Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings http://www.red94.net Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings Thu, 26 Mar 2015 03:28:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Houston Rockets 95, New Orleans Pelicans 93: H&Hhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-95-new-orleans-pelicans-93-hh/15870/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-95-new-orleans-pelicans-93-hh/15870/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 03:28:21 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15870 Dwight Howard is alive and well. He’s dunking in traffic, finishing alley-oops, defending the paint and grabbing rebounds. He suited up after a two month absence, played 16 minutes, and did all the things Dwight Howard should be doing. The Rockets also won a critical game against a division rival, gained a game on the […]

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Dwight Howard is alive and well. He’s dunking in traffic, finishing alley-oops, defending the paint and grabbing rebounds. He suited up after a two month absence, played 16 minutes, and did all the things Dwight Howard should be doing. The Rockets also won a critical game against a division rival, gained a game on the team ahead of them, and didn’t lose anyone else to injury. To top it all off, Houston came back from a dismal first quarter to erase a 17-point deficit and in fact take a double digit lead for much of the second half. The Rockets got everything they wanted and more, and remain undefeated with Jason Terry as a starter.

James Harden, true to his promise, changed nothing with Howard back in a jersey. Harden attacked the basket, shoot his man, drew fouls, and started his evening out with a beautiful dish to a dunking Dwight. Without Patrick Beverley (torn wrist ligament) for the foreseeable future, Harden’s handling and creation abilities are coming into full focus. He responded with 10 assists to go with his 25 points, and his effect was apparent whenever he left the floor.The Rockets struggled to find any offense without Harden, but steamrolled the Pelicans with his help. Harden remains the engine that drives the team, and Houston had better hope he can get some rest and avoid injury for the rest of the season.

If Harden is the engine, Ariza is the suspension, a vitally necessary but seldom highlighted element that the whole contraption rests on. Trevor Ariza took 13 shots and ended up with 22 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. He hit 3 of 4 attempts from deep and was instrumental in a huge comeback across the second and third quarters. He defended resident superhuman Anthony Davis for long stretches, and he was as up to the task as anyone’s been all year. Ariza’s second stint in Houston has been the opposite of his first go, in the best way possible. The fact that Houston has him for three more years after this one on a declining salary is turning out to be one of the steals of the off-season.

Another role player came up big, as he has before, and as he must again. Donatas Motiejunas has been a godsend for an offensively challenged Rockets team, and his post play has been a welcome pressure valve for a team that’s missing its starting one guard. He’s also more and more willing to let fly from downtown, and he’s accurate enough that he can usually make teams think twice about leaving him alone. The competition between Motiejunas and Terrence Jones has been amazing to watch, as both players continue to outperform expectations and fill in the gaps of a roster that needs to shoring up. Motiejunas’ 21 points and 8 boards are the latest entry in a competition that has no losers for Houston.

Joey Dorsey and Dwight Howard did a fine job in their role as Dwight Howard by committee, with Dorsey covering 11 minutes with 4-5 field goals and 3 rebounds, and Howard going 2-3 with 7 boards in his 11 minutes. 12 points, 8 field goals, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and a block is a fine line for 26 minutes of play, so if Dwight and his stunt double can keep this tag team going until Dwight’s ready to be Dwight full time, Houston is well taken care of.

The headband crew didn’t fare well. Josh Smith led the crew with 9 points on 4-10 shooting and 4 rebounds, though his one made three out of 4 tries was critical. Jason Terry and Corey Brewer were worse from the field, and Brewer only had a couple high-energy clutch plays, well below his standard. Jason Terry simply can’t be trusted in general, and the sooner he gets sent back to the bench, the better for everyone. If Pablo Prigioni could get his shot back on line and his passes back on course, that would help Houston in this time of need. Hopefully he’ll work out as point guard insurance while Beverley is gone, perhaps for the season.

On a night when the Rockets couldn’t catch a break in their game, when Anthony Davis shot more free throws (14) than the Rockets did as a team (12), when they started 0-7 from three and the Pelicans shot 75% in the first quarter, Harden and Howard were there. The H&H Rockets are finally back, and now Houston is only one loss behind the 2nd seed Memphis Grizzlies. Despite injuries, despite poor shooting, despite everything, the Rockets are still around. And now that the other H is back, it’s time to move forward.

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Houston Rockets 110, Indiana Pacers 100: Attack Mode Engagedhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-110-indiana-pacers-100-attack-mode-engaged/15869/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-110-indiana-pacers-100-attack-mode-engaged/15869/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 08:06:50 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15869 Poor George Hill. Poor Solomon Hill, poor C.J. Miles and poor Ian Mahinmi. The poor, poor Indiana Pacers. When James Harden is in attack mode, all you can do is pity the fool opposing team, primarily whatever sucker gets tasked with attempting to wrangle the Beard on a given play. And Monday night in Indiana, […]

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Poor George Hill.

Poor Solomon Hill, poor C.J. Miles and poor Ian Mahinmi.

The poor, poor Indiana Pacers.

When James Harden is in attack mode, all you can do is pity the fool opposing team, primarily whatever sucker gets tasked with attempting to wrangle the Beard on a given play.

And Monday night in Indiana, Harden was in attack mode.  He ended the night with 44 points, thanks in large part to sinking 21(!) of his 22(!!) attempted free throws.  And this wasn’t the ref-baiting, flop-master that so many Harden detractors detest.  This was the expert scoring machine that knows how to protect his space with the ball and penetrate the defender’s all at the same time.

As much as I cherish listening to Bill Worrell talk basketball, I get a real kick out of listening to opposing broadcasts digest this Rockets team.  Harden’s Morey-Ball.  Dwight Howard’s post game.  Josh Smith’s J-Smoove-ness.  There is a lot to take in.  And last night Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner saw a whole lot of Harden rocking his defender to sleep, getting into the paint and attacking the rim, only to be sent to the stripe by another chop across the forearms by an unwitting assailant; all while the Pacers’ broadcast team were forced repeatedly to admit something along the lines of, “Yea, you can see the slap across his arms right there”.

But it wasn’t just on plays at the rim that Harden was drawing contact.  The Pacers were hellbent on crowding Harden and playing him close, which only made things easier for the Beard.  Any time a Pacer defender reached in or made too much body contact, Harden was ready to attack that space and make it his own, often drawing a whistle.  And I won’t even say I don’t appreciate the way Harden’s critics feel about this type of strategy, but it keeps defenses out of his jersey and leaves him room to operate.  Just don’t tell me that free throws are “the best shot in basketball”, then expect me to get indignant when a player excels at creating that particular shot.

But enough about the Beard, we’ll come back to him.  As sublime as Harden was, the rest of the Rockets were excellent as well.

If it feels like I’m always talking nice about Josh Smith, it’s because I am.  He has played well in just about every game I’ve covered this season, and last night was no different.  Smith had 18 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.  But the real surprise was how smooth his jumper looked last night.  Smith shot 4-6 from deep, and while he did have one airball, his catch-and-shoot continued to look sharp.  He even knocked down a 25-footer off the dribble with a hand in his face to beat the shot clock on one possession.  I still prefer my Smoove as close to the rim as possible, but it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy life’s little gems.

Donatas Motiejunas chipped in 17 points, the most memorable being the fluid 31-footer he knocked down as time expired in the third quarter with four Pacers in his vicinity.  He also had his usual craftiness around the rim, scoring on a bevy of hooks and drop-steps.  Which leaves me wondering, with D-Mo and former-Rocket Luis Scola (miss you) facing off against each other in the same building, does that mean the rest of the NBA was up and under-less?

As for the rest of the Rockets, every player had a positive plus/minus (led by Joey Dorsey’s +14), Corey Brewer was the only other double-digit scorer (11) and Trevor Ariza had a game-high 11 boards.  Pat Beverley picked up a wrist injury trying to snag a rebound, which was especially disconcerting because he knew right away that he was injured.  He grabbed his wrist as he headed down court, but he didn’t make it three steps before turning to Kevin McHale for a substitution and immediately jogging back to the locker room.  As of publication, no word on the extent of his injury.

But back to Harden.

In the month of March, Harden’s seemingly air-tight case for MVP has been dealt a Russell Westbrook-sized blow.  After months of valiantly carrying a beat-up squad through the treacherous West, where one three-game losing streak can cost you 3-4 seeds in the standings, Harden finally let doubt creep back into the MVP conversation.  With Steph Curry and the Warriors rounding out a 60-win season, and Russell Westbrook in the middle of his spot-on ’89 Jordan impersonation, Harden needed a strong finish to stay fresh in the voters’ minds.

Instead, pundits would have you believe Harden has played some of his worst basketball of the season this month, including the clunker he had in Utah two weeks ago.  The reality, though, is that Harden’s March hasn’t been markedly different from the first four months of the season.  His shooting percentages are the lowest they’ve been all year, but his assists, rebounds and even free throw attempts have held steady.

The problem really comes down to his legs.  Essentially, for entire games this month, Harden has looked cooked.

Including last night, Harden has played 11 games in March.  In six of those games, he has looked like himself, scoring 31.5 ppg, with 18.7 FTA and 39% from deep.  All indicators that he’s fine.  But in the other five games, Harden is averaging 16.8 ppg, with 7.2 FTA and 15% 3pt.  That three-point percentage is very concerning, because tired legs equal a flat shot.  Not to mention, pull-up jumpers look a lot more inviting than yet another foray into the land of giants when you’re spent, and less dribble-drives means less free throws.

I still think Harden is the front runner for MVP, but at this point I’d be more concerned about trying to navigate 4 rounds of brutal NBA playoffs than running Beard into the ground for a regular season award.  Harden is third in minutes per game, but because he’s stayed healthy and hasn’t had a two week vacation mid-season (LEBRON), Harden actually leads the NBA in minutes played.

That’s another good reason to vote for him for MVP, but it’s also a big justification to let him have some rest down the stretch.  With just 12 games to go, decisions have to be made.

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Phoenix Suns 117, Houston Rockets 102: Worst casehttp://www.red94.net/phoenix-suns-117-houston-rockets-102-worst-case/15866/ http://www.red94.net/phoenix-suns-117-houston-rockets-102-worst-case/15866/#comments Sun, 22 Mar 2015 03:28:26 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15866 Heading into this evening, the Houston Rockets were one game back of the second-seed Memphis Grizzlies, one game ahead of the fourth-seed Portland Trail Blazers, and an enviable situation. With Memphis and Portland facing off, the Rockets could be assured to pick up a game on one of them if they could just beat the […]

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Heading into this evening, the Houston Rockets were one game back of the second-seed Memphis Grizzlies, one game ahead of the fourth-seed Portland Trail Blazers, and an enviable situation. With Memphis and Portland facing off, the Rockets could be assured to pick up a game on one of them if they could just beat the Phoenix Suns, a team at the bottom of the playoff bubble and a team all but eliminated from that race. All Houston had to do was complete the sweep against Phoenix to make a huge stride in a close, crucial playoff race. Even in a worst-case scenario, the Rockets wouldn’t lose any ground to the Blazers.

Worst case scenarios have a way of updating themselves when you’re not looking, like phone apps or guest lists. It turns out that falling two games behind Memphis wasn’t the worst that could happen, because other, worse things happened, too. Not only did that Rockets go from being up 12 to down 13 in a quarter and a half, they also lost another big man to injury and saw one of James Harden’s worst performances of the year. Some nights, the only consolation is that lightning didn’t strike James Harden and burn his beard off.

A wrecking ball swung through the Toyota Center and knocked the Rockets over like an aluminum shanty, and that wrecking ball was named Eric Bledsoe. He gave Houston a taste of what it feels like to watch James Harden walk into a road arena, absolutely torching every defender and hitting every shot. He shot 11-18 and scored 34 points, in part because he shot one fewer free throw (11) than the Rockets did as a team (12). 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block capped off a monstrous night from the so-called “Mini LeBron.” His dominance was infectious, and the Suns at large were slipping their defenders, hitting open looks, and knocking down some contested looks for fun. If the Suns played like this every night, they would be in the playoffs right now.

If the Rockets played like this every night, they would be in a battle for the 13th seed. Houston once again got badly outrebounded, this time to the tune of 49-36. More importantly, they lost on the offensive glass, 14 to 4. Alex Len crushed them early on that end, and the extra possessions created by rebounds kept the Suns in the game when they were behind, and kept the Suns away when they led. The Rockets also didn’t do themselves any favors on defense, with Motiejunas being forced to help at the rim far too often. The nail in the coffin was the three point shooting disparity, which favored Phoenix’s red-hot 8-15 over Houston’s chilly 10-34. The Rockets picked up a 12 point lead in the second quarter and seemed to think the job was done. The Suns had no such illusions.

Trevor Ariza had the best game for the Rockets, and he scored 15 on 13 shots. He topped the game with 12 rebounds, dished 5 dimes, and grabbed a couple steals for good measure. He was a game-time decision due to illness, and managed to play well despite it. He did, however, miss two threes in a row after the Rockets had closed the game to within five points with three minutes left, two threes which would have given Houston a lead and possibly the game. His partner in decency was Corey Brewer, who shot 5-11 and scored 14 points. He brought 7 rebounds, an assists and two steals to go with his effort, and was doing everything he could to put Houston back in the game, as always. In the end, Ariza and Brewer couldn’t do it all, and it only gets worse.

Josh Smith twisted his ankle late in the game and had to leave, though he returned to the bench. His reported calf strain may not be serious, but another Rockets big man bites the dust at a time when the Rockets cannot afford to lose any more rebounders. Smith had been playing well enough, shooting 8-13 and grabbing 5 rebounds to that point. He had been key in Houston’s lead and was integral to a comeback effort in the fourth. Hopefully his recovery will be swift, as the Rockets are running out of players and time.

Harden’s awful game featured more shots than points (16 on 19), a combined 7 rebounds and assists, and a revolting 1-8 line from three point range. Whatever help his 50 point game did for his MVP case, this game undermined. The Rockets still have a shot at the two seed out west, and Harden still has the second best MVP case at worst, but he can’t have many more games like this before both go out the window. PJ Tucker may defend him as well as anyone in the league, and the trap may have been set, but games like this don’t come cheap. Houston discovered the meaning of worst case tonight, and what they have to avoid in April.

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Houston Rockets 118, Denver Nuggets 108: 50http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-118-denver-nuggets-108-50/15864/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-118-denver-nuggets-108-50/15864/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 03:46:55 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15864 For about three and a half quarters tonight, I paid more attention to tonight’s broadcasting than the actual Houston Rockets game. Calvin Murphy was back in the booth where he belongs. That boundless enthusiasm. His warstories where he described kicking his teammate Rudy Tomjanovich out of bed. And his ability to go from the game […]

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For about three and a half quarters tonight, I paid more attention to tonight’s broadcasting than the actual Houston Rockets game.

Calvin Murphy was back in the booth where he belongs. That boundless enthusiasm. His warstories where he described kicking his teammate Rudy Tomjanovich out of bed. And his ability to go from the game to himself to back to the game without missing a beat.

Combine that with the Championship Reunion Night at the Toyota Center, and the result was a great spectacle and series of interviews. Who cared what was going on in the court? Vernon Maxwell was walking on the court to thunderous applause! Murphy was talking with Mario Elie! With Rudy T! With Adam Silver!

And when James Harden exploded for a career-high 50 points, showcasing himself as the greatest Rocket since Dream, Murphy could barely contain himself. “This is no accident”, he said. A great night from the Beard combined with a great time from Murphy and the rest of the old Rockets, almost made this a perfect night.

Why “almost?” Because tonight’s victory and Harden’s performance were marred by Terrence Jones’s rib injury. In a scrum to get the ball late in the first quarter, Kenneth Faried inadvertently kneed Jones in the ribs. Jones committed a foul to get himself out of the game shortly afterwards, and did not play for the rest of the game. According to Clutchfans, Jones was wheeled out on a stretcher and taken to a hospital.

It is possible that this is just a precautionary measure to check for a punctured lung. But with Dwight Howard out for about another week and Motiejunas slumping (3-10 for just 7 points tonight), the Rockets cannot afford to lose Jones and weaken their already shaky frontcourt. Joey Dorsey did come out and do some good things tonight on the defensive end and the glass.

But without Jones, Faried grabbed 19 points and 12 rebounds. Faried and Randy Foye( who never seems to miss against the Rockets) sparked a Nuggets run at the start of the fourth quarter. Even though Houston had a 17 point lead at the start of the quarter, Kevin McHale was forced to send Harden in to finish Denver off.

And did he ever. I must say that Harden ran iso plays more often than I would have liked. But it worked, and he scored 50 points in the most Harden way ever – by grabbing lots and lots of free throws. His 25 free throws tonight were a season high, and 50 points on just 12 made field goals has to be some kind of record.

But it should be noted that Denver is a small team. Their lack of size meant that they were not able to capitalize on the absence of Jones and Howard. This will also likely hold true against Phoenix on Saturday. But against Indiana and New Orleans afterwards? Let us hope Jones will be back for that. I shudder to think of what Anthony Davis and David West would do to Motiejunas.

There are 14 games left in the regular season. Six of them will be against potential Western playoff opponents. Harden’s 50-point performance will solidify his MVP case in the mind of NBA media figures who don’t religiously follow the Rockets. And while Houston cannot catch up with the Golden State Warriors, a strong performance over the next games will not just help their standings, but Harden’s case. Maybe he does not care about it, as the first words out of his mouth after the game were praise to his teammates. But he certainly deserves it.

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On Dwight, Josh Smith, and Parsonshttp://www.red94.net/on-dwight-josh-smith-and-parsons/15862/ http://www.red94.net/on-dwight-josh-smith-and-parsons/15862/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 01:46:44 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15862 I have next to no doubts that Dwight will come back spry and active after this extended leave.  The concern isn’t so much this year but rather the future.  Upon his return, if he looks as good as is to be expected, there will be those–the majority–who will proclaim that worries over his long-term health […]

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  • I have next to no doubts that Dwight will come back spry and active after this extended leave.  The concern isn’t so much this year but rather the future.  Upon his return, if he looks as good as is to be expected, there will be those–the majority–who will proclaim that worries over his long-term health were unwarranted.  Given the nature of the condition, that would and will be a very foolish reaction.
  • How will Kevin McHale handle the rotation?  Having four above average to excellent big men will be an embarrassment of riches and will come as a boon in the regular season when rest rules the day in the new order of NBA thinking.  But in the playoffs?  Does anyone really think the Rockets will include all four of these men in their rotation?  Would that serve any benefit?  For instance, in the regular season, it helps to have two great bench bigs, because they’re usually playing against two other bench bigs or, one bench big and a starter who may not be at full rest.  In the postseason, when the opponent will have one starting big on the floor at all times, with players better rested, won’t Kevin McHale prefer to just keep the guys he likes most in the game longer?
    • I had the late realization last week that we are the fan-base that embraced Josh Smith.  That definitely typifies the ethos of the “that moment when” meme, especially in light of the national media/blogosphere’s perception of this team and its fans.
    • On Smith, per the league’s rules, the Rockets will be limited in what they can offer the free-agent-to-be this summer.  While still collecting checks from the Pistons, will it matter?  This might be the first situation in Smith’s life where he’s been fully embraced and accepted for all of his warts.  Really, he still does a few boneheaded things every game, but how often do you ever hear anyone complain?  That has to stand for something, right?
    • Of course, it would come as little to no surprise if Daryl Morey opted to allow both Josh Smith and Corey Brewer to walk this summer.  Every year, there have been fan favorites whom that contingency deemed indispensable who turned out to be very…well, dispensable.  Daryl Morey believes he can cobble together a bench at a moment’s notice, and with his track record, who’s to doubt him?
    • This leads to another point: not only does it not matter what the fans think, but collective wisdom has proven to be a very fickle thing.  Recall the number of fans this summer, on talk radio, and on message boards, screaming breathlessly that they would not spend another dollar in support of this team because Morey had opted to not resign Chandler Parsons.  Wondering why its so quiet now?  Because nobody cares.  The Rockets are winning and Trevor Ariza has played well.  Winning cures all ills.

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    For the last time, a midrange game is not importanthttp://www.red94.net/for-the-last-time-a-midrange-game-is-not-important/15858/ http://www.red94.net/for-the-last-time-a-midrange-game-is-not-important/15858/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 00:52:58 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15858 Are you one of those people who bemoans the death of the midrange game? Do you find yourself nodding your head when you hear, “You have to guard him, because he can hit that 16 foot jump shot?” Are you constantly yelling at the TV when your team doesn’t guard the opposing stretch 4 outside […]

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    Are you one of those people who bemoans the death of the midrange game? Do you find yourself nodding your head when you hear, “You have to guard him, because he can hit that 16 foot jump shot?” Are you constantly yelling at the TV when your team doesn’t guard the opposing stretch 4 outside the paint? If so, this piece is for you.

    I know I’ve said this countless times before, but we are so much smarter now. It’s not just about what data we collect, it’s also about how we use data to think about basketball. Cliches that used to be sacrosanct are now consistently criticized. Some have legitimately been debunked. Some are well on their way to the same graveyard. Curmudgeons who grumble about how the game is not the same (ahem, Charles Barkley, Charles Oakley, or anyone else named Charles) are basically old men complaining about how they didn’t need cell phones when they were growing up. Nostalgia is adorable. Unimaginably greater communication capacity is better.

    Just to prove how much smarter we are now, and what that increased intelligence means, I offer this example. That Larry Bird guy. He was really good. He shot threes like whoa and is considered one of the best shooters ever. Are you ready for me to tell you how many three point shots Bird attempted per game? It’s 1.9. Per 36 minutes he attempted 1.8. Per 100 possessions he attempted 2.4. In contrast, Patrick Beverley, that Patrick Beverley, attempts 4.4 threes per game this season. He attempts 5.8 per 36 minutes, and 8.0 every 100 possessions.

    The reason for this disparity, of course, is we now know just how important three pointers are. They’re so important that even Patrick Beverley, who might as good at basketball as Bird’s left index finger, shoots them 3.5x more than Bird. Put it this way, if Larry Bird were coming into the league right now, do you think he would shoot fewer than two three pointers per game? It would be like Kyle Korver shooting 10x more two pointers and three pointers. We now know that would be an awfully inefficient distribution of possessions.

    Enough historical blabbering, let’s drive a sword into the heart of this dying midrange dinosaur once and for all. Take a look at this table.

    Shot type (past 5 seasons)AttemptsFG%eFG%
    Midrange165,13740.4%40.4%
    Three pointer223,70735.8%53.6%

    According to nbasavant.com, over the past five seasons there have been 165,137 attempted midrange shots (any two point shot between 16-24 feet away from the basket). The FG% on those shots is 40.4. Over the same period of time, there have been 223,707 three point shots attempted. The FG% on those shots is 35.8%. The effective FG% of those shots, or the equivalent FG% when accounting for the fact that 3 > 2 (simply multiplying the FG% by 1.5), is 53.6%. In other words, the average three point shot is A LOT BETTER than the average midrange shot. And it’s not even close.

    But what about the WIDE OPEN midrange shot? Those ones that opposing big men can make that, in theory, force defending big men to leave the paint in order to respect their midrange games? Over the past five seasons, the FG% on wide open (defined as the closest defender being at least 6 feet away) midrange shots is 43.3%. This means that the average three point shot is still much more efficient than a wide open midrange shot. Just to beat this dinosaur after it’s already dead, here’s the complete breakdown. Defended shots are considered a shot when the closest defender is less than four feet away.

    Shot type (past 5 seasons)AttemptsFG%eFG%
    Midrange (all)165,13740.4%40.4%
    Midrange (wide open)16,68943.3%43.3%
    Three pointer (all)223,70735.8%53.6%
    Three pointer (wide open)38,49938.7%58.1%
    Three pointer (defended)20,17130.3%45.5%

    Not only is a wide open midrange shot not that great (43.3%?), but even a defended three point shot is more efficient than a wide open midrange shot (eFG% of 45.5 vs 43.3). This addresses a somewhat common basketball scenario–a defender is rushing at a shooter behind the three point line and the shooter has the option of taking the shot or pump faking to send the defender into the air, then dribbling in a few steps and taking an uncontested midrange shot. In this situation, the player should actually take the contested three point shot instead of the uncontested midrange shot. The defender, on the other hand, should do everything he can to run the shooter off the three point line, even if it means flying three rows into the stands. Yes, a three point shot is that important, and a midrange shot is that unimportant.

    Also worth noting is that a greater percentage of three point attempts are wide open than midrange shots (17.2% vs 10.1%). That’s probably just due to the fact that three point shots are farther away from the basket, and therefore opposing defenders. But it further supports just how inadvisable midrange shots are. Players essentially choose between an inherently less efficient and more likely to be defended shot and an inherently more efficient and less likely to be defended shot. Not exactly brain surgery.

    There are two caveats to the ineptitude of the midrange game. One is select players who have a larger than average gap between their their defended 3pFG eFG% and their wide open midrange eFG%. Dirk Nowitzki, for example, shoots 33.6% on defended 3PFGAs, or a roughly 50% eFG%. All things considered, that’s actually pretty good. His FG% on wide open midrange shots, however, is 61%. Since players who shoot long two point shots tend to be good at shooting three point shots, there aren’t too many players that fit this description.

    There are also players who alter the script slightly. They are very proficient at midrange shots, but don’t extend themselves to the three point line. David West leads this very very small group of players (in fact, it might just be him). West shoots 59% on wide open midrange shots, certainly good enough that he warrants defending in that area, even if it means vacating space in the paint. Other players who might be in this group (the only ones) are Pau Gasol and Al Horford, who shoot 53% and 52% on wide open midrange shots. It is debatable, however, if vacating paint space (potentially leading to a very efficient shot) is worth defending a 52%-53% scoring opportunity. Anyone else, despite his reputation or salary, does not shoot well enough to merit guarding.

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    Some more data on Patrick Beverleyhttp://www.red94.net/some-more-data-on-patrick-beverley/15856/ http://www.red94.net/some-more-data-on-patrick-beverley/15856/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 01:25:40 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15856 As I just tweeted, Patrick Beverley isn’t exactly setting the world on fire right now. Beverley has really heated up here in March. Shooting 39.7% on the month and 33% from 3. Shot 29% and 24% on 3’s in February. — RedNinetyFour (@RedNinetyFour) March 17, 2015 But as revealed by the eye-test, he isn’t stopping […]

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    As I just tweeted, Patrick Beverley isn’t exactly setting the world on fire right now.

    But as revealed by the eye-test, he isn’t stopping anyone this year either.  The numbers, unfortunately, confirm:

    Overall, opponents are shooting 45.1% against Beverley.  They shoot 44.4% otherwise.  On 3’s, opponents are shooting 34.2% against Beverley, and 35.25% otherwise.  On 2’s: opponents are shooting 50% against Beverley, and 48.4% otherwise.

    Within 6 feet, opponents are shooting 66% against Beverley, while shooting 60% otherwise; within 10 feet, they are shooting 60%, while shooting 54% otherwise.

    Now you might say “hold on.  That percentage at the rim is just as much an indictment on the Rockets as a whole as it is of Beverley.” And you’d have a point.  But that would mean you’d be getting torched regardless of who you put out there, and I have a hard time believing it could be that much worse.  Wouldn’t you be better off playing someone who at least gave you something offensively?

    At this point, Houston is almost playing 4 on 5.

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    Houston Rockets 100, Los Angeles Clippers 98: Sometimes winning is all that mattershttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-100-los-angeles-clippers-98-sometimes-winning-is-all-that-matters/15854/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-100-los-angeles-clippers-98-sometimes-winning-is-all-that-matters/15854/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 23:43:15 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15854 “We won,” James Harden replied in the postgame interview, deflecting a question about a chippy play earlier in the game, “That’s all that matters.” The two point margin doesn’t matter today. The Flagrant foul by Matt Barnes and the altercations involving Blake Griffin don’t matter. The fifteen point lead the Rockets held in the third […]

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    “We won,” James Harden replied in the postgame interview, deflecting a question about a chippy play earlier in the game, “That’s all that matters.” The two point margin doesn’t matter today. The Flagrant foul by Matt Barnes and the altercations involving Blake Griffin don’t matter. The fifteen point lead the Rockets held in the third quarter that turned into a tie at the end of the fourth doesn’t matter. In a game like this, the only thing that matters is who gets the W and who gets the L. Today, the Rockets grabbed the W, and Harden’s team is one game closer to the playoffs.

    James Harden, after two games of looking listless and lost, lit it up in Los Angeles. The Clippers looked in control in the first quarter, but the Harden came alive in the second and nobody could contain him. He may have played 41 minutes, but with no back to back games until March 30th, Harden can afford to burn at both ends for a big game against a potential playoff opponent. He shot 7-16, hit the first 17 of his 18 free throws, scored 34 and tacked on 7 rebounds and 7 assists to go with it. This is the sort of game the Rockets have been needing from him, and he picked the perfect game to return to form. After his dud in Portland, the national audience needed a reminder of what Harden can do.

    The most important stat of the night was three point shooting throughout. The Rockets missed their first 12 three point attempts, and the Clippers were on fire all night. The final tally was 12-26 for Los Angeles and 7-30 for Houston. The Rockets led for most of the game despite being at a huge disadvantage from deep, a blow which could easily have ended the game for them. Those numbers never really evened out, and the Rockets held on through a relentless attack. The Rockets were outrebounded again (50-43) but this time prevented double digit offensive boards. The calls went Houston’s way more often than not, and sometimes that’s the difference. Of all the teams in the league, no club seems to frustrate referees more than the Clippers, and their reckless play down the stretch doomed them.

    With the Rockets up by a point with thirty seconds in the game, the Rockets coughed up a costly turnover while trying to pass the ball to Harden. Griffin grabbed it and rushed down the court, preparing to crush the rim and the Rockets in one motion. Unfortunately for him, Ariza was backpedaling in front of him as he put his shoulder down and rammed Trevor. However obvious or not that call may have been, the charge was called and the Rockets were given the ball with 12 seconds left. Harden was immediately fouled, went to the line, and made one of two, giving the Clippers a chance to tie or win in the waning seconds of the game.

    This time, Chris Paul was the isolation artist, and Trevor Ariza was the defensive hero. Paul got good separation on a stepback on the baseline, but Ariza was close enough to bother the shot. The bell never hit rim, the buzzer sounded, and the Rockets rode their starters to a much needed victory. Ariza played 39 minutes and hit 7 of his 15 shots for 19 points. His 9 rebounds were huge, as was his defense throughout. Ariza will need some rest going forward, because a fresh Ariza is a key cog in any potential Houston playoff run.

    Terrence Jones was also huge, grabbing 5 offensive rebounds, including two put packs on back to back possessions late in the fourth. He notched a 16 point, 12 rebound double double and hit one of the most crucial shots in the game, a three pointer to put the Rockets back up when the Clippers came roaring back. With Donatas Motiejunas continuing to slump in extended minutes (43 tonight, astonishing for a player who was warming the pine not long ago), Terrence Jones is going to have to keep coming up big. Much of this will be resolved once Houston’s one true center comes back, but with five more games until Dwight’s rumored return against Minnesota, the balancing act must continue a little longer.

    The bench rotation tightened even more, making this game perhaps a playoff preview. Joey Dorsey played a paltry 2 minutes, in which he bricked two free throws and did very little else. Corey Brewer was probably the best player off the bench, mostly due to a vicious transition dunk on Blake Griffin which immediately escalated into a quibble and a double technical foul. Despite his 3-10 shooting, he was still more of a sparkplug than Josh Smith or Jason Terry, neither of whom had a box score anywhere near up to snuff. The bench is going to have to do better than that, especially on nights when Glen Davis is actually active and scoring points.

    The sum total of the game was one letter: W. There were reasons for hope and reasons for concern, but when the standings are at stake, and a playoff rival is on the court, only one thing matters. The Rockets won and the Clippers lost. It didn’t matter that Matt Barnes tackled James Harden to the ground, because James Harden doesn’t have to think about Barnes any more. The Rockets won, and today winning was everything.

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    When Dwight gets back…http://www.red94.net/when-dwight-gets-back/15834/ http://www.red94.net/when-dwight-gets-back/15834/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 17:52:34 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15834 I wrote this morning on the impact of losing Dwight Howard, citing the team’s drop-off since losing the big man in both overall defensive efficiency and on the defensive glass.  While the disparity isn’t as big as you’d expect, it’s still significant. However, I’m wondering how the numbers would look if the pairing were Dwight […]

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    I wrote this morning on the impact of losing Dwight Howard, citing the team’s drop-off since losing the big man in both overall defensive efficiency and on the defensive glass.  While the disparity isn’t as big as you’d expect, it’s still significant.

    However, I’m wondering how the numbers would look if the pairing were Dwight and Terrence Jones, rather than Dwight and D-Mo or D-Mo and Jones.  In essence, I’m wondering how last season’s pairing would look now in light of Jones’ improvement.

    Jones is a far superior shot blocker and rebounder to D-Mo, so you would have to think the team’s rebounding rate would skyrocket with Dwight and Jones playing together.  But what happens to the offense?  The team’s offense has actually been better without Dwight, and that’s probably not too big of a shocker.  The floor is more spread, the middle is unclogged, and valuable possessions aren’t wasted on Dwight postups.  You could also say D-Mo is a better fit for Jones than Dwight.  D-Mo can play outside leaving the paint unclogged for Jones to operate.

    It will be interesting to see how things play out once Dwight comes back.  The team absolutely needs him to survive, but there will certainly be concerns.

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    Where things stand on the Houston Rockets fronthttp://www.red94.net/where-things-stand-on-the-houston-rockets-front/15828/ http://www.red94.net/where-things-stand-on-the-houston-rockets-front/15828/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 13:14:00 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15828 The NBA season is a funny thing, isn’t it?  It seems like just days ago that the league admitted ineptitude in its handling of a non-call that could’ve pushed the Rockets within inches of second in the West.  Instead, the team is licking its wounds after getting hammered inside by the Jazz, sitting in fourth, […]

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    The NBA season is a funny thing, isn’t it?  It seems like just days ago that the league admitted ineptitude in its handling of a non-call that could’ve pushed the Rockets within inches of second in the West.  Instead, the team is licking its wounds after getting hammered inside by the Jazz, sitting in fourth, and dangerously close to even seventh with the San Antonio Spurs rolling on all cylinders.  Whoever said the NBA season was a marathon wasn’t joking.  It was just yesterday it seems we were all bantering on Twitter whether Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones could be the team’s future at the 4-5, almost prematurely turning the page on the Dwight Howard era.  But after Rudy Gobert and the Blazers gobbled the Rockets big men up on the glass, the feeling in Houston is that Superman can’t come back soon enough.  It’s clearer than ever: despite his efforts in muddying up the Houston offense, this team doesn’t have a prayer in the postseason without Howard.

    Remember James Harden, MVP frontrunner extraordinaire?  He’s now shooting 40% on the month of March, and 25% on 3’s.  Harden is just as dangerously close to falling out of the MVP race as the team is to dropping to 7th.

    …but he’s just as close to reclaiming the lead as the Rockets are to catching Memphis.  It’s a marathon, and even after what seems like the worst loss of the season, the Rockets will probably rip off five straight again in the near future and look like the team they’ve looked like all season.  We’re going to be okay; the sky is not falling.  But there are concerns, of course.

    For one, Harden looks completely gassed.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the bearded man has effectively carried this team on his shoulders for the entire season.  I’d give serious thought to resting him here and there, just to ensure that he’s fresh for the postseason, especially after Howard’s return.  Motiejunas also has completely fallen off a cliff of late after early season brilliance inside.  He’s played more minutes now than he has at any other point in his life, and it’s clearly showing.  Those same hook shots that would fall with league-leading regularity are now routinely missing the mark.  This is just a case of a young player hitting the wall.

    Houston has slipped to 14th in offensive efficiency and sixth in defense.  They play at the third fastest pace in the entire league.  By comparison, on December 1st, after one month of basketball, Houston was 22nd in offense and second in defense, playing at the twelfth fastest pace.  The team has clearly morphed its ways after losing Dwight.

    How much have the Rockets missed the big man?  Howard last played on January 23rd.  Since that span, the Rockets have been eleventh in the league in defensive efficiency.  They’ve been dead last in the entire league in defensive rebounding percentage.  From November 1st up to January 23rd, Houston was 6th in defensive efficiency, and 22nd on the defensive boards.  (Since losing Howard, the Rockets have been 11th in offense).

    What does all of this mean?  The team clearly suffers a bit without Howard both on the boards and overall defensively.  They’re a little better on offense.  But you’d have to account for Terrence Jones as well, who is a superior rebounder to Donatas Motiejunas.  Perhaps with both Howard and Jones playing together, Houston is better than just 22nd on the defensive glass?

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    Portland Trail Blazers 105, Houston Rockets 100: Corey Brewesthttp://www.red94.net/portland-trail-blazers-105-houston-rockets-100-corey-brewest/15823/ http://www.red94.net/portland-trail-blazers-105-houston-rockets-100-corey-brewest/15823/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 05:46:42 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15823 Corey Brewer went into overdrive and very nearly willed the Rockets to a comeback win singlehandedly. Yes, this is a real thing that happened, and yes, it was a gut punch of a loss for the Rockets, but no, all is not lost. The big takeaway for Houston is that Corey Brewer is a fantastic […]

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    Corey Brewer went into overdrive and very nearly willed the Rockets to a comeback win singlehandedly. Yes, this is a real thing that happened, and yes, it was a gut punch of a loss for the Rockets, but no, all is not lost. The big takeaway for Houston is that Corey Brewer is a fantastic fit for the team and a great addition going forward. The small takeaway is that the Rockets really need Dwight Howard back in uniform. And the nails in the coffin were an alternating rotation of missed free throws, blown rebounds on defense and stagnant offense. The Rockets staged a mighty late comeback, run almost entirely by Corey Brewer, but with little help from Harden earlier in the game, it was just too much for one bench warrior to overcome. The damage was done, the game is over, and the Rockets slide back into the familiar fourth seed.

    The Rockets must now answer a question they’ve been asked all year: what do they do if opposing teams focus entirely on James Harden? He was largely contained tonight, with Blazers defenders parked inside his jersey, daring the other Rockets to do damage instead. Apart from the heroic efforts of Brewer, this gambit paid off for Portland. Whether Harden was feeling sluggish, having an off night, or simply stymied by Portland’s much-improved defense, the result was grim. Four points in the second half, none of which came in the critical fourth quarter. 18 points on 19 shots. No threes. 2 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals, a line which features exactly one stat worth noting. He was sluggish all night, apart from a couple nice plays in the first half. Harden needs to bounce back, and quickly.

    In fact, Harden should take a page from Corey Brewer’s book. Specifically, he should take the March 12, 2o15 page and just copy everything exactly. Here’s what’s on that page: 9-16 shooting, 3-5 on threes, 23 points, 2 crucial steals and 25 minutes played. He scored 17 points in the last 4 minutes of the game, and brought the team back from a certain loss to a mere heartbreaker instead. The Rockets were down 11 points late in the fourth, but managed to close it to a one point game with mere seconds to go. The game wasn’t out of reach until the Rockets failed, yet again, to secure a rebound after a crucial stop.

    In fact, rebounding was a major issue. Spoilers: missing your best rebounder against a team with size like Portland is a recipe for failure on the boards. The Rockets were outrebounded by a brutal 50%, with 40 vs 60. Aldridge alone had 14 of them and was a deadeye 12-20 from the field. Without Dwight Howard, there is no hope against LaMarcus, even if you get him in foul trouble, as Houston did. Unless he fouls out, he’s still going to stomp all over everyone, and rebound right over everyone except Dwight Howard.

    The good news there is that Dwight Howard is going to come back soon, and has been saying very reassuring things about his knee. The other good news is that the Rockets are extremely unlikely to play the Portland Trail Blazers in the playoffs. They would have to end up as the two and three seeds to realistically meet before the conference finals, which would require a drop off by the Grizzlies, and would require the Rockets to actually win a playoff series anyway.

    Long story short, everyone played terrible except for Brewer (seriously. don’t even look at the box score.), the Rockets hit 13 free throws and missed 10, and Houston was still right in it at the end because Corey Brewer is a superhero. There are some worries to take away from that game, but also some reasons to be hopeful. The Grizzlies and Blazers remain in striking distance, the 2nd seed and two rounds of homecourt are still on the table, and Dwight Howard is coming back soon. The only thing to do now is to win in Utah tomorrow.

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    The standings, the MVP race, the Pelicans, and the Hawkshttp://www.red94.net/standings-mvp-race-pelicans-hawks/15803/ http://www.red94.net/standings-mvp-race-pelicans-hawks/15803/#comments Mon, 09 Mar 2015 00:42:23 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15803 We have to get to the second seed now because the Spurs have climbed to sixth.  Last week, when the officials handed the Memphis Grizzlies a win by blowing a call the league later admitted should have been made, I said it hurt because the second seed was so very much within reach.  Many of […]

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    We have to get to the second seed now because the Spurs have climbed to sixth.  Last week, when the officials handed the Memphis Grizzlies a win by blowing a call the league later admitted should have been made, I said it hurt because the second seed was so very much within reach.  Many of you responded that seeding did not matter, something I had been saying all year, and I agreed.  But with San Antonio having won five straight now, and the Mavs slumping, seeding very much does matter.  Out of the field, the Spurs and Mavs are the two best matchups for Houston.  But I think San Antonio is decidedly more frightening.  It’s true that Houston’s advantage athletically would be overwhelming.  But in the playoffs, the Spurs are a different beast.  You’d just think that they’d find some way, some combination, to overcome Houston.

    An interesting conversation emerged Wednesday night on the Twitterverse after another Russell Westbrook explosion.  Most agreed that if the Thunder point guard continued at his current pace, and if the Thunder claimed the 8th seed, he deserved the MVP.  I concur with that sentiment.  And its unfortunate for James Harden, a player who has sustained greatness throughout the course of the season, because he holds claim to neither exteme in team success and individual statistics, unlike Westbrook and Steph Curry.  This year’s race almost feels presidential, with a new frontrunner emerging weekly, with the fear being of peaking too soon.  Westbrook, Curry, and of course Harden, would all be worthy candidates, but may I opine for a moment about Lebron James?  He’s been godly, as usual, and undoubtedly is the difference between a bonafide Finals contender and a trip to the lottery.  But how can a voter in good conscience vote for someone who, in essence, took a two week vacation, when other candidates have carried their teams for the entire 82 game stretch?

    Here’s a Rockets fan problem: if Westbrook, like, averages a triple double the rest of the way, and the Thunder get in, he’s the MVP.  So then do you need to hope for the Pelicans making the 8th seed?  While that might get Harden the MVP, it also lowers the value of the Pelicans pick which Houston owns.  But on the flip side, Houston’s best chance at the Finals is with someone else taking Golden State out along the way – the Pelicans wouldn’t have a prayer, unlike a healthy Thunder team.

    One final note on the Hawks: it’s funny looking back to the early days of the season when Paul Millsap was one of our favorite topics of discussion.  For one, we don’t need a power forward anymore.  But what’s more, is how we were all wrong.  In those days, the Hawks were still good and near the top of the standings, but hadn’t yet taken flight.  I used to say that I didn’t think Millsap would be on the market because the team was doing well.  Many of you responded that it didn’t matter if they were just “doing well”…they were on the mediocrity treadmill.  I agreed that they were on the mediocrity treadmill but said they were content with it.  Not so much on the mediocrity treadmill now, are they?  What does that tell us?  I’ve said before, I think this year moreso than any in recent history, underscores the importance of coaching in the NBA.  We saw it before on the defensive side, with teams like the Bulls overachieving on the strength of solid defenses.  But now, we’re seeing two teams in Golden State and Atlanta, blowing away the rest of the league, after bringing back the exact same rosters they had from the previous season.  Where do the Rockets fit into all of this?  For as much as Morey shares about his philosophy regarding player personnel, he’s a pretty closed book when it comes to his views on coaching.  The one quote I do recall is one where he said something like, “a coach isn’t worth more than 5 wins” or something like that.  I wonder if that thinking has changed.

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    Houston Rockets 114, Denver Nuggets 100: Bench Energyhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-114-denver-nuggets-100-bench-energy-2/15796/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-114-denver-nuggets-100-bench-energy-2/15796/#comments Sun, 08 Mar 2015 10:16:33 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15796 Tonight was the fourth game in five nights for both Denver and Houston, and it showed. Both teams were tired and the fourth quarter was essentially garbage time for the starters. In a game like this, the team which strikes first can gain a quick, permanent advantage. But while the Nuggets started off strong at […]

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    Tonight was the fourth game in five nights for both Denver and Houston, and it showed. Both teams were tired and the fourth quarter was essentially garbage time for the starters.

    In a game like this, the team which strikes first can gain a quick, permanent advantage. But while the Nuggets started off strong at the beginning of both halves and grabbed an 11-point lead in the first quarter, the Houston bench and Corey Brewer rallied, punched the Nuggets in the mouth, and never looked back. Better energy and size meant that the Rockets pounded the ball inside and forced the Nuggets into jump shot after jump shot, something which the Nuggets announcers harped on endlessly.

    I have discussed Houston’s lack of size without Howard several times. But with Jusuf Nurkic nursing an ankle sprain, the Nuggets’ starting frontcourt was Faried and Gallinari. Such a lineup had no hope of keeping the Rockets out of the paint. Houston outscored Denver 48-36 there, and shot 24 free throws to 15.

    But it wasn’t just Harden who slashed into the paint over and over again. Corey Brewer was a relentless spark of energy in a game which lacked so much of that. He crashed the glass and hustled to 24 points on 16 shots, and rallied the Rockets after the Nuggets made their two initial runs. Harden and McHale made it clear: Brewer won the Rockets the game tonight.

    Jason Terry and Joey Dorsey can do some things, but Houston’s bench survives off of its midseason acquisitions of Brewer and Josh Smith. Smith commits too many mistakes to ever be part of the starting lineup, but his skills and athleticism helped a lot tonight as well. One thing I would observe about Smith is that he seems to have committed himself to the Moreyball “3 and layup” strategy. And while Smith’s three-point shooting has been problematic, it is not my biggest concern about his play. I worry more about how he forces too many risky plays while he has the ball. Just like Harden has a very high turnover rate for a shooting guard, so does Smith for a power forward.

    In addition to the bench, Jones and Motiejunas worked over the smaller Nuggets for a change. Motiejunas scored 18 points, but these did not come out of the post as often compared to his past games. Instead, he ran the floor and got into the right places for a Harden or Josh Smith pass. Given Motiejunas’s post struggles as of late, it is a good way for him to rebound. Jones did not score well, but I did not even notice that until I looked at the boxscore. He was everywhere tonight, especially on defense.

    Oh, and Harden had 28 points. Just another night for him.

    A victory over the Nuggets may not seem to be anything to boast about. However, Houston’s main rivals in the playoff seeding, Memphis and Portland, blew games against inferior competition tonight. It is a shame that the playoffs cannot start today, for the seeding as of today is perfect for the Rockets. Houston would avoid the Clippers and the Warriors for the first two rounds and face off against the Mavericks in the first. Oklahoma City is in to possibly knock off the Warriors as well.

    The Rockets are in third place, they have fewer games against +.500 teams than all but one of their Western Conference competitors (Los Angeles), and Harden’s MVP case looks as strong as ever. These past two games have been a good rebound from that ugly mess against Memphis.

    Now, for the first time since that horrible May night last year, the Rockets will return to Portland and the Rose Garden on Wednesday.

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    Houston Rockets 103, Detroit Pistons 93: Oh no biggie, just another triple doublehttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-103-detroit-pistons-93-oh-no-biggie-just-another-triple-double/15786/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-103-detroit-pistons-93-oh-no-biggie-just-another-triple-double/15786/#comments Sat, 07 Mar 2015 05:16:35 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15786 Player A: 28.3 points per game on 20.6 shots, 5.4 assists, 24.2 PER, .576 TS%, .208 WS/48, +7.0 on/off Splits. Player B: 26.9 points per game on 18.0 shots, 7.0 assists, 26.9 PER, .608 TS%, .270 WS/48, +11.7 on/off Splits. Player A is Kobe Bryant in 2007-08, when he won his only MVP (which he […]

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    Player A: 28.3 points per game on 20.6 shots, 5.4 assists, 24.2 PER, .576 TS%, .208 WS/48, +7.0 on/off Splits.

    Player B: 26.9 points per game on 18.0 shots, 7.0 assists, 26.9 PER, .608 TS%, .270 WS/48, +11.7 on/off Splits.

    Player A is Kobe Bryant in 2007-08, when he won his only MVP (which he should not have won, but I will digress). Player B is Harden this year.

    Oh, and tonight Harden picked up his third triple-double of the season, scored 38 points, and led an 18-0 run in the fourth quarter which all but ended the game with 5 minutes left. Just Harden stuff.

    As great as Harden is, even he is not capable of winning a game entirely by himself. The Rockets needed to make sure that Detroit’s big men did not run amok like they did in the last contest between these two teams, a Pistons victory. They also had to keep Reggie Jackson from scoring at will just like D.J. Augustin did last time.

    The Rockets managed to accomplish both tasks – and in words which I thought I would never utter this season, the Rockets might need more Joey Dorsey. Unusual times may require unusual measures, but with Howard out and Motiejunas slumping hard, Dorsey and Jones stepped in to stop Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

    As our own Robert Dover pointed out a few weeks ago, Dorsey has some advantages. He is quick for a center, has good hands, and has a very solid base. Longer-time Rockets fans may remember how the beloved Chuck Hayes anchored Houston’s defense for multiple seasons. Dorsey is nowhere as smart on the defensive end compared to the Chuckwagon, but there are similarities. Dorsey managed to body up Drummond for much of the game and keep the offensively challenged center off tilt. While Drummond managed to grab 21 rebounds over Dorsey, Dorsey still won by forcing him into a 4-16 shooting performance.

    And then there is Terrence Jones. Houston’s second-best player has fluctuated from Howard to Motiejunas to Smith throughout the season, but I would have to say that Jones has been that player over the last few games. There was a brief scare early in the second quarter when he left for the locker with what appeared to be a right hip strain, but he came back with a minute left in that quarter and scored a three-point play before halftime. Jones’s versatility is a huge asset for a Rockets team that at times seems to compartmentalize its players – there are the shooters, there is the superstar Harden, there is the low-post Motiejunas and so on. I realize that this invites further comparisons with Josh Smith, but I would note two differences. First, Smith has a real knack for the pass and finding the open man which Jones does not have and probably never will. On the other hand, Jones does not have Smith’s three-point problem. And Smith’s three-point shooting has fallen back to Josh Smith levels after that hot spurt last month.

    Now, as for Motiejunas. After scoring over some of the best defensive big men in the league this season, it was disheartening to watch Motiejunas fail to struggle over “one foot out of the NBA” Anthony Tolliver. If that was not enough, Motiejunas got into foul trouble in the first half and played just 19 minutes tonight. While Houston’s hopes for Motiejunas are far higher now compared to the start of the regular season, the past order has reasserted itself. Like he did last year, Jones currently appears to be the better of the two.

    In light of Motiejunas’s struggles, I believe Rockets fans should understand what should be expected from him. Motiejunas in past interviews has compared himself to Luis Scola, and their games bear similarities. Comparing Motiejunas to a younger version of Scola can show where he needs to improve in comparison to Scola and the league. Motiejunas’s differences from Scola, where he could learn from the former Rockets forward, and how he is similar – but he can start by stealing a march on Scola and play the defense he showed earlier this season. That would represent a change from his past few games.

    With 20 games left, the Rockets are 42-20. That is one game behind the Rockets team from last year which had a healthy Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons in place of Trevor Ariza. Furthermore, the defense focus of this team should reduce variability and prevent any slump like that which killed the Rockets last year. And as Morey pointed out around the trade deadline, the Rockets have never had a fully healthy lineup. Either Jones or Howard have been injured aside from the very beginning, at which point Houston had not obtained Brewer and Smith.

    Tonight was a solid win over an inferior team thanks to another MVP performance from Harden and a sound defensive game from Jones and Dorsey. Sometimes that is all you need.

    The post Houston Rockets 103, Detroit Pistons 93: Oh no biggie, just another triple double appeared first on Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings.

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    A night of basketball on March 5: The non-call, Terrence Jones, and the Canaanballhttp://www.red94.net/night-basketball-march-5-non-call-terrence-jones-caanaanball/15750/ http://www.red94.net/night-basketball-march-5-non-call-terrence-jones-caanaanball/15750/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 14:21:04 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15750 First off, if you haven’t yet, check out Episode 72 of The Red94 Podcast where Richard Li and I delved into some of the data pertaining to the team.  We looked at bench usage, crunch time effectiveness, and, of course, Dwight Howard postups. Now, to turn your attention to the real topic of the moment: […]

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    First off, if you haven’t yet, check out Episode 72 of The Red94 Podcast where Richard Li and I delved into some of the data pertaining to the team.  We looked at bench usage, crunch time effectiveness, and, of course, Dwight Howard postups.

    Now, to turn your attention to the real topic of the moment:

     

    It hurts to go down like this in such an important game, with the 2 seed on the line.  (Yes, I get that #3 is probably more favorable at this point, but for bragging rights, it’s the 2 seed man!  We haven’t finished that high since I was in middle school.)  And it was clearly a foul, as shown above.  But what’s the use?  It happened, we’ll take our apology from the league and I guess wear it proudly in the standings?  But I guess the greater issue is the ramifications.  As Paul mentioned in the recap, there isn’t much evidence of a downtick in foul calls overall in the postseason.  But close and late?  One would have to imagine there would be a greater aversion to blowing the whistle for contact in the paint.  Fortunately, Harden has spent all season perfecting the art of the mid-range.  I was actually surprised he drove it in last night on that play.

    It hurt to lose, but you can think of this loss, and the one against Atlanta, (as well as the win over the Cavs), in one of two ways.  First, we actually hung with or beat three of the top teams in the league, without Dwight Howard.  Actually, when you throw in wins over the likes of the Clippers, we’ve demonstrated an ability to compete with just about everyone in the league, save for Golden State, without Dwight.  That bodes well for the future, if factoring in Dwight’s inevitable return.  On the flip side, you could argue that we might not ever get the real Dwight Howard back, and if he insists on murking things up in the halfcourt with his postups, there will be an overall loss in the aggregate.  We’ll just have to see how it plays out when he comes back.  Houston could’ve desperately used Dwight’s size inside last night in the paint to contend with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.  But do they score as freely as they have been if a reduced version of Dwight is in there instead of Terrence Jones and Motiejunas?  We saw an extreme example of this late in the game last night where a lineup featuring James Harden at power forward was so offensively overwhelming that it surged the team back into the game.  As I said yesterday in the podcast, the best thing Dwight Howard can do for the Rockets, aside from getting healthy, is to embrace becoming Tyson Chandler.  I’m not holding my breath.

    2.  Look at Terrence Jones’ last six games: 15 and 15, 14 and 8, 26 and 12, 19 and 7, 18 and 8, and 21 and 9.  At just 23 years old, he’s looking like a budding All-Star, taking a step even beyond the colossal step he took last season.  We see now that he’s scoring, even without Dwight, and against the best teams in the league, a valuable development over last season.  (While his splits with Dwight off the court were stellar, Jones did not fare well against the league’s top teams).  Kevin McHale isn’t having to go small to close every game anymore (and although he did last night, it wasn’t at the sacrifice of Jones).  The big question now will be whether Jones can consistently defend the paint against the top 4’s in the Western Conference.  I wanted to trade Jones, most notably for Goran Dragic, but in hindsight, perhaps Houston dodged a bullet?  It might be premature to go that far as Dragic is of course coming off an all-NBA season, but if Jones continues this trajectory, his loss would’ve been tough to swallow in the event Dragic walked in free agency.  Especially with Dwight Howard’s future up in the air.  But with Josh Smith and Motiejunas already holding down the fort, maybe a point guard would do more in the short term?  That leads us to point #3.

    3.

    I wrote the day of the trade that if I could ask Kevin McHale just one question, it would be about Isaiah Canaan.  What exactly happened leading up to the banishment of a player who in theory, seemed to have every tool this team was craving for in a point guard?  There are those of course who will point to Russell Westbrook’s stat line last night, or rough nights yet to come for Canaan.  But that’s missing the point entirely.  While I thought Canaan could one day start, that’s not what this team needed.  They just needed a guy to come in and give them 15-20 minutes a night of playmaking and accurate shooting from the point guard position.  Canaan could have fit that role to a tee, if given the chance.  Instead, the Rockets traded him for a guy who, while in theory was an exciting acquisition, will probably never see the light of day.  With Houston in contention for the 2 seed, in maybe the most brutal conference in league history, without Dwight Howard, it’s tough to find fault with Kevin McHale’s coaching these days.  But after Lowry, and now Canaan, a disturbing trend seems to have evolved surrounding McHale and his point guards.  We don’t know exactly what happened, but given the facts on the face of things, the speculation seems to add up.  Maybe the tight ship McHale runs, while alienating his generals, has directly contributed to the team overachieving in every regular season since he’s been here.  If that’s the case, shedding a few bad apples who don’t want to buy in was certainly defensible.  But from what we know, which is nothing, aside from the fact that Isaiah Canaan is a baller and we let him go for nothing, the entire episode seems curious.  You’re telling me a team running the worst point guard unit of any playoff team in the league couldn’t make use of 20 minutes a game of that kind of firepower (shown above)?  Really?

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    Memphis Grizzlies 102, Houston Rockets 100: I’m not saying it was the refs…http://www.red94.net/memphis-grizzlies-102-houston-rockets-100-im-not-saying-refs/15748/ http://www.red94.net/memphis-grizzlies-102-houston-rockets-100-im-not-saying-refs/15748/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 07:08:15 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15748 One argument which is often trotted out against Moreyball is that a reliance on free throws will not work in the more physical postseason. Referees will call fewer fouls and thus it will be more important to hit that mid-range jump shot. But the reality is there is no evidence that the refs swallow their […]

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    One argument which is often trotted out against Moreyball is that a reliance on free throws will not work in the more physical postseason. Referees will call fewer fouls and thus it will be more important to hit that mid-range jump shot. But the reality is there is no evidence that the refs swallow their whistles more in the postseason. For example, the 2013-14 Rockets shot 31 free throws a game in the regular season. Against Portland, that dropped all the way to 30.

    And as tonight showed, you don’t need to wait until the postseason for the referees to swallow their whistles. Zach Randolph hacked Harden on Houston’s final drive, Marc Gasol made a tough jumper over Terrence Jones, and the Rockets lost a chance to come within half a game of second place in the West. The game was not lost just by the fact that Houston grabbed only 5 free throw attempts tonight (the same amount as during that other badly-reffed game of the season against Chicago), but it did not help.

    So what were the other reasons for tonight’s loss? The big problem, especially during the second half, was that Houston just does not have the size to fight Randolph-Gasol without Dwight Howard. The Rockets entered the second half with a 59-54 lead, but then those two scored or assisted on every Memphis bucket for the first 10 minutes of the third quarter. Terrence Jones played well, Josh Smith was okay, and Donatas Motiejunas was awful. But none of them could stop Gasol and Randolph from getting into the paint and causing havoc.

    As noted above, Motiejunas in particular struggled throughout the game. Part of that could be attributed to another poor call. With 8:21 left in the second quarter, Motiejunas was called for a blocking foul, his third of the game, despite being clearly set. This forced him out for the rest of the half, and the Rockets resorted to playing (gulp) Dorsey.

    However, Motiejunas’s 4-12 shooting performance is his worst scoring game efficiency-wise in almost two months. Instead, Terrence Jones had an All-Star caliber performance tonight. He scored 21 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, and hit several key shots down the final stretch. But as long as Howard is out, the Rockets need Jones and Motiejunas to not just play well, but to fill in for Howard’s role as a rim protector. And it would be nice if both of them could play well at the same time.

    The Rockets have three fundamental weaknesses. If they lose in the playoffs, it will be due to an inability to overcome said weaknesses. They do not have enough size without Howard. Even when he returns, Houston will need to figure out what to do when he sits. They rely too much on Harden to create their entire offense, which is the reason for their horrendous turnover rate. Prigioni could help with this, but McHale did not play him tonight. And for as much as people talk about Moreyball, the Rockets are not a good three-point shooting team. Tonight, the first mistake did them in.

    Also, a shout-out to Patrick Beverley, who seems to be getting out of that horrible slump of the past few weeks. Since returning from his flu-like symptoms, he is shooting 44% from long-range in the past four games. The Rockets need Beverley to make his shots and not be the next Rafer Alston. Trevor Ariza shot extremely well – from mid-range. He missed all four of his three-pointers.

    The Rockets can point to a lot of positives tonight. Despite a major size disadvantage, they managed to battle the third-best NBA team to what should have been an overtime game. And while the ending sucked, Houston is still 13-3 in games decided by 5 points or less. A great deal of what we call “clutch” comes down to mere luck. Houston will win some and lose some in that situation, and things just went badly for them tonight. They need to figure out how to tangle with big teams without Howard, Donatas Motiejunas needs to regain his play from earlier in the season, and it will be nice to see Houston get the call and the free throw for a change.

    But these are things which can be fixed or improved upon. And with a little over a month left until the Playoffs, the Rockets must work to iron out the last few kinks – kinks which cost them tonight just as much as one stupid call.

    The post Memphis Grizzlies 102, Houston Rockets 100: I’m not saying it was the refs… appeared first on Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings.

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    The Red94 Podcast: Episode 72http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-episode-72/15721/ http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-episode-72/15721/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 01:26:54 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15721 Download this episode (right click and save) In this week’s episode, Rahat and Richard Li dig into the numbers to assess the team’s bench usage, crunch time effectiveness, and Dwight Howard postups.

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    Download this episode (right click and save)

    In this week’s episode, Rahat and Richard Li dig into the numbers to assess the team’s bench usage, crunch time effectiveness, and Dwight Howard postups.

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    Updated Bench Datahttp://www.red94.net/updated-bench-data/15717/ http://www.red94.net/updated-bench-data/15717/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 21:43:55 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15717 Time to see how the Rockets bench usage and performance has changed since the additions of Smith, Brewer, et al. Usage has increased a little bit from 34% to 35% since mid-January. Effectiveness has increased a bit more, from a -0.8 net rating to a 1.8 net rating. While the usage is still 3rd to last, […]

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    Click for a full-sized interactive version

    Click for a full-sized interactive version

    Time to see how the Rockets bench usage and performance has changed since the additions of Smith, Brewer, et al. Usage has increased a little bit from 34% to 35% since mid-January. Effectiveness has increased a bit more, from a -0.8 net rating to a 1.8 net rating. While the usage is still 3rd to last, the Rockets are now ahead of seven other teams who are tied for 2nd to last and last place. The net rating now puts the Rockets above the NBA bench average.

    Worth noting is the overall increase in bench usage across the NBA. In late 2013, when I first started keeping track of this data, the NBA average for bench usage was a shade above 35%. It is now barely below 38%. Given the emphasis on player health over the past two seasons, this shouldn’t be too surprising.

    Also worth noting is how a team like the Golden State Warriors (I admit sometimes I reference them solely for the purpose of pissing off Rahat) has adjusted. In December 2013, they were dead last in the league with a 28% bench usage. Their bench’s net rating was -2.7. That season I wrote that they were so dependent on their starters that a single injury would spell disaster. Then Bogut got hurt and I felt vindicated. Fast forward to this season. The Warriors now play their bench 38% of the time, slightly above league average. Their bench is also the second most effective in the league with a net rating of 5.9. Clearly there are several other factors contributing to the Warriors’ recent success, but I think this is one of them. More importantly for them, it also predicts greater sustainability later in the season.

    The Rockets have certainly improved in this regard, but can probably still do more given how deep the team has become. In last night’s game sans Harden and Howard, the Rockets only played eight men. Each starter played at least 32 minutes. Notably, KJ McDaniels didn’t play at all. It seemed like a pretty golden opportunity for him to stretch his legs and gain confidence against a quality opponent. Some old habits just seem to have a hard time dying.

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    Houston Rockets @ Memphis Grizzlies: feat. Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Bluehttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-memphis-grizzlies-feat-chip-crain-3-shades-blue/15712/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-memphis-grizzlies-feat-chip-crain-3-shades-blue/15712/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 17:00:59 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15712 Teams: Houston Rockets @ Memphis Grizzlies Time: Wednesday, March 4.  7:00 p.m. CT Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX Television: Root Sports Insider’s View – Q&A with Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue.  Follow Chip on Twitter @chipc3 and @3ShadesofBlue. For the other side of the conversation I had with Chip, check out 3sob.com. MF – I honestly never understood it, […]

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    Teams: Houston Rockets @ Memphis Grizzlies
    Time: Wednesday, March 4.  7:00 p.m. CT
    Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
    Television: Root Sports

    Insider’s View – Q&A with Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue.  Follow Chip on Twitter @chipc3 and @3ShadesofBlue.

    For the other side of the conversation I had with Chip, check out 3sob.com.

    MF – I honestly never understood it, but there were Rockets fans that were happy to see Courtney Lee shipped out to Boston a few years ago. Gasol is generally recognized as the best center in the NBA, Z-Bo and Tony Allen get plenty of grit-and-grind love, and Mike Conley makes just about every “most underrated” list. But how important is Lee to what the Grizzlies like to do?  

    CC – Courtney Lee is vital to the Grizzlies success this season. Everyone knows about Conley, Gasol and Randolph and the Green acquisition has been well covered but Courtney Lee’s outside shot is every bit as important as the other starters. Memphis is 18-2 this season when Lee hits at least 2 three point shots. Considering that Lee is the third best 3 point shooter in the league, the fact that he has only accomplished this feet 20 times is disturbing and reflects the problem with Lee. He doesn’t appear to like taking a lot of shots.

    Lee focuses hard on defense, takes proper shots and defers to others more often than he should. Joerger has repeatedly said Lee needs to take the shots he gets when open rather than force the ball to others. When Lee doesn’t take the open shots teams collapse into the lane making it more difficult for anyone else to score.

    What’s the biggest difference about the Grizzlies now that Jeff Green is on the team?

    That’s a good question. Many pundits have talked about how Jeff Green has made the Grizzlies so much better, and the team is 16-5 with Green starting at SF, but his individual difference isn’t that great. Green has fit into a role where he is at times the 5th offensive option so he offensive impact is limited, his defense isn’t as good as the player he replaced (Tayshaun Prince) and his rebounding isn’t anything to write home about even if it is an improvement on Prince.

    However, Green does force teams to stay with him out to the 3 point line and that alone makes it easier for Gasol and Randolph to operate inside. Teams left Prince alone all the time. Green will punish teams that ignore him. Prince couldn’t.

    Speaking of Green, he’s been the upgrade at small forward the Griz needed, but how much do you personally miss James Johnson? He never had any huge stat lines against Houston last season, but he still gave the Rockets fits, breaking up pick-and-rolls and keeping possessions alive with big rebounds. Naturally, he put up 27 points, 5 boards, 4 steals and 4 blocks in his first game against Houston with the Raptors, because of course he did. Were you sad to see him go?

    Interesting question. James Johnson is an incredible talent on the court capable of exploding at any moment and in any manner. That was his downfall in Memphis. JJ gave the team life on some nights and yet he never seemed content and that caused the problems that allowed him to leave town. It wasn’t so much is talent on the court as his attitude off it that was his downfall.

    Personally I enjoyed watching him do his thing on the court but it was clear by the end of last season that Johnson and Joerger weren’t getting along and I wasn’t surprised or disappointed when he signed elsewhere. It was expected.

    You hear a lot of talk about what a matchup problem the Grizzlies can be for other teams because of their size and toughness, but what kind of match-ups/game plans give Memphis the most trouble? Are there any teams specifically that you would like to see them avoid in Round 1 of the playoffs? (Assuming they keep the 2-seed)

    Frankly every playoff team in the Western Conference gives me worry. When Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Dallas are the 1st round road opponents every team should know it will be a fight to win the conference.

    I would particularly not like seeing Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the 1st round but based on current standings the Grizzlies likely will face one of them. San Antonio had Memphis’ number for the last few seasons prior to the Grizzlies winning the last two games (including an epic triple OT win in San Antonio) but the Spurs weren’t at 100% in those games. OKC has beaten the Grizzlies in the playoffs in 2 of the last 4 years, both series going 7 games, but a well rested Durant and Westbrook in the playoffs is frightening.

    In the upper half I would want to avoid Houston and Golden State as long as possible since their perimeter games are very difficult for the Grizzlies big man defense to contain.

    What number do you think Marc Gasol will play with on the Knicks next year since Patrick Ewing’s #33 is already retired? Pau’s #16??

    Kidding, kidding. But seriously, how worried are you that he might move on, or is this all just a formality and he’d never actually leave Memphis?

    I am not even thinking of Gasol wearing Knicks colors next season. Why would he take less money and a shorter contract to play in the mess that is on the court at Madison Square Gardens right now? People forget but Gasol’s parents and younger brother live in Memphis. Marc graduated from a Memphis high school while Pau played here. Marc also consistently has said he wants to play with Zach Randolph who he calls his brother from another mother. I don’t see anything New York can offer to attract him away from Memphis.

    I’m concerned he will move, but not worried if that makes any sense. A big market city with a lot of cash and a winning franchise would be tough for him to turn down even with his family ties and Zach Randolph in Memphis. I could see the Spurs, Lakers, Heat and possibly Chicago making offers that would be hard to turn down. Reuniting with Lionel Hollins and New Jersey isn’t likely either but you never know.

    The only way to get Marc out of Memphis in my opinion is to offer a larger market where he could offset the loss in NBA income with advertising contracts and a strong Spanish population.

    The post Houston Rockets @ Memphis Grizzlies: feat. Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue appeared first on Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings.

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    Houston Rockets 96, Atlanta Hawks 104: Close, but no cigarhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-96-atlanta-hawks-104-close-no-cigar/15714/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-96-atlanta-hawks-104-close-no-cigar/15714/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 13:06:58 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15714 Tuesday night in Atlanta, the Houston Rockets were missing suspended James Harden and injured Dwight Howard, on the road, against the best team in the Eastern Conference.  They didn’t win, but if Daryl Morey has taught me anything, it’s that this isn’t always a results-based program. Although not through the NBA’s typical scheduling process, this was […]

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    Tuesday night in Atlanta, the Houston Rockets were missing suspended James Harden and injured Dwight Howard, on the road, against the best team in the Eastern Conference.  They didn’t win, but if Daryl Morey has taught me anything, it’s that this isn’t always a results-based program.

    Although not through the NBA’s typical scheduling process, this was as much of a “schedule loss” as the Rockets will face all season.  And yet, Kevin McHale had Morey’s motley crew kicking and clawing (and for a long stretch, beating) the East-leading Hawks.  But when things slowed down in the fourth, and the Rockets couldn’t get out on the break, Atlanta choked-out Houston’s wily offense and put the game away.

    The Rockets missed Harden, definitely, but it’s not like they were punchless.   Houston led by 9 at the end of the first, 14 at halftime and 9 again going into the third quarter, mainly thanks to some wizard interior passing and a throwback Jason Terry performance.  Terrence Jones (18 pts, 8 rebs, 2 ast, 3 blk) was an absolute menace in the paint, causing Hawks great and color commentator Dominique Wilkins to gush over him multiple times down the court.  Terry (21 pts on 8-13 shooting, 4-8 from 3) carried the Rockets through the middle of the game, scoring 20 of his 21 points in the second and third quarters.  But while JET and TJ were definitely the stars of the game for the Rockets, they combined for a +/- of minus-25 for the game.

    It was interesting listening to Nique digest this game as it went along.  He loved Jones, but could’t decide what to think about Donatas Motiejunas.  He kept mentioning that D-Mo shooting the three was what the Hawks wanted, even as he went 3-6 from deep.   Motiejunas also looked like a force in the middle for stretches, and a huge liability at others.  He had several beautiful post moves, and along with Houston’s other big men, made multiple pinpoint passes for scores.  But there were also times when D-Mo couldn’t stop letting his man score, especially Al Horford.  And once again, Motiejunas missed several bunnies around the rim, continuing what’s become a troubling trend.

    Josh Smith, back in Atlanta, was in typical hot-and-cold form (14 pts, 7 rebs, 3 ast, 2 blk in only 24 mins).  At one point he got a fortunate bounce off the rim to sink a three-pointer, forcing Atlanta to call timeout.  As he jogged back to the Rockets’ bench,  Smith held a finger to his mouth, beckoning Hawks fans in attendance to quiet down.  Shortly after, Smith hit another three in transition, again inviting the crowd to have a seat.  But from that point on Smith seemed like he was pressing, turning the ball over on multiple possessions, fouling unnecessarily, and missing 3 of 4 shot attempts in the fourth.

    Jeff Teague finished with what had to be the quietest 25 points of the season, with a very James Harden-esque shooting performance (7-12 FG, 9-11 FT).  Dennis Schoeder added 16 pts, 4 rebs and 8 ast off the bench, while Paul Milsap and Horford combined for 34 points and 22 rebounds.  The Hawks missed seemingly every momentum-swinging, run-capping shot they took until the fourth quarter, when they dropped 32 on Houston.

    If you ever wondered how the Rockets would look without Harden’s one-0n-one skills, last night was your answer.  There were times when the offense was electric.  Fast breaks, swing passes – the ball bouncing around like hot potato – usually ending with an easy lay-in.  And there were times when it was chaotic, sometimes aimless and oftentimes reckless.

    Harden’s steady left hand at the helm would have probably gotten the W, but it was kinda nice to see what the rest of the Rockets could do when left to there own devices.  The Rockets’ B-squad stood toe-to-toe in the center of the ring with one hand tied behind their back, and took every punch the Beast from the East had, losing a close decision.  We got to see what the rest of the Rockets were made of, and Harden got a good night’s rest heading into a tough matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night. Things could be worse for Houston.

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    The chess match: Clippers vs Rocketshttp://www.red94.net/chess-match-clippers-vs-rockets/15684/ http://www.red94.net/chess-match-clippers-vs-rockets/15684/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 23:21:24 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15684 A popular opinion I’ve seen expressed is that the Rockets’ game against the Cavaliers on Sunday was their most entertaining of the season. While it has a strong case, for sheer strategic richness my vote has to go to another game played in the last week – their matchup with the Clippers. Chris Paul and […]

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    chess[1]A popular opinion I’ve seen expressed is that the Rockets’ game against the Cavaliers on Sunday was their most entertaining of the season. While it has a strong case, for sheer strategic richness my vote has to go to another game played in the last week – their matchup with the Clippers. Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan are a lethal pick-and-roll tandem and Doc Rivers has designed plenty of different ways for them to unlock their potential. On the other side of the court, the Rockets have been doing a great job on the defensive end this season and had a number of different approaches to defending it. It all added up to a riveting cat-and-mouse game, and in this post I’m going to play it back and show you how the two teams continually tried to outsmart each other by shifting their strategies.

    Act 1: The Show Must Go On

    The Rockets started out using Motiejunas to guard Jordan and show on the pick and roll. D-Mo is very good at doing this and recovering to his man and the tactic worked out very well with the Clippers failing to score on all of these possessions. Note though the weakness of this defensive strategy – in the first and third clips Jones is forced to rotate over to Jordan to prevent the lob, leaving Spencer Hawes wide open at the three point line. Fortunately Hawes was off in this game and missed both times, but if he’s making that shot the Rockets would probably have to try something different.

    Act 2: Reading to the Baby

    After some initial failures, the Clippers decided to change things up by using Glen Davis as the roll man. Big Baby presents a different challenge because of his pick-and-pop threat, and it was put to good use in this sequence. Chris Paul is focused mainly on Josh Smith’s choices in all three clips. First, he sees Smith leaving Davis to ‘ice’ the pick-and-roll. Smith contains Paul’s drive but leaves Davis wide open for the jumper. On the next possession Smith has learned his lesson and sticks to Davis. This fares no better as Paul uses the freedom he’s been given to drive, draw D-Mo’s rotation and then put up the lob for Jordan (watching Jordan dunk is spectacular, I must say). Having seen that sticking to Big Baby is a mistake, Josh switches back to trying to contain Paul. Once again Paul reads this and feeds Davis for the open jumper, but this time he misses badly. On balance this is an effective play for the Clippers but if defended well relies on Davis hitting mid-range jumpers, which he doesn’t do consistently enough to be a true threat.

    Act 3: Going Under

    The Clippers go back to a simple Paul-Jordan screen action, and the Rockets have decided to change things up to keep CP3 guessing. Now instead of showing on the screen, Motiejunas drops back and gives Paul’s defender space to come underneath. This works well in the first two clips, where they manage to catch Paul in two minds. The standard response to a defender going under a screen is to drill a jumper in their face, but in both cases Paul doesn’t recognise what’s going on until it is too late to do so. You can see in each one the moment where he thinks about pulling up – in the second one he actually surrenders his dribble as a result. But the perils of this approach are made clear in the third clip. Terry gets caught on DeAndre Jordan’s screen (technically an illegal one), giving Paul space to pull up. Motiejunas is forced to come out to contest and that leaves Jordan unimpeded to roll to the hoop and catch the lob. Oh dear. I think this is defense the Rockets have to use selectively against Paul – he’s too smart not to start picking up on it if you go to it often and his jump shot is good enough that he’ll make you pay for it. In small doses though it seems to work well provided the point guard can navigate the pick properly.

    Act 4: Run It Again!

    One of the things that made researching this article so fun was seeing how often the Clippers would repeat their plays. If Chris Paul sees one he likes, he will signal to run it again the next time up the court. You can’t see it in the clips above, but he’s made that motion several times here as they ran this play three times in a row. And so they should, because it seemed to be incredibly effective. The basic idea is to disrupt the Rockets’ planned coverage by setting a pick on Jordan’s man before he comes out to screen for Paul. It works to perfection in the first clip, as Motiejunas is too far away to show and check Paul’s momentum. He manages to help slow Paul’s drive, but in doing so leaves Jordan free for the nasty alley-oop. Because the Clippers are playing with only one big man, there is nobody around to rotate onto Jordan – Harden would be the natural choice but he is preoccupied with sticking to Redick as he drifts out to the three point line. When they run it a second time the Rockets are ready and send Terry under the screen, only for Paul to read it and counter by draining a jumper (there’s a nice added wrinkle where Redick catches Motiejunas with a back-screen, but D-Mo does a good job of fighting through it).

    As we saw in Act 2, when Smith is in the game he likes to sink and contain the ball-handler in pick and roll situations. Clip three sees him try this, but Paul draws him and dishes to Jordan, who should score but somehow airballs a wide-open layup. The Clippers went back to the play to end the half and get a perfect lob out of it, only for DeAndre to blow the finish. This play is brilliant and when the Clippers are playing with four shooters around Jordan is pretty much impossible to guard. They should have scored all four times they used it, and I’m surprised they didn’t go back to it in the second half.

    Act 5: Double Trouble

    Towards the end of the first half the Clippers tried something new to catch the Rockets by surprise – a double pick-and-roll where both bigs set a single enormous screen for Paul. The first time they run it they have the element of surprise on their side – Smith picks up Paul and the initial action looks to be contained, only for Jones to miss the fact he needed to stay with Jordan as he rolls. While it’s true he has to pick his poison between the roll and a Big Baby jumper, it’s pretty clear which is the correct choice and it wasn’t the one he went for.

    The Clippers, as is their wont, give the Rockets a second look at it and this time they defend it correctly – Jones sinks to disrupt Jordan’s path to the hoop, leaving Smith to take over on Paul and Ariza to recover to Davis. The play is snuffed out and really this is how it should be defended every time. When people say Jones is still not quite the finished article defensively, it’s plays like this that they are referring to. He needs to be able to make the correct decision the first time he sees a play rather than needing to see it once before he knows what to do. Come playoff time he’s not going to have this luxury.

    Act 6: The Trials and Tribulations of Trevor Ariza

    In the second half the Rockets tried switching things up and put Ariza on Paul for long stretches. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out too well as Ariza really struggled to work his way through DeAndre Jordan’s picks. In all the plays above, Ariza ends up trailing his man and there’s a defensive breakdown as a result (Jones cleans up with a nice block in one, but that doesn’t excuse the initial error). The theory of putting a long armed defender like Ariza on point guards is a good one, but if they’re going to do it regularly the Rockets need him to do a better job of avoiding getting hung up on screens. Pay particular attention to the last play – you’ll see that Trevor is caught completely by surprise as Paul goes away from Jordan and uses a pick from Redick instead. Terry mistakenly sticks to Redick, letting Paul get free. He draws a rotation from Harden and then kicks to the corner for an open three.

    Comedic Interlude

    Chris Paul auditions for Shaqtin’ A Fool with this no-look pass out of bounds! But eagle-eyed viewers will note that the way he gets there is a mirror image of the last play from above. The Redick screen again sees Terry make the wrong choice and catches Paul’s defender (in this case Harden) giving CP3 a clean run a the basket. Smith does a good job of rotating to contest but really Paul could have made the pass earlier than he did and avoided having to throw it behind his head. This is another play I’m surprised the Clippers didn’t run a few more times – they didn’t get any points out of their first two goes at it but they got exactly the looks they wanted and the Rockets showed no signs of being able to guard it properly.

    Final Act: Switchcraft

    As the game wore on, the Rockets settled on a new and final strategy. Instead of asking Paul’s man to fight his way past the impenetrable wall that is DeAndre Jordan, they just switched the pick-and-rolls, trusting their mobile big men to be able to contain CP3 enough to neutralise the effectiveness of the play. As you can see, in each case the big man does a good job of preventing Paul from getting too deep into the paint. However, having done so they then showed lapses in snuffing out the secondary action in the first three clips. First Ariza and Smith have a miscommunication when switching back that allows Jordan to get open underneath. Then Smith gets caught out by Davis’ roll on a secondary pick-and-roll, allowing him to get inside position and steal the rebound. And in the third clip Paul and Jordan flow straight into an exquisite second pick-and-roll that the Rockets have no chance of stopping – Smith is caught completely unawares and Jordan strolls in for another thunderous dunk.

    The Rockets do a better job in the last two clips. Harden is in great position to curtail Jordan’s roll, which allows Brewer to recover to Crawford and shut down the play. And finally Harden switches onto Paul and forces him into a tough fade-away. It feels like the switching strategy was the right call in all of these scenarios. The key is to keep the concentration after the first switch – defenders are going to find themselves in unfamiliar roles as the play continues and they need to be able to adapt and make smart plays to maintain their defensive structure.

    Overall, it felt like a pretty even contest between the thunderous dynamism of the Clippers and the adaptive defense of the Rockets. I was very impressed by the number of different wrinkles the Clippers have in their toolbox to continually show opponents different looks, although I was surprised they didn’t try to alternate which plays they ran instead of using them in blocks. The Rockets showcased their versatility by putting out a number of different defensive looks and seem to be doing a good job of making the most of their long limbs and mobile feet. It was a fascinating back-and-forth between the two teams in what was a potential playoff preview. The question is, if it came down to it in a playoff series which side would get the upper hand?

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    James Harden vs. Tracy McGradyhttp://www.red94.net/james-harden-vs-tracy-mcgrady/15680/ http://www.red94.net/james-harden-vs-tracy-mcgrady/15680/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:26:36 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15680 Tracy McGrady’s best year in a Rockets uniform came in 2004-2005, his first in Houston, when he was 25 years old.  McGrady averaged 25.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on the year.  He shot 43% overall, 33% on 3’s, and 47% on 2’s.  He got to the line for 7.1 free throw attempts per […]

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    Tracy McGrady’s best year in a Rockets uniform came in 2004-2005, his first in Houston, when he was 25 years old.  McGrady averaged 25.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on the year.  He shot 43% overall, 33% on 3’s, and 47% on 2’s.  He got to the line for 7.1 free throw attempts per game.  By comparison, James Harden this season, at age 25, is averaging 27.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game.  Harden is shooting 45% overall, 38% on 3’s, and 49% on 2’s.  He’s getting to the line 9.6 times per game.

    McGrady turned the ball over 9.5 times per 100 possessions; Harden’s rate is at 15.3.  Each player has a usage percentage of 31% for the respective years in question.

    McGrady shot 37% of his field goals from between 16 feet and the 3 point line, at an accuracy rate of 44%.  His next highest attempted area was from beyond the 3 point line, where he took 26% of his attempts, at 33%, as aforementioned.  Harden, on the other hand, takes 38% of his shots from beyond the 3 point line, shooting them at 38%.  Harden’s next highest attempted area is at the rim where he takes 31% of his shots, with a 62% accuracy rate.  (McGrady shot 57% at the rim in ’05).  Also, Harden takes only 13% of his shots from between 16 feet and the 3 point line, McGrady’s favorite area on the court.  Harden is shooting 34% from that area.

    I never thought we’d see a shooting guard in Houston better than McGrady’s inaugural season.  At the time of his acquisition, he was arguably, at worst, the second best player in the entire league.  But James Harden, already, at a similar age, (though with lesser experience since T-Mac jumped straight from high school), is putting up numbers better than anything T-Mac did with the Rockets. Harden has gotten better during his time here while McGrady, sadly, peaked in that first season, and slowly deteriorated from then onward.

    Unlike McGrady, you expect Harden to age gracefully with continued improvement.  While his reputation was as a dunk artist, what’s misunderstood is that by this point, McGrady was already finely skilled in the intricate aspects of basketball.  In fact, his strengths in the mid range could even be taken as detrimental as he shied away from the paint more and more over the years.  Harden, on the other hand, is just now figuring things out from the mid-range.  McGrady, at 6’9, could just rise over any opponent for a jumpshot whenever he wanted it.  Harden, however, has to step back, or step out, to get a clean look.

    The strides Harden has made this season are pretty incredible.  The ball-handling is crisper, but he’s also worked hard to improve on some of his glaring tendencies.  As recently as even the beginning of this season, he’d almost always drive left and step out to his right.  This became predictable, with smart defenders jumping on his spots.  As we’ve seen recently, Harden is now driving with both hands, and stepping out in both directions.

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    Houston Rockets 105, Cleveland Cavaliers 103: Intensityhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-105-cleveland-cavaliers-103-intensity/15677/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-105-cleveland-cavaliers-103-intensity/15677/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 00:38:04 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15677 No big deal here, it was just the most exciting and meaningful Rockets win of the season. LeBron James and his Cavaliers super team just happened to swing by and deliver the most intense and scrappy battle Houston has seen this year, and James Harden just happened to deliver item number seven thousand in his […]

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    No big deal here, it was just the most exciting and meaningful Rockets win of the season. LeBron James and his Cavaliers super team just happened to swing by and deliver the most intense and scrappy battle Houston has seen this year, and James Harden just happened to deliver item number seven thousand in his ever-growing MVP resume. It was pure coincidence that this game went to overtime, giving the world five more minutes to watch two of the best players in the world literally struggle against one another. And, somehow, in the end, the game came down to free throw shooting, but not in the way you might think.

    This was a fun, tight, exciting game throughout the first half, with neither team gaining a double digit lead. And then the third quarter started, and Patrick Beverley tried to take a charge against LeBron James. That it was eventually called as a blocking foul was immaterial. The ensuing scuffle, however, set a tone that would persist throughout the remainder of the game. As LeBron James fell to the floor, he placed his hand on Beverley’s chest, something which Patrick seemed to take objection to. A shouting match upgraded to some kind of mass scuffle, and double techs were issued. The game was back on.

    And then things got intense.

    Both teams were heated at this point, with a series of increasingly hostile interactions leading up to an overtime finish. Timofey Mozgov and James Harden fell to the ground while scrambling for a loose ball, a scrum which ended with Mozgov grabbing James Harden’s foot to foul him and prevent a fast break. Trevor Ariza, in turn, got into Mozgov’s face in a later possession, for which he was issued a technical foul. (for which LeBron missed the free throw, in a shocking pattern.) This string of events would come to a head with Harden scrambling for a loose ball while James comes after him, resulting in an angry kick from Harden directly into LeBron’s groin. Surprisingly, Harden was let off with a mere flagrant foul, but the Rockets have found themselves in the sights of yet another team.

    This game turned into a battle for MVP votes somewhere along the way, and the short answer is that James Harden won it. The longer answer is that they two players had eerily similar stat lines, with a couple glaring exceptions. LeBron James scored 37 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, dished 4 assists and surrounded that with 3 steals, 3 blocks and 4 turnovers. Harden’s line was a similar 33 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks and 5 turnovers. The difference came in efficiency. LeBron James shot 15-35 to get there, including 4-12 from deep, and most notably he missed 8 of his 11 free throw attempts, including two consecutive misses at the end of the game. Harden, for his part, shot 8-18, 2-6 three pointers, and 15-18 (!!!) at the stripe.

    The game ended not with a bang, but with a weird confusing few possessions in which Harden at one point hooked LeBron and tried to use him like a puppet to get a foul, which didn’t work. After LeBron failed to hit free throws, Harden did indeed seal the game, but missed on purpose with .6 seconds left in order to burn the clock. After a review, the Cavs were given a final .3 seconds to shoot a three for the win, but couldn’t get the shot off in time, which Josh Smith blocked for good measure. The rest of the plays for the Cavs were largely isolation for LeBron James, in a dark mirror of Houston’s plays for James Harden. Trevor Ariza proved up to the task however, and even James Harden had success guarding LeBron. It turns out that Harden has always been a solid one on one defender, and that hasn’t changed.

    It was an up and down game, and the team largely played the way it needs to, though the bench embarrassingly  gave up an 8 point lead in a mere 90 seconds to start the fourth. They also helped key in a vicious third quarter in which the Rockets hovered at an 8-10 point lead. We got the best of Josh Smith and the worst of Josh Smith. Terrence Jones grabbed rebounds and dunked like crazy. Donatas Motiejunas shook his man in the post. Trevor Ariza defended with the best of them and Corey Brewer fired it up off the bench. If this team can keep up this intensity, they’re going to be a holy terror this post season. Oh, and they’ll get Dwight Howard back, too.

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    A glance at the Houston Rockets’ schedule for the week of March 1 through March 7http://www.red94.net/glance-houston-rockets-schedule-week-march-1-march-7/15640/ http://www.red94.net/glance-houston-rockets-schedule-week-march-1-march-7/15640/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 17:06:34 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15640 Five games in seven nights, including three in a row against three of the strongest finals contenders in the league.  The East’s representative in late May will surely be one of Cleveland or Atlanta.  Take note that the game against Cleveland today will begin at 2:30, rather than the 6PM listed originally on the Rockets’ […]

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    Screenshot 2015-03-01 10.47.06

    Five games in seven nights, including three in a row against three of the strongest finals contenders in the league.  The East’s representative in late May will surely be one of Cleveland or Atlanta.  Take note that the game against Cleveland today will begin at 2:30, rather than the 6PM listed originally on the Rockets’ web site, as it was picked up by ABC.

    The Cavs will be without Kyrie Irving, but are just as dangerous, with Lebron James on a mission.  After his performance last week against the Warriors, one can expect James to take similar aim at the Rockets’ James Harden.

    That Tuesday/Wednesday back to back will be murderous, and Houston would have to feel good about even getting a split.  And then, with a back to back against Detroit and Denver, in games you would expect the team to win, the fear is that the exhaustion from the week will reflect in the results.

    Screenshot 2015-03-01 11.00.09

    Having now gone 7-3 in their last ten, and winning four straight, the Rockets have put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack, a feat truly remarkable considering their injury status.  Houston could even conceivably catch Memphis, with just two games separating the teams.  But they’ll have to get through this week first, and that will truly be a test.

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    Houston Rockets 102, Brooklyn Nets 98: 40 before 20http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-102-brooklyn-nets-98-40-20/15635/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-102-brooklyn-nets-98-40-20/15635/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 06:02:00 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15635 I have made it clear in past recaps and roundtables that I have real issues with certain aspects of this Rockets squad – their three-point shooting is not strong enough and they do not have enough size without Howard among other concerns. Even though Houston has the rarest and most important part of a championship […]

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    I have made it clear in past recaps and roundtables that I have real issues with certain aspects of this Rockets squad – their three-point shooting is not strong enough and they do not have enough size without Howard among other concerns. Even though Houston has the rarest and most important part of a championship team, a true MVP candidate, their flaws will likely prevent them from winning the championship this year. Nevertheless, I remain irritated that the Rockets continue to be overlooked as a championship team for reasons beyond said flaws. Even the Spurs, a team that has never looked this bad in the Duncan era, are given more credibility. The reason seems to be nothing more than a shallow declaration of how the Rockets are soft and Harden does not have “it” – just like Dirk did not have “it” before 2011 and LeBron before 2012.

    Well, maybe winning 40 games before losing 20, Phil Jackson’s mark on what makes a contender, will change the tone. Only the Hawks, Warriors, and Grizzlies have accomplished the same, while Portland could at the time of this writing. And if that was not good enough, the Rockets did not have to ask Harden to shoulder everything tonight. The Beard was not the scoring machine that he usually is due to his sprained ankle, but Houston still prevailed over an inferior Brooklyn with a true team effort.

    But even though the Rockets won, the Brooklyn Nets led for the vast majority of the game. The Rockets started off slow and fell behind by double digits early in the first quarter, but the Rockets bench erased that lead by the 3:30 mark of the next quarter. But whenever the Rockets grabbed a small lead and seemed poised to make a run, their offense sputtered. Harden was relentlessly double-teamed for the entire game, and so the Rockets struggled to find other scorers for much of the night.

    Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley stepped in to fill the offense, a welcome answer as they returned to playing at a level resembling NBA basketball. Ariza in particular was on fire from long-range for the second straight game, and finished with 20 points on 11 shots. Beverley struggled to shoot for most of the game, but he showed up when it counted most by hitting a wide open three pointer with a minute left to complete a late 12-4 Rockets run that tied the game. Both of them did struggle to guard Brooklyn’s wing lineup – Joe Johnson and Alan Anderson are big swingmen who repeatedly outbigged Ariza and Beverley – but it was still a great bounce back game from the rest of the season.

    And of course, there was Terrence Jones. The Nets have some good big men, and Brook Lopez toyed with the Howard-less Rockets for most of the fourth quarter, especially on the offensive glass. Motiejunas scored points with that baby hook shot of his and Josh Smith had some great blocks, but Terrence Jones ran around carrying the frontcourt and the Rockets tonight. Rahat and others have compared Jones to a young Josh Smith, but Jones comes with the advantage of not thinking he’s a three-point shooter. All nine of his made field goals came close to the basket, including a shot where he double clutched to prevent getting blocked by Lopez.

    And thanks to Jones, Joey Dorsey only played 2 minutes tonight after not playing at all against the Clippers. The Rockets rotation is readjusting itself in the aftermath of the trade deadline, with Prigioni finally getting rotation minutes at the point guard spot. K.J. McDaniels may have been the more visible acquisition from last week, but Pablo Prigioni is here to fill a very big hole in Houston’s passing.

    P.S. Hi, Smith. You had your period when you shot 3’s well. That was pretty cool. Now don’t do it again. Don’t take 5 three-pointers in a game. You were doing well enough when you played inside the rim, and maybe you should continue to do that.

    Tonight was not a pretty victory, and it was a game in which the Brooklyn Nets led for most of the time. But the Houston Rockets accomplished the bare minimum and hit the right shots to achieve victory over the Nets, thanks largely to Ariza and Jones. And now they sit with the fourth-best record in the NBA. Harden may be the rock on which everything rests – but it will be nice to see if people pay attention to the Rockets and not just him.

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