Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings http://www.red94.net Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings Fri, 30 Jan 2015 03:20:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Rockets Roundup: 01/29/15http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-012915/15104/ http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-012915/15104/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:32:48 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15104 A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days.  Houston Chronicle. Five things we learned from the Rockets’ victory over the Mavericks. “Rockets 99, Mavericks 94 1. James Harden saw the usual extra defensive attention and was happy to move the ball and set up teammates, finding just enough […]

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A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days. 

Houston Chronicle. Five things we learned from the Rockets’ victory over the Mavericks.

“Rockets 99, Mavericks 94 1. James Harden saw the usual extra defensive attention and was happy to move the ball and set up teammates, finding just enough perimeter shooting for the Rockets to win even with Harden 10 points shy of his league-leading average. Harden can expect more of that treatment, but has seen it often before, making his combination of scoring and playmaking more remarkable. The Rockets, however, might need more high percentage shooting around him to go with the 3-point shooting…”

ESPN Dallas. Parsons: Harden is MVP at this point.

“If Chandler Parsons had a midseason MVP vote, it would go to former teammate James Harden. ‘For sure. He’s the best player in basketball right now,’ Parsons said before his Dallas Mavericks faced Harden’s Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. ‘The things he’s doing are incredible. The scouting report is focused in on stopping him and you see he’s still getting 30 a game. It’s impressive.’ “

Sports Illustrated. Midseason grades for every NBA team.

“At a glance: Houston’s first half was all about dispelling widely-held assumptions like, “They’re dead in the water if one of their superstars gets injured” and “They can’t win with defense” and “Kevin McHale is a lame duck with a good chance to be the first coach fired” and “No analytics-minded executive would touch Josh Smith in a million years.” The Rockets really cut against the grain, surviving an extended absence from Dwight Howard thanks to MVP-level production from James Harden and some surprisingly stingy team defense…”

 

CBS Houston. Terrence Jones Excited to Return.

“It’s been a long time coming for Terrence Jones. He’s missed 41 games due to a nerve injury. His last game played came on November 3. Jones is making his comeback to the floor tonight against the Mavericks. But for Jones, his main worry was that he’d be out even longer…”

 

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Houston Rockets 99, Dallas Mavericks 94: The cavalryhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-99-dallas-mavericks-94-cavalry/15115/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-99-dallas-mavericks-94-cavalry/15115/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 05:27:26 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15115 The Houston Rockets might have been sunk if the cavalry hadn’t arrived. Dwight Howard was still out with a rolled ankle, James Harden took a nasty bump to the knee, and the Dallas Mavericks were nipping at Houston’s heels all night long. The extra ounce that it took for Houston to get over the top […]

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The Houston Rockets might have been sunk if the cavalry hadn’t arrived. Dwight Howard was still out with a rolled ankle, James Harden took a nasty bump to the knee, and the Dallas Mavericks were nipping at Houston’s heels all night long. The extra ounce that it took for Houston to get over the top on the Mavs came from the bench, and most notably, it came from a couple of unlikely sources. Josh Smith had easily his best game as a Rocket, and the long-missed Terrence Jones came back with a head of steam at the perfect moment.

Jones may have come off the bench, but he played 21 minutes to (temporary) starter Joey Dorsey’s 13. With another fairly reliable big man in the rotation, the load on Dwight Howard is lessened significantly, and with the Celtics next on the docket, Howard doesn’t need to hurry his return to action, especially with reports that his injury may be worse than expected. Whether Jones or current starter Donatas Motiejunas comes off the bench, tonight was a sign that the Rockets will have a deeper rotation in the frontcourt, as either of those players should feast on most bench units. 10 points on 4-8 shooting, 5 rebounds, an assists and 2 blocks is a fantastic line for his first game back, and once he’s shaken some more of the rust off, Jones’ help will be mission critical to this Rockets team.

Josh Smith was the captain of the “bands of brothers” tonight, hitting a ludicrous 4-5 from three point range, a feat which likely won’t happen again any time soon. He was 7-13 overall, and those 18 points were not only a team high, but also stemmed from open looks and assists. He was in the right place at the right time more often than not, and so far he seems to be buying into the Rockets’ offense and his place in it. As an added bonus, he went ahead and notched 6 boards, 2 assists, a steal and 3 blocks in 28 minutes. He won’t have games this good regularly, but between himself, Corey Brewer and Terrence Jones (and Jason Terry, if you’re being technical), the Rockets’ bench is likely to see a good line off the bench on most nights, something which is an increasingly important luxury as the season wears on.

In fact, the Mavs were worn out from a disappointing loss to the Memphis Grizzlies the previous evening, and didn’t have the luxury of the tight 9-man rotation the Rockets used. Fatigue showed as the game wore on and the fast pace the Rockets were running extracted its toll on the Mavs. Dirk was only 4-11, and the wings, Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis, were keeping the entire team afloat. Parsons was a blistering 5-8 from three, and Monta’s 33 points (!) came on 14-23 shooting (!!). The Rockets may have to figure out how to beat the Mavs when they haven’t played the day before, but not until the playoffs at earliest. Somehow, all four games these teams play each other feature a fatigued Dallas.

What, then, of Houston’s hero, Harden? His night wasn’t flashy, but it was effective. In his continued expansion of his skillset, Harden leaned more toward playmaking than scoring, picking up 8 gorgeous assists while only shooting 14 times. He had 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals to fill out the box, a line which isn’t as gaudy as some he’s had recently, but was just what was needed against a Dallas team not sufficiently prepared to chase the ball. There was a brief scare when Harden knocked knees with Monta Ellis, but he played the rest of the game, though his knee did seem to bother him a bit. There’s been no news on this potential injury so far, and if Houston is lucky, that will stay the case.

The rest of the starters were in good enough mode, with Trevor Ariza leading the group with 13 points on 10 shots and 3-6 behind the arc. Motiejunas’ 16 points on 16 shots and 5 boards weren’t amazing, but he was continues to be able to operate in the post, and that was good enough tonight. Patrick Beverley went 0-6 from three, and took 9 shots to get 6 points. His defense remained intense, but his offense is likely to be hot and cold all season long. Joey Dorsey, bless his heart, filled in for Dwight as best as he could against Tyson Chandler. Yes, let’s leave it at that.

This game was another nailbiter, as all games against the Mavs seem destined to be. The starters were largely lackluster, but Smith and Jones came alive in a pairing of exciting play and generic names. If Dwight can get healthy any time soon, this Rockets team has a real shot at picking p the pace and rolling on a schedule that’s only going to soften in coming months. In the meantime, the basketball Jones is back, and he’s leading the cavalry.

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On the MVP race, contentionhttp://www.red94.net/mvp-race-contention/15095/ http://www.red94.net/mvp-race-contention/15095/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:57:29 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15095 I noted the point on Twitter over the weekend, but the Klay Thompson explosion from Friday night just underscores the James Harden MVP campaign when you consider that the Beard plays on a team where, if the second best guy scores even 18 points, you consider that a good night, and regardless, are just grateful […]

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  • I noted the point on Twitter over the weekend, but the Klay Thompson explosion from Friday night just underscores the James Harden MVP campaign when you consider that the Beard plays on a team where, if the second best guy scores even 18 points, you consider that a good night, and regardless, are just grateful he even suited up.  I shudder to think what the Rockets would be without Harden, while, if not a 50-win team without Curry–I heard a local radio personality say the Warriors would probably still win 50 without Curry, and I don’t agree; you can’t underestimate the amount of space his presence creates–Golden State would at the least still be moderately respectable.  Since Curry is going to win it regardless, we should just end the charade and rename the award ‘Best Player on the Best Team.’
  • On that note, this is why I never can take anyone seriously the moment they cite to awards of any sort in their merit-based discussions.  There were years in the 90’s when you could have just renamed the MVP the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ as sportswriters grew tired of handing the trophy back to Michael Jordan, choosing to honor Charles Barkley and Karl Malone instead.  Derrick Rose certainly has one of Lebron’s trophies in his mantle, when voters decided they just weren’t going to reward Lebron after the stunt he pulled in leaving Cleveland.
  • Don’t look now, but Houston’s offense has slowly crept up towards the top 10, with the team currently sitting at 12th in offensive rating.  The bad news is that their defense has slipped down to 6th.
  • The Rockets currently are tied for 4th in the West, but are two games out of 2nd, and three games out of 7th.
  • I saw a lot of overreaction after the Warriors game, with one national writer even going so far as to say that the Rockets were teetering on the edge of irrelevance.  Let’s all calm down now.  Houston was absolutely shellacked by Golden State last week, and the disparity between the two teams could not be any more evident.  But there isn’t really much embarrassment in being inferior to what appears to be one of the historically great teams in modern history, and certainly does not fully define the Rockets’ claims for contention.  Upon last check, eight teams enter the field from each conference, with the necessity of victory in each of three rounds for advancement.  Losing to one team, when you’ve held up well against everyone else, is not the end of the world.  Case in point: had Dikembe Mutombo’s Denver Nuggets not shocked the world in upsetting Seattle in 1994, there probably is no first banner hanging at the Toyota Center right now.  And at last check, there is currently a very real possibility of a similarly dangerous #8 entering the fold, this season.  The moral here is that its silly to override the Rockets’ overall body of work with their showings against the best team in the league.  Houston has a lot to do if they want to actually win it, but the Rockets absolutely are a contender.
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    Rockets Roundup: 01/26/2015http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-01262015/15094/ http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-01262015/15094/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 17:39:01 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15094 A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days.  Houston Chronicle. Lakers can’t handle James Harden as Rockets cruise in L.A. “As James Harden toyed with his hometown team, setting up teammates for open looks and taking a few for himself, Harden’s greatest challenge seemed to be deciding between […]

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    A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days. 

    Houston Chronicle. Lakers can’t handle James Harden as Rockets cruise in L.A.

    “As James Harden toyed with his hometown team, setting up teammates for open looks and taking a few for himself, Harden’s greatest challenge seemed to be deciding between all the ways he had to tear through the Lakers’ defense…”

    NBC Sports. Did win over Lakers break Rockets out of defensive slump?

    “…The obvious answer for why it looked better Sunday is that the Lakers — especially now without Kobe Bryant— are an unfocused disaster on offense. They lack quality shot creators or anyone you have to fear. Of course, the Rockets saw it as something more than that, as a springboard for themselves to get back to their identity. And when you asked any Rockets’ player about the improved defense they used some variant of the word “focus,” adding they had to do it more consistently…

     CBS Sports. James Harden, Dwyane Wade among All-Star starter snubs.

    “We know who’s starting in the 2014 NBA All-Star Game, as the 10 players selected by a fan vote were announced on TNT on Thursday. As always, we can quibble with the names on that list, and that’s what we’re here to do. Here are some players who could be sitting at home, wondering what more they could’ve done to earn a starting spot…”

    Houston Chronicle. Goran Dragic insists Rockets will have equal chance in free agency.

    “The Rockets might have let guard Goran Dragic return to the Suns as a free agent, but Dragic said Friday that he would not hold that against them if they pursue him as a free agent next summer. Dragic signed a four-year deal with the Suns that gave him the power to opt out after his third season, an option that the Rockets would not give him when they insisted on a contract without player options…”

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    Around the TrueHoop Networkhttp://www.red94.net/around-truehoop-network/15087/ http://www.red94.net/around-truehoop-network/15087/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 00:50:10 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15087 We’re in the midst of the most exciting NBA season in years.  The TrueHoop Network has it covered. Which is less likely: a fifty point explosion or a 20/20 with assists?  Aaron McGuire at Gothic Ginobili takes a deep statistical look at the respective likelihoods of Brandon Jennings’ two substantially different career-best games. Forum Blue […]

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    We’re in the midst of the most exciting NBA season in years.  The TrueHoop Network has it covered.

    • Which is less likely: a fifty point explosion or a 20/20 with assists?  Aaron McGuire at Gothic Ginobili takes a deep statistical look at the respective likelihoods of Brandon Jennings’ two substantially different career-best games.
    • Forum Blue & Gold assesses the Lakers’ trade assets; also, an exploration of real versus perceived value.
    • Will Brook Lopez be dealt?  Brooklyn’s Finest with a discussion.
    • What was the best team of the George Karl era?  Roundball Mining Company reflects back, with implications.
    • Clipperblog has a post mortem of the Austin Rivers trade.
    • Rudy Gobert has been surprisingly effective passing the basketball, per Salt City Hoops.
    • Cowbell Kingdom takes aim at the team over the firing of Mike Malone.
    • People are starting to rethink whether the Love-Wiggins trade was the right move.  Cavs the Blog provided its own regrade of the trade.
    • Bucksketball looks in on the Milwaukee Bucks’ shot selection.
    • “Toronto’s style and effectiveness have dwindled over the past few weeks as their pace has quickened,” writes Raptors Republic.
    • Hoop76 muses that while the Sixers might be better without Tony Wroten, they’ll also be more boring.
    • Elfrid Payton is the Magic’s most important player, writes Magic Basketball.
    • From Queen City Hoops: what kind of “lady” would the All-Star game be?
    • Bourbon Street Shots notes that Eric Gordon has been playing far better than he had been before his labrum tear.

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    Houston Rockets 113, Phoenix Suns 111: A Beard of an Escapehttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-113-phoenix-suns-111-beard-escape/15083/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-113-phoenix-suns-111-beard-escape/15083/#comments Sat, 24 Jan 2015 09:24:30 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15083 Stats are a weird thing. One argument that critics make of James Harden is that he does not possess the midrange game which is crucial for a championship team. He just depends on three-pointers and drawing fouls, which makes him predictable and means he can be shut down in the playoffs. And when one looks […]

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    Stats are a weird thing.

    One argument that critics make of James Harden is that he does not possess the midrange game which is crucial for a championship team. He just depends on three-pointers and drawing fouls, which makes him predictable and means he can be shut down in the playoffs. And when one looks at Harden’s shooting numbers, this year is not that different from last year. In fact, Harden is shooting 34% from 16 feet to the three-point line this year in contrast to 41% last year.

    But this does not match up at all with what I have seen this year. Harden has developed a mid-range game, and he uses it more than ever. The stepback mid-range jumper is another weapon in his arsenal and is why his scoring has increased even though Harden is not actually not drawing fouls at the same rate as previous seasons ( While Harden draws as many free throws as he did last season, you have to remember that he dominates the ball more compared to last year). Tonight, Harden took on PJ Tucker, a defender who has given him fits in the past, scored 33 points, and rose up to drain the classic mid-range game winner. New-style money ball, meet old-style classic ball.

    Harden’s game winning shot over the Suns will get the highlight reels, but that is not as important as Dwight Howard’s right ankle injury. Howard rolled his ankle while grabbing a rebound with three minutes left in the first quarter. The injury did not appear to be that serious, but the Rockets wasted no time declaring that Howard would be out for the rest of the game. The latest reports from Jonathan Feigen indicate that Howard seems to be fine and could be ready for Sunday’s game against the Lakers, but I am far too paranoid about Howard’s health to rest easy. Howard is scoring less than 14 points on just 54% shooting for January, and I am depressed to admit after his injuries and sub-par offense that he should probably not make the All-Star team this year.

    Howard’s absence was exacerbated by the fact that Motiejunas struggled with foul trouble for most of the game – he played extremely well, but only for 23 minutes. McHale called up Smith, Dorsey, and Papanikolaou to substitute for the missing big men, but all three had their problems. Smith was effective scoring in transition as well as the post ( where he hit a couple hook shots), but he had 6 of Houston’s 14 turnovers in just the latest episode of why I am not much more confident in Smith’s passing compared to the rest of his offensive game. Papanikolaou by contrast passed well, especially alongside Motiejunas, but missed all four of his three-pointers. And those misses were about as bad as it gets, especially since Papanikolaou was not contested in any of them and was completely wide-open in at least two of them. And Dorsey committed the stupidest foul of the game, as he gave Markieff Morris the and-1 in the final 30 seconds which completed Phoenix’s last-ditch rally.

    And while Harden’s game-winner was fantastic, it came to that thanks to said last-ditch rally and a Rockets collapse. Houston had a solid lead for the first 42 minutes of the game and led by 14 points with less than six minutes left. They then stopped playing defense down the stretch, as Phoenix would come down to score in all but two possessions for the remainder of the game. Houston would have been able to avoid that final collapse had Dwight been healthy, but their defense has not been quite as good as it was at the start of the season. The Rockets committed several easy mistakes on defense, such as a play in the third quarter when Motiejunas and Beverley needlessly collapsed on Eric Bledsoe, leaving Alex Len open for the easy dunk.

    After nearly giving away tonight’s game to a Western Confernece playoff contender, Houston will look to blow out the Lakers on Sunday. The Lakers are a hot mess, Kobe appears to be done for the season, and no one knows what is going on between Lin and Byron Scott (Lin got a DNP-CD in last night’s game against San Antonio.) An easy game may be just what the doctor ordered to get this team rejuvenated.

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    Houston Rockets 113, Golden State Warriors 126: That…did not go wellhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-113-golden-state-warriors-126-not-go-well/15074/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-113-golden-state-warriors-126-not-go-well/15074/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 12:47:48 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15074 All you really need to know about last night’s season-series sweeping win for Golden State over Houston was that the Rockets starters had an average plus/minus of about -27, the Warriors +26.  And it wasn’t even that close. The Rockets turned the ball over more, shot worse, and played with less conviction/composure.  The Warriors’ have […]

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    All you really need to know about last night’s season-series sweeping win for Golden State over Houston was that the Rockets starters had an average plus/minus of about -27, the Warriors +26.  And it wasn’t even that close.

    The Rockets turned the ball over more, shot worse, and played with less conviction/composure.  The Warriors’ have now posted the two highest scoring totals the Rockets have allowed this season (131 & 126), and their 40 point third quarter was the most points a team has put up on Houston in any quarter this season.  James Harden’s 33 points hide the fact that he wasn’t able to dictate much except from the free throw stripe.  Josh Smith’s double tech-ejection makes you forget the nice alley-oops he threw Dwight Howard.  And nothing Pat Beverley or Trevor Ariza did could slow down Steph Curry or Klay Thompson.

    On the bright side, this games wasn’t on TNT, so no Rockets’ fans weren’t subjected to what surely would have been an evisceration of Dwight Howard by Chuck and Shaq.  The box score wasn’t THAT much different between Dwight (7 points, 11 rebounds) and Andrew Bogut (9 points, 10 rebounds), but their impact couldn’t have been more opposite.  Dwight spent most of the game hacking and banging shots off the glass, while Bogut protected the rim ferociously, finished strong in the paint, and even ran a beautiful semi-fast break to a back door Klay Thompson.  As an ardent Howard-defender, this was the type of game that makes that stance so difficult to defend.  In his defense though, there were multiple times when Howard found himself being guarded by Draymond Green and David Lee and the Rockets just didn’t do enough to get him the ball in those situations.  But overall, Howard looked like the lackadaisical and overblown oaf that so many pundits claim he is.

    The Rockets’ bench is the only aspect of this game that you can point to and say they were better.  The group of Joey Dorsey, Kostas Papanikolaou, Corey Brewer, Alexy Shved and Jason Terry took a huge Warriors lead at the end of the third quarter and whittled it down to nine with four minutes to play.  But even that was likely due to the Warriors checking out after playing with with such a large lead for most of the game.  Steve Kerr was forced to reinsert Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who quickly pushed the lead back out of reach.  I certainly don’t blame Kevin McHale for leaving the unit that made it a ballgame again on the floor, but seeing as most of those players are not used to playing 10-plus minutes at a time, it would have been nice to see what James Harden could have done with a single-digit lead.

    I typically keep a pretty level head throughout the long NBA regular season, but this loss, following Saturday’s drubbing, already has me looking ahead and hoping the Rockets don’t end up in the 4-5 spot in the West at seasons’ end.  Any combination of the conference’s parade of contenders would be better than a potential second round match-up with the Warriors.  There’s just something about Golden State that makes Houston look impotent.

    Last year the Rockets swept the San Antonio Spurs and they still managed to win the title, so having a bad inter-conference match-up isn’t a death sentence to title hopes.  But San Antonio also caught a break when the Blazers upset the Rockets in the first round.  If Houston has any real chance at a title, it looks like they’re going to need the same kind of break.

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    Rockets Roundup: 01/21/15http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-012115/15072/ http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-012115/15072/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 04:47:57 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15072 A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days.   Grantland. The Grantland Basketball Hour: James Harden is Rocket Fuel. “We all know how effective James Harden is as a scorer, but Kirk Goldsberry demonstrates what a phenomenal facilitator and creator Harden is…” Sports On Earth. Rockets starting […]

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    A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days.  

    Grantland. The Grantland Basketball Hour: James Harden is Rocket Fuel.

    “We all know how effective James Harden is as a scorer, but Kirk Goldsberry demonstrates what a phenomenal facilitator and creator Harden is…”

    Sports On Earth. Rockets starting to take off.

    “…After five games in the starting lineup with the Houston Rockets, Smith was moved to the bench. In 15 games with his new team, Smith is averaging 10.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists. A career 27.6 percent shooter from three, Smith is still averaging two three-pointers per game on the Rockets, making just 20 percent of those attempts. But he’s starting to make contributions off the bench. In a 112-101 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder last Thursday, Smith scored 13 points (6-for-10 shooting) in 19 minutes of play and contributed seven rebounds as well…”

    Houston Chronicle. James Harden’s scoring outbursts signal he is hitting his prime.

    “In a win over the Pacers on Monday, Rockets guard James Harden had 45 points – it was the fourth time this season that he scored more than 40 points. No other players in the league has accomplished that more than twice…”

    The Dream Shake. Halfway through: Can the Houston Rockets win the Southwest Division?

    “With just over half of the 2014-2015 NBA season in the books the Houston Rockets stand at 29 – 13. That’s good for fourth place in the Western Conference. It puts the Rockets a half game behind the Memphis Grizzlies in the Southwest Division and leaves one big ole question for the second half of the season. Can the Rockets win the Southwest Division?…”

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    Q&A with Jordan Ramirez of WarriorsWorld.nethttp://www.red94.net/qa-jordan-ramirez-warriorsworld-net/15066/ http://www.red94.net/qa-jordan-ramirez-warriorsworld-net/15066/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 22:16:21 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15066 MF – Steve Kerr has gotten a lot of credit for the improvement of the Warriors, but do you think his guidance or the Warriors roster continuity has been the bigger factor for their progress?  JR – It’s a combination of both, really. There’s no doubt that the camaraderie and relationships built over the past […]

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    MF – Steve Kerr has gotten a lot of credit for the improvement of the Warriors, but do you think his guidance or the Warriors roster continuity has been the bigger factor for their progress? 

    JR – It’s a combination of both, really. There’s no doubt that the camaraderie and relationships built over the past few seasons have benefited this team and helped with the changes, but this team isn’t this good without Steve Kerr, Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams. This roster is a wonderful mix of rising stars and proven veterans, and Kerr has established everyone with a given role. This includes veterans David Lee and Andre Iguodala, who have quickly accepted their new roles on the bench given their previous roles as starters.

    Kerr swapped Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala, which was a gutsy move before the season given Iguodala’s acumen and the team’s previous success with him starting. The result has been a reborn Barnes and rebuilt second-unit with Iguodala running a lot of the offense in that second-unit. Lee is slowly finding his way following injury, but he provides a scoring and rebounding burst the team needed in his absence. Kerr adapted his coaching style to his roster, which has paid huge dividends so far and has everyone buying in.

    Joakim Noah has gotten a lot of praise the last few years for being such a good two-way, passing big man. Does Andrew Bogut get enough recognition for what he does for the Warriors? Seems all I ever hear is injury talk..

    He doesn’t, but that’s his own fault. If you miss the amount of games that Andrew Bogut has, it’s tough to build any type of consistent reputation. He’s known more for his injuries as he is his play, which is unfortunate given his importance to this team. He sets incredible screens, has great court vision and has found some touch around the rim that made him the #1 overall pick in 2005. This is in addition to the incredible, stout defense down low that has helped transform this defense into one of the best in the league.

    Bogut — and his camp — will tell you he’s not injury prone and his injuries are much more bad luck than his body. We know this not to be true, as big men are just more susceptible to injuries in today’s NBA. Since his latest injury (right knee), Kerr has been much more cautious with his approach, which won’t do anything to help Bogut’s recognition, but will hopefully keep him healthy enough for a deep playoff run. He’ll never be considered one of the top centers in the league, but the Warriors don’t care for any recognition. They care for his health.

    Several teams near the top of the West have made moves to improve their rosters. The Warriors clearly don’t have many holes in their roster, but do you see them making a move before the deadline?  Possibly involving David Lee, seeing as the Warriors are projected to be way over the cap next year? 

    The Warriors will be taking calls, but I don’t see them making any major moves come the trade deadline. They recently brought up former University of Carolina Tar Heel James McAdoo for some spot minutes, and it’s these type of moves that this team will continue to make. The roster is fairly set given the improvements of the bench and role reversals (Lee and Iguodala). The team will indeed need to shed salary given their cap situation heading into next year, but I can’t see that happening with what Kerr is building and the success they’ve had so far this season.

    The Rockets added Corey Brewer and Josh Smith, Memphis traded for Jeff Green and Dallas acquired Rajon Rondo. Those three teams had clear holes at those positions. Looking up and down this roster, there’s isn’t any clear holes to fill. A defensive oriented backup center would be one, but Festus Ezeli will be coming back from injury soon. GM Bob Myers will always look to improve the team, but given how much success this team has had, there isn’t much tampering needed.

    Jalen Rose has been making pretty bold claims that Draymond Green will be wearing a Pistons jersey next season. Is he Important enough to the Warriors to warrant big money? Will they be able to afford him if they don’t make a Lee move?

    How many different forms of the word “ABSOLUTELY” are there? Anyways, Draymond Green will be worth whatever his next contract brings him, and his importance to the Warriors can’t be overstated. A defensive stalwart who can guard all five positions, Green single-handily bumped David Lee to the bench. Kerr even acknowledged that he took this job with the assumption that Lee would be the starting power forward, but Green just outplayed him. His shooting has gone down since his early season success, but he’s still a threat from beyond the three-point line and given space when Curry or Thompson are trapped.

    If the Warriors want to avoid the luxury tax, one of Lee or Iguodala will have to be moved. Owner Joe Lacob has repeatedly said he isn’t afraid to enter the tax if the talent warrants it, and that notion will be tested this coming offseason. Lacob signed off on the Lee deal and they’ve remained close, which may be a reason why he’s still with the team. For a team with a 33-6 record, I don’t see any moves taking place before the trade deadline, but when the season is over I can absolutely see a deal to shed salary taking place, with Lee being the prime candidate.

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    Looking at Harden against the Warriorshttp://www.red94.net/looking-harden-warriors/15059/ http://www.red94.net/looking-harden-warriors/15059/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 14:01:18 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15059 James Harden was spectacular last night, as he has been for much of this season, dicing up a stingy Pacers defense.  However, he needs to bring it against Golden State on Wednesday if he wants to thrust himself back to the forefront of the MVP conversation.  Saturday was a very forgettable night for Harden, the […]

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    James Harden was spectacular last night, as he has been for much of this season, dicing up a stingy Pacers defense.  However, he needs to bring it against Golden State on Wednesday if he wants to thrust himself back to the forefront of the MVP conversation.  Saturday was a very forgettable night for Harden, the league’s leading scorer, as he finished with just 12 points on 4-15 shooting.  I mentioned on Twitter, during the game, that Harden didn’t look like himself.  Several of you responded insinuating that the disparity in his production was obviously to be attributed to Klay Thompson and the Warriors defense.

    I went back and watched all fifteen of Harden’s shot attempts from that game.  There was a clean block on a drive from Thompson, and two plays where James seemed to lose the ball while going up.  Aside from that, here are seven of his eleven total misses:

    By the way some were talking on Twitter after/during the game, you’d think Harden had been driving repeatedly into the heart of the 89 Pistons’ defense, with nowhere to go.  Most of these looks were the sort he normally knocks down – a good number of them came with him wide open.  Even the misses in the paint weren’t in inordinately heavy traffic.  He simply rimmed out open attempts that usually roll in.  There’s the one possession where Klay Thompson forces him to his left hand, with Steph Curry shading at the basket.  Again, it’s not exactly as if opponents forcing James in a particular direction is something new to basketball.

    James just wasn’t himself on Saturday night, for whatever reason.  Judging from the above clips, I wouldn’t attribute the drop-off completely to the Warriors.

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    Houston Rockets 110, Indiana Pacers 98: Harden’s cooking againhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-110-indiana-pacers-98-hardens-cooking/15055/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-110-indiana-pacers-98-hardens-cooking/15055/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 02:00:30 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15055 James Harden doesn’t turn the heat down for long. He bounced back from one of his worst games of the season to stir-fry the Indiana Pacers with a season-high 45 points. He brought out the spoon after a dagger three late in the fourth, stirring the Pacers as he jogged back on defense. He turned […]

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    James Harden doesn’t turn the heat down for long. He bounced back from one of his worst games of the season to stir-fry the Indiana Pacers with a season-high 45 points. He brought out the spoon after a dagger three late in the fourth, stirring the Pacers as he jogged back on defense. He turned back around, buried another three, and had no choice but to use both hands, the defining moment of the game. Harden might have lost the battle to Steph Curry, but he doesn’t intend to lose the war, and today the Indiana Pacers were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The good news for the Pacers is that they’ve got a great head coach in Frank Vogel, a solid defensive system and a two-way star player on the bench in Paul George. The bad news on January 19th is that they had to face off with Houston, a very good team coming off a very bad loss. The Pacers kept it at around ten points most of the night, and even closed it back up in the fourth after the Rockets had ballooned the lead to over twenty. They did a lot with a little, but in the end it was too late. James Harden, Dwight Howard, and the supporting cast of the Rockets were just too talented and too coordinated.

    The Rockets shot 51% overall, 38% from deep, and 73% from the stripe. That’s a winning recipe any day of the week, and something the Rockets will try to replicate against the Warriors. The Pacers may have a poor record, but their defense is 7th by efficiency, making this offensive output all the more impressive. Nobody on the Pacers had an answer for James Harden, something which most teams have in common. His pick and roll partnership with Dwight Howard has never looked so natural, and the two members of H&H were rewarded handily for it. Harden logged the line of the game, racking up 45 points on an ungodly 12-18 shooting, including a truly mind-bending 7-12 from deep. He only had one board, but his 7 assists, 4 steals and a block more than made up for it (and five turnovers). Howard, meanwhile, cleaned up messes, finished alley-oops and generally ran the show in the paint. 6 shots, 14 points and 17 rebounds is a fantastic game for Dwight Howard 2015.

    In the headband report, Corey Brewer shot poorly from three (1-4), but finished well around the rim to end with 13 points on 6-10 shooting. He created chaos in a good way for Houston, still looking like a great pickup. Josh Smith, on the other hand, created chaos in a less good way, shooting a dismal 3-11, but pulling down 7 rebounds. This time he tried to do too much, going into the teeth of a high-quality defense a bit too often. His feast or famine game seems to be in famine mode at the moment, but there’s no telling when that changes next. Jason Terry, for his part, only played 19 minutes and went 3-5 from the field. He’s doing his job, and that’s what he does most of the time.

    Patrick Beverley shot well from behind the arc (2-4) but those ended up being his only points on his 6 shots. His 2 rebounds and 4 steals weren’t impressive, but his three steals were critical in keeping the Pacers at arm’s length. Trevor Ariza had a similar outing, notching an identically impressive 3 steals but surrounding that with only one rebound, three assists, and a single made triple in five tries. 9 points on 7 shots isn’t bad, but it isn’t particularly good either. The Rockets defense, Beverley and Ariza’s forte, was generally solid, but had enough lapses that CJ Miles and Donald Sloan were allowed to go off for 23 and 17 points respectively. The Rockets’ defense has slid recently, and it’s only recently been improving again. The struggle continues for a bench unit that’s still figuring itself out.

    Donatas Motiejunas had a quiet night according to his new standards, something which shows just how high his bar has been raised. He shot 4-8, scored 10 points, pulled down 9 rebounds and dished 4 assists. He’s become a real renaissance man at the four, and his development has been critical for this Rockets team’s fortunes. With Terrence Jones coming closer and closer to recovery, the battle for starting power forward might be the best problem the Rockets could have.

    The Rockets needed to forget a nightmare they suffered a couple days ago, and their boiling of the Pacers was just the way to go about it. The lead could have ballooned earlier and to greater size, but leading by twenty in the third quarter is never a bad sign. The Pacers showed grit and tenacity, and those traits may serve them well next season. Too bad today it’s 2015, and chef Harden is in the kitchen.

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    Golden State Warriors 131, Houston Rockets 106: Gotta get betterhttp://www.red94.net/golden-state-warriors-131-houston-rockets-106-gotta-get-better/15048/ http://www.red94.net/golden-state-warriors-131-houston-rockets-106-gotta-get-better/15048/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 04:34:28 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15048 The Houston Rockets aren’t good enough. Sure, 28-13 is good for homecourt in the first round, a pace for 56 teams and an improvement in the first round. The Rockets have been beating tough teams, winning with solid defense and have a legitimate MVP candidate on the team. This is probably the best Rockets team […]

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    The Houston Rockets aren’t good enough. Sure, 28-13 is good for homecourt in the first round, a pace for 56 teams and an improvement in the first round. The Rockets have been beating tough teams, winning with solid defense and have a legitimate MVP candidate on the team. This is probably the best Rockets team we’ve seen in twenty years in probably the best Western Conference we’ve seen in decades. There’s little reason for anything except effusive praise and recognition of how good of a team Daryl Morey’s front office has built.

    Losing in a drubbing to the best team in the league is a good reminder that they still need to get better.

    Is there anything the Golden State Warriors can’t do? As this season hits the midpoint, the only thing the Warriors have to prove anymore is that they can stay healthy long enough to win a championship. Even when MVP hopeful Steph Curry shoots a miserable 2-8 from three point range, the Warriors can still dissect the #2 defense in the league for 131. The point, however, is not that the Warriors are good. The point is that with that team out there, the bar has been raised for the rest of the NBA, especially the meat grinder that is the west. Tonight, we saw what happens when a team vaults face-first into that bar.

    James Harden, in particular, took in on the chin. Klay Thompson did as good a job defensively as anyone’s done on Harden all season on a night when James’ game temporarily left him. 12 points on 15 shots isn’t anyone’s idea of efficiency, and his 4 boards and 4 assists were sub-par, even for a mere 30 minutes of play. Foul trouble kept him out much of the game, and garbage time forced him to some early rest at the end. With Harden disrupted at best and sitting at worst, the Houston offense sputtered and died at times. The 106 point total says more about the pace of the game than about the shooting, which was a miserable 42% overall.

    The three point line was smothered by defense all night, leading to not only a bad three point percentage for Houston (7-23, for 30%), but some disappointing lines for a number of players who rely on the arc for points. Ariza’s 7 points on 2-5 shooting was actually preferable to several lines, like Patrick Beverley’s 4-13 night, or Jason Terry and Corey Brewer combining to hit one three in six tries.

    The only bench player who really stood out was, of course, Josh Smith. He went 5-10, knocked down a three (that maybe he shouldn’t have taken, if we’re being honest), went 75% at the stripe and was just generally in the right place at the right time. Josh Smith is that TV show you won’t admit to your friends that you watch because you don’t even really like it that much and you don’t even think it’s good, but you keep seeing glimpses of the great TV show it could be and you keep watching because it gets just enough right that you think that with enough time, one day, when it plays to its strengths, it’s gonna be awesome. Today the Josh Smith show had a fun episode. What will we see next time? Stay tuned to find out.

    The one bright spot was that the Rockets posted up well against the Warriors. Drive and kick? Pick and roll? Golden State was ready and waiting. Backing them down in the paint, however, was more effective, and might just be a place to put together a plan. Howard had his way with Andrew Bogut, racking up 23 points on 9-15 shooting and getting the Australian big man in foul trouble early. His 7 free throws looked strikingly better, and he made 5 of them. 10 rebounds and 3 assists are a fine line any night of the week, and he was aided in his quest by Donatas Motiejunas. D-mo shot 50%, scored 14, grabbed 7 boards and had a +/- of only -3! On a night when every Rocket logged a net negative, that’s reason for hope.

    The Rockets now have time to lick their wounds before they face the Pacers next and then the Warriors again. If there’s any way Houston can instigate improvement without roster moves, now is the time. If that turns out not to be the case, the trade deadline is only month away. Going .680 might be good enough most seasons, but good enough just won’t cut it this year, against this level of competition. It’s time to take another step, even after having taken so many.

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    Thoughts on Houston’s win over the Thunder last nighthttp://www.red94.net/thoughts-houstons-win-thunder-last-night/14975/ http://www.red94.net/thoughts-houstons-win-thunder-last-night/14975/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 13:46:37 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14975 I’ve been saying since some point last season that the only two matchups that mattered were the Oklahoma City Thunder and the L.A. Clippers, because a) those were the only two top teams who completely neutralized Dwight Howard and b) aside from the Spurs, against whom Dwight has success, those were the top two teams […]

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  • I’ve been saying since some point last season that the only two matchups that mattered were the Oklahoma City Thunder and the L.A. Clippers, because a) those were the only two top teams who completely neutralized Dwight Howard and b) aside from the Spurs, against whom Dwight has success, those were the top two teams in the league.  I’ve since changed that thinking, exclusively because neither of those teams have been relevant this year.  But still, both squads will certainly bounce back next season, or even by this year’s playoffs, and still, the matchup is a point of curiosity.  Would the insertion of Motiejunas into the lineup change things in Houston’s favor?  While the Rockets have defeated the Thunder in the past, I’d note that last night was the first during the James Harden era that I didn’t remark to myself, “we can’t compete with these guys athletically.”  Motiejunas pretty badly outplayed Serge Ibaka, and it became clear pretty quickly that the Thunder just simply had no one who could matchup with Josh Smith on their bench.  More on Smith later.
    • Houston started the game using Howard on the weak-side where he is at his best, either posting Motiejunas, or penetrating the defense and lobbing it to the former when the Thunder defense collapsed.  As Chris Webber noted, this is the only way to beat the Thunder because they load up in the paint.  It appears the Rockets finally smartened up.  (That, and they’ve undergone a massive talent upgrade swapping Jones for Motiejunas and acquiring Smith).  Motiejunas was very easily able to establish position against Ibaka and would have scored more points had a few of his attempts not rolled out.  Watching him easily back down one of the best big man defenders in basketball was pretty eye-opening:

    After seeing him do the same thing against Joakim Noah, it’s become clear that D-Mo is one of the best postup players in all of basketball.

    • At the other end, he was able to limit Ibaka’s productivity and keep him off the boards.  While it might be premature and homerish to call Motiejunas a “star”, we finally have no reason to think we’ll get killed nightly at the power forward position against the good teams in the league.
    • When Josh Smith came in, and ran roughshod over the Thunder second unit, I said to myself, “they can’t matchup with him,” noting it was the first time I had ever made that observation about any Rockets player in this Thunder matchup, Harden included.  He is too skilled offensively to be limited by anyone on Oklahoma City’s bench, and he has the length and the athleticism to contend with Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant at the other end.  And this is why it was an absolute no-brainer to pick Josh Smith up.  Make all you want about the turnovers and the bad shots, but at the end of the day, you have to have enough talent on your team to win a championship, and until recently, Houston did not have that.  The Rockets have never had the size and length to compete with the West’s best, even last year because Asik couldn’t share the court with Howard.  Houston will probably lose in one of the earlier rounds again, for other reasons, but it definitely won’t be for a personnel issue.
    • Is it just me or have James Harden’s handles vastly improved this year?  In particular, this move

    is not one I recall him having in the past, and it seems to have become his go-to.  In the past, he would only go between the legs once and cross out in front of him, rather than the Hardaway between the legs twice action.

    • I’m seriously expecting Harden to drop 50 against the Warriors, a) because he seems irritated by the insinuation that Klay Thompson is anywhere in his league, and b) because I know how badly he wants to knock those guys off.

     

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    OKC Thunder 101, Houston Rockets 112: James Harden is very good at basketball.http://www.red94.net/okc-thunder-101-houston-rockets-112-james-harden-good-basketball/14972/ http://www.red94.net/okc-thunder-101-houston-rockets-112-james-harden-good-basketball/14972/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 12:47:18 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14972 I don’t know when these games against the Oklahoma City Thunder will stop feeling like a chance at retribution for James Harden, but that time was certainly not last night. Watching Harden square up against his old teammates is always exciting because it still conjures up feelings of what could have (should have?) been for […]

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    I don’t know when these games against the Oklahoma City Thunder will stop feeling like a chance at retribution for James Harden, but that time was certainly not last night.

    Watching Harden square up against his old teammates is always exciting because it still conjures up feelings of what could have (should have?) been for the Thunder.  Typically, Harden feels like the underdog in these match-ups with his more acclaimed ex-teammates; the third banana gone rogue. But this year has been different, with Harden playing at a pace-setting MVP level, and the Durant/Westbrook combo stuck in second gear after injuries derailed both their first quarter-season.

    On a night when the Rockets were playing their third game in four nights, traveling up and down the east coast before returning home, Harden was one rebound away from his second triple-double of the season.  The Beard easily outclassed Durant and Westbrook, who had just 40 points and 12 turnovers combined (the Rockets had 12 TO’s as a team, Harden only 2) and hadn’t played since last Friday.  Some call that rust, I call it rest.

    But even with the Thunder coming in so fresh, the Rockets came out scorching, scoring 40 points in the first quarter (their most in any quarter this season) and leading by 22 after one.  In fact, Houston took the lead for good after a James Harden catch-and-shoot 3 made it 7-4 just a little more than two minutes into the first.  The Thunder never even got back inside a ten point deficit after the Rockets made it 14-4 with eight minutes still to go in the opening period.

    There wasn’t a defender on OKC who could stay in front of Harden.  And even when Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook, only two of the most athletic players in the league, trapped on the pick-and-roll, Harden crossed-over and split the defense before jamming it down for the dunk of the night.

    But this wasn’t just about Harden looking like the best player on the floor, it was also about the rest of the roster following his lead.  The slash-and-kick was out in full force, with nary a missed extra pass to an open shooter.  Dwight Howard couldn’t really find the ball on offense, but Trevor Ariza and Pat Beverley knocked down a few threes while hounding Durant and Westbrook all night.  D-Mo was his usual crafty self, dropping in 14 (which could have easily been 20 if he hadn’t missed a few bunnies) and connecting with Dwight on a nice big-to-big alley-oop.  Although the real treat was getting to watch Josh Smith do what he was brought to Houston to do.

    J-Smoove only played 19 minutes, but he managed 13 points, 7 rebounds (4 offensive) and 2 assists.  Which might not seem like much, but what made it so…relieving?…was how seamless he looked in his role.  He still took three shots outside of his range, two missed 3’s and a made 18-footer, but he attacked the basket aggressively, made a few skip passes to the corner shooters, and was a menace on the boards at all times.  He even ran a couple nice fast breaks off long rebounds, and played a sweet give-and-go with Papanikolaou for an easy lay-in off a turnover.  This is the Josh Smith Daryl Morey was hoping for: stay in your role, fill in the gaps, and defend.  There aren’t many teams in the league that have a player of Smith’s ability coming off the bench, and much like Harden’s defense last year, it’s too easy to take potshots at Smith and his (somewhat) overblown narrative.

    Last night was also coach Kevin McHale’s 200th win as a head coach.  It’s a nice milestone for a coach that just signed a three year extension last month, and who should pile up many more wins with the future of basketball on his roster.  Speaking of the future of basketball, the Rockets shot 16-36 from deep last night, marking the 11th time this season that they have had 15+ 3-pointers in a game this season.  Not impressed?  On January 15, exactly one month BEFORE the All-Star break, the Rockets already set the NBA record for such games in a single season (Shoutout to EJ for that stat).

    Chuck and Shaq may not believe this team is a true contender, but McHale still has time smooth things over after his roster additions.  Plus, if Terrence Jones ever gets right, the Rockets could be adding another starting quality player to an already deep team.  And with two of Houston’s next three games coming against the league-leading Golden State Warriors, James Harden will have more chances to prove that he’s the best player on a star-studded court (and prove the big fellas wrong).

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    Defensive breakdowns in the Houston Rockets’ loss to the Orlando Magichttp://www.red94.net/defensive-breakdowns-houston-rockets-loss-orlando-magic/14947/ http://www.red94.net/defensive-breakdowns-houston-rockets-loss-orlando-magic/14947/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 14:11:19 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14947 From 3:18 in the fourth quarter, until the 1:20 mark, among their possessions, the Magic ran the following four sequences. Then, then, and then the dagger: After the Frye ‘3’, Orlando went up four, putting the game out of reach.  What the hell happened? All four of the shot attempts were undeterred, resulting from some […]

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    From 3:18 in the fourth quarter, until the 1:20 mark, among their possessions, the Magic ran the following four sequences.

    Then,

    then,

    and then the dagger:

    After the Frye ‘3’, Orlando went up four, putting the game out of reach.  What the hell happened?

    All four of the shot attempts were undeterred, resulting from some defensive miscue of some sort.  If that happens at the tail end of a playoff game, forget about even getting out of the first round, much less winning a title.

    On the Gordon drive, after the Magic run a double pick on Houston’s bigs, Motiejunas is in quick sand and Howard is late to recover.  On the first Payton drive, Beverley and Howard seem like they don’t know what they want to do, with Howard inexplicably shifting over to rotate to the big, when Beverley is exposed on the baseline.  WTF?  The smart play there would have been to cut off Payton on the baseline, either trapping him, or sending Beverley to rotate to the big man.  This one wasn’t Beverley’s fault.

    Next, Motiejunas ends up switched onto Payton somehow in transition, having no chance one on one with the guard.  Howard’s just watching after Payton beats his ‘mate, even though his man has leaked out and isn’t a threat anymore.  Howard should have collapsed to help out realizing Motiejunas would not be able to stay with the speedy guard.

    The last play might have been the most egregious.

    How does that even happen?  Channing Frye’s entire existence is predicated upon standing at the three point line waiting for a shot.

    Screenshot 2015-01-15 08.05.38

    See the yellow arrows?  There should be a red arrow in the vicinity of each of them.  Then why are there three red arrows bunched up in the corner next to two Magic players?  Because James Harden isn’t guarding anyone.

    For a team that’s talked a big talk about defensive focus this year, performances like last night’s won’t fly.  They looked a lot more like the team that got embarrassed by the Blazers in the playoffs than the stellar unit they’ve been this season.  Hopefully, the coaches will show the guys the tape and they’ll learn from their mistakes because this won’t cut it.  You can miss shots, you can even take bad ones, but you can’t let the other team get wide open looks like this late in the game if you want to win a title.

     

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    Rockets Roundup: 01/14/15http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-011415/14938/ http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-011415/14938/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 03:34:10 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14938 A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days.  CBS Sports. Oladipo scores 32, Magic rally to down Rockets 120-113. “Victor Oladipo had 32 points, Nik Vucevic added 25 and 12 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic rallied to beat the Houston Rockets 120-113 on Wednesday night. Houston led 85-84 entering […]

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    A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days. 

    CBS Sports. Oladipo scores 32, Magic rally to down Rockets 120-113.

    “Victor Oladipo had 32 points, Nik Vucevic added 25 and 12 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic rallied to beat the Houston Rockets 120-113 on Wednesday night. Houston led 85-84 entering the fourth quarter, but was outscored 36-28 by the Magic in the final 12 minutes…”

    RealGMCutting Up The Revisionist History of the James Harden Trade.

    “..The way the story is usually told, the Thunder had a chance to be one of the special teams in NBA history if only they had been willing to shell out a max contract for Harden. Given how well he has played with the Houston Rockets, who knows what their Big Three could have done if they had been allowed to grow together into their late 20’s. The reality is a little different. Oklahoma City’s decision was as much about Harden’s future as it was their own finances…”

    Sports Illustrated. Fridge Raider: Going Inside James Harden’s Diet.

    “As a 6-foot-5, 218-pound guard for the Arizona State Sun Devils, James Harden’s attitude towards his diet was just like any other college student’s: laidback. ‘In college, you just eat whatever,’ says Harden, referring to dorm room, microwaved fare, late-night munchies and classic cafeteria cuisine. “It’s hard when you’re young you like to eat a lot of junk food — food that isn’t good for you.’ “

    FOX Sports. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey offers off-color response to Twitter question.

    “Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey was asked a question Wednesday on Twitter. It seemed simple enough: Does having a job in basketball make you sick of watching it? The response on his verified Twitter account? Peculiar. Bizarre. Off-color. Inappropriate. Check it out…”

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    Orlando Magic 120, Houston Rockets 113: Defense, defense, defense.http://www.red94.net/orlando-magic-120-houston-rockets-113-defense-defense-defense/14945/ http://www.red94.net/orlando-magic-120-houston-rockets-113-defense-defense-defense/14945/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 03:22:44 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14945 Elfrid Payton was the 10th pick in the 2014 draft by the Orlando Magic. He is shooting less than 40% from the field, less than 22% from three-point range, and less than 50% than half of his free throws. He possesses a catastrophic .421 TS% this season. And the Houston Rockets, who have talked about […]

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    Elfrid Payton was the 10th pick in the 2014 draft by the Orlando Magic.

    He is shooting less than 40% from the field, less than 22% from three-point range, and less than 50% than half of his free throws. He possesses a catastrophic .421 TS% this season.

    And the Houston Rockets, who have talked about playing defense and have been much better on that end compared to last year, could not stop Elfrid Payton in the fourth quarter.

    To be fair, they could not stop Nikola Vucevic either. Or Victor Oladipo. Or Channing Frye. Or Ben Gordon’s corpse. Tonight, the Houston Rockets made last year’s squad look like defensive geniuses, as they collapsed late in the fourth and gave up 16 points in the final 2:42 of play as well as an eminently winnable game.

    Zach Lowe wrote today that “The Magic are trying to be a fast-paced spread pick-and-roll team, with three shooters spotting up around (mostly) Payton/Vucevic pick-and-rolls.” That was not really what Orlando did tonight. To be fair, the fact that they had Devyn Marble ( who cannot shoot at all and went 0-8 from the field tonight) starting instead of Tobias Harris limited their shooters, but they relied more on Oladipo and Vucevic dominating the ball, similarly to how Houston does it with Harden and Howard.

    Houston could not stop Orlando’s attack. Vucevic really did not go after Howard in the rim/post, though he did do it a few times with success. Instead, he either stood out of Howard’s range and hit jumpers, or grabbed the ball and the put back after Howard guarded the rim from a driving Magic wing. Howard actually played well unlike the past few games(23 points on 15 shots, 8 rebounds), but he was once again outplayed by the opposing center. Outside of Vucevic, the Rockets were sent scrambling on pick switches far too often. Consequently, Oladipo was not guarded by Ariza as often as should have happened, and so the guard took advantage.

    Turnovers were the other big problem. We know that the Rockets are a high turnover team, but that is still not excuse to give up 20 tonight. What was worse than the number was just how stupid so many of these turnovers were. At least half a dozen of them were passes from Josh Smith or Harden or Beverley which looked really bad even before a Magic player picked them off. And while Josh Smith is mostly infamous for taking shots which he has no business trying, he has also demonstrated in his time with the Rockets that he takes passes which he has no business trying. It works more often than his shooting does, but it still fails too much. For example, he tried an around-the-back pass to Dwight Howard, only for it to hit a Magic player before bouncing back, hitting Smith, and going out of bounds. That particular occasion will go unnoticed in the boxscore because the referees messed up and gave the ball back to Houston, but it remains a pertinent example.

    Also, I do not care to go after coaches for their rotation decisions, but I remain completely and totally befuddled about why Alexey Shved is getting any minutes on this team – never mind Canaan, Shved supplanted Jason Terry in the rotation tonight. If I had to hazard a guess, perhaps Kevin McHale is looking for a secondary player who can create shots for others. He thus wants to try out Shved as opposed to going with Canaan and Terry who we known not to be capable of that. I will concede that Shved might be a better passer than those two, but he suffers from the slight downside of not actually being good at any facet of basketball.

    So after blowing this game, the Houston Rockets will now fly back home and tomorrow take on an Oklahoma City team which has not played basketball in almost a week, and then the Golden State Warriors twice in the next three games. Well, at least we will be generally healthy for these contests.

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    A Donatas Motiejunas Roundtable.http://www.red94.net/donatas-motiejunas-roundtable/14940/ http://www.red94.net/donatas-motiejunas-roundtable/14940/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 21:54:05 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14940 McGuire: As Rahat put it after Monday’s game against Brooklyn: HOU – 113, Nets – 99. Rockets star big man puts hurt on Nets. Oh, and Dwight Howard also chipped in 8 and 5. — RedNinetyFour (@RedNinetyFour) January 13, 2015 Motiejunas’s development is up there with “Harden playing defense and having an actual mid-range game” […]

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    McGuire: As Rahat put it after Monday’s game against Brooklyn:

    Motiejunas’s development is up there with “Harden playing defense and having an actual mid-range game” as one of the best positive surprises of this season, and serves as yet another example of how I don’t know what I’m talking about. I was extremely pessimistic about Motiejunas at the start of this season. I was not convinced he could stop fouling, and I do not believe that a true post game, Motiejunas’s greatest strength, is that important a weapon in a NBA which has gone away from it.

    Well, Motiejunas has certainly proven me wrong in a post game’s value, and he grabbed consecutive double-doubles against the Nets and Jazz for what Bill Worrell said was the first time in his career. He already has more Win Shares at this point in the season than he accumulated in his previous two years combined.

    So, what do you think about Motiejunas’s development and the role which he should play on this team? We are not looking at a future star, after all – or are we?

    Walker: Not to turn down the music too much, but he’s almost certainly not a future star. That’s not an insult, just boring old reality. He’s a wonderful fit with this particular Rockets team, and he’s growing into an excellent role player, but stars are few and far between. It’s still possible, I suppose, that he’s the next Paul Millsap, but Millsap isn’t even really a star. He doesn’t need to be, anyway. If he keeps playing like this, D-Mo’s gonna stay in the starting lineup, help with a deep playoff run and get paid some serious paper pretty soon.

    Huq: Why is he not a future star?  WHY!?!  He is a 24-year-old 7 footer with one of the best post arsenals in the league, ability to pass off the dribble (sort of), while providing statistically way-above-average defense and rim protection.  If I were still in Houston and attending games, I would make it my personal mission to get it through to him to rebuild his shooting form this summer.  If he added the range he was initially touted for, he would be absolutely deadly.  But back to the question.  What young big is doing what he is doing right now….for a winning team, nonetheless.  Motiejunas saved the Houston season!

    Dover: Remember last night during the Brooklyn telecast when they put up a list of the point guards in the Western Conference? Let’s do the same thing with Power Forwards because it’s almost as daunting. Aldridge, Randolph, Nowitzki, Griffin, Duncan, Davis, Ibaka. Add Draymond Green to that list and Motiejunas is probably the 9th best starting power forward in the conference (give or take Derrick Favors and/or Kenneth Faried). Not a bad starting point, and certainly much better than where he was at the beginning of the season, but there’s still a long way to go before he’s worthy of top billing like some of those others.

    Motiejunas is never going to be higher than third banana for this team. That’s fine – your third best player is still really important if you want to perform at championship level. But if he wants to be a ‘star’ (I really hate using that term but that’s a discussion for another time) it’s not going to happen while he has to grab the occasional sliver of limelight from behind Howard and Harden. For now I feel like we should embrace the role he’s currently in – providing some offensive punch from the post when required and otherwise just filling in the gaps as needed.

    McGuire: I may or may not have made that star comment just to watch Rahat react.

    Richard: Man this is the second time Paul does a roundtable on my posting day. I demand a gift basket in return. At this point, I think everyone agrees that Dwight Howard is not a particularly wonderful offensive option with his present usage. Since Harden is our first offensive option, and Harden driving and kicking to a shooter is our second offensive option, does that make DMo our third offensive option?

    Could one of the unseen advantages of DMo be that he’s taking away possessions from Howard in the post? I mean, if we agree that Howard in the post is a big opportunity cost, then DMo in the post is addition by subtraction, along with whatever added value he has by himself. Another thing worth mentioning is that, if Howard is not awkwardly maneuvering the post, he’s free to roam the offensive boards. That has to be worth something.

    McGuire: I prefer looking at things in terms of options as opposed to who is a star player or not, and I think Motiejunas is Houston’s best non-Harden option. That said, Motiejunas’s development does not mean the Rockets could use another shot creator. One reason why I remain doubtful of the role of the traditional big man post-player is because it’s just harder to get players like that the ball in today’s NBA. Motiejunas’s post skills do nothing to diminish that – who can forget what a pain it was to watch the Rockets trying to get Yao Ming the ball? (Dear God, Yao hasn’t played relevant basketball in over half a decade now).

    Still, how does our frontcourt rotation look going forward, especially when Terrence Jones finally returns? I was probably the most nervous out of us about signing Smith, and there are plenty of things I still don’t like about his play. His passing reminds me of Terrence Williams in “it works really well when you don’t turn the ball over”. His shooting is problematic not just in the shot itself, but because Smith hangs around the perimeter way too much in general. But he has had been alright despite everything, and for once this team might actually have the luxury of depth.

    Huq: Forrest, that was really weird when they put Beverley among those other point guards.  Oh, also…

    Carry on.

    Walker: Donatas is for sure taking away possessions from Howard in the post, and it’s definitely an advantage, but I don’t think it’s unseen. That’s like boon number one that he’s offering, number two being to keep Josh Smith on the bench. He’s in beast mode right now, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stay in beast mode forever. This might be heresy to imply, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones gets that starting spot back. Motiejunas is a credit to the basketball powers of Lithuania for sure, but if we might recall, the Rockets (in an admittedly tiny sample size) ran roughshod over everyone with Jones in the lineup. Jones is still a fantastic fit next to Dwight, even if Donatas is establishing himself as another great fit. Having too many usable power forwards might end up (again, always) as Houston’s biggest roster issue going forward.

    Felker:  As someone who always had an inflated opinion of Motiejunas, his development hasn’t been a huge shock.  I always hoped he’d develop into a Boris Diaw-type: a big man with good feet, passing skills and the ability to develop from long range.  Motiejunas used to play with “happy feet”, and you could tell his body was always too eager to make a play before his brain had digested the play in front of him (hence all the foul trouble and awkward floaters).  You hear it all the time with young guys, “the game is finally starting to slow down” for D-Mo.

    I think his role going forward all comes down to Terrence Jones; when will he be back and how long will it take for him to get into the swing of things (I don’t know how similar Jones’ injury is to Carson Palmer’s shoulder troubles, but it seems like the nerve could just “wake up” one of these days).  I certainly lean towards Walker’s point that Jones should get his starting spot once he’s 100%.  A starting five with James Harden in the lineup doesn’t need much help scoring, and I actually like a second unit with D-Mo’s and J-Smoove’s passing combined with Corey Brewer as a run-and-gun bench brigade that can also defend.  Hypothetically, Motiejunas could be the backup-5 and still close out games as the crunchtime power forward.

    I know you guys like him taking a few possessions away from Dwight, but doesn’t D-Mo posting up with the starters mean Harden is standing 25 feet from the basket without the ball?  Wouldn’t the entire team be better served if Motiejunas was the Sixth Man and the focal point of the second unit while the stars catch wind?

    Li: We all say “second unit” like basketball coaches have hockey lines. Obviously that’s not the case. Currently James Harden averages over 36 MPG. Any player coming off the bench has, at most, 12 MPG without Harden, during which he can lead the second unit. And if we plan on playing both DMo and Harden together during crunch time, that 12 MPG is, at most, 7 MPG. Basically, people are going to be playing with James Harden. And that’s a good thing!

    I’m perfectly OK with DMo taking possessions away from Harden. If he didn’t, Howard would be. And as good as Harden is, the Rockets aren’t going to get very far as a one man team. The idea of a valuable bench player, those 6th men of the year types, is actually misleading because those types (Manu, JR Smith when he had a pulse, Harden himself on the Thunder) actually play ~30 MPG, most of it is spent with the starters. If DMo does come off the bench, he better have that type of playing time, or else I just give up.

    Felker: The point of my second unit comment wasn’t to suggest he’d be running a large portion of the games’ minutes as the focal point, but more an idea that for those 12 minutes when Harden isn’t on the floor could maximize whatever potential D-Mo has as a shot creator for the rest of the offense.

    It seems we all agree that Motiejunas is the Rockets’ second best offensive option after Harden’s multifaceted attack, so, as the Spurs have always done with Tony Parker and Manu, why not stack his minutes so that he can carry the load while Beard sits?  He should definitely be playing 30 minutes a game, but when he logs those 30 can really change his impact.  Bill Simmons said recently in a podcast with Zack Lowe (they were discussing the possibility of the Grizzlies trading Kosta Koufas) that you can’t win a game in the 12-13 minutes that your starters are off the floor, but you can lose it.  The bench has a lot of key pieces, but none that can create their own shot consistently.

    I really like a lineup with D-Mo, Smoove, Papa, Brewer and Guard X against any bench unit in the NBA, save for the Bulls.  It allows D-Mo all the touches he needs to do his thing (against mostly-backups no less), and has plenty of perimeter defense to help protect the rim sans Dwight.

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    On the narrative surrounding Dwight Howard, coachinghttp://www.red94.net/narrative-surrounding-dwight-howard-coaching/14934/ http://www.red94.net/narrative-surrounding-dwight-howard-coaching/14934/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 14:01:10 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14934 On Monday night, Kevin Garnett head-butted Dwight Howard in what can only be classified as one of the weirder incidents I can remember until then remembering that Kevin Garnett is actually a pretty weird dude prone to do stuff like this.  The even money for an altercation was on Garnett-Motiejunas, given Garnett’s well-documented preference for […]

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    On Monday night, Kevin Garnett head-butted Dwight Howard in what can only be classified as one of the weirder incidents I can remember until then remembering that Kevin Garnett is actually a pretty weird dude prone to do stuff like this.  The even money for an altercation was on Garnett-Motiejunas, given Garnett’s well-documented preference for point guards and European big men.  But alas, The Big Ticket found himself tangled under the basket with Superman, a few harmless shoves were exchanged, and heads collided.  The whole thing held little significance except for being the first altercation between two surefire Hall of Famers that I can remember in recent history.  (I’m sure I’m forgetting something).  After the game, the critics came out with their opinions on the whole thing, and a familiar theme from earlier in the season emerged: players don’t like Dwight Howard.  We heard this after the incident earlier in the year with Kobe and then after when Kevin Durant–all 180 pounds of him–referred to the big man in a demeaning manner.

    Specifically, Monday night, one commentator on NBAtv said, (paraphrasing), “players around the league just don’t like Dwight.  You see all the smiling and the way he’s always acting and people don’t like it.”  What?  I’m not quite sure I understand the logic behind that thought process.  I totally get why Kobe might’ve been frustrated with Dwight in L.A., or why any current Rockets teammates might find his act tiresome.  Similarly, I could understand any truth behind this summer’s narrative of “players not wanting to play with [him].”  It’s probably annoying to focus on winning when someone’s demeanor indicates they don’t really care.  But why would opposing players have anything against him?  He doesn’t play dirty, and there’s nothing about his game that’s particularly irritating.  So you’re telling me opposing players want to go at Dwight because he smiles a lot and they don’t like it?  That’s the most absurd reasoning I’ve ever heard.  The likelier case is that people just find Dwight to be soft, with a group effect taking place.  I’ve used this example before with Jeremy Lin, but its applicable here too: ever have that friend growing up who everyone either picked on or blamed for everything?  It happened not only because it was allowed to happen, but because with each subsequent instance, everyone else in the group became/becomes reinvigorated in its ability to happen.  Guys see Kobe squaring up Dwight and questioning his manhood, then they get fired up, and start to think that a) the charges are true and b) they can do it too.  It’s kind of like what happened with Blake Griffin last year, with everyone taking shots at him in the air.  When a belief is propagated enough, it can really take off.

    -We’re entering a fascinating era where, for the first time perhaps, you’re really seeing the impact of coaching across the league.  Last season, the Spurs crushed Miami primarily due to their superior strategies.  Phoenix vastly exceeded expectations, and Chicago stayed afloat.  This year, we see the Warriors running away with the league’s best record, after only making a coaching change.  Atlanta, similarly, is pulling away in the East under a Pop disciple.  The backdrop of all of this has been an overwhelming sense that the Thunder have underperformed, despite having the best talent in the league, due to uncreative thinking from the clipboard.  Coaching mattered always, of course, but not in this sense, I don’t think.  In the past, I felt the team with the best player almost always won the title, generally speaking, and the hallmark of a great coach was being able to motivate and manage egos.  But the change in the rules spawned an outright transformation of the game, leading to the necessity of more intricate schemes.  Teams started mastering defense, and in response, we now see them mastering offense, with complex motion sequences.  The backdrop here is the total public oblivion with respect to these changes, spurred partly by ignorance and overall apathy, and partly by popular lowest-common-denominator forums such as TNT’s halftime segment.  I touched on this earlier in the week, but because of reductive platitudes such as “big men need to be dominant”, the public is still largely in the dark, as are modes of thinking within the players.

    I think about all of the above in relation to the Rockets.  They’ve come an extremely long way this year from the disaster they featured last season where at times, they appeared to not even have a coherent defensive strategy.  And the offense has featured wrinkles we hadn’t seen before.  But still, there is a very long way to go.  I could just be living in the moment, but I get the feeling that to win a title in today’s NBA, you have to have complete mastery of the clipboard.  Even aside from the strategy, there are simply far too many inefficiencies in Houston’s offense to overlook.  Dwight post-ups most of the time are possessions that could be better used (yes, I get it, he draws fouls), and while Harden has been independently brilliant, can you win a title with him going one-on-one against a team of 5 as your entire crunch-time offense?  That would’ve certainly been enough in the 90s, and even five years ago, but now?  The reader is likely bewildered due to my negativity, noting the team is in third in the West and on pace to challenge its franchise-best record.  Those achievements are great and dandy and I too am excited.  But what I speak of here in this column is the goal of winning a championship.  Can they do it without better coaching, but also, perhaps more frighteningly, can they do it without both of their star players completely buying in to the realities of the new NBA?  For the first time, in the basketball context, I think I understand what it means when they say winning requires sacrifice.

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    Time to look at this year’s Benchhttp://www.red94.net/time-look-years-bench/14923/ http://www.red94.net/time-look-years-bench/14923/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 00:53:10 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14923 We now have enough data to make some observations about Houston’s bench usage this season. The chart above is now updated with data through January 12, 2015 and shows the percentage of playing time occupied by everyone’s bench, and the net ratings of those benches. Immediately noticeable is that bench usage for the entire NBA […]

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    Click for a full-sized interactive version

    Click for a full-sized interactive version

    We now have enough data to make some observations about Houston’s bench usage this season. The chart above is now updated with data through January 12, 2015 and shows the percentage of playing time occupied by everyone’s bench, and the net ratings of those benches.

    Immediately noticeable is that bench usage for the entire NBA has increased. The current average playing time for a team’s bench is over 38%. At the end of last year, it was less than 36%. The net ratings of the benches, meanwhile, have seen practically no difference. It seems that more and more teams have hopped on board the rest-your-starters bandwagon.

    The Rockets, like last year, are tied for 2nd to last in bench usage. The big difference is that there are quite a few teams occupying the same space as the Rockets. Five teams are tied for last, playing their benches 33% of the time, while two teams are tied with the Rockets, playing their benches 34% of the time. At the end of last year, the Rockets played their bench 31% of the time, so there has been a nominal increase in bench usage, if not a relative one.

    Last year Houston’s bench was one of the best in the league in terms of net ratings. This year it’s decidedly middle of the pack, with a slightly below average net rating of -1.8.

    Of course, Houston’s bench has undergone significant change in a short amount of time, making aggregate evaluations difficult. It lost its two primary contributors (Asik and Lin) and started the season with KPop as its 6th man. An early injury to Terrence Jones also pushed DMo into the starting lineup, further depleting the bench. Mid-season moves brought in Corey Brewer and Josh Smith to fortify the unit. Once Jones returns, the bench should be further strengthened (and hopefully not because DMo becomes demoted).

    At the top, the Rockets are still riding their horses as hard as anyone. Both Harden and Ariza are top 10 in the league in terms of minutes played. That combination is also second in the league in minutes played out of all 2-man combinations (Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are first). Howard’s injury scare (still somewhat mysterious) apparently didn’t incentivize the coaching staff to take it easy on the other players.

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    Another passing play from the Houston Rockets’ big menhttp://www.red94.net/another-passing-play-houston-rockets-big-men/14912/ http://www.red94.net/another-passing-play-houston-rockets-big-men/14912/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 13:53:44 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14912 After Donatas Motiejunas began to emerge early this season, many wondered how he and Dwight Howard would fit together manning the Houston frontline.  Would the same spacing issues that plagued the Asik-Howard duo manifest themselves yet again?  I began examining the impact the players had upon defenses when playing together, concluding that each man’s unique […]

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    2-1After Donatas Motiejunas began to emerge early this season, many wondered how he and Dwight Howard would fit together manning the Houston frontline.  Would the same spacing issues that plagued the Asik-Howard duo manifest themselves yet again?  I began examining the impact the players had upon defenses when playing together, concluding that each man’s unique abilities could create interesting opportunities for the Houston offense.  Then Josh Smith happened, Motiejunas went to the bench, and Houston plummeted.  D-Mo has since been reinserted into the lineup, and Houston is thriving, causing me to wonder this weekend if Smith would again be given the starting role.  Subsequently, sources close to the team informed me that, contrary to an initial report, upon which I had based my premise, no starting job promise was made to Smith in the team’s negotiations with the forward.  With the team playing well again, one can probably rest assured knowing that this current lineup will likely stay intact.

    Last night, there was an interesting exchange that seemed promising, but gave rise to some concerns.  Let’s take a look.

    Harden drives off the Motiejunas pick, Motiejunas catches and lobs to Howard who is unable to handle the pass.  Ariza eventually scores off the layup, but in most instances, that’s probably a Howard slam.  Let’s look closer.

    After Harden comes around the pick, he has occupied the attention of two defenders.  Motiejunas is free to roll into open space.  If this were Asik, last year, instead of Motiejunas, because the former is incapable of the one-bounce dribble drive, the options would be far more limited.

    After D-Mo takes one dribble, his man cuts him off.  Plumlee also seeps over to cut off the lane as an extra line of defense.  Motiejunas throws the errant pass, causing Howard to reach back.  The Rockets eventually score, but not as an intended consequence of that play.

    You can look at this sequence one of two ways.  On the one hand, Howard probably catches that pass if he’s healthy.  On the other hand, you could say Plumlee played that possession about as perfectly as possible.  He’s leaked over enough to deter Motiejunas, but not so much to where Howard is left alone completely undeterred.  What happens if that’s Serge Ibaka?

    How the two Rockets big men interact will most likely determine this season.  Harden will be Harden, and Ariza and Beverley will be constants with limited variance.  But Houston must learn to play off of and take advantage of its two big men to go far, and its two big men must learn to play off of each other.  Asik and Howard, despite their defensive dominance, never figured things out, and that’s why Asik is gone and why the Rockets went home early last summer.  But Motiejunas is far more talented than his Turkish predecessor, and should do better taking advantage of the attention Dwight Howard draws on a constant basis.

    I’m going to be watching the Thunder game closely, as should you if you care about this team.  How will Serge Ibaka react when Dwight Howard has the ball?  Last season, Ibaka was able to sag off of Terrence Jones, disrupting Howard in the post.  Will he be able to give that much attention this time around?  In the alternate, if Motiejunas is the playmaker, can Adams handle Howard alone on the weakside?

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    Houston Rockets 113, Brooklyn Nets 99: Don’t wake the beardhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-113-brooklyn-nets-99-dont-wake-beard/14909/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-113-brooklyn-nets-99-dont-wake-beard/14909/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 04:45:39 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14909 If you want to sneak up on a better team, don’t throw the basketball at their head first. The Brooklyn Nets learned that the hard way after a sudden and unexpected altercation erupted four minutes into the game. Kevin Garnett took exception to Dwight Howard’s play under the rim and gave Howard a bit of […]

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    If you want to sneak up on a better team, don’t throw the basketball at their head first. The Brooklyn Nets learned that the hard way after a sudden and unexpected altercation erupted four minutes into the game. Kevin Garnett took exception to Dwight Howard’s play under the rim and gave Howard a bit of a shove, the beginning of an exchange that included a headbutt from Garnett. Kevin Garnett walked around the court shouting (and being held by various players) before the altercation finally ended. When the dust settled, Garnett was ejected and Howard was given a technical foul. Then the rest of the dust settled, and James Harden was standing atop the rubble of the Brooklyn Nets.

    The Rockets might have been vulnerable to a bit of ennui, just complacent enough for a veteran team with a veteran coach to get the better of. We’ll never know if a languid Houston team might have fallen, because Kevin Garnett woke the beard, and sometimes the beard eats you. The Nets were scoring at a mighty clip to begin the game, and actually hung around for a good while. In the second half, however, the Rockets slammed the door shut quickly, calmly, and directly on the head of an already hurting Nets team. The game tightened up significantly in garbage time, which lasted nearly the entire fourth quarter. It was a tremendous blowout, which is the best possible way to curtail minutes for the starters.

    The Nets were able to take advantage of some porous defense and some disappointing play from Dwight Howard to rally within two points, led by Mason Plumlee’s 24 points (on 10-11 shooting! Not Dwight’s best cover). The less said about Howard’s performance, the better. He had 8 points and it took him 9 shots to get there. His 5 boards were atrocious, even for a lower-than-average 28 minutes of burn. He didn’t look in rhythm all night and was getting pushed around down low by Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee. As long as he gets right by the time the Rockets come home to host the Thunder, all will be forgotten.

    James Harden, however, had no such troubles. Instead, Harden had 30 points on 13 shots, shot 4-7 from deep, dished out 6 assists and only turned the ball over twice. Oh, and he did it in 30 minutes. Harden’s consistently torching everyone he comes across, and he’s scoring in every conceivable fashion. Layups? Threes? Dribble drives? Coming off screens? Fading away at the elbow? Crossing over and posting up? Check, check, check. He’s earning himself a long rest during fourth quarters, all the better to keep his energy up on both sides of the ball. This incarnation of James Harden is otherworldly, deadly, and most surprisingly looks sustainable. If he and a certain other MVP candidate meet in the playoffs, the parquet might just light on fire.

    Any night when Donatas Motiejunas leads the team in minutes played (37) and the Rockets win is a great outing. He notched yet another double double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, all while shooting an incredibly efficient 8-11 from the field. He’s been scoring in the post with contemptible ease, and handily defending his starting position from the usurper Josh Smith. We’ll soon see if he can keep this assault up against the tougher fours in the league, but so far he’s been utter poison when paired with James Harden. He promised years ago that he would catch up to Dwight Howard, and right now he looks like he spends every day working toward that goal.

    Trevor Ariza quietly broiled the Nets, knocking down 3-5 from downtown on the way to 12 points and 4 boards. He was only credited with one steal (and the team with 9), but it looked like a lot more than that as he played the passing lanes with the precision and dexterity we’ve come to expect. The last starter, Patrick Beverley, has a solid if not flashy 11 points on 10 shots, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. It was a team effort for the Rockets in Brooklyn.

    Even Josh Smith got to have some fun. He only shot 5-15 (get used to him taking the most shots on the team, by the way) but his six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal are nice peripheral stats for a player who seems to be sliding into the sixth man slot. Against second units, he’s creating havok (for both teams), and sometimes that’s what’s needed. If his headband comrades Corey Brewer and Jason Terry had shot better from deep (0-5 and 3-7 respectively), his unit would have looked even more impressive. The jury remains out on Josh Smith, but with him off the bench, deliberations are going a bit better.

    The Rockets are still figuring out their rotation, but it looks as if they’re creeping toward that chemistry they had when they were rolling in November. This game against a seriously depleted Brooklyn team may not have been much of a challenge, but it was a test they aced. There’s room for optimism, here, something that Houston will surely need against a schedule that’s about to come down on them like a ton of bricks. Today, however, the beard is in charge.

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    Rockets Roundup: 01/12/15http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-011215/14868/ http://www.red94.net/rockets-roundup-011215/14868/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 23:40:43 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14868 A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days. Houston Chronicle. Road has been kind to Rockets so far this season. “When the Rockets boarded a New York-bound plane on Sunday afternoon, they were relaxed, calm and ready. It’s just another road trip – this one to Brooklyn […]

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    A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days.

    Houston Chronicle. Road has been kind to Rockets so far this season.

    “When the Rockets boarded a New York-bound plane on Sunday afternoon, they were relaxed, calm and ready. It’s just another road trip – this one to Brooklyn on Monday night and Orlando on Wednesday. For the Rockets, the road has been a good place, as they have one of the league’s best road records – 13-5 – headed into this trip…”

    Hardwood Paroxysm. The Houston Rockets, We Can Dance if We Want To.

    “..The problem extends, to a certain degree, to this entire Houston Rockets team. They chase offensive excellence with a plan to exploit marginal efficiencies over and over and over again. The aggregate can be worth the carefully controlled effort, but it makes for a mountain of drab possessions to watch. Dwight Howard contributes on offense in his own way but is an enormous impediment to movement and flow. They have no point guard to speak of, at least not in the traditional primo-passing, floor-conductor sense…”

    ESPN. What could have been with Nets, Howard.

    “Dwight Howard once wanted to call Barclays Center home. He still hasn’t played there yet. But assuming he doesn’t sit out the game due to knee soreness, Howard will make his debut at the $1 billion arena in Brooklyn on Monday night, when the surging Houston Rockets face the struggling Brooklyn Nets…”

     

    Your weekly Power Rankings fix…

    NBA.com. Week 11 Power Rankings: West contenders making moves as season heats up.

    “…8. Houston (26-11)
    Pace: 97.8 (7), OffRtg: 102.6 (18), DefRtg: 98.0 (2), NetRtg: +4.6 (8)
    The Rockets’ offense is showing some life … partly because five of their last six opponents have been bottom-10 defenses. Their own defense continues to get the job done, though. With both Dwight Howard and Donatas Motiejunas ranking among the league’s best rim protectors, their starting lineup has allowed less than 92 points per 100 possessions.
    This week: @ BKN, @ ORL, vs. OKC, vs. GSW…”

    ESPN. Week 11 Power Rankings: Hawks flying high.

    “6. Houston. We probably haven’t said enough about James Harden essentially becoming a 27-6-6 guy. If The Beard can hit those benchmarks for an entire season, he’ll join LeBron (eight times), Michael (three), Larry (three) and Kobe (once) as the only players to do it since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976-77…”

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    High-Low and the Rockets’ struggles with frontinghttp://www.red94.net/high-low-rockets-struggles-fronting/14866/ http://www.red94.net/high-low-rockets-struggles-fronting/14866/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 23:30:14 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14866 If your team runs an offence that features a heavy dose of post play, then one thing you’re going to need in your playbook is something to counter teams who try to front your star big man on the low block. Rockets fans from the days of Yao Ming will remember just how frustrating it […]

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    NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio SpursIf your team runs an offence that features a heavy dose of post play, then one thing you’re going to need in your playbook is something to counter teams who try to front your star big man on the low block. Rockets fans from the days of Yao Ming will remember just how frustrating it was to watch teams unable to get the ball to him in the post because of just this strategy. McHale and the Rockets coaching staff have got the team using a high-low action to beat the fronting defender, but sadly it has not been a complete success so far. In this article, I will breakdown what the action looks like and why it doesn’t always work.

    Here is what the Rockets’ high-low action looks like when it works properly, from a game early in the season:

    Howard sets up on the block and is fronted by Kanter, preventing the entry pass from Harden. To get around this, Terrence Jones cuts to the free throw line. This draws his man away from helping out on Howard and frees up Dwight’s route to the basket. Jones receives the pass and throws the ball up for a highlight-reel lob.

    This action is a great fit for the team when they are playing through Howard on the block. He is excellent at catching the ball in flight and dunking, and the Rockets have a bevy of highly skilled power forwards capable of delivering him the ball on target.

    A key part of this play is that the pass to Howard is a lob. To illustrate why, we’ll see what happens when the power forward tries to throw a bounce pass:

    Here, D-Mo is the player who flashes to the nail. Instead of trying to lob like Jones did, he attempts to throw in a quick bounce pass to Howard and it gets snuffed out. His first mistake was that he didn’t square up to the basket before throwing the pass. This is essential because it forces his defender to close out to contest what looks like a shot. Instead, his man (Zeller) is able to hang around near Howard and disrupt the pass. It also neutralises Howard’s athleticism – a well delivered lob is unguardable because Dwight can catch it so close to the rim. But throwing in the bounce pass is a bit like a big man bringing the ball down after a rebound: put it where others can get to it and the ball will be taken from you.

    D-Mo has since learned to lob when he plays this role. He still rushes the pass slightly in this example, but Babbitt comes out to him anyway so it doesn’t matter:

    Using this action is all well and good when Dwight is posting up, but of course he isn’t the only post player on the team any more. Motiejunas’ skills on the block have meant teams have started to front him too, and unfortunately the play doesn’t work quite so well when he’s the target. There are a few reasons for this that become clear when you watch it in action:

    First of all, there’s a personnel issue here. Because the power forward is posting up, the centre is the one who has to throw the lob pass. In this case that means Joey Dorsey, who is well known for being inaccurate when asked to throw the ball from around the foul line area. His defender isn’t going to honour his shot and will instead clog the lane to the basket, and even if that doesn’t happen there’s no guarantee he will be able to make a pass with the necessary precision to work as a lob. To get this to work properly, you really want Motiejunas to be the nominal centre on the court. That means he’s on the receiving end of passes from Smith or Papanikolaou, which are likely to be more accurate.

    Beyond that, Motiejunas himself is not best suited for this play. He actually fails to make the roll to the hoop at all here – instead of freeing himself and getting up momentum he remains tangled up with his defender for too long to be effective. This is both a strength and smarts issue – Howard is stronger and will get freer with less effort, but he also knows when is the right time to disentangle himself and head to the basket. Motiejunas will have to learn when the right time to release is. Of course, even if he does that, he’s still going to have trouble simply because he is not great at catching and finishing in mid-air. When D-Mo catches the ball near the basket he has to gather himself before going up again, and that makes it much easier for opposition players to recover and block the shot.

    The inability to use this play well is why Motiejunas tends to struggle when his defender fronts him. But this is still a very useful part of the Rockets’ offence when Howard is on the floor. It will be interesting to see whether playing with better passing big men will make this play more viable for D-Mo going forward, because it is key to getting the most out of the Rockets’ twin post threats.

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    The Red94 Podcast: Episode 67http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-episode-67/14863/ http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-episode-67/14863/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 02:25:20 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=14863 In today’s episode, Rahat and Forrest Walker took reader questions.

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    In today’s episode, Rahat and Forrest Walker took reader questions.

    The post The Red94 Podcast: Episode 67 appeared first on Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings.

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