Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings http://www.red94.net Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings Sun, 19 Apr 2015 00:45:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Some early morning thoughts on the eve of the playoffshttp://www.red94.net/some-early-morning-thoughts-on-the-eve-of-the-playoffs/15904/ http://www.red94.net/some-early-morning-thoughts-on-the-eve-of-the-playoffs/15904/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 13:31:14 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15904 So.  How is everyone?  I am in a strange mood right now regarding this.  Considering this team has a very strong chance to make the Western Conference Finals, I should be a lot more excited than I am.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been so drained from my real job.  Maybe I subconsciously think the team […]

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  • So.  How is everyone?  I am in a strange mood right now regarding this.  Considering this team has a very strong chance to make the Western Conference Finals, I should be a lot more excited than I am.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been so drained from my real job.  Maybe I subconsciously think the team will let me down, because historically they always have?  I don’t know.  BUT THEY HAVE A VERY REAL SHOT TO GET TO THE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS.  That’s incredible, like, considering what happened this offseason.  If I had told you back in the summer that the Rockets would be the 2nd seed, you’d ask me, “oh, is Chris Bosh first team All-NBA?”
  • The last time these two franchises squared off in the postseason, the Mavs had Dirk, and the Rockets had a 25 year old superstar shooting guard carrying a tremendous load.
  • Bob Sura and Mike James is a decided advantage over Terry and Prigioni, even if Sura was completely hobbled by that point.  Actually, I don’t really know, now that I’ve typed all that up.  Sura was completely hobbled.  And while James exploded for some big games, he had a tendency to play outside the offense.  And Terry and Prigioni will hit some huge shots throughout the course of this series.  Verdict: the Rockets have had a problem at point guard for a very long time (not including their lottery years in between with Lowry and Dragic).
  • Ariza vs. Wesley is a huge advantage Ariza considering Wesley was like 5’11 and 35 years old by that point.
  • Ryan Bowen and Clarence Weatherspoon vs. Terrence Jones and Josh Smith.  LOL.  Consider that the team had freaking Juwon Howard as its starter, and losing him was considered a big loss.  But those first two guys aren’t even NBA players.  This exercise is leading me to wonder why I’ve been suggesting Harden doesn’t have help when T-Mac basically had a glorified NBDL team surrounding him.
  • That ’05 team’s key reserves were Dikembe Mutombo and a 75 year old Jon Barry.  Related: Jerry Stackhouse absolutely murdered Jon Barry and whoever this team put on him that series.  This team, even without Motiejunas, with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer, has one of the most explosive bench combos in the league.
    • McHale vs. Van Gundy: I’ll make too many of you angry if I go there, so I won’t.
    • Dwight vs. Yao: this is where it gets interesting, because I think there’s a lot of revisionism surrounding Yao, or maybe just a failure in memory.  While he averaged 21 points and 8 boards in that series, even on 66% shooting, he wasn’t the dominant force that conventional wisdom has suggested he was.  He was tremendous in Games 2, 5, and the meaningless Game 7, but even a downright liability at times, in the losses.  Yao torched Shawn Bradley when the Mavericks played him conventionally, but the series shifted when Dallas went small, benching Bradley and Keith Van Horn, and forcing Yao to guard smaller players out on the perimeter.  Van Gundy, at times, had no recourse but to just bench Yao, for spurts.  And that’s the thing with Yao that people don’t remember.  Even back then, I’d get into this same argument with Rockets fans, on different parts of the Internet, regarding the Yao v. young Dwight Howard debate.  Dwight probably won’t score 30 points in any game this series.  He’ll drive me to tear out my hair when he posts up.  But no matter what the circumstance, there’s never going to be a point where I will deem him a liability, just simply because he’s so tremendously disruptive, even now, defensively.  Many of you will disagree, but give me Dwight, any day of the week, over Yao Ming.
    • I was the biggest Tracy McGrady supporter in those days, when almost everyone else in this city would pile on him for his failures.  I thought Yao got too much of a free pass, and McGrady didn’t get enough credit.  And boy, was T-Mac tremendous.  He took his game to a new level that series, averaging over 30 a game, bringing the ball up himself, and even guarding Dirk.  But I’d still go with Harden.  While T-Mac had scoring binges in the playoffs, my memory of him is of always shriveling during critical moments.  He shot poorly in that Game 7 disaster.  And the same occurred in later series’.  I distinctly remember, against Utah, in Game 7, with Houston entering the bonus with like 7 freaking minutes left in the 4th quarter, for some reason the guy just completely refused to take the ball to the basket and force the issue.  We lost.  In Game 6, against Utah again, the next year, while he scored 40, I have this distinct memory of T-Mac standing around deferring to Bobby freaking Jackson during the deciding 3rd quarter stretch where the Jazz pulled away, then piling on some meaningless baskets once it was over.  Harden is different.  He’s nowhere near as talented and probably can be shut down more easily, given the vast disparity in physical makeup.  (T-Mac looks like, basically, what the end result would be if you were creating the perfect basketball player; Harden looks like a tall fat dude that is seeing good results the past three weeks on his new kettlebell regimen).  But Harden is not going to go down without a fight.  Sometimes its a bad thing.  But I’ll take the guy who is going to go down shooting, even if possibly at a detriment, over the guy who will likely shrivel.  You could argue that the Memphis and San Antonio games, this year, proved that maybe forcing the issue isn’t always the best course of action.  But I’ll live with that over deference to Bobby Jackson.
    • And yes, while everyone else probably broke down the ’14 Rockets vs. the ’14 Mavs, by position, I just compared our players to their counterparts from 9 years ago.

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    Red94 Playoff Preview Roundtablehttp://www.red94.net/red94-playoff-preview-roundtable/15903/ http://www.red94.net/red94-playoff-preview-roundtable/15903/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 11:29:07 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15903 McGuire: The Houston Rockets saw a lot of Hack-a-whoever in the last few weeks of the regular season, and there is no doubt Rick Carlisle will use a ton of it against the Rockets. How concerned are you about this, and are you starting to believe that the rules need to be changed to deal […]

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    McGuire: The Houston Rockets saw a lot of Hack-a-whoever in the last few weeks of the regular season, and there is no doubt Rick Carlisle will use a ton of it against the Rockets. How concerned are you about this, and are you starting to believe that the rules need to be changed to deal with it?

    Rahat: It has kept me up at night, admittedly.  But I don’t think it warrants changing the rules.  If people don’t like it, they need to step up and make their free throws.

    Walker: It might hurt the Rockets, and it might hurt them badly. That’s the boring part. The interesting part is what happens if Houston gets waylaid by this as badly as people are worrying. This is a metagame issue, and metagame is critically important for all games and rule sets, even in sports. Sports fans and personalities seem allergic to any discussion of metagame to the point that its very existence is denied, but this facet won’t be denied.

    When changing a rule, you have to examine not just what you want to change, but what the rule currently advantages and disadvantages and weigh that against what the proposed change would do. The current rule set effectively punishes poor free throw shooting. Nobody is arguing about on-ball fouls, for whatever reason, so let’s stick with off ball fouls.

    In a hypothetical new situation, free throw shooting would be a less valuable skill, as long as someone on the team can do it. How much less valuable, though? Probably not a lot. These cases are already fairly liminal. The biggest change would be that big men don’t have to spend quite as much effort and time on their free throws. I don’t see why anyone cares either way how good centers are at free throws. Maybe this lets them work more on footwork or team defense.

    I’ve thought about this issue to the point that I don’t care about it any more. It’s annoying to watch and I don’t think it would affect much more, so I guess change it. It doesn’t really matter.

    Dover: I’m not really concerned if they do it with Smith or Howard. Both players are at about 52% on the season so I don’t think opponents gain much by using it, to be honest – maybe 1 or 2 points in a game? Make one fewer turnover and that probably evens it out. But a lot comes down to how Carlisle employs the strategy. A lot of coaches will hack until their target starts making free-throws, but that really doesn’t work. If you’re going to hack, you have to do it Popovich style – keep hacking even if the guy on the line is making his free throws, banking on him eventually regressing to the mean.

    As for whether the rules should be changed, from my point of view the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’. I have no problem with free-throws if they come in the flow of play, but I despise intentional off-ball fouling. It’s not ‘part of the game’ in my view because it happens before any actual basketball can be played. The league know it is a problem, or else you would be allowed to do it in the last two minutes of games. Just extend that to the whole game and the problem is solved – you can still foul people intentionally if they’re involved in the play, but you don’t have to be subjected to the unedifying spectacle of seeing players streaking into the backcourt to tag their hacking victim.

    Li: Definitely concerned. It seems that coaches have also begun employing the tactic when they’re leading and whenever it’s convenient, as opposed to only when they’re trailing and late in games. Statistically, that makes a lot more sense and doesn’t bode well for the Rockets. Since Harden is pretty much 95% of the offense, not allowing him to play basketball effectively neuters the team.

    That being said, no way should the rules be changed. Shooting free throws is a part of the game. Ironically, the Rockets exploit shooting free throws more than any other team. It would be pretty disingenuous for this team to complain about how free throws ruin the flow of basketball and make it less entertaining.

    On one last note, why don’t the Rockets hack? They know first hand how useful it can be. Rajon Rondo is shooting 45% on his free throws this year. Sending him to the line seems like a much better proposition than allowing Dirk and company to execute their offense.

    Felker: I think hacking is the only chance the Mavericks have.  It could make a fun, fast-paced and high scoring series into a long, boring and wildly frustrating one.  Muck up the game, and it reduces Harden’s role.  Getting the ball out of his hands is priority one for Dallas.

    And yes, for the love of everything that is holy, change the damn rule.  I’m sure we get more exposure to it, rooting for the Rockets, but I can’t believe such an intelligent and progressive league would allow such an un-aesthetically pleasing wart on its game.  It was necessary to slow down prime-Shaq, but allowing it against the likes of Dwight Howard and Josh Smith just seems short-sighted.

    Dover: The Rockets have suffered injuries to two major cogs in their rotation. What adjustments, if any, do you think the coaching staff will make to overcome the loss of Beverley and Motiejunas come playoff time?

    Rahat:  I don’t think anything changes from what we’ve been seeing in the past few weeks, except that you will likely see Dwight Howard eat a bit more into Joey Dorsey’s minutes.  The loss of Motiejunas hurts emotionally, because I had sold myself on the thought of that big man quartet gobbling up other frontcourts…but even then, there weren’t going to really be minutes for all four of the guys.  What you do lose, though, is a nice second option to anchor the second unit with self-created shots when Harden sits.  But that’s in theory.  Even though Motiejunas in the post statistically is a better option than Howard, we probably wouldn’t have seen the team do it.  So maybe in reality, we lose nothing.  I don’t know.

    As for Beverley, this might seem insensitive, but I’m not sure the team really lost anything.  He wasn’t stopping anyone and he certainly wasn’t adding much offensively.  At least now, you get some outside shooting with Prigioni and Terry.  Maybe the only real loss, as I joked a few weeks ago, is that if you assume that Beverley starts at least one scuffle per game, and in reaction, the referees “call the game tighter”, then you lost out on a few Harden free throws…

    Walker: McHale et. al. have been paddling down this river for a while and I don’t expect to see major changes. Howard, Jones and Smith will account for the meat and potatoes of the big man rotation, and it looks more like Clint Capela may get burn over Joey Dorsey. Those guys will both get torched in the playoffs, but that’s not their fault. They do the best they can, and McHale just has to work around it.

    I’m less terrified of the Motiejunas injury because of this rotation, actually. There’s room for about three and a half guys in the big man rotation, and someone was going to be getting low minutes either way. The four and the five need 96 minutes a game, and 32 minutes for each of three guys isn’t unreasonable, especially not in the playoffs. Having the versatility and offensive punch would have been great, but the Rockets still have three guys who can cover 32 minutes each. The Rockets are lessened but not hobbled.

    Beverley’s loss is a little more complicated. What did Patrick do, precisely? Well he played aggressive defense. Very aggressive defense. Occasionally too aggressive. It’s good to have someone out there to scare opposing guards, but he also had been so up and down that it’s hard to tell how big the loss is. Despite winning the Skills Contest (yes, that actually happened, remember?), Beverley isn’t a gifted passer or a very good playmaker. His shooting has been back and forth, but lately was pretty poor. Jason Terry, somehow, can more or less pick up the slack for him on the offense. Nick Johnson, while very green, shows a lot of defensive promise. Pablo Prigioni is now a very wise insurance policy and can cover the 15-20 minutes a night the Rockets are missing. I expect a lot of point guard by committee, but let’s be honest. James Harden is the real point guard.

    Li: The rotation will be tightened up during the playoffs, as is common practice around the league. The primary eight will be Harden, Ariza, Howard, Jones, Terry, Smith, Brewer, and Prigioni. I don’t expect Capela or Dorsey to play many meaningful minutes except in times of extreme foul trouble. In short, I don’t think McHale et al will do very much to specifically ameliorate not having Beverley and DMo.

    What I would like to see is Nick Johnson (now that McDaniels is out) assume an athletic defensive role. He can guard someone like Monta Ellis so Harden can save energy by being in the general vicinity of the offensively challenged Rondo. The more the Rockets stick with business as usual, I think the more difficult this series becomes, because you know Carlisle is going to cook up something different.

    Felker:  What I think they’ll do and what I hope they do are two totally different answers.

    First, I love that they gave Capella all the backup center minutes against Utah.  I mentioned benching Dorsey in favor of Capela in our forum to little fanfare, but I like what he does with James Harden. One can only watch so many rebounds get tipped away from a flailing Joey Dorsey.

    As for the guard rotation, I don’t see McHale changing much.  He’s surrounding James Harden with Jason Terry’s shooting, and allowing Pablo, J-Smoove, and Corey Brewer to fly up and down the court as a unit. You just have to hope a healthy Dwight can negate not having Bev.

    What I’d like to see, though, is more Corey Brewer.  His scoring is crucial to the second unit when Harden sits, but I’d play him starters minutes and go without a point guard down the stretch.  This would also allow the Rockets to switch everything and stay out on Dallas’ shooters.  Also, it’s much easier to escape 38 year-olds on the pick-and-roll than it is Brewer’s 6’8’’ gaggle of arms and legs.

    McGuire: I believe Matt Moore pointed out on Twitter Wednesday night that Dallas got Rondo to help counter the plethora of terrific point guards in the Western Conference…but Dallas got stuck facing the one Western team that does not have one. When you look at it that way as well as the fact that Rondo is not going to beat the Rockets, the loss of Beverley won’t hurt Houston that much in this series. The second round against San Antonio or the Clippers is a different story, but for now, McHale just needs to throw Terry-Prigioni out there.

    Motiejunas is a bigger problem. Yes, in theory Dwight-Smith-Jones can play 32 minutes apiece, and that is probably what Kevin McHale will do. But what happens when one of them gets in foul trouble, or just has an off night? Dorsey’s free throw shooting is just too big a liability, and Capela is raw and will get pushed around by Tyson Chandler.

    But on the other hand, you don’t need to go big to guard Dirk Nowitzki. So the best thing to do is to play Dwight-Smith-Jones for those 32 minutes and then use smallball to mix things up or as an emergency here and there.

    Walker: Dallas is the first round opponent for Houston, and the Mavs will battle the Rockets in the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Predictions aside, what do you think a Rockets win in that series would look like? What do you think a Rockets loss would look like?

    Rahat: A win will see a carryover of the regular season with James Harden willing his team to the easy victory.  A loss for the Rockets will see Dallas utilizing unconventional methods to overcome the talent disparity, whether that be schemes or wacky lineups.  Carlisle over McHale might be the biggest advantage either team has over the other in this series.  Will the Rockets be up to the task to adjust to Carlisle’s adjustments?

    Dover: One thing’s for sure – Carlisle is a master at constructing defensive schemes to make up for his lack of personnel, and he’s sure to throw in some surprises. How well the Rockets do will depend a lot on adapting to the different looks the Mavericks give them on that end. But there are a few things that a successful Rockets team will have to achieve:

    • Dallas will use their zone to avoid having to put Nowitzki in too many pick-and-roll situations. The Rockets need to neutralise the zone with three point shooting and ball movement.
    • Tyson Chandler is the lynchpin of their defensive scheme. Finding a way to limit his contributions will be key, whether that’s drawing him away from the hoop on pick-and-rolls or using Howard post-ups and Harden drives to get him in foul trouble.
    • There’s no doubt the defensive scheme will be tilted towards Harden, especially in late-game situations. Being able to keep the scoreboard ticking when the ball is forced out of Harden’s hands is a must.

    If the Rockets win, they will need to do at least a couple of these things well. If they do badly, it’s because they failed to adapt to Dallas’ defense. Either way, I firmly believe that it is at this end of the floor that the series will be won and lost.

    Li: Dallas has the look of a house of cards. It’s a team that’s standing, but there are a lot of shaky pieces. Rondo certainly tops the list, though even Dirk and Chandler have wrestled with questions about how age might have caught up with them in different ways. And have you seen the Mavericks bench? Richard friggin Jefferson averages 17 mpg for them. I think their sixth man at this point is the player posing as Amare Stoudemire (or is that Amare Stoudemire posing as a player?). Devin Harris and JJ Barea combine for about 40 mpg and nine feet of height.

    I think the Dallas starters can draw even with the Houston starters, due mainly to superior execution and game planning. A Houston win means the Dallas bench crumbles like… a house of cards. Amare is going to slug it out with Josh Smith? Corey Brewer could guard Barea (I say Brewer because I expect Harden to be on the court for ~42 MPG) with one arm, because he’s still longer than Barea with only one arm.

    Dallas wins if the series becomes one of attrition. They are better equipped to make small adjustments, hide weaknesses, and round out smooth edges. Basically, they’re better coached. If Houston starts off slowly and doesn’t blitz Dallas out of the playoffs, Dallas will have time to make those changes and exploit advantages that they identify. Houston, on the other hand, will just do the same thing over and over again.

    McGuire: I am a strong believer in the critical importance of big men even in the modern NBA( though not in the post-up big). Dallas can throw all the clever defensive schemes it wants at James Harden, but Harden is going to outplay Monta Ellis. I am not remotely terrified of Rondo and even Houston’s depleted bench is better than a Dallas team that gives Charlie Villaneuva rotation minutes. But Dirk and Tyson Chandler are a different story.

    If Dallas wins this series? It is because Terrence Jones cannot stop Dirk just like he could not stop Aldridge last year. If Jones/Smith can keep Dirk from going off and Howard can keep Chandler away from the lob, the Mavericks have no chance. But a series where Dallas wins is one where Dirk looks like he used to once upon a time.

    Felker: I don’t see any way the Mavs can hang with Houston. They have no one to guard Harden, and their bench won’t be able to score without over-extending their starters.  Chandler Parsons has a tough draw with Ariza, and we have two ideal bodies to throw at Dirk in Terrence Jones and Josh Smith. LaMarcus Aldridge was a different story; I just don’t think Dirk has the legs to escape Jones anymore.

    If they are able to hang with the Rockets, it will be a whole lot of Monta Ellis. If he can make Harden work on both ends, it changes things. Tyson Chandler has made things difficult for Houston in the past, and his kind of height and reach is about the only thing that gives Dwight Howard problems.

    But I think Dallas’s best chance at an upset comes from the man with the clipboard. Rick Carlisle gets my vote as second to Gregg Popovich in the NBA’s coaching hierarchy.  I still have such fond memories of 2011, when he navigated a brutal Western Conference, then gave Erik Spoelstra a coaching clinic as the Mavs ran circles around LeBron and company.

    I agree with Paul that his schemes won’t be enough, but if that long-shot does land, it will have Carlisle’s fingerprints all over it.

    Felker: Two gunners having to guard each other. The Traitor and the Redeemer. Grit versus Goofy. Former teammates-turned-coaches trying to outwit each other. This series has so many story lines and interesting subplots, what matchup intrigues you the most?

    Rahat: James Harden redemption.  Is he locked in as he was all regular season?  Will Dallas be able to exploit the Beard this series, like Portland was able to last year?  Also, Dirk.  It’s interesting to think that the last time these two franchises squared off in the postseason, Houston had a superstar 25-year-old shooting guard, and the Mavs had Dirk.  And now things are the same.  Just a brilliant career.

    Walker: I have my eye on “playoff Rondo.” He’s likely to be put on Harden for stretches while the Mavs hide the other guard on whatever “point guard” Houston’s running. I want to see what Rondo and Harden can do to each other, and I want to see the second gear Rondo has unleashed in past. If he can do that again, this series might be a lot more stressful for Houston than anticipated.

    Both Rondo and Harden are masters of finishing at the rim, skilled passers, and aggressive playmakers. Both are tenacious ballhawks and love to jump in passing lanes, though Rondo’s a better team defender overall. This is going to be a key matchup, and might be the most important one in the series. If Dallas can cool off Harden at all, they stand a real chance. If Houston can keep Rondo from touching the ball every play, Dallas’ offense will suffer.

    Dover: For me it’s the battle of the bench dynamos – Corey Brewer vs Al-Farouq Aminu. In the regular season, these guys were frequently the sparks that ignited the team if the starters were a bit sluggish. I’ll be interested to see which can have more of an impact over the course of the series.

    With Motiejunas out, Brewer is probably my favourite Rocket to watch – I think we sometimes take for granted just how brilliant he is in the open court. There are ferocious dunks, there are sublime finger-roll and euro-steps where you least expect them. Somehow the ball always seems to drop through the hoop and my jaw frequently drops to the floor. The Mavs are a poor team in defensive transition (2nd worst in the league in opposition fast break points per 100 possessions) so he should have plenty of opportunities to feast.

    Al-Farouq Aminu has played well against the Rockets this year, with stat-lines like 17 points 12 rebounds (February 20th), or 10 points, 7 rebounds 6 blocks (January 28th). He seems to be especially good at timing his weak-side shot-blocks against the Rockets’ drives for some reason. I have a feeling Aminu is going to be a key cog in Carlisle’s rotations as Dallas attempts to conjure up an underdog victory.

    Li: I agree with Forrest. Rondo has the most intrigue in this series. He was brought in as a difference maker but, thus far, has only made a difference in the wrong direction. If his toughness, defense, and experience are supposed to nudge the Mavericks in a positive direction, now is the time for that to happen.

    An honorable mention would be Dirk against the combination of Jones and Smith. Dirk’s minutes were drastically reduced this season to compensate for his age. He struggled early but his efficiency numbers for this year ended up on par with his career averages. He’s going to receive more playing time in the playoffs, but it remains to be seen if he can still maintain that efficiency for longer stretches.

    McGuire: Harden in the playoffs. People have said that Harden’s free throw-heavy style won’t work. Furthermore, there is the standard “If he is good, why can’t he get it done in the playoffs” line that is beginning to follow him, especially after last year’s disappointment.

    I think such a question is nonsense, but Harden hasn’t played great in his last three playoff series. Can he break this trend against a Dallas team which does not have a great perimeter defender?

    Rahat: What would be considered a successful playoff run for this team?

    McGuire: Under the current circumstances, Western Conference Finals. The Warriors are scary. The Warriors are really scary. They have the highest SRS in a season since the 1997 Bulls. If Houston defeats the Mavericks, fights past the Spurs and Clippers, and then gets curb stomped by Golden State in 4 or 5 games, I’m fine.

    Houston’s bracket is about as good as one could reasonably hope for. Consequently, our expectations of what they can accomplish this season should be higher.

    Li: First round exit would be a huge disappointment. Second round exit would be neutral. Western Conference Finals would be successful.

    Dover: We thought before the season that the Rockets could be title contenders. Being a title contender means that you have to be capable of beating the best teams in the league. Well if the Rockets want to win the title they are going to have to go through the best teams in the league – San Antonio and Golden State stand in their path to the Finals. It’s a successful season if the Rockets can show that they deserve to be talked about at the same level as those teams. That means they need to beat at least one of them, so my baseline for calling the season a success would be getting to the Conference Finals.

    Given the mitigating circumstances though, (injuries at the worst possible time, a season beset by lineup changes), I would be satisfied with the season if they get past the first round. That would be meeting the expectations the rest of the league has for the team, even if not quite what the fans might have hoped.

    Walker: Asking for anything more than a Western Conference finals is getting greedy, especially with how many excellent teams are in the west. Asking for anything less, however, feels like defeatism. With the bracket as it is, the Rockets should make it out of the first round, and if they make it into the third, they feel great.

    Li: I think last week’s consensus was that the Spurs or Clippers are the worst matchup. Now that one of them will be the opponent next round (knock on wood), who do you think is the marginally more favorable matchup?

    Rahat: The Clippers because the Spurs are never the answer.

    McGuire: The Clippers, though I disagreed with that consensus on the worst matchups. The Clippers don’t have a bench and they don’t have a perimeter defender of Kawhi Leonard’s level. And in some bizarre basketball version of Mutual Assured Destruction, I don’t expect the Clippers to hack us since we could do the same thing to DeAndre Jordan.

    Dover: It’s pretty close. Without D-Mo the Rockets will really struggle to defend the combination of Jordan and Griffin, and putting Terry and Prigioni against Paul is asking for trouble. But the Spurs have demolished the Rockets on their own court and run them close in Houston. They have Kawhi to lock down Harden, an unstoppable offense and a genius on the sideline ready to morph them into whatever shape will best exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. So on balance I’ve got to say I’d prefer to play the Clippers.

    Walker: The best case scenario for the Rockets right now is that the Clippers beat the Spurs in a grueling first round matchup and have to play their starters huge minutes to do so. If Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are suffering due to playing 45 minutes a night, the Rockets can really take advantage.

    A deep, healthy Spurs team is scarier. The Rockets match up well with the Spurs, but that’s like saying a shotgun works better than a sword against an angry bear. You’re probably still dead either way. The Rockets should be able to hang with whoever comes out, but I think they’d rather see a vulnerable Clippers.

    Final question: List your prediction

    McGuire: Rockets in 6.

    Rahat: Rockets in 6.

    Walker: My gut says Houston in 6 but I’m ready to be horribly wrong. Nothing in this series would surprise me.

    Li: Rockets in 6.

    Dover: Rockets in 5.

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    Sort of a Houston Rockets playoffs preview, but more of a wrap up of thoughtshttp://www.red94.net/sort-of-a-houston-rockets-playoffs-preview-but-more-of-a-wrap-up-of-thoughts/15901/ http://www.red94.net/sort-of-a-houston-rockets-playoffs-preview-but-more-of-a-wrap-up-of-thoughts/15901/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 01:16:56 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15901 I wrote this weekend that the Houston Rockets had “collapsed“, squandering a chance at what would have been the franchise’s first division title in twenty years with back to back losses to the San Antonio Spurs.  Oops.  As we know, the team took care of business to close out the year, getting a bit of help […]

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  • I wrote this weekend that the Houston Rockets had “collapsed“, squandering a chance at what would have been the franchise’s first division title in twenty years with back to back losses to the San Antonio Spurs.  Oops.  As we know, the team took care of business to close out the year, getting a bit of help in the form of good luck in some other outcomes, and now, they’ve reclaimed the #2 seed.  Yes, in terms of appraisal, the second seed means no different than the sixth, and the only implications are in playoff positioning.  But there’s just a good feeling about the whole thing, at least for someone like me who has been following this team for so very long.  Relatively speaking, this franchise has been mediocre for the better part of two decades, with nothing to really hang its hat on.  I don’t know if it has any cumulative effect, but there has to be some value to good feelings, right?
    • Of course, the real implications are on the court where the Rockets can now avoid the Warriors for the longest duration possible.  Here’s a thought exercise I mulled over for the week before things became final: if the probability of defeating the Blazers was marginally better than the probability of beating the Mavericks, but the probability of beating the Spurs/Clippers was significantly higher than beating the Warriors, which route was overall more preferable?  I think the way things played out was the best case scenario, personally.  In terms of carryover repute entering the next season, there’s a pretty big distinction between making the Western Conference Finals and making the second round.  If you make the second round, nobody really cares; if you make the conference Finals, you’re thrust into the upper-echelon.  Yeah, maybe it doesn’t matter what the media thinks, but it’s fun to get praise, right?  There’s also the theory that the team comes back more focused and driven.
    • I expect the Rockets to win this series, maybe even in  five games, but I don’t know if it’s wise to just count the Mavericks out completely, like some of you have.  They can be a dangerous squad and are still guided by the same core that pushed San Antonio to the brink last season.  And Carlisle over McHale might be the biggest advantage in this series, though I know some of you will take issue with that statement.  But ultimately, the Rockets will win this series because they have the sixth best defense in the league, and good defense is the determinant with lowest variance.  Dallas, on the other hand, is down at 18th in the league, and their offense has fallen significantly from its historic levels before the Rondo trade.
    • The Rockets closed the year just outside of the top-10 in offense, sitting at 12th, and it can be argued both ways whether the loss of Dwight Howard would have pushed that trend positively.
    • I know injuries are a part of the game, but man, it’s really a shame that Motiejunas had to go down for the year, especially with how he had been playing for the better part of the season.  No one will even remember or even care, but it’s a huge loss that cannot be overlooked.  With a healthy Motiejunas, Houston had, I think even objectively speaking, the best frontcourt rotation in basketball, with Terrence Jones coming into his own upon his own return.  Instead, the team has Joey Dorsey absorbing those same minutes once reserved for Motiejunas, the former a man who breeds new meaning to the term incompetence.  It hurts man, it hurts.  I know the rotation would’ve been shortened anyway, to where it would have been tough to find minutes for all four of those guys, but I had so thoroughly prepped myself for the prospect of demolishing second units with Terrence Jones and Josh Smith off the bench.  That front court “freshness”, versatility, and athleticism was going to be our big advantage over anyone we faced.
    • On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure Patrick Beverley is a crushing loss for the team.  I wrote back on March 16 that the Rockets were essentially playing 4 on 5 with Beverley on the court, and I don’t know that anything he did after that point before his injury invalidated that statement.  In theory, the team will suffer defensively against the elite point guards in the West, but the numbers show that Beverley wasn’t exactly stopping anyone this season.  And he certainly wasn’t doing much of anything on the other end.  Even if Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni are inferior defenders to Beverley, I’m not sure the dropoff is enough to negate the significant disparity in shooting between the players.  Simply put, I’d much rather have Jason Terry on the court to close out games than Patrick Beverley and thus, Pablo should be just fine for the remaining 48, especially with Corey Brewer to pick up against bad match-ups.
    • Lastly, for today, I’ll ask you, dear reader, what in your mind would constitute success for the 2015 season?  I tossed this around on Twitter a few weeks ago and I honestly think this season is already a success.  Maybe that’s sad that I’ve set the bar so low, but really, can you honestly say that losing in the first round in this western conference would warrant blowing the whole thing up?  I don’t know that I can.

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    Final Bench Datahttp://www.red94.net/final-bench-data/15900/ http://www.red94.net/final-bench-data/15900/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 20:07:35 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15900 The Rockets finished the regular season using their bench 35% of the time, which ranked 4th from last place. The Rockets bench had a net rating of 2.1, which ranked 11th in the league. Click on the graphic below for a complete visual representation of the league’s bench usage and effectiveness. At this same time […]

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    The Rockets finished the regular season using their bench 35% of the time, which ranked 4th from last place. The Rockets bench had a net rating of 2.1, which ranked 11th in the league. Click on the graphic below for a complete visual representation of the league’s bench usage and effectiveness.

    Click for a full-sized interactive version

    Click for a full-sized interactive version

    At this same time last year, the Rockets bench played 31% of the time (2nd to last) and had a net rating of 3.0 (4th highest). That the net rating has decreased slightly this year is probably explained by the weakness of the bench at the start of the season. The data throughout the season (you can click through different points in time) certainly show a positive trend as far as net rating is concerned. The increased usage compared to last year is also a good sign and is consistent with the league as a whole. In fact, the league average for bench usage has increased from just above 35% at the end of last season to over 37% right now.

    The Dallas Mavericks, whom the Houston Rockets play in the first round, play their bench 37% of the time, identical to last year’s usage. Their unit’s net rating is 2.5. Given the age of the Mavericks, it’s a little surprising that their bench usage isn’t higher. Perhaps a viable strategy is to run their old and highly-utilized starters off the floor. Of course, in order to do this the Rockets have to play their bench more, which is almost certainly not going to happen.

    Like last year, the Spurs sit at the top of the chart with a 43% usage rate. Their net rating is 5.2, 2nd highest in the league. Interestingly, their opponents, the Clippers, are dead last at 32% (they were 2nd to last last year) and have a net rating of -2.2. That’s a very stark difference and definitely favors the Spurs if that series goes six or seven games.

    Undoubtedly the most noticeable difference is from the Golden State Warriors. Last year their bench usage was 32%, 3rd from the bottom. Their net rating was -2.9, well below league average. Last year’s late injury to Andrew Bogut served as a wake up call, because this year the Warriors play their bench 39% of the time, well above average, and their net rating of 5.7 is highest in the entire league. Not only are the Warriors better than they were last year, they’re also more sustainable. Be very happy that the Rockets sit on the other side of the bracket.

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    Houston Rockets 117, Utah Jazz 91: Everything came up Rocketshttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-117-utah-jazz-91-everything-came-up-rockets/15898/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-117-utah-jazz-91-everything-came-up-rockets/15898/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 03:13:35 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15898 The Houston Rockets have won their first division title in twenty years. The Houston Rockets won 56 games and clinched the 2-seed in an unknowably brutal west, despite losing their second best player for literally half of the season. James Harden, a consensus top-two MVP candidate, notched his fourth triple double of the season in […]

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    The Houston Rockets have won their first division title in twenty years. The Houston Rockets won 56 games and clinched the 2-seed in an unknowably brutal west, despite losing their second best player for literally half of the season. James Harden, a consensus top-two MVP candidate, notched his fourth triple double of the season in only 27 minutes in the last game of the year. The Rockets went up by 30 points on the Utah Jazz early and stayed there, cruising to a critical and beautiful win. This is the best Houston Rockets team we have seen in a decade, and this has been a a fantastic roller coaster ride. The 2014-2015 season is over, and it ended in the best way.

    The Utah jazz were without Gordon Hayward, and they were no match for the Houston Rockets. Harden’s team came out swinging, grabbing a double digit lead in the first quarter, and breaking the back of the Jazz with a 15-0 run in the first half. James Harden may only have scored 16 points, but he got the team going early with his distribution and shot creation against one of the best defenses in the league. He ended the night after three quarters with a stellar 16 point, 11 rebound, 10 assist night and shot only 8 times. Harden is the core of the team, and it was behind his leadership that the Rockets won 56 games when many people pegged them to win fewer than 50.

    The Rockets’ win on its own was not enough to clinch the 2 seed, as the Los Angeles Clippers had already won 56 and had the tiebreaker over the Rockets. Houston needed the division rival spurs to lose to the Pelicans in order to take the Southwest Division title and gain a different, stronger tiebreaker over the Clippers. Anthony Davis and his Pelicans came out swinging and gutted their way to a surprising win over the Spurs mere seconds after Houston beat Utah, leaving the entire Southwest Division standing in the playoffs when the dust cleared. The Golden State Warriors will face the New Orleans Pelicans and the Houston Rockets will face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. This is as good a finish as Houston could have hoped for in the standings, and it all came down to the last day of the season.

    Everyone looked ready for the playoffs. Terrence Jones hit every shot, going 6-6 for 15 points. Trevor Ariza didn’t shoot well (2-8, 6 points), but his defense remained mission critical. Dwight Howard played a mere 21 minutes and scored 14 points on 7 shots to go with his 8 rebounds. Jason Terry was 3-4 from deep, exactly the line Houston wants from him. The deep bench got some run as well, due to the massive 30 point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and every player not in a suit took to the court. Nick Johnson had his requisite failed highlight play at the rim, but played solid defense. KJ McDaniels looked active and aggressive, and Kostas Paopanikolaou was alive and well.

    Corey Brewer and Josh Smith took flight this game, playing the sort of form Houston needs in the playoffs. Brewer missed all 3 threes, but be was 6-12 otherwise for 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block. He was running in transition, making heads up plays and providing energy and excitement from the bench. Josh Smith, on the other hand, was hitting his threes, sinking 3 of his 5 attempts and scoring 13 points on the night. His combination of speed and power at his position and size in invaluable when he uses it right, and tonight his Swiss army knife-like skillset was imperative. The headbands extended the lead, never letting up, and never slowing down. If they can keep that intensity up in the post-season, the Rockets could make some real noise.

    Clint Capela hit 50% of his tree throws, a percentage far greater than the 0% he started  at for his first 15 attempts. In all seriousness, Capela is coming along faster than any reasonable expectation, and while he’ll probably get overwhelmed if the has to play much in the post season, he’s looking like a great defensive big going forward. He cleans up the glass, goes for the dunk, and sets picks on offense. He might be the perfect back up for Dwight Howard for years to come. Joey Dorsey, meanwhile, dribbled the ball all the way up to the three point line in transition, and really, at that point, he should have shot the three the arena was requesting. Why not?

    The regular season is done, and this year it’s both a relief and a victory. The Rockets held on. They suffered, struggled, and triumphed. They won enough to have the second best record in the west, and the third best record in the NBA. This Rockets team has a deserving MVP candidate, an innovative and successful front office, an up-and-coming coaching staff, and a chance to help make these playoffs amazing. Houston won, and everything is coming up Rockets.

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    Tiebreakers and the Playoff Picturehttp://www.red94.net/tiebreakers-and-the-playoff-picture/15892/ http://www.red94.net/tiebreakers-and-the-playoff-picture/15892/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 16:45:33 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15892 After an entire season of resenting the Golden State Warriors for all their success, their probable league MVP and their do-what-we-do-but-better style, they finally gave Rockets fans something to be happy about.  By beating the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, the Warriors gave Houston a little more say in how their season ends up.  But it […]

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    After an entire season of resenting the Golden State Warriors for all their success, their probable league MVP and their do-what-we-do-but-better style, they finally gave Rockets fans something to be happy about.  By beating the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, the Warriors gave Houston a little more say in how their season ends up.  But it did little to actually decide the Western Conference playoff picture.  That will have to wait until Wednesday, when the NBA regular season comes to a close.

    The Southwest Division is hands down the best division in the NBA, and all five teams could make the playoffs if the Pelicans beat the Spurs in the Big Easy on Thursday.  Not only would a Pelicans win cement the 2015 Southwest Division as one of the most impressive in NBA history, it would go a long way to helping Houston get back to the 2-seed.  As it stands now, Houston is fifth, which means Portland would come to town for game one (Houston would have home-court advantage because they have a better record, even though the Blazers technically sit fourth due to winning the Pacific Division).  But so much can change between now and Thursday morning.

    The only things that are certain is that Portland is the 4-seed and will not have home court in the first round, and Memphis cannot win the Southwest Division or the 2-seed.  A Memphis loss to Indiana on Thursday would lock them into the 6-seed.

    As for the rest: Buckle. In.  Because this is not easy.

    First, we’ll start with the schedule and all the games that will affect the Rockets.

    Los Angeles Clippers @ Phoenix Suns.  Tuesday, April 14 @ 9:30 pm.

    Utah Jazz @ Houston Rockets.  Wednesday, April 15 @ 7 pm.

    San Antonio Spurs @ New Orleans Pelicans.  Wednesday, April 15 @ 7 pm.

    Indiana Pacers @ Memphis Grizzlies.  Wednesday, April 15 @ 830 pm

    The Southwest Division winner will be the 2-seed, regardless of what L.A. does in Phoenix on Tuesday, if either the Rockets or Spurs win their final game.  If they both win and the Clippers do as well, the Spurs would take the division and the 2-6 seeds would look like this:

    2. Spurs
    3. Clippers
    4. Blazers
    5. Rockets (home court)
    6. Grizzlies

    But if the Clippers were to lose, Houston and L.A. would swap spots and the Rockets would be the 3-seed.

    Now, if both Houston and San Antonio lose and the Grizzlies beat Indiana, resulting in a three-way tie for the division, that changes things.  A three-way tie would be decided by the combined records in head-to-head match-ups of the involved teams.  Houston went 2-2 vs MEM, and 1-3 vs SA, meaning 3-5 total.  San Antonio split the season series with Memphis, and would win the tiebreaker because their 5-3 record is better than the Grizzlies 4-4.

    The only way the Southwest champ doesn’t win the 2-seed is if the Clippers finish with the best record of all four teams.  A three-way tie coupled with a Clippers win would mean the 2-6 seeds would look like this:

    2. Clippers
    3. Spurs
    4. Blazers
    5. Grizzlies (home court)
    6. Rockets

    In that same scenario, but with a Clippers loss to the Suns, 2-6 becomes:

    2. Spurs
    3. Clippers
    4. Blazers
    5. Grizzlies (home court)
    6. Rockets

    The only way the Rockets can win the 2-seed is if they win their final game and the Spurs lose theirs.  Then, 2-6 would be:

    2. Rockets
    3. Clippers
    4. Blazers
    5. Grizzlies/Spurs (MEM if they win)
    6. Grizzlies/Spurs (MEM if they lose)

    Whew! I think that covers it.

    It’s amazing that this late in the season, with only two days and one game per team remaining, so little of the playoff picture has been settled.  Not one single Western Conference playoff match-up has been decided, and only three seeds are set!

    The Rockets don’t control their own fate currently – even a win might only take them as high as fifth – but they definitely have the easiest game remaining of the four teams involved: at home against a Jazz team that should be trying to lose for draft purposes.  And luckily for Houston, the Spurs should have the toughest go of it, with Anthony Davis (at home, no less) scratching and clawing to make the playoffs for the first time.

    But having said that, with so little decided, a win or loss might not even matter depending on who you hope to see in the first round.  I’ll be back later in the day to discuss and breakdown the potential first round match-ups that the Rockets might face.

    Stay tuned.

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    Houston Rockets 121, New Orleans Pelicans 114: Two more games lefthttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-121-new-orleans-pelicans-114-two-more-games-left/15890/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-121-new-orleans-pelicans-114-two-more-games-left/15890/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 02:36:17 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15890 The Rockets will finish the season without losing more than two consecutive games at any point. — Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 13, 2015   The Houston Rockets won 54 games last year. They won 54 games tonight, and still have two games left against weaker teams in Charlotte and Utah. And yet even if they […]

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    The Rockets will finish the season without losing more than two consecutive games at any point.

    — Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 13, 2015

     

    The Houston Rockets won 54 games last year.

    They won 54 games tonight, and still have two games left against weaker teams in Charlotte and Utah.

    And yet even if they win both games, they could finish as the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

    Geez, this is stupid.

    As for tonight’s game in and of itself? Well, I do not know how this team managed to win 56 games without Dwight Howard’s defense.

    Okay, that is not totally honest. The Rockets won with generous helpings of Donatas Motiejunas’s defense ( a sentence which I would have died laughing from ten months ago.) Howard played 28 minutes tonight, the most since his return. And while it is just painfully obvious that much of his athleticism no longer exists, Howard’s defense has always been just as much about his head and length as it is about his leaping ability. While the Pelicans led for most of the game, it was never a comfortable lead, and much of it came down to Howard’s work on the post and alley-oop as it was about his defense.

    Howard’s work in the post meant that aside from a terrible stretch from the end of the first to about halfway through the second( which started the minute Joey Dorsey came into the game), Houston’s offense was humming throughout the entire night. Oklahoma City has given up and poses no threat to the Golden State Warriors, but the Pelicans are going to be destroyed in the playoffs. Anthony Davis’s young brilliance aside, this New Orleans team does not have a perimeter defender who can stop Harden or Klay Thompson. I believe Quincy Pondexter is supposed to be a 3-and-D guy, but Harden toyed with Pondexter all night. There was one play where Harden dribbled the ball out towards Pondexter’s space far closer than you would like, but Harden just moved the ball and got the layup. Bill Worrell compared it to a cat toying with a mouse.

    And it was not just all Harden – while Harden finished with 30 points, he did not score a single point in the fourth quarter. That was when Houston blew the game open, and it was thanks to Corey Brewer.  Brewer scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, where he killed the Pelicans by outrunning them over and over. But Brewer has developed one problem. While he has never been a great three-point shooter, he has yet to hit a single one so far in April. He is shooting less than 29 percent from long-range as a Rocket. Meanwhile, Josh Smith is over 34 percent.

    Houston’s offense worked well for most of the game. The defense looked like last year. As noted above, Howard played very well there. But Harden had some moments tonight where he lapsed back into last year’s Harden on defense. There was a stretch in the third quarter where Eric Gordon got four straight layups or three-pointers on him. And we all know about Prigioni and Terry’s defense or lack thereof. There were too many plays where Gordon, Tyreke Evans, or even Pondexter would just blow by whichever Rocket was supposed to guard them on the perimeter and then that player would dish it to Asik or Davis when Howard came out to greet them.

    The result was still a victory, and so far this season has been a success for the Rockets in spite of everything. But it is frustrating to see such a problem this late in the season. All the more so since it was Houston’s lack of perimeter defense which killed them against Portland last year.

     

    Postscript: Those two losses to San Antonio pretty much gave Stephen Curry the MVP. Now it looks like Harden will not be the scoring champion either after Russell Westbrook scored 54 points tonight in a loss against the Pacers. Westbrook took 43 shots to get those points, the most field goal attempts in a game since Kobe in January 2008.

    The scoring champion is a meaningless title. Nevertheless, it is frustrating to know that after a season where Harden has carried this Rockets team on offense again and again and led them so far on that end, someone who has missed over 15 games will grab it just because he is dominating to the ball to a degree not seen since 2006 Kobe.

    There is a lot about Russell Westbrook that irks me, both in his play and in the tremendous accolades he has attained this season by playing this way. But that is a topic for another time.

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    Collapsing down the stretchhttp://www.red94.net/collapsing-down-the-stretch/15889/ http://www.red94.net/collapsing-down-the-stretch/15889/#comments Sun, 12 Apr 2015 13:37:03 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15889 As of this moment, the Houston Rockets sit in sixth in the Western Conference, with a ticket booked for Los Angeles to open up the postseason, if the summer classic were to begin today.  They’ve choked in the manner they do every year around this time, relinquishing a firm grasp on what would have been […]

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  • As of this moment, the Houston Rockets sit in sixth in the Western Conference, with a ticket booked for Los Angeles to open up the postseason, if the summer classic were to begin today.  They’ve choked in the manner they do every year around this time, relinquishing a firm grasp on what would have been the franchise’s first division title in 20 years.  It’s pitifully tragic, knowing what this team has overcome and endured this season, that their own undoing will keep them from the praise they deserve.
  • Many of you have asked me on Twitter who I think is to blame, wondering if this may be Kevin McHale’s last dance.  I just don’t think there has to be a culprit in every circumstance, and I just don’t think there’s a culprit here.  Stuff happens.  Houston fought all year, they lost two starters, Dwight Howard is just now getting into rhythm, and James Harden is gassed.  Consequently, the team has unraveled.  Kevin McHale certainly cannot be to blame for any of that.  McHale and the staff had one of the best coaching performances in the league in keeping this team atop of the conference all season.  They’ll certainly get at least another crack at it with this group next season.
  • What has transpired hurts because it pushes this season’s accomplishments into the dustbin of history.  If the team finishes sixth, no one will remember how they overcame all expectations all season, even expectations given for a team with a healthy Dwight Howard, hovering among the top seeds in the brutal West.  People will just look back and see yet another mediocre finish for a franchise that has only known mediocrity for the last two decades.  It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but as a historian of the team, you can see how it bothers me.
    • Barring the miraculous, Friday’s loss just about clinched the MVP for Steph Curry.  Several of you have suggested to me that losing the MVP may not be such a bad thing if it means a motivated Harden in the postseason.  First, if losing the MVP award is what it takes to motivate James, then we have a problem.  Second, this isn’t the 90’s.  I don’t know that one star player playing out of his mind will ever again be enough in the new NBA.  Teams need balanced attacks with multiple contributors to navigate their way through four rounds against the best the league has to offer.  In the grand scheme, the MVP award really doesn’t matter, but it would have been a very cool accolade for a local athlete, and the type of thing that remains the object of a franchise’s pride for decades later.
    • I noted on Twitter, recently, that the great irony is that this Rockets team is something of an anachronism, equipped almost as if from the 90’s or early 00’s.  They have a smashing defense and, probably, the best player in the league.  They have three-point shooting.  And they don’t have much of anything else.  In the olden days, that was enough.  You let your defense dictate one end, and then you handed the ball off to your star for the remainder of the 48, and allowed him to isolate his way to the victory.  Sure, there were the portions of games where you, as they put it, “got other guys involved,” but on the whole, that was the recipe, and it was the recipe for championships.  But at least until the next basketball revolution, with defenses utilizing the new rules to box star players into unnavigable positions, that will never again be enough.  You need ball-handlers and passers that can make quick reads on the fly to react to in-sequence dynamics.  Aside from Harden, Houston has none of those.  They just have brutes on the glass, another boon relic from days past.
    • Friday was why I laughed at those of you throughout the year who suggested the Spurs would be a desirable matchup in the postseason.  Repeat after me: the Spurs are never a desirable matchup.
    • Anything can happen from this point forward, but whatever transpires, the biggest takeaway from this year is that the franchise has a man who legitimately can be the best player in the entire league.  The gravity of that development cannot be overstated.  Even more encouraging is that given his style of play, and physical attributes, you see Harden continuing to develop, and aging gracefully, with maybe even another six years remaining in his prime.  The challenge now, as it seemingly has been the dilemma for all of Daryl Morey’s tenure, is finding the right supporting cast, especially with Dwight Howard seemingly on his last legs, no pun intended.
    • Harden will have to develop a floater at some point, just to avoid contact at the rim, which leads me to my last thought for today: I argued with several of you on Twitter Friday night, whether or not the block by Tim Duncan to seal the game was truly a foul.  I didn’t think it was, and my opinion was validated by the league’s review yesterday.  But those of you engaging me in that debate, were, I think, missing the greater point.  It doesn’t matter if it was really a foul.  The issue at hand is that that sort of contact will never be called a foul at the end of a playoff game.  You can retort that “Kobe would have gotten that call” all you want, but it won’t change things for the Houston Rockets and James Harden.  So rather than whining about ideals, let’s think realistically.  What’s the solution?  Harden obviously can’t keep driving in like this as that is now two games (loss to Memphis) where he has drawn contact that affected his shot.  But conversely, competent scouting will know that James may now be more reluctant to drive, causing long-armed defenders to sit on his jumpshot.  Here’s where a floater would help, but a floater James Harden does not have.  We’ll just have to see what transpires.

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    San Antonio Spurs 104, Houston Rockets 103: Well, this was a disappointmenthttp://www.red94.net/san-antonio-spurs-104-houston-rockets-103-well-this-was-a-disappointment/15887/ http://www.red94.net/san-antonio-spurs-104-houston-rockets-103-well-this-was-a-disappointment/15887/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 03:31:09 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15887 This might be the game that changes the hack a X rule once and for all. — Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) April 11, 2015 I disagree with Mr. Voulgaris. What will change that rule is when the Clippers-Rockets series that became much more probable tonight becomes seven straight games of Hack-a-Smith-Howard-Jordan-Dorsey. The Rockets started off with […]

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    This might be the game that changes the hack a X rule once and for all.

    — Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) April 11, 2015

    I disagree with Mr. Voulgaris. What will change that rule is when the Clippers-Rockets series that became much more probable tonight becomes seven straight games of Hack-a-Smith-Howard-Jordan-Dorsey.

    The Rockets started off with the big lead, gave it away late in the third, and then came close before falling short in the final seconds. It was a disappointing loss which showcased much of the big problems which the Rockets will face in the postseason. And I am not just talking about the free throws.

    But let’s start with the free throws. The Rockets give up an average of 106.7 points per 100 possession according to basketball reference. Therefore, a Houston player should have a free throw percentage of 53.35 percent or higher to make intentionally fouling him a mathematical mistake.

    Smith, Howard, and Dorsey are all worse than that. And hacking them is probably even more favorable for the opposing team because Houston’s offense should be above 106.7 when Harden is on the floor, which he should be at the end of every quarter where Houston is already in the bonus. The result tonight was that Gregg Popovich hacked Josh Smith for over 6 in-game minutes. Smith went 12-26 from the foul line tonight and failed to punish Popovich for that coaching decision.

    There will be probably be serious debate about changing the hack-a-X rules in the postseason. But it is not the postseason and Houston must deal with the reality that all but one of their big men in the playoffs are vulnerable to hacking.

    They will also have to deal with how their big men are going to defend other big men. Duncan scored 29 points on 15 shots tonight, but it was how he got those points that was concerning. When Howard was on the floor, Duncan got them through the relentless Spurs system and finishing passes. The Spurs system cannot be completely stopped, but Duncan is not an irreplaceable part of that system.

    But when Howard was not on the floor, Duncan outworked Smith, Jones, and Dorsey in the post. Especially Dorsey. Dorsey relies on his lower body weight to prevent players from muscling him around ala Chuck Hayes, but Duncan has not played like that in years if ever. Duncan just used his skills and height to get good shots over Dorsey.

    Houston lost to Portland last year because by the time McHale found an answer to defending LaMarcus Aldridge, the Rockets were down 2-0. So, how is Houston going to defend Duncan again, or Aldridge, or Randolph or Griffin? The Houston offense is what it is at this point. But it is not a little disappointing that after seeing so much talk and actual accomplishments on the defensive end this season, it is that part which worries me in the postseason.

    So, what now with the postseason seeding? The Rockets fall to the sixth seed, but the sixth seed is better than the fourth or fifth. If the Rockets cannot draw Dallas in the first round, I do not particularly care which team Houston faces out of the Clippers, Portland, Memphis, or San Antonio ( though that is my preferred order of teams to face from best to worst). But Golden State is another matter. I do not think people get just how dominant the Warriors have been this season, or that they could absolutely destroy everyone they face ala the 2001 Lakers. And that even includes San Antonio in their 2014 SPURSKRIEG VERSION VI mode.

    Avoiding a matchup with Golden State for as long as possible is the most important priority, which means that if Houston cannot get 2nd or 3rd, they should fall to 6th. At the end of the day, tonight’s game was a close loss. If a couple things are worked on, or a couple bounces go Houston’s way, the Rockets would have won and everything would be just fine.

    Tonight’s loss was a disappointment and Houston is not exactly closing this season out on a high note. But I do think Houston can defeat any other Western team even without homecourt – with the exception of the Warriors. That, and ensuring no one else falls over dead should be Kevin McHale’s biggest priority during this final week.

    As a final postscript: Worrell and Drexler spent that last part of the broadcast complaining about how the Duncan block was a foul on Harden. It was not. And let me just say that game when Calvin Murphy announced instead of Drexler was one of my favorite games of the season.

     

     

     

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    Houston Rockets 98, San Antonio Spurs 110: Here Come the Spurshttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-98-san-antonio-spurs-110-here-come-the-spurs/15885/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-98-san-antonio-spurs-110-here-come-the-spurs/15885/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 11:40:37 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15885 We may have counted our chickens before they hatched. For several weeks now, it’s looked like the Houston Rockets were going to be the two seed and play the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.  All of a sudden the Rockets are in the three-spot and are only a half-game from slipping […]

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    We may have counted our chickens before they hatched.

    For several weeks now, it’s looked like the Houston Rockets were going to be the two seed and play the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.  All of a sudden the Rockets are in the three-spot and are only a half-game from slipping all the way to sixth with four to play.

    The San Antonio Spurs, after Wednesday night’s drubbing of the home team, have won nine in a row and 12 of their last 13.  They still sit sixth, but with a win Friday night in Houston the Spurs can completely change the look of the Western Conferences’ first round. 

    And for the Spurs, it all starts with Tony Parker.  I know Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league.  I know Russell Westbrook is the most explosive, John Wall is the quickest, and Kyrie Irving the best scorer.  But is there another player in the NBA that can make running an offense look easier than Tony Parker?  He is the rare combination of scoring guard and floor general that you just don’t see very often.  Parker lived in the paint against Houston, scoring with a bevy of scoops, floaters and pull-ups.  The Rockets don’t miss much of Patrick Beverly on offense, but you have to think he would have been able to do a better job of at least making Parker work to get to his spots than either Jason Terry or Pablo Prigioni were able to.

    And on the other end, the Rockets didn’t have their usual explosiveness.  Houston started strong, scoring 33 points in the first quarter, but a three at the buzzer by Boris Diaw really seemed to take the air out of the Rockets for the rest of the game.  James Harden scored 13 points in the opening quarter and was 6-6 from the free throw line.  But he only had 9 points in the final three quarters, and got to the line just two more times.  The story was the same with Dwight Howard, who had 6 points and 7 rebounds in the first quarter, and managed only 10 and 4 the rest of the game.

    Joey Dorsey continued to embarrass himself from the free throw line.  He was only 0-4, but had another air-ball and didn’t come close to making any of his attempts.  The Spurs announcers had to really contain their joy whenever he was at the line, and swallow laughter after Dorsey tried to crack the glass his shots.  I know Dorsey brings some things defensively, but is he really an improvement over Clint Capela at this point?  (Keep in mind that Capela was a 60% FT shooter in the D-League, despite the putrid start to his NBA career).  Dorsey routinely gets rebounds tipped away from him by taller players, and his free throw shooting is a big, giant bulls-eye when the playoffs get here.  All things being the same, I’d just assume Capela, the young buck with all the potential and length, get Dorsey’s minutes and start figuring out how to be an NBA regular a little earlier than expected.

    Trevor Ariza (19 points, 5-6 from deep) and Josh Smith (13 pts, 3 reb and 5 ast) had solid games for the Rockets.  Prigioni did some nice things, but could only do so much.  And that was about it for Houston.  Corey Brewer shot 1-6 from the field and somehow managed a plus/minus of -22 in only 23 minutes.  Terrence Jones had probably his least effective game of the season, getting zero boards and only scoring only 2 points.  Add that to Jason Terry’s 4 point, 1 assist line and the Rockets got almost zilch out of 40% of their starting five.

    Besides Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw were all over the court, stuffing the stat sheet.  Aaron Baynes outworked Houston’s bigs all night and had a game-high 12 rebounds.  Manu Ginobli’s three made three pointers felt like 10, hitting them all to either cap a Spurs run or beat the buzzer.

    After getting the devastating news that Donatas Motiejunas would miss the rest of the year earlier in the day, this game just felt par for the course for the Rockets.  They just can’t catch a break.  And for several weeks now, Rockets fans have been eying the standings, trying to decide who they’d prefer to host in a first round matchup.  And for weeks its looked like it would be either Dallas or San Antonio.  But after the Spurs recent run, and this loss by Houston, it could very well end up that San Antonio hosts Houston in game one.

    Wouldn’t that be just awesome.

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    Houston Rockets 115, Oklahoma City Thunder 112: The duelhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-115-oklahoma-city-thunder-112-the-duel/15884/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-115-oklahoma-city-thunder-112-the-duel/15884/#comments Sun, 05 Apr 2015 20:57:13 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15884 James Harden and Russell Westbrook met at high noon to settle it once and for all. Two men, two teams, two playoff hunts stared each other down in Oklahoma and took their shot at each other. When the sun set on their showdown, both men had given it all, but only one would take away a […]

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    James Harden and Russell Westbrook met at high noon to settle it once and for all. Two men, two teams, two playoff hunts stared each other down in Oklahoma and took their shot at each other. When the sun set on their showdown, both men had given it all, but only one would take away a win. James Harden’s Rockets carried the day, even while Westbrook notched yet another triple double. There was no crushing victory for either man or either team, as the Thunder stayed close all game and very nearly snatched a victory while James Harden sat, fouled out. There was only a knock-down, drag-out fight that the Rockets wearily weathered. And we still don’t know which man is the hero of this western.

    Westbrook’s line is a nightmare for his opponents: today he racked up 40 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in his 11th triple double of the season. The Thunder are desperate for wins at this point, and Westbrook is keeping the ship afloat almost single-handedly while Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant watch from the sidelines. Thunder GM Sam Presti has done a fantastic job surrounding Westbrook with talent and depth, but that can only go so far. Today, the Houston Rockets pushed the Thunder just past their breaking point, with James Harden as the tip of that spear.

    Harden’s line wasn’t as gaudy as Westbrook’s triple double, but was just as valuable. His 41 points came on only 22 shots, as opposed to the 29 Westbrook needed for 40. The main difference in shooting was from three point range, where Harden’s 6-9 blew away Westbrook’s very respectable 4-11. James only notched 6 rebounds and 6 assists, but his 3 steals and 3 turnovers compared well to Westbrooks 0 steals and 4 turnovers. On balance, Westbrook’s box score was probably a little better, and he didn’t foul out with 33 seconds left like Harden did, but Harden was just as valuable to his team. It was Harden who threw daggers into the heart of OKC’s late-game comeback run, after the thunder had pulled into a 100-point tie on a Westbrook three.

    Dwight Howard also put in some work in this game, raiding his minutes cap and raising his production, too. He played 23 minutes, scoring 22 points in that time, mostly on alley-oops and putbacks. Apart from a few ill-conceived post-ups, Howard seems mostly willing to play in the role that many have sought for him: pick and roll master. He’s one of the best roll men in the league, and his ability to finish at the rim off a cut is nearly unstoppable. He and Josh Smith showed off their chemistry, and when those two work together to take apart defenses, good things happen.

    Both teams got into foul trouble early, and stayed there all game. Steven Adams and James Harden eventually fouled out, with one loss a bit sharper than the other. The whole game was intensely physical, and neither team shot well because of it. The Rockets continued their habit of missing open threes as well, coming in at a dismal 8-28 for 29%. Players other than harden shot a horrifying 2-19 from deep. The Rockets also made their own lives worse by missing 19 of their 50 free throws, many of which came from intentional fouls to put Joey Dorsey or Dwight Howard at the line.

    Despite an ugly, free-throw riddled, beat-em-up game, the Rockets were able to hold on to a lead for most of the game. After an 18-0 run in the first quarter to gain a ten point lead, the Rockets never trailed again, and only tied for the briefest of moments in the waning minutes. The Thunder absolutely needed that win and played hard all game, but the Rockets responded and held on. Anthony Morrow in particular was a thorn in Houston’s side, shooting 6-8 from deep, but it wasn’t him that the Thunder ran a play for when they were down 3 with mere seconds to go. Instead, it was Westbrook who heaved a desperation three when he thought Corey Brewer fouled him. There was no whistle, and the game ended with a scrum for a loose ball.

    The showdown at Oklahoma City ended as it began: two teams, locked in a fight to prove who’s better once and for all. Nothing was resolved, and the fight only intensified. After the final play, Enes Kanter took exception to Trevor Ariza’s rough box-out and got into it with Houston’s premier wing defender. The two almost scuffled while Dwight Howard interceded and eventually cooler heads prevailed. There’s no love lost between these teams, and they’ll have another showdown eventually. But if the Thunder lose any more games, it might not be in the playoffs.

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    Trevor Ariza: The Time is Nowhttp://www.red94.net/trevor-ariza-the-time-is-now/15879/ http://www.red94.net/trevor-ariza-the-time-is-now/15879/#comments Sat, 04 Apr 2015 01:33:43 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15879 At this late stage in the season, teams’ identities are more or less known. No one really expects many surprises to occur before the playoffs begin. Of course, outside of the few front runners, every other playoff team is actually hoping that surprises will occur. That is the only chance that non-favorites have of surpassing expectations. […]

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    Trevor Ariza: The Time is Now post image

    At this late stage in the season, teams’ identities are more or less known. No one really expects many surprises to occur before the playoffs begin. Of course, outside of the few front runners, every other playoff team is actually hoping that surprises will occur. That is the only chance that non-favorites have of surpassing expectations. This means that, barring unfortunate injuries, the script that most teams hope will be written is that an underused or underachieving player catches lightning in a bottle and proceeds to disrupt predictions.

    On the Houston Rockets, the list of these candidates is slim. While James Harden is certainly the most important player, it’s a bit greedy, and probably unrealistic, to hope that he plays even more out of his skull than he currently is. Due to injuries, some might say that Dwight Howard has a chance to change the course of the playoffs a bit, but I think this blog has already beaten to death where Dwight’s ceiling is (probably behind him) and what he takes off the table (0.76 PPP on post ups) when he’s in the game. Instead, I propose that the Rockets’ potential difference maker is Trevor Ariza. Out of all the players that will receive significant playing time in the playoffs, he is the one whose ceiling is probably furthest away from what we’ve seen this regular season.

    That Ariza is going to play, and play a lot, is a given. He currently ranks 3rd in the league in minutes per game, and history shows that all teams, particularly the Rockets, play fewer players more minutes in the playoffs. Multiple 40+ minute games for Ariza is going to be the norm. Ariza’s role is also pretty cut and dry; he’s the Rockets primary 3-and-D wing. He’s a little older than the prototype at that “position,” but he makes up for his declining athleticism on defense with above-average size and veteran savvy.

    On offense, Ariza attempts the most 3s (521 attempts) on the team that attempts the most 3s in the league. Harden is neck-and-neck with Ariza in terms of attempts, but the next highest active player is Jason Terry at only 295. Given the Rockets’ identity, Ariza’s playing time, and his role, it’s easy to recognize how important he is. This season, however, he’s fared poorly at performing the “3” part of his role. Take a look at this graph.

    Ariza's 3PA and 3P% per 100 possessions

    Ariza’s 3PA and 3P% per 100 possessions

    This chart shows Ariza’s 3-point activity over the years, per 100 possessions. Expectedly, his 3-point attempts have increased as his 3-and-D role has become more solidified. His 3-point shooting percentage has also increased steadily… until this year. While he shot over 40% at over eight attempts last year, this year he’s shooting roughly 34% but taking even more 3s (over nine). Not exactly great performance for such a key player.

    That’s the bad news. The good news is that, unlike Howard, Ariza’s role is very much skill based, meaning it’s realistic that he can improve what he needs to do. Furthermore, we know what the ceiling on his three-point shooting is (last year), and it’s very good. Just for the lulz, I calculated what would have happened this year if Trevor Ariza were replaced by Robo Ariza. The only difference between Trevor and Robo is that Robo always shoots 40.7% (Trevor’s tally last year) on three-point attempts. If Robo had taken every shot that Trevor did this year, the changed point differentials of each game would have netted the Rockets three more wins. Those wins would have come against the Spurs, Wizards, and Grizzlies.

    While this exercise might be kind of fun in a vacuum, it’s pretty pointless because we don’t live in a vacuum. But it does show, I hope, how a couple of shots can potentially swing important games. On the Rockets, the player most likely to be in position to take those shots is Trevor Ariza. If he can snatch lightning in a bottle and reclaim his shooting ceiling, just for a couple of months, the Rockets have a chance to disrupt the playoffs’ script.

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    Houston Rockets 108, Dallas Mavericks 101: Just enough to winhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-108-dallas-mavericks-101-just-enough-to-win/15877/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-108-dallas-mavericks-101-just-enough-to-win/15877/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 05:52:32 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15877 James Harden is a basketball god. But we have to remember that as much as we may gnash our teeth when he is out, and as much as we count how many minutes he sits and hope that the Rockets can survive without Harden for just a few more minutes, he is not winning these […]

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    James Harden is a basketball god.

    But we have to remember that as much as we may gnash our teeth when he is out, and as much as we count how many minutes he sits and hope that the Rockets can survive without Harden for just a few more minutes, he is not winning these games by himself. Basketball is a team game, and tonight the Houston team got together to beat the most vulnerable of the Western Conference contenders.

    And how did they do that? With one of the best defenses in the league. The Rockets from Brewer to Smith to Jones all played defense. The Mavericks have only three players on their team who can – Rondo, Chandler, and Al-Farouq Aminu. And while those players are not offensively reliable, Dallas’s offensive players in Dirk and Amare are not defensively reliable.

    The Houston Rockets have two-way players. The Mavericks do not. That made the difference in the fourth quarter and the game.

    The main two-way saviors were the headband brothers of Brewer and Josh Smith. I am still slow to come around on Smith, as there are issues with his play (namely, his passing) which I find tremendously frustrating to watch. But Smith hit all five of his free throws and played good defense on Dirk and the weakside. Yes, Dirk scored 21 points on 11 shots. But those came from jump shots and not the post. And it was in the post where Dirk became truly dangerous and led his team to a championship.

    Brewer on the other hand was a speed demon who revitalized the Houston offense. Dallas does not have the athleticism to play transition defense in general, and Brewer raced up and down the court scoring bucket after bucket. Brewer did miss his only attempted three-pointer tonight, but his relentless energy gave the tired Rockets a huge energy boost.

    And there was the role of Dwight Howard on Houston’s defense tonight. Howard did not play many minutes in the fourth quarter, which was when Houston finally figured out Dallas’s transition attack. There was also a scary moment in the third quarter when Howard appeared to be limping, but he jumped for the alley-oop slam in the fourth quarter and appears to be fine.

    Now for the bad news. There is no way the Rockets can afford to play either Joey Dorsey or Clint Capela in the playoffs when opposing teams are in the penalty. None. It does not matter how good Dorsey’s defense can be or how exciting Capela’s dunks are. You cannot play players who are shooting 28 and 0 percent respectively from the foul line in the playoffs (and yes, that is zero. Clint Capela has not hit a free throw this season). They will be hacked and sent to the foul line.

    We saw this tonight. After Dallas got into the penalty, Rick Carlisle had both players hacked through the second quarter. Capela and Dorsey went 1 for 8 from the free throw line during that stretch. They also had at least one air ball during that stretch.

    This may not matter in the playoffs when Motiejunas returns from his back injury. But remember that none of Houston’s big men are reliable foul shooters. For example, Josh Smith has hit 50 percent of his foul shots as a Rockets, which translates to 1 point per possession. Meanwhile, Houston averages about 1.06 points per possession this season. Will we see Popovich or Carlisle hack Smith as well?

    There are six games left in the season, and tonight’s victory ensured that the Rockets will be no worse than the sixth seed. I do not particularly care whether Houston is in the second, third, or sixth seeds. But the fourth and fifth seeds are a different matter. Golden State is terrifying. In addition to their on-court dominance, they have managed to stay healthy while most of the West battles one injury or another, and I would not be surprised to see them blow everyone away ala last year’s Spurs or the 2001 Lakers. The later Houston can face them, the better.

    In the end, Houston’s fate is in its hands. They may have a few hard games to finish out the season, but they can have the second seed in a season where no one expected them to rise this much. Now they just need to keep it up for six more games.

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    Sacramento Kings 111, Houston Rockets 115: Making His Casehttp://www.red94.net/sacramento-kings-111-houston-rockets-115-mvp-or-bust/15876/ http://www.red94.net/sacramento-kings-111-houston-rockets-115-mvp-or-bust/15876/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 12:35:59 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15876 Just two weeks after setting his career high with 50 points, James Harden did himself one better and dropped in 51 in the win against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.  It was the tenth 50-point game in Rockets history, as Harden added his name next to Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone and Hakeem the Dream […]

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    Just two weeks after setting his career high with 50 points, James Harden did himself one better and dropped in 51 in the win against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.  It was the tenth 50-point game in Rockets history, as Harden added his name next to Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone and Hakeem the Dream as the only Rockets’ players to hit that mark twice, and the first to do it in the same season.

    Harden was virtually un-guardable all night, scoring at will from all over the court.  He was especially deadly from deep, hitting 8-9 from three.  But Harden wasn’t just getting buckets, he also filled the box score with 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals.  He scored 10 of the Rockets last 11 points to close the fourth quarter, but actually missed his last two free throws which could have pushed his big night even higher.

    And the Rockets needed every point Harden could muster because the Kings hung around all night, thanks in large part to DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins (24 pts, 21 rebs and 10 ast and 6 blocks) was simply too long and too strong for the Rockets hodgepodge frontcourt, on the way to his second career triple-double.

    Omri Casspi (18 pts, 7 rebs, 4 ast and 4 stl) did his best to make the Rockets rue the day they released him last off-season, doing as much as anyone could to slow Harden, and finished with a plus minus of +13.  The next closest Kings’ player was former Rocket Carl Landry’s +2.  The Kings did have six players in double figures, and they shot 50% from both the field (48-96) and from three (7-14).

    Sacramento feasted on the Rockets at the rim, scoring 35 of their 48 buckets from inside the paint.  The thin frontline for Houston certainly didn’t help, but there were also numerous plays where the Rockets missed the offensive rebound or turned the ball over and just didn’t get enough bodies back on defense.

    But even with the Kings battling back from every deficit and making it close at the end, you never really got the sense that the Rockets might lose.  And it wasn’t just Harden’s doing, either.  The Rockets shot 40 three-pointers, making 18 (45%).  Houston is 8-4 this season when shooting 40 or more threes.  Trevor Ariza continued his hot streak, making 6-14 three-pointers and was his usual irritating self on defense.  Joey Dorsey added 7 points and 11 rebounds, 7 on the offensive glass.

    Terrence Jones made his first appearance since an elbow to the midsection caused his lung to collapse, and absolutely stuffed the stat sheet in his 32 minutes.  Jones scored 16 points on 6-10 shooting (2-3 3pt) with 7 boards (3 offensive), 3 assists, 1 steal and a career-high 7 blocks.  Five of Jones’ blocks came on two different possessions, blocking Casspi twice around the rim in the first quarter, and then rejecting three consecutive Carl Landry layups near the end of the first half.  But it wasn’t all rosy for Jones, as he looked winded in the fourth quarter and he (-15) and Corey Brewer (-8) were the only Rockets’ players with a negative plus/minus.

    Clint Capela only played 10 minutes, but had two more big dunks and finished with a +9 overall, second-highest for Houston.  For the second consecutive game he showed how effective hovering near the rim and keeping the paint clear can really be.  Here’s hoping that Dwight Howard is still paying attention and still intent on not changing the offense when he’s back to full-time.

    But as usual, James Harden was the real story.  It seems as though everyone in the national media has reserved the MVP for Steph Curry, but if Harden can win a scoring title and/or carry this beat-up, constantly fluctuating roster to the 2-seed, I just can’t fathom anyone passing him over for the award.  Curry has been great and so have the Warriors, but they’ve also been the healthiest team in the league this season, and his degree of difficulty hasn’t been anywhere near the realm of Harden’s.

    Now that Pat Beverley is done for the year, the Rockets got exactly two games out of their opening day starting-five.  Harden’s cast of characters has continuously changed, but night-in and night-out he’s been exactly what the Rockets have needed: an MVP.

     

     

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    Toronto Raptors 99, Houston Rockets 96: Just one dayhttp://www.red94.net/toronto-raptors-99-houston-rockets-69-just-one-day/15874/ http://www.red94.net/toronto-raptors-99-houston-rockets-69-just-one-day/15874/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 02:59:44 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15874 The Houston Rockets were the two seed in the Western Conference for just about twenty-four hours exactly. Rockets pulled back into a tie with Memphis for a few minutes, who holds the tiebreaker and more importantly then beat the Sacramento Kings to take back their half-game lead on the Rockets. The Western Conference is a […]

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    The Houston Rockets were the two seed in the Western Conference for just about twenty-four hours exactly. Rockets pulled back into a tie with Memphis for a few minutes, who holds the tiebreaker and more importantly then beat the Sacramento Kings to take back their half-game lead on the Rockets. The Western Conference is a cruel battlefield, where a severely undermanned squad on a back to back can’t afford a loss to a four seed out east. The reality of the Eastern Conference is exactly opposite: a three point victory on the back of DeMar DeRozan’s career high over a badly hobbled opponent is just what the doctor ordered to get things going again. The Rockets might only have held vice-court for a single day, but sometimes a single day makes all the difference.

    The showdown of the game was DeRozan vs James Harden, and today Toronto came out ahead in that matchup. Harden shot 9-22 and hung the only 30 point performance of the season on Toronto’s defense with 31 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He had it going in spurts, and got to the line 12 times, but wasn’t able to make it through the litany of defenders Toronto threw at him. DeMar DeRozan, on the other hand, took over in the absent Kyle Lowry’s stead and had a monster 42 point and 11 rebound night, including a game-clinching two right over Harden’s defense. DeRozan was in rare form, and if he plays like that every night, the Raptors are in great shape.

    So, the good was Clint Capela. He dunked 4 times, scoring his first 8 NBA points (finally), grabbing 9 rebounds and swatting two shots in 19  minutes. He looked great on defense, and Nick Johnson joined him in that crusade. Johnson is as raw as they come, but his defense is tenacious and he’s big enough to give players fits. The young guys came up big on a night when they absolutely had to.

    The bad was the headbands, who did not come up big and in fact combined to shoot 9-30 and score 21. They put together 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals with 60 minutes between them. That is not a good line. They tried hard and they played hard, but they were tired and overworked and it was bad. Even Trevor Ariza, who was good, was still bad. He shot 5-15 (15 points), which was bad, but he notched 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block, which were good. Overall, not great from the supporting cast.

    We’ll get to the ugly, but first the pretty: a lovely game from Pablo Prigioni. He only took one shot, but he made it, as well as one free throw, to finish a strange but beautiful 3 point, 7 assist night. He was carving up the Raptors’ defense in his 23 minutes, and he hasn’t looked that confident all year. If Prigioni can be this Pablo in the playoffs, the loss of Patrick Beverley won’t sting quite so much.

    Oh, the team announced that Patrick Beverley will get wrist surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist, and will miss the duration of the season. So, he wasn’t playing. Dwight Howard wore a suit because he isn’t allowed in back to back games yet. Terrence Jones continues to recover from a partially collapsed lung, Donatas Motiejunas suddenly developed a back strain, and Kostas Papanikolaou remains sidelined by an ankle injury that refuses to go away. The ugly was a team missing half its rotation while playing on a road to road back to back.

    The Rockets still almost won, and only sealed the deal with an impossible shot from DeMar DeRozan and a shockingly horrible play for a game-tying three at the very end. Ariza ended up taking and missing two desperation threes as the clock wound down and as the rest of the Rockets simply watched helplessly. This may have been a painful loss, but it could have been much worse. It was only disappointing because the Rockets went above and beyond and grabbed a lead for much of the game. If the Rockets can do this with so much leveled against them, it’ll be interesting to see what they can do when things get better. They might even get back to where they were, the second seed, for just one day.

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    Houston Rockets 120, Minnesota Timberwolves 110: Bombs awayhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-120-minnesota-timberwolves-110-bombs-away/15872/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-120-minnesota-timberwolves-110-bombs-away/15872/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 09:08:31 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15872 Well, the Houston Rockets are in the playoffs. Let us not forget how at the beginning of the season, Houston was a dark-horse pick…to miss the playoffs altogether, especially if either Harden or Howard got hurt. Yet here they are, just a half-game from the second seed in the Western Conference. But the Rockets have […]

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    Well, the Houston Rockets are in the playoffs.

    Let us not forget how at the beginning of the season, Houston was a dark-horse pick…to miss the playoffs altogether, especially if either Harden or Howard got hurt. Yet here they are, just a half-game from the second seed in the Western Conference.

    But the Rockets have not reached their potential. There were glimpses of it tonight with Dwight, as Houston just reached another level while he was on the court. Houston did play well enough tonight that Kevin McHale sent out human victory cigar K.J. McDaniels with two minutes left. But I have no doubt that if Howard could play like normal, this game would have been over by the start of the fourth quarter.

    It was not just the defense, though that was good as always. Howard mentioned to Sports Illustrated about how he wanted to take a smaller role on the offensive end and “make the ultimate sacrifice.” That was on display tonight. Howard made 8 shots. Most if not all of them were dunks. None of them came from Howard’s attempts to post up. They were passes received from Harden, Josh Smith, and Pablo Prigioni and then thrown down with all of Howard’s force and athleticism.

    Practically every NBA website has written at some point about how Howard should stop trying to produce in the post and focus on playing defense and grabbing lobs. That was what happened tonight and it was great to watch.

    The result tonight was that for three quarters and much of the fourth, Houston used Howard to grab a big lead over the Timberwolves. Then Howard went out, Dorsey came in, and Minnesota’s offense would shrink the lead for the rest of the quarter. Andrew Wiggins in particular drew fouls like he was Harden tonight, finishing with 31 points after scoring 30 against Houston earlier this season.

    Oh, and the three-pointers were fun too. This injured Wolves team which only suited up eight players tonight do not have any perimeter defenders aside from Andrew Wiggins. So all of the Rockets starters went off and shot over 50 percent of their long-range shots. Even Josh Smith went 3-5 tonight.

    The bench on the other hand did struggle to shoot. Brewer is inconsistent and that just is how he is, but Prigioni is problematic. When Red94 discussed Prigioni in our post-trade deadline roundtable, Richard Li pointed out that while Prigioni was a career 41 percent shooter from three, it was distorted by how rarely he actually shot them.

    Now Prigioni is hitting just 18 percent as a Rocket, going 1-6 tonight. And if that was not bad enough, the Minnesota defenders were backing off Prigioni to cover the other players. You know Prigioni is in a slump when defenders pay more attention to Josh Smith’s three-pointers. Bill Worrell said that Prigioni is looking to adjust, and that is all Houston fans can hope for.

    And speaking of Smith. Smith was Root Sport’s Player of the Game as he fell one rebound shy of a triple-double. I do not care about triple doubles (a reason I am apoplectic about the idea of Russell Westbrook stealing the MVP trophy). They are a cute quirk of the box score and nothing more. And while Smith had 11 assists and had good effort on the glass and defensive end, I remain concerned about how he tries to thread the needle too often. 11 assists to 6 turnovers is not terrible from an assist to turnover standpoint, but it is not great and Houston needs to worry about how they will fix their turnover problem. While I understand how Houston needs multiple ball handlers especially without Beverley, it remains a problem.

    The Rockets are close to that second seed and a potential playoff trip against a vulnerable Mavericks squad. But they have two tough road games up next. The Wizards play defense, and the last time Houston won in Toronto, Rafer Alston was the starting point guard. Both the Grizzlies and the Rockets will face just three sub-.500 opponents over the rest of the season.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    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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