    2) The bottom of the value list has many of the same players, probably due to reason #2 above.

    3) Houston boasts two of the top three values in Pat Beverley in Chandler Parsons. Not exactly a surprise, but still pleasant to see.

    4) Nine out of the eleven players on the Spurs books are punching above their salary weight.

    5) Houston Rockets fans might moan about Omer Asik’s and Jeremy Lin’s contracts, but check out Kendrick Perkins’s and Andris Biedrins’s value.

    6) Finally, look at Royce White.

    The post How good is Pat Beverley’s salary (and how bad is Amare Stoudermire’s)? appeared first on Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings.

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    On Patrick Beverley’s sparkling RPMhttp://www.red94.net/patrick-beverleys-sparkling-rpm/14275/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=patrick-beverleys-sparkling-rpm http://www.red94.net/patrick-beverleys-sparkling-rpm/14275/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:59:37 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14275 So this was interesting.  ESPN rolled out its new stat, RPM, just yesterday.  While it seems to be a descendent of RAPM, I’m not entirely clear on the distinctions.  In any event, here is the full list of rankings.  It’s interesting to note that Patrick Beverley is #14 in the entire league, just ahead of [...]

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    So this was interesting.  ESPN rolled out its new stat, RPM, just yesterday.  While it seems to be a descendent of RAPM, I’m not entirely clear on the distinctions.  In any event, here is the full list of rankings.  It’s interesting to note that Patrick Beverley is #14 in the entire league, just ahead of Mike Conley.  What’s fascinating to note, and quite counter-intuitive, as Rob Dover pointed out [in the opening post of this forum thread], is that Beverley’s glossy rating is primarily from his offensive stat rather than his defensive one.  What’s going on here?

    One might initially surmise that this occurrence is simply a factor of playing next to James Harden and Dwight Howard in one of the league’s most high octane units.  But on the contrary, the stress of RAPM was that it sought to mitigate such advantages; it also claims to account for intra-squad discrepancies such as, for instance, the boost seen from having a bad backup.  The way I always understood RAPM was that rather than measuring “how good” a player was, it was a measure of how good a player was at the role they were playing on their team.  As the statistic is gleaned from play-by-play data, rather than your stats in the box score, its a composite of the impact you are having while in the game as indicated by the ebb and flow of the scoreboard.

    For Beverley, it might not really be too big of a surprise that he is so impactful offensively.  I noted upon his injury, incurring the ridicule of Jeremy Lin’s faithful band of Twiter loyalists, that one of Beverley’s greatest qualities was his decisionmaking abilities on offense.  While he’s prone to over-agressiveness on defense (subsequently racking up stupid fouls), he’s extremely calm and composed on the scoring side of the ball.  He protects the ball, rarely forces the issue, and also hits down wide open 3′s.  Contrast this with Jeremy Lin (just as an example; the statistic is not meant as an intra-team replacement comparison) who often looks like a chicken with its head cut off and you can see how the overall offense could be effected.  There is certainly something to the hazards of indecisiveness.

    I think that Beverley is great at his role because when he’s on the court, everyone’s role becomes more clearly defined.  You’ll note that Harden trusts him to set the play up because he knows he’ll get it right back (ala the Rafer Alston – Tracy McGrady dynamic).  Beverley also rarely looks to drive in unless he has a clear shot; this leads to less errant passes and a smoother machine.

    Ultimately though, this is all conjecture as, until the formula for RPM is released, we don’t really know exactly what is going into this ranking.  For now, we can just speculate upon the purported results.

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    The Rockets Daily – April 7, 2014http://www.red94.net/rockets-daily-april-3-2014-2/14272/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rockets-daily-april-3-2014-2 http://www.red94.net/rockets-daily-april-3-2014-2/14272/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 19:42:06 +0000 mitchell felker http://www.red94.net/?p=14272 Behind the Scenes - Last week, ESPN ranked all 30 NBA front offices as a whole, and then broke them down into owners, GM/Presidents and coaches.  We already discussed owners, so now, the decision makers.  Daryl Morey ranked about as high as you would expect, coming in fifth. There’s not a whole lot of argument [...]

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    Behind the Scenes - Last week, ESPN ranked all 30 NBA front offices as a whole, and then broke them down into owners, GM/Presidents and coaches.  We already discussed owners, so now, the decision makers.  Daryl Morey ranked about as high as you would expect, coming in fifth.

    There’s not a whole lot of argument to be made about Morey’s placement.  No one has taken the route that Morey did to get this high on this list, and I doubt anyone else could have accomplished what he did, the way he did it.  But the four decision-makers ahead of him are all very good at their jobs and have had more success than the Rockets head-honcho.  As for the head coach rankings, some holes could be punched in the list in defense of Kevin McHale’s mediocre rank of 13th.

    As I said when discussing the overall rankings last week, Brad Stevens was a smart hire for the Celtics and may very well end up a great coach, but to already be calling him the 11th best coach in the league is an insult to the rest of the Association.  The man is (understandably) 23-54 for his career thus far, so you can’t call his ranking anything more than a guess.

    And as for Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers, his guys started off as the hottest team in the league for two months before a second-half swoon has left them fighting to hold onto the 5-seed.  A second-half collapse for the Blazers might sound familiar because it’s exactly what they did last season under Stotts.  The Blazers were fighting for a playoff spot at 25-23 last spring before floundering to an 8-26 record the rest of the way.  But sure, I guess there could be a case to be made that he’s the 8th best coach in the league in there somewhere.

    All Kevin McHale has done is take over a team that has had roughly 95% roster turnover in his almost-three years at the helm, and coached them to a record of 130-94 (.580 win%).  And after struggling to integrate the newest characters into the mix this season, not to mention having to navigate a slew of nagging injuries, McHale had the hottest team in the league for three solid months before Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley went down.  I’m not saying McHale is Jack Ramsay or anything, but he deserves a little more notice for the job he’s done leading the Rockets.

    On a side note, that Rick Carlisle is ranked sixth is a personal outrage.  I don’t care about Doc River’s name, Eric Spoelstra’s LeBron or Frank Vogel’s out-of-nowhere-ness; all things being equal, Carlisle would (and in Spoelstra’s case, did) coach circles around them.  And Tom Thibodeau is at best the defensive-Rick Carlisle, so at worst Carlisle should be 2-b to Thib’s 2-a.  Greg Poppovich remains unimpeachable, Hack-A-Shaq be damned.

    Short Corner - Rob Mahoney of the Point Forward had a few thoughts on the NBA in his Short Corner piece, with two notes on the Houston Rockets featuring James Harden and Terrence Jones.

    Friday’s game between the Rockets and Thunder was fun on the whole, though the fourth quarter was essentially a competition to see which team could draw more fouls by way of pump fakes and rip moves. I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy James Harden trying so desperately to get Derek Fisher off his feet, though I’ve certainly seen better — and more viewer-friendly — late-game execution.

    This has been a prevailing theme of Harden’s game overall this season, not just in the fourth quarter.  But we’ll come back to that shortly.  As for Jones:

    Second-year forward Terrence Jones has given Houston production and minutes from a position of previous need, though he also seems to be at particular risk of on-court absence. At his best, Jones is a force; he can be effective enough offensively that opponents can’t afford to leave him and active enough defensively as to help protect the basket when Dwight Howard is pulled away. It’s also not terribly uncommon for him to fade into the background entirely, as was the case in his two-point, four-foul performance in 19 minutes against the Clippers last weekend.

    Sir Charles is fond of saying that the difference between a good player and a great player is consistency.  Jones’ flashes have been great this season, mainly due to the fact that no one was sure what he was capable of coming into his sophomore campaign, and because the Rockets so desperately needed someone to step into the 4-spot after the Howard-Asik experiment failed.  But going into the playoffs and especially year three of his career, more will be expected of the 22 year-old.

    Every year a young player will flash some promise and excite his fan base for the future, only to have his career-arc flatten out and fall somewhere in the middle.  JJ Hickson and DeJuan Blair come to mind when considering Jones’ prospects from that perspective.  Neither of them were ever able to find the consistency that would allow them to be anything more than middling role players.  T.J. has more talent than either Hickson or Blair, but whatever it is that allows players to move from promising prospect to a David West-esque difference maker has alluded Jones thus far into his career.  And that is expected from a kid who is only 89 games into his career, but finding it could go a long ways towards Houston finding that allusive third star.

    Back to that free throw thing - In Hickory-High’s weekly stat pack, they had an interesting note on James Harden that really highlights the efficiency he plays with.

    For the third time this season, James Harden averaged at least six points per made field goal.

    I say efficiency because a good free throw shooter at the line is considered one of the best plays in the NBA according to advanced metrics.  And it’s free throws that allow for such an absurd stat like the one above.  Harden doesn’t take as many shots in the box score as most of the league’s top scorers, but it’s because he is so adept at getting to the line and earning free points.

    So when an unbiased outsider complains that Harden’s style bogs down games and turns them into a free throw contest, it elicits two emotions: on one hand, they’re kind of right.  Games get boring when the referee’s whistle is as prevalent as the squeak of shoes on the floor.  And things can get frustrating when Harden gets into the lane seeking a call rather than looking to make the right play.  But secondly, and I can’t emphasize “most importantly” enough, screw the unbiased outsiders.  The Rockets have wins to collect and playoff games to prepare for.  James Harden at the free throw line is easy points for the Houston Rockets.  And in memory of John Madden, you can’t win games if you don’t score points.

    Keep doing your thing, James.

    One other note from the Stat Pack:

    Omer Asik has 38 rebounds in April, nine short of his February total.

    That 38 boards was accomplished in only two games.  Two more games into the April schedule and that number has nearly doubled and now sits at 73.  The big tree is back.

    Threes and Frees - Tom Haberstroh made a video breaking down the unique method James Harden uses to get his 25.4 points per game.  Most of it is stuff you’ve heard before, but there were some interesting notes.

     

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    Welcome to Limbohttp://www.red94.net/welcome-limbo/14271/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=welcome-limbo http://www.red94.net/welcome-limbo/14271/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 14:00:01 +0000 Forrest Walker http://www.red94.net/?p=14271 As the season draws to a close and the excitement of the Playoffs looms just around the corner, the Houston Rockets and their fans are entering into a bizarre, gray space. This is a place reserved almost exclusively for teams good enough to sit near the top of the standings (and teams that aren’t tanking [...]

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    As the season draws to a close and the excitement of the Playoffs looms just around the corner, the Houston Rockets and their fans are entering into a bizarre, gray space. This is a place reserved almost exclusively for teams good enough to sit near the top of the standings (and teams that aren’t tanking but miss the playoffs badly), and is one of the few downsides of such a season. The Rockets are passing into limbo, a period of time in which the games don’t matter. It won’t last long, it won’t be very exciting, and it’s easy to get frustrated. The thing to remember is that everything is fine… even if they drop some games you think they shouldn’t.

    Heading into Monday morning, the Rockets sit atop a pile of 51 wins (and 25 losses), the last win coming from a strange limbo meeting with the Denver Nuggets. The Rockets are two losses behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the third spot and three losses ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for the five seed. Due to how many games each team has left, this means that the Rockets are all but locked into the 4 seed. There are games left, and there are wins to tally, but the consequences are all but gone. This is the void. This is the calm, and the storm isn’t coming for 13 days.

    The Clippers’ “magic number” for clinching the third seed is now 2, which means that they need a combination of Clippers wins and Rockets losses equaling 2 for the rest of the season to assure that Houston can’t pass them. The Thunder, as an aside, also have a magic number of 2 over the Rockets, and the Spurs are already uncatchable by Houston. Unless the Clippers were to lose at least 3 of their remaining 4 games, Houston can’t catch up. Houston’s 3 seed hopes are liable to continue for a few more days, but there’s just little to no chance of moving up any more.

    The Blazers, for their part, are gamely hanging around, making it ever more likely that Houston meets them in the first round. With the Blazers behind by 3 in the loss column, things get hairy on that end, too. Houston has the tiebreaker over Portland, meaning that the Blazers have to hope the Rockets fall to at least 29 losses, and that’s assuming that the Blazers win the rest of their games, including games against Golden State and the Clippers. Houston’s magic number against the Blazers is 4, and in case it matters, their number over the 6th seed Warriors is 2.

    Even if, somehow, the Rockets were to let the Blazers creep back into the fourth seed, the only effect that would have is a loss of home court advantage in the first round, something the Rockets don’t want to give up but which they aren’t depending upon.

    What does all this mean? It means that there’s no realistic way that the Rockets can move up or down the standings, especially after another win. What does that mean? That means that the games do nothing. Once those magic numbers have been activated (and they will), The Rockets will face a few games with no bearing on anything whatsoever. The only possible ramification at this point is whether the Rockets would host the Pacers or vice versa in a hypothetical Finals matchup.

    The real downside is injury and rest. The Rockets have some injured players and some players who could use a spot of rest. It may feel defeatist and create uncomfortable overtime situations when the Rockets sit and rest key players, but that’s better than having there be a chance of injury or other unhappy surprise. As they press on through Limbo, expect the Rockets to start resting players like James Harden and Chandler Parsons, two important pieces that need to be fresh and healthy come later this month.

    Limbo may feel boring, frustrating and pointless, but it’s actually a boon. When in Limbo, teams get to rest, to experiment with benches and rotations. Winning is immaterial for the first time in months, and it’s hard to see them skirt close to losses. Putting numbers in the wins column is fun, and good for morale, and it’s surely better than piling losses, but none of that matters in Limbo. The only thing that matters here, in the edges of Limbo and beyond, is what lies on the other side of this two week period. The only thing that matters now is the Playoffs. Limbo is just a pit stop.

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    Houston Rockets 130, Denver Nuggets 125: Rockets escape with an overtime winhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-130-denver-nuggets-125-rockets-escape-overtime-win/14270/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-130-denver-nuggets-125-rockets-escape-overtime-win http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-130-denver-nuggets-125-rockets-escape-overtime-win/14270/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 03:11:49 +0000 Eric Nielsen http://www.red94.net/?p=14270 Houston fell back into the model they toyed with the first half of the season; that being the Jekyll and Hyde variety.  You remember, down one quarter with an effort that was extremely lacking, then they would mercurially shoot the lights out, run and look like an elite team.  The Rockets in the first half [...]

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    Houston fell back into the model they toyed with the first half of the season; that being the Jekyll and Hyde variety.  You remember, down one quarter with an effort that was extremely lacking, then they would mercurially shoot the lights out, run and look like an elite team.  The Rockets in the first half of the season could not put a whole game together, and they would have lost tonight’s game.  They haven’t lost a game that they should have won in a long time and that’s why this game was so depressing…until there were about 4 minutes left to play.  Of course the second quarter was amazing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me take it from the top.

    The Rockets came out in the first quarter and tanked it.  Yes, they have the excuse of Howard and Beverley not playing, and it looked like T Jones was anything but 100%, but come on.  Houston shot 25% from the field in the first and were lucky to only be down by 5 at the end of the frame.  No one could hit. They looked lethargic and Harden had a very slow start.  Good thing the Rockets got to the line so much or this would have been a blow out (more on that later).

    In the second quarter, the Rockets took off and scored an amazing and franchise record 47 points!  Everyone was scoring with Lin filling it up for 7 points in the last 41 seconds of the quarter.  They outscored the Nuggets by 22 in the quarter alone.  It was looking good, the Rockets were on a roll.

    Halftime came and the Rockets alter ego appeared.  All the energy left the room and when the door slammed, it felt like the Rockets were trapped in a vacuum.  The third quarter was a repeat of the first for Houston (but worse) and they were outscored 36 to 19.  Kenneth Faried, Aaron Brooks and Evan Fournier were making the Rockets look old.  Faried’s energy fed the whole Nuggets squad as they looked like the more athletic team.

    “OK,” Rockets fans thought, “it’s a tie game and we play one quarter to determine the winner.”  But, this continued on into the 4th quarter, until there were only 4 minutes left.  At this point, the Rockets were down by 13 and had no momentum.  Harden was struggling from the field and it looked like it was going to be one of those early season losses to a team we should beat.  Then the mercury rose again.  The Rockets held the Nuggets to 3 points in the last 4 minutes while managing 16 of their own.  The biggest being with 10 seconds left and down by three, Harden hits a three-pointer a couple of feet off the line at the top of the key to tie.  With 7 seconds left for the Nuggets, Harden again came up big on D.

    In overtime, the Rockets momentum carried the day with big three-pointers from Garcia and two from Parsons to seal the deal.  This game was critical in maintaining the edge for home court advantage and that’s why it was so difficult to watch the Rockets unable to muster the energy and mojo for most of the game.  But when it came to crunch time, they had just enough to get it done.

    The Rockets had a huge advantage from the line shooting 40 free throws to the visiting team’s 13.  Had the Rockets shot better than 67.5% from the line, overtime would have been unnecessary.  Harden ended up with 32 points on only 9 of 23, shooting primarily because of his work at getting to the stripe, where he hit 11 of 12.

    Asik had an amazing game and played 43 minutes (I guess he’s getting his wind now).  He had 23 boards and 18 points and looked very impressive in the paint on defense.  He even had a driving slam down the middle, what?!  Too bad the pick and roll is basically dead with Asik.  It’s such a staple with Howard, and the Rockets are getting so good at it, it’s painful to watch Asik get the ball two feet from the basket and have so much trouble finishing.

    Canaan had his best game as a Rocket with 15 points including 4 three-pointers.  It will be fun to watch as he gets that three-point shot going.  He kept the Rockets in the game early and though he didn’t play in crunch time, he’s earning his stripes and looking more comfortable.

    Hopefully we can get our full component of players healthy and back on the court a few games before the playoffs, to knock the rust off. The Rockets were on such a dynamite roll the past month that I hope tonight’s game was somewhat of an aberration (even though they pulled it out).  This team does not give up as easy as they did in the first half of the year, so kudos to everyone for getting it done.  Even if it was at the last possible moment.

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    Houston Rockets 111, Oklahoma City Thunder 107: Fear the beard.http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-111-oklahoma-city-thunder-107-fear-beard/14266/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-111-oklahoma-city-thunder-107-fear-beard http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-111-oklahoma-city-thunder-107-fear-beard/14266/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 05:03:31 +0000 Paul McGuire http://www.red94.net/?p=14266 One month ago, Dwight Howard went up against an Oklahoma City frontcourt which had little more than rookie center Steven Adams as well as the too thin Serge Ibaka.  Yet despite the seemingly obvious advantages, he had a disastrous game, scoring just 9 points on 4-12 shooting.  Rahat was incredibly worried about the result of [...]

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    One month ago, Dwight Howard went up against an Oklahoma City frontcourt which had little more than rookie center Steven Adams as well as the too thin Serge Ibaka.  Yet despite the seemingly obvious advantages, he had a disastrous game, scoring just 9 points on 4-12 shooting.  Rahat was incredibly worried about the result of that game, as he argued that the inability of Howard to dominate players which he should seemingly dominate like Adams or DeAndre Jordan boded poorly for Houston’s chances of a title, both over the short and long term.

    That may or may not be true.  But over the extremely short term like tonight?  With Howard continuing to rest his ankle?  James Harden did show up.  He did dominate.  He dropped 39 points, and showed up with crossover after tomahawk slam after 3 pointer after free throw and so on and so on.  Combine that with Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia hounding Durant like they did so much during the 2013 playoffs, and it was the Thunder player who was traded here that willed the Rockets to an absolutely crucial victory.  Just 24 hours ago, Houston was worried about losing their hard-fought home court advantage to the suddenly surging Portland Trailblazers.  Now?  With a win over the Thunder to make 50, a secured playoff spot, Portland losing to Phoenix tonight, and a upcoming creampuff schedule which has Houston facing only one playoff team ( although it is San Antonio) over the final 7 games?  Fortune is a fickle mistress, but as of this moment, it appears that she has chosen to favor the Rockets after all.

    It should be noted that despite Harden’s incredible performance, he hardly won the game all by himself.  Indeed, Harden can show up on any night, against any team – but unfortunately, the same really cannot be said of Houston’s perimeter defense.  However against the Thunder tonight, Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia did their jobs in hounding Kevin Durant.  Parsons’s defensive effort in particular was great to see: for those who don’t remember, it was defending Kevin Durant when Chandler Parsons in his rookie year began to show that he was more than just a throwaway second round pick.  Those first games are where Parsons picked up his reputation as a solid defender, but as his offensive role grew larger over the years, his defense slipped.

    Tonight however was a blast to the past.  It says something about how incredible Kevin Durant is that I can confidently declare that Parsons played solid defense on a night when Durant put up 28 points, his 40th straight game of 25 points or more, something which has been only accomplished by Oscar, Jordan, and Wilt.  But Parsons was farther up in Durant’s face than I have seen Parsons in quite some time, chasing him all over the court.  And when Parsons wasn’t, Garcia was there instead.  Durant in fact grew frustrated by this constant harassment in the third quarter, and there was a minor spat between himself and Garcia.  It didn’t knock Durant off or rattle his confidence, but it served as a reminder that even these Rockets can defend without having Asik and Howard do everything, which is just as big of a deal as Harden’s brilliant performance tonight.

    But even with that perimeter defense, and with Terrence Jones coming back with a fury after missing two games with the flu and grabbing 16 points, 11 boards, and massively improving the interior defense?  This game was about Harden.  With LeBron and Durant doing their thing, and with Anthony Davis rising as Zach Lowe wrote about, it’s admittedly difficult to see the Beard winning a MVP in the next few seasons.  Yet if Harden submitted something like tonight on a routine basis, who knows?  Which players are the best, just like Houston’s playoff prospects, can change in the blink of an eye.

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    A conversation on Terrence Joneshttp://www.red94.net/conversation-terrence-jones/14264/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conversation-terrence-jones http://www.red94.net/conversation-terrence-jones/14264/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 14:00:36 +0000 michael pina http://www.red94.net/?p=14264 Terrence Jones is an interesting basketball player. Really talented. Really exciting. Really young. He not-so-coincidentally plays extremely well in wins and not so great in losses—dumb but true: Jones shoots nearly 60% from the floor when Houston wins, and just above 40% when they lose—but symbolizes a brighter tomorrow. Is the hope valid? Or is [...]

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    Terrence Jones is an interesting basketball player. Really talented. Really exciting. Really young. He not-so-coincidentally plays extremely well in wins and not so great in losses—dumb but true: Jones shoots nearly 60% from the floor when Houston wins, and just above 40% when they lose—but symbolizes a brighter tomorrow. Is the hope valid? Or is Jones an overreaching product of his environment? Rahat and I talked it over via e-mail this week, discussing Jones’s value, productivity, future, and more. Enjoy.

    Pina: Let’s start by gauging Jones’s public perception. In your opinion, is he overrated, underrated, or properly rated?

    Rahat: I’d say he might be a little bit overrated.  He’s performed magnificently beyond anyone’s expectations this season, filling the team’s biggest void, and his insertion into the starting lineup may perhaps have been the catalyst for their turnaround. All of that has led many people to project him into a better player in the future than he may ever become.

    I think there’s an assumption that due to his production this year, he’ll continue along a similar growth trajectory and blossom into a bonafide fringe-star. I don’t think that’s warranted because in a vacuum he’s a far lesser player than what he’s seemed this year playing next to Dwight Howard. Now, one might say that won’t matter because Dwight will always be around, but I’d counter that a problem lies with the fact that Jones struggles against teams that find a way to limit Howard without too much attention. Jones has to be able to do things on his own or we’re going to keep getting killed by the Thunder and Clippers.

    Pina: Television broadcasters look at Jones’s production, and the incredible athleticism he displays on both ends, and think he’ll be an All-Star someday. I believe it’s more a case of Houston maximizing his talent right now, playing a system that suits his skills perfectly. Jones flashes open-court brilliance from time to time, but that stuff is more indicative of a superior athlete than a well-rounded player able to hold his own in a more controlled environment.

    About half his field goal attempts take place within three feet of the rim, and he’s fantastic finishing so close. But Jones isn’t much of a shooter (this can improve, but not in time for the playoffs), and struggles to create offense off the dribble on his own. As a rebounder, he’s tremendous. As a defender, he’s actually not that bad (except in the post).
    But is there any part of his game that could improve over the next few weeks? Can you picture him single-handedly turning a close playoff game with consecutive impact plays in the fourth quarter? It’s possible, right?

    Rahat: No, I can’t see him turning a close game. In fact, I don’t think I recall him making consecutive impact plays against anyone of note all year, except the crappier teams in the league. When the going gets tough, in the second round, Jones will be on the bench late in the fourth.

    Can his shooting improve? Sure. Will it improve? With that form, it’s highly unlikely, and it’s even less likely he changes his form (given the historical data on players doing that). It’s just too slow and awkward of a release to expect any type of consistency from the midrange. If he’s bringing it back over his head for the release from 10-15 feet out, the defender will have already closed in by the time he’s let it go. Think of all the classic midrange jump-shooting power forwards in NBA history. The Charles Oakleys and Horace Grants. Conventional form.

    I sound real down on Jones. Don’t get me wrong. Like I said, he has been maybe THE catalyst to the team’s turnaround this year. No one has done more towards exceeding expectations and seizing the opportunity in front of him, maybe in the entire league (?). But we’re talking about future projections here and I don’t see anything that indicates he’ll be ready to hang with the big boys unless serious structural advancements are made.

    Pina: It’s funny. Jones’s entire game plays like a Ferrari, but he looks underwater when it’s time to shoot a jumper. That beings said, even if he never improves I don’t think shooting will make or break his career. He’s active in so may other ways and the fourth quarter data is actually not the worst thing in the world. (Rockets units that include Jones, James Harden, and Dwight Howard outscore opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter—though the trio’s only played 30 fourth quarter minutes together since the All-Star break.)

    This brings up the potential of some real interesting trade talk this summer, pending how Houston does in the playoffs. Jones has two more years on his rookie deal before he hits restricted free agency. That’s also the same summer Howard can opt out of a $23.2 million player option, and the year before Harden’s contract expires. Does it make sense for Daryl Morey to actively shop Jones now, i.e. this July?
    Rival general managers will assume that two HUGE reasons for Jones’s offensive success are a) having Howard and Harden consume the defense’s focus every night, and b) him playing in an unrestrictive system. That second point is true, but Jones’s productivity doesn’t really drop by much when on the floor without those two stars.
    Trades are fun, and the Rockets make a ton of them. But could you honestly imagine Morey moving Jones this summer? And if yes, for what?

    Rahat: The problem with that fourth quarter data is that it’s not against the West’s best teams because against the West’s best teams Jones is sitting next to J.B Bickerstaff late in the game. And you can bet that will continue come playoff time. We saw Jones get feasted on by David Lee. He wasn’t in the game down the stretch against Portland, Ibaka regularly eats his lunch, and he has no chance against Blake Griffin. It’s just how it is: Kevin McHale feels more comfortable going small, and I don’t blame him. And that’s a problem because the Rockets really don’t have that many good small players.

    Would I trade Jones in the summer? Of course. I wouldn’t actively shop him because he’s a terrific value and a perfect complement to the team on a cheap price tag. But is he anything even remotely close to a deal breaker? No chance. Absolutely zero chance. I wouldn’t even blink if he was included in a deal for someone like Carmelo Anthony.
    Given how hard it is to acquire true stud fours, I actually think the Rockets would behoove themselves structuring their team to where James Harden was the ’4′ man, acquiring another good small player to close out games.
    Pina: That I’d very much like to see. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Morey takes the current roster in a different direction next season, and Jones could easily be the odd man out.
    Michael Pina covers the NBA for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network, Sports On Earth, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report, and The Classical. His writing can be found here. Follow him @MichaelVPina

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    The Rockets Daily – April 3, 2014http://www.red94.net/rockets-daily-april-3-2014/14263/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rockets-daily-april-3-2014 http://www.red94.net/rockets-daily-april-3-2014/14263/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 17:17:29 +0000 mitchell felker http://www.red94.net/?p=14263 Behind the Scenes - ESPN put together a panel to rank the different aspects of all 30 NBA front offices from 0-10.  The rankings started with the total front office experience and then broke down into the specific positions within the group, starting with owners.  The rest of the positions will be done later in [...]

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    Behind the Scenes - ESPN put together a panel to rank the different aspects of all 30 NBA front offices from 0-10.  The rankings started with the total front office experience and then broke down into the specific positions within the group, starting with owners.  The rest of the positions will be done later in the week.  The Rockets front office was ranked seventh with a score of 7.1, well behind the first place Spurs at 9.45.

    San Antonio is the obvious choice for number one.  Greg Poppovich is one of the league’s biggest assets and RC Buford has consistently kept a contender around Tim Duncan.  Their owner, Peter Holt, is very hands-off and has been content to let smarter people than he run the basketball operations while he polishes his rings.  The rest of the teams ahead of Houston are, for the most part, hard to argue against.  The Heat have Pat Riley, the Mavs have Mark Cuban’s particular brand of enthusiasm and Rick Carlisle, and the Pacers have Larry Legend.  The two teams directly in front of Houston, however, are a little more curious.

    I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of all NBA franchises, but I do know that Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has been staunchly against pushing his team salary into the tax threshold despite playing in one of the biggest markets in the Association and having a pseudo-contender built around a former MVP for the past several years.  But they do have Tom Thibodeau.  And the Celtics were ready to run Danny Ainge out of town before his ole pal Kevin McHale gift-wrapped Kevin Garnett for him and saved his job.  Brad Stevens is a nice coach and could turn out to be great, but it’s a little early to give him too much credence. 

    Seeing that Les Alexander was ranked fifth (7.41) in the ownership rankings, and taking in to account Daryl Morey’s presumed high ranking, you would think Houston would score a little higher on the overall rank.  That can only mean that the Rockets were docked for Kevin McHale.  I’ve been a little hard on McHale in the past for his lack of creativity at the end of games, but his understanding of the value of analytics and shared vision with Morey deserve some credit.  His team is one of only five teams to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, after all.

    One-on-One with the Hair - Grantland’s Zach Lowe interviewed Chandler Parsons and discussed a host of topics including being a contender, defense and inflight poker games with the guys.  It’s a good read.

    What’s one individual skill you’ve really worked on — one thing you watch for on film, when you watch yourself?

    I want to be able to guard one through four [point guards through power forwards]. I’ve been trying to get there all year. Tonight, I’m starting on Deron Williams. Last night, I started on Chris Paul. I have to continue to get stronger, guard the post better, guard on pindowns better. With added strength, I think all that will develop better.

    Lastly, the Houston Rockets are being sued by a former caterer that worked for the company responsible for the locker room spread at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.  The suit claims that Rasean Tate, an openly gay server, was taunted and harassed while working in the Rockets locker room in February of 2013.  He was later fired for what he says was punishment for filing a complaint with his company, Levy Restaurant Holdings.

    There is surely more to come involving this story, but if it is true it’s deeply disturbing.  Jason Collins was still three months away from announcing that he was gay and nearly a year away from signing with the Brooklyn Nets of all teams, but to know that this type of behavior could still exist in a professional environment is lamentable.

    The NBA’s history, like all pro leagues, is peppered with discrimination of all types, so you would expect more acceptance from it’s players.  No one knows the complete truth yet, but these types of things are typically guilty until proven innocent.  It’s unfortunate that it involved the home team.

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