Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings http://www.red94.net Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings Sun, 24 May 2015 09:50:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.5 Golden State Warriors 115, Houston Rockets 80: So, that just happened.http://www.red94.net/golden-state-warriors-115-houston-rockets-80-so-that-just-happened/15952/ http://www.red94.net/golden-state-warriors-115-houston-rockets-80-so-that-just-happened/15952/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 09:50:54 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15952 The Golden State Warriors are a historically good team. It is more than their 67 regular season wins. It is how they consistently blew out opponents throughout this season and finished with among the highest point margins in NBA history. I think that there are at best ten teams in the entire history of the […]

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The Golden State Warriors are a historically good team.

It is more than their 67 regular season wins. It is how they consistently blew out opponents throughout this season and finished with among the highest point margins in NBA history.

I think that there are at best ten teams in the entire history of the NBA that would be favored to beat the Warriors in a series, and realistically more like five. And when you restrict it to teams in this century, it would only be the 2001 Lakers.

The Houston Rockets are not one of the best teams in NBA history. So, after two games where they hung in there, they got destroyed by Golden State’s passing display on the offensive end and their stifling defense on the other end.

Oh, and Stephen Curry is broken.

The thing about the Warriors, Curry, and Thompson is that some of you may have heard of the concept called “gravity” in basketball.

Basically, elite players attract a lot of presence and players to them. The defense warps to them to make sure that they do not go off, which allows other players to take advantage to score. We see this with Harden – whenever he has the ball, there are one or two players behind his defender hedging over to prevent him from scoring. While we would love to see Harden say “let’s do this”, take on all two or three guys, and score anyways, Harden normally makes the right move and instead drops the ball off to the open man.

Of course, this actually requires that said open man can hit the open shot. This has not happened for much of the season and it did not happen tonight. Josh Smith was Houston’s best three-point shooter, going 3-5. No one else hit more than one, which lets Golden State pack the paint and prevent Harden and Howard from getting inside. The fact that Terrence Jones has been problematic in this series did not help the interior war either.

But I digress. What makes a shooter like Curry so unique is that unlike Harden, who warps a defense when he has the ball, Curry warps a basketball defense all the time. His mere presence and the threat of his shot is so dangerous that opposing defenses will do whatever it takes to prevent him from being wide open. Throughout Game 3, Houston switched on basically every possession. We saw Josh Smith stuck on Stephen Curry a lot throughout this game. Curry would then blow by Smith for the interior score or the pass to the open man.

Curry is not the only shooter who warps defense by his presence. Kyle Korver is a great example, and I do not think it is a coincidence that Atlanta went on that huge regular season run when he was on fire and has now looked mediocre since he has cooled off. So is Klay Thompson as well.

But Curry is great because he can pass as well as hit that blasted three-pointer. Golden State didn’t beat Houston because Curry scored 40 points. This game was over at the end of the first half, and Curry had “just” 18 points at that point. Golden State beat Houston because they kept getting the open man because Houston’s defenses were so worried about Curry…and Curry hit the three pointers anyways. The result was this blowout tonight.

I’m not particularly frustrated with this loss in and of itself. I stated at the beginning of the playoffs that my goal was “Western Conference Finals and pray someone else knocks out the Warriors, because we aren’t going to.” The first has been accomplished. The second did not. The reality is that Golden State is a very impressive team, that seems to boast no weaknesses whatsoever. They’ve taken advantages of Houston’s to get this 3-0 lead.

The frustrating thing is I have no clue how anyone’s going to beat the Warriors over the next few years. Sure, they’ll be hefting a big luxury tax bill next season. But after that season? David Lee’s salary comes off the books, and who knows what the 2016 cap is going to look like. I can’t believe that the NBA could very well create a situation where “every team has $20 million in cap room” for the anti-competitive aspects that it could create. But really, what does the NBA lose if one of the best teams in the league creates a super-duper team by adding another elite free agent like Durant? It’s not like it did not enjoy the Heatles.

Worrying about that frustrates me more than this game did. If you’ve followed the Rockets this season, Houston lost for all the reasons that have plagued the team throughout this season – inconsistent bench, lack of shooting, turnovers and the like. The only thing that matters is figuring out how to move beyond this loss – and how the heck Houston is going to beat this Warriors team going forward.

 

 

 

 

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Houston Rockets 98, Golden State Warriors 99: Of all the times to not attack…http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-98-golden-state-warriors-99-of-all-the-times-to-not-attack/15947/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-98-golden-state-warriors-99-of-all-the-times-to-not-attack/15947/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 09:52:23 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15947 James Harden makes his bones attacking the paint.  Everything in his arsenal is predicated on his ability to get to the basket.  All those free throws, that wicked step-back; nothing would be as effective if he wasn’t so good at getting to the rim. So last night, with precious few seconds left on the clock in a one […]

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James Harden makes his bones attacking the paint.  Everything in his arsenal is predicated on his ability to get to the basket.  All those free throws, that wicked step-back; nothing would be as effective if he wasn’t so good at getting to the rim.

So last night, with precious few seconds left on the clock in a one point game and the ball in his hands after rebounding a Harrison Barnes miss, Harden raced up court for what would surely be a last second play to decide the game.

“There’s no one there, there’s no one there!” I screamed at my TV, fully expecting him to get to get into the paint.

But Harden didn’t attack.  He haphazardly went into Steph Curry’s body, then pulled up so that he could play a wall-pass with Dwight. Once he had the ball back, with no real plan of attack, he bobbled the ball off the Splash Brothers’ feet.  Game Over.  Warriors 2, Rockets 0.

Why didn’t Harden just attack the basket like he does so many times a game, usually with bigger defenders protecting the rim?

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I mean, I get that he’s double-teamed, and they do have the middle of the floor walled off, but there’s no big man and he’s got both defenders on their heels.  And if he didn’t like that look, why not call a timeout and draw something up?

But after Harden pulled up and waited for everyone to catch up to the play, there had to be a better option than attempting to drive at the same double-team that he just forewent, who happens to now have their feet set with backup behind them.

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It’s literally the same look he just bypassed, except a little worse.  Even if a timeout was not an option at this point, why not run right at Dwight Howard’s shoulder and use him to create space for a shot?

It was a pressure situation and there was no time to think, that’s why. Harden played so well, but by the very end, he’d run out of magic.  It’s just terribly unfortunate that Harden’s awesome performance was all for not.

Harden scored 38 points on just 21 shots, but this wasn’t a free throw contest like a lot of Harden’s big scoring nights.  He was 9-10 from the charity stripe, sure, but he was also 3-6 from deep and 13-21 (62%) overall. For the second game in a row he was an assist shy of a triple-double, adding 10 rebounds, three steals and a block to his impressive box score. This was the best, most complete game for Harden in the playoffs.  He and Curry duked it out all night and, if not for the late-game blunder, Harden outplayed the league MVP.

Houston fell behind by as many as 17 in the first half, but Harden was their answer.  And it wasn’t a flashy hit-em-quick comeback like the Rockets are wont to do.  They did go on a 14-2 run to close the gap, but it was a methodical approach that got them back in it.  Harden scored 12 points in the second quarter on 5-6 shooting and was absolutely ruthless from the midrange.  The analytics community is fond of saying that only a select few players (Dirk, Aldridge, Durant etc) make shooting 15-18 footers worth the effort, but that step-back jumper that Harden perfected this year just added a year or two to his prime.  That shot will save him from crashing to floor so much after attacking the rim time and again.

The Rockets might not have needed such a run in the second had the bench not been so bad.  For a unit that got so much praise for their second round performance, they have looked absolutely ordinary two games into this series.  Josh Smith was a little too aggressive last night, taking too many shots in the first half and then disappearing in the second. Corey Brewer made little statistical impact and finished with a +/- of -23.  Pablo Prigioni somehow managed to finish with a -10 in only seven minutes of action. The only Rockets player off the bench to really show up was Terrence Jones, who finished with a line of 12 points, 2 boards, an assist, a steal and 3 blocks.  He attacked and played fearlessly, although there were several times he took contested shots rather than kicking out to open shooters.

Dwight Howard ended up playing despite his sprained knee, and played well.  He shot 73% from the field for 19 points, but was only 3-7 from the stripe.  He did manage 17 rebounds (5 offensive), 2 steals and a block, but allowed too many layups in his vicinity.  Steph Curry especially squeaked by a few times for easy buckets while Howard was in the area.  His stat line looks better, but I’m not sure Howard made as much of an impact as Andrew Bogut (14 pts, 8 reb, 4 ast & 5 blk).

Besides Bogut and Curry (33 pts, 3 reb, 6 ast & 1 stl), the only other Warrior to really hurt the Rockets individually was Draymond Green.  He only shot 3-9 from the field, but stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and a steal & block each.  Where the Warriors really had the advantage was their bench.  For the second game in a row, Golden State went on a big run with their starters on the pine.  Shawn Livingston had another good game, making all four of his shots for 8 points and 4 rebounds.  Leandro Barbosa’s 4 points and 3 assists don’t look like much, but he was +13 in his time on the court.

The Rockets can’t continue to let Golden State’s bench decide games.  The Warriors second unit closed that big Rockets lead in Game 1, and they built a big lead in Game 2 against Houston’s bench.  It hasn’t been Houston’s offense as much as the defense, and Kevin McHale needs to figure out a way to generate stops with his second unit on the floor.

The Warriors are the better (or just healthier) team, but I can promise you this: those “Over-Rated” chants that were echoing through Oracle Arena in Game 1 every time Harden touched the ball will not be heard for the rest of this series, regardless of how many games it goes.  They may not have believed it before, but there’s not a Golden State fan out there that doesn’t recognize how good the Beard really is anymore.

And for all those folks who thought that the Rockets were punching above their weight and didn’t belong in the same class as the Warriors, those beliefs can be put to rest.  Without two of their five starters, the Rockets are just a few plays away from being up 2-0 in this series themselves.  I’d like to see what this series would look like if the Rockets were healthy and the Warriors were missing key-cogs like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.

But that’s not the case.  Golden State is the healthiest team left in the playoffs and certainly the favorite to win it all.  Hopefully getting back to Houston will cure some of the Rockets problems, and those Toyota Center rims will be as soft and sticky for the Rockets as Oracle’s were for the Warriors.  Just one or two breaks and the Rockets are right back in it.

Clutch City better show up.

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Golden State Warriors 110, Houston Rockets 106: Die standinghttp://www.red94.net/golden-state-warriors-110-houston-rockets-106-die-standing/15946/ http://www.red94.net/golden-state-warriors-110-houston-rockets-106-die-standing/15946/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 04:11:23 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15946 The Western Conference Finals have begun and the Golden State Warriors have taken the expected 1-0 series lead on the Houston Rockets. It was not, however, a double-digit bashing, nor was it an ugly, one-sided game. This was a real contest, the kind that suggests an entertaining series worthy of the third round of the […]

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The Western Conference Finals have begun and the Golden State Warriors have taken the expected 1-0 series lead on the Houston Rockets. It was not, however, a double-digit bashing, nor was it an ugly, one-sided game. This was a real contest, the kind that suggests an entertaining series worthy of the third round of the NBA playoffs. James Harden is exceptional, Trevor Ariza has icewater in his veins, and the Rockets aren’t afraid of the Warriors. This is gonna be fun.

The biggest worry, bigger even than going in a one game hole, is that Dwight Howard suffered a bruised knee when Josh Smith slid into him. He played through it to the best of his ability, and still grabbed 13 rebounds in the game, but had to leave in the fourth quarter, and did not return in a critical stretch run. If his knee will recover soon, the Rockets look to be in surprisingly good shape. When he wasn’t posting up (which he should stop doing, forever, immediately), he was a force of nature, and was winning his matchup and more. His presence is mission critical here, and the news that comes out over the next forty-eight hours may determine Houston’s fate.

The good news is that the Warriors don’t seem to be able to contain James Harden as well as the Los Angeles Clippers could. It’s surprising that a better defense is more pliant to Harden’s game, but LA had a perfect storm for containing Harden. DeAndre Jordan’s rim protection and JJ Redick’s startling defensive alacrity were able to slow him and make the other Rockets beat them. The other Rockets did indeed beat the Clippers, and now Harden faces the slightly less successful Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut, the latter of whom stayed in foul trouble and the former of whom was biting on far too many of Harden’s fakes. James flirted extensively with a triple double, ending the night with 28 points on 11-20 shooting, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals. Harden took his team as far as anyone can, going on a scoring run by himself to close the game up late.

Unfortunately, without Dwight Howard inside to hold the fort, Terrence Jones and Josh Smith weren’t able to keep from getting washed away by the tidal wave that is Golden State’s defense. Jones’ 2-10 shooting was indicative of his inability to finish at the rim in the second half, and it was only by divine providence that Josh Smith ended with more points (17) than shots (16). Jason Terry joined in the letdown brigade, shooting 2-9 and clanking on open threes, though he did play better than expected defense on resident fire elemental Steph Curry.

Curry shot 6-11 from three point range, and a few of these were open. That’s gotta change.

The pleasant surprise captains were Clint Capela and Pablo Prigioni, who looked fresh and relatively un-scouted by the opposition. Prigioni seemed to have saved up all his super bar for tonight’s game, and hopefully he has more in the tank for the rest of the series. He’s looked like the crafty veteran that general manager Daryl Morey hoped he was trading for, and Clint Capela is showing limitless promise. Capela is performing plenty well, even if he’s on a huge stage much sooner than expected. He cleans up around the rim, sets good screens, flushed the ball, and plays remarkably tenacious defense. He’s going to be overmatched as the series progresses, but he’s better than he should be right now, and is a delight to watch.

The big story is that the Warriors had to fight to keep the Rockets down late, and were up by only 2 points with 15 seconds left in the game. The Rockets led by 16 early in the second quarter, and forced a sleepwalking Warriors team to step it up. A lot can happen, but this doesn’t look like a series headed to a sweep. If Dwight can take the floor, if Harden can prove he deserves all his MVP votes and more, and if the role players can get anywhere near Trevor Ariza’s level (who was the second best player for the Rockets tonight), the Rockets can make this a series. Ariza’s fourth three in five tries cut the lead to 2, and it proved something important. The Rockets aren’t laying down, and they aren’t going away.

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Houston Rockets 113, Los Angeles Clippers 100: I love this gamehttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-113-los-angeles-clippers-100-i-love-this-game/15943/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-113-los-angeles-clippers-100-i-love-this-game/15943/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 00:18:36 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15943 I was happy with this series just getting to a seventh game. After getting wrecked as badly as they did in the first four games, the fact that the Houston Rockets made this series competitive was good enough for me. Sure, other teams had come back from 3-1 deficits. But none had done so while […]

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I was happy with this series just getting to a seventh game.

After getting wrecked as badly as they did in the first four games, the fact that the Houston Rockets made this series competitive was good enough for me. Sure, other teams had come back from 3-1 deficits. But none had done so while getting blown out as badly as the Rockets.

But the Rockets won Game 7. They led wire to wire. And aside from two scary moments early in the third  as well as the last minute of the game, they were in complete control. The lead went up to 20 in the fourth. But with less than 90 seconds, Los Angeles made a final push to get within eight points with less than 90 seconds left. Howard observed later that at that point, he thought “we can’t let them pull an us on us.”

The Clippers did not. J.J. Redick bricked yet another three and Trevor Ariza hit the dagger trey. A few free throws later, and the series was over. The Houston Rockets are going to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in almost 20 years, when John Stockton taught my childhood self that good does not always triumph.

As great as this regular season has been for the Rockets, I do think that Houston has been underrated because of the Howard injury.

Houston finished with 56 wins, but had a SRS of 3.83 and an expected win total of 50 games. To put this number in perspective, last year’s Rockets had a SRS of 5.06. The Clippers this season were at 6.80. The Warriors are over 10, one of, if not the highest SRS since the 1997 Bulls. In short, the Rockets got to where they were by winning a lot of close games – and as Daryl Morey has observed, good teams don’t win close games. They blow out their opponents.

But the reality is that Houston is better than that 3.83 mark because Dwight Howard was injured for so many games. As great as Donatas Motiejunas was this year, I cannot imagine him trying to box out and contain DeAndre Jordan throughout this series.

Howard could. And Howard did.

We all know how Howard has played throughout this series. How he is not wasting offensive possessions on post-ups, how he is playing the pick and roll defensive center which everyone else in the basketball universe knew he would be so good at. And that defensive boost has given the Rockets a level up which they needed to beat the Clippers.

Sure, Houston needed some help. Houston probably does not win this series if Chris Paul plays in Game 2. But in addition to Howard, the Rockets made adjustments.

While I have always been “meh” on Kevin McHale ( not blaming him for the Portland loss, but not praising him for how this team has played this season), every Rockets fans has to give McHale huge credit for how he coached this series. There may be no coach in this league, not even Popovich, who is as good at making players believe in themselves. It reminds me of Rudy T, who was no X’s and O’s genius either ( as anyone who watched the Franchise years can attest to.)

Starting Josh Smith over Terrence Jones was huge. Placing Ariza on Redick at the start of games was huge. And while Doc Rivers ran his team into the ground, the Rockets were fresher and ready to thrash the Clippers by the end. Only five Clippers scored more than 2 points in Game 7.

The Clippers had no depth. Everyone knew this at the beginning of this series, but Austin Rivers managed to hide that fact for a bit. But as the series dragged on, Kevin McHale made his adjustments, and the Clippers felt the aftereffects of that first round war against San Antonio, it seems like their players aside from Paul ran out of gas. Yes, Blake Griffin had 27-11 tonight. But if people can talk of how Harden did not take over this series even though his numbers are not much different from the regular season, then I can do the same for Griffin.

After McHale put Smith on Griffin, Griffin wasn’t terrifying like he was beforehand or like Aldridge was last year. He could be contained. He was tired. He didn’t do much after someone passed him the ball when he was at the top of the key. He lobbed the ball up to Jordan a few times, but that was about it.

Chris Paul fought hard, and I will go nuts on any idiot who blames him for the Clippers losing this series. He was the only Clippers who seemed willing to score in the fourth, and even had this amazingly clever play to get Howard to the foul line with less than 2 minutes left. But there isn’t much Paul could do about the fact that the other Clippers perimeter players forgot how to play defense and left Trevor Ariza open for wide open three after wide open three. Nor could he do much about how the Clippers players forgot to shoot as well.

To sum things up? Despite the lack of a bench, I do think Los Angeles had the better team on paper. But games are not played on paper. They are played where nerves are frayed, muscles scream in pain, and sweat drips off your brow ( or perhaps rain given the current Houston weather). Kevin McHale outcoached Doc Rivers. The Rockets showed up and shot the ball when they needed to, while Los Angeles ran out of steam.

The result? The best and most important Rockets victory I have watched in my life.

Now, what about the next round? Golden State is a different thing from everyone else. They have everything from shooters to creators to interior defenders to a good coach. Everyone will pick Golden State to beat Houston. Most will pick them to crush the Rockets.

But most people ( including myself) thought this series was over after Game 4. And while I’m sure you will hear it a thousand times before Game 1 begins, I might as well observe it now. 20 years ago, the Houston Rockets and the runner-up MVP took on the number 1 seed in the Western Conference and their MVP candidate. 20 years ago, the San Antonio Spurs beat the Houston Rockets in every regular season game in the 1994-95 season.

If you’re reading this, you know what happened next.

Maybe history will repeat itself. Maybe it will not. I do know that pretty much no matter what happens in this series, this season has been an unqualified success for the Houston Rockets.

Now let’s see them get ready for Round 3.

 

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Enemy Perspective: Law Murray of ClipperBloghttp://www.red94.net/enemy-perspective-law-murray-of-clipperblog/15940/ http://www.red94.net/enemy-perspective-law-murray-of-clipperblog/15940/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 23:22:34 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15940 Before tomorrow’s deciding Game 7, we traded a few emails with a friend of Red94, Law Murray of ClipperBlog.  Follow Law on Twitter @LawMurrayTheNU MF – What were your thoughts after 128-95 in Game 4? Series over, or were you more reserved? LM – When I helped the Podium Game with their preview of this […]

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Before tomorrow’s deciding Game 7, we traded a few emails with a friend of Red94, Law Murray of ClipperBlog.  Follow Law on Twitter @LawMurrayTheNU

MF – What were your thoughts after 128-95 in Game 4? Series over, or were you more reserved?

LM – When I helped the Podium Game with their preview of this series, I thought it was going 7. A series isn’t over just because a team goes up 3-1. And the Clippers know this better than most teams. After all, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan were in red and blue blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Memphis Grizzlies just three years ago. It’s the playoffs. You can’t expect your opponent to quit!

I’m sure we have differing opinions, but that fourth quarter in Game 6 was awesome. The Clips looked gassed, but Josh Smith also looked like LeBron…Did you see it as more meltdown, or more comeback?

I thought it was awesome as well. It was incredible. So many narratives burned in flames in that fourth quarter, and it was glorious to watch. The Rockets won that game. Doc Rivers made the point after the game: it doesn’t matter that the Clippers went decomposed bone cold offensively in the last six minutes of the game if they defend like champs. The Rockets dropped 40 points in that fourth quarter. They out-rebounded the Clippers 21-5! The Rockets took it from the Clippers. I’m focusing on that incredible effort more than LA’s choke job. Again, it’s the playoffs. It’s about winning games, and the Rockets were big winners Thursday night.

I cant remember who said Blake Griffin has been the best player in the playoffs so far (Jon Berry?), but I have to say that I agree. It always seemed like before he only played this way when CP3 missed time. Has this playoffs been a new level for Blake Griffin, or is this where he’s been and I just haven’t noticed?

Man, Blake Griffin is a few less fourth quarter brain cramps from shutting this entire postseason down. I was an early defender of the Blake Show when folks went out of their way to simplify his game (“All he does is dunk”), and a part of that faction loved to used Chris Paul as a reason why Griffin was overrated, as if he didn’t hop Kia’s in his ROY season. But while Griffin has always had the skill, his effectiveness has indeed reached a new level in these playoffs. He’s had triple doubles with and without Paul on the floor. He’s hit the glass harder and hit the paint harder. His game definitely went from the sustainable regular season approach to the necessary dog you need to win in the spring. But … he needs another game or the ignorance will continue, at least on some level.

What’s Austin Rivers’ deal? Rockets fans just went through this with Al Farouq Aminu going all Ron Artest on us in Round 1, and now Rivers is Jamal Crawford 2.0? WTF?

Well, in all the hate that Austin Rivers gets, people lose track of the fact that the kid is only 22 years old. He’s had a rough start to his career, and he’s not the most fun player to watch when he’s at his worst. He doesn’t lack skill, as the Rockets and Spurs found out. But Rivers’ jumper is the difference between him being useful or a liability. He made 10-of-18 threes in Games 1-4, but he has regressed sharply towards the mean in Games 5 and 6 (1-of-8).

Coming back from down 3-1 to win a series is old hat for Houston. What’s the general feeling for Clippers fans heading into Game 7? How much do you fear Clutch City at this point?

I feel like Clippers fans are caught between feeling sorry for themselves and staying optimistic. With all due respect, it’s not even about the Houston Rockets at this point. The Clippers had control, and now they don’t. But they still have a chance to do what they need to do. Clippers fans have been here before as well. The Clippers are the only team to win a Game 7 this postseason (since they are the only one to play in one). So it’s more just wondering if the Clippers take care of business in one game. None of the other stuff matters as much once Game 7 tips off!

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Houston Rockets 119, Los Angeles Clippers 107: The Headband Brigadehttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-119-los-angeles-clippers-107-the-headband-brigade/15935/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-119-los-angeles-clippers-107-the-headband-brigade/15935/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 13:01:00 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15935 June 7, 1995.  I was an 11-year old gangly mess of arms and legs that refused to wear shoes outside of school and couldn’t even look a girl in the face yet.  But I was the biggest sports fan in the world, so who needed girls anyway.  And to that point, I’d lived quite the […]

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June 7, 1995.  I was an 11-year old gangly mess of arms and legs that refused to wear shoes outside of school and couldn’t even look a girl in the face yet.  But I was the biggest sports fan in the world, so who needed girls anyway.  And to that point, I’d lived quite the charmed sports-life.  Being born in rural north Texas, the only thing that mattered to me was that blue star (I know, I know).  But after moving with my family to Houston in the early 90’s, it didn’t take long for basketball (and to a lesser extent, baseball) to get its claws into me.  Soon the Dreamshake and Killer B’s were right there on the wall next to my Michael Irvin “Playmaker” poster.

So to recap, before my 12th birthday, I was in the midst of the greatest NFL dynasty there will ever be (save it, THE. GREATEST.), had seen a National league MVP and likely champ in baseball if not for a soul-killing strike, and had already witnessed my still-favorite basketball player ever carry a ragtag team to an NBA Championship.

So in Game 1 of the ’95 Finals, with the Magic up by three on the Rockets with six seconds to play and Nick Anderson at the free throw stripe, I was pretty sure I was about to explode with anxiety.  I was basically batting 1.000 in big games at that point in my life (who knew that would flip so, so hard), so I had no idea what to do with my self when it seemed the Rockets may lose.  My dad was plugging away on the graveyard shift, and my mom had zero interest in sports, so I was left to my own devices during one of the biggest moments I’d ever witnessed.  We all know how Nick the Brick earned his nickname, but when he missed that second free throw and yet managed to grab his own rebound before getting fouled again, I spiked the remote control (don’t tell Dad) and turned off the TV to go shoot baskets in the dark to cool off.  It wasn’t till two hours later, after I’d imaginarily helped Dream dispatch Shaq and Penny in Game 7 to win the title, that I came back in and watched Sportscenter.  To my shock/elation/dismay, Anderson missed two more free throws, the Jet tied the game to send it to overtime, and the Magic didn’t box out Hakeem (6:10 mark).

My point is, kids are dumb.  “I’ll never make that mistake again,” I told myself.

Well, some things never change.  I’m still an idiot.  

Last night the game headed into a commercial break with three minutes to go in the third, and the Rockets down 18.  DeAndre Jordan had just REJECTED a Dwight Howard hook-shot and the Clippers were capping a 14-2 run.  “This is an avalanche!” Jon Berry said.  And I was absolutely buried in it.  Able to take no more, I turned the sound down low, wrapped myself in the warmest blanket in the world, and intentionally dozed off on the couch.  I was in no mood to write the doom-and-gloom recap this was sure to be, choosing rather to wake up early after I’d digested what was happening, and finish the fourth quarter to have it posted before coffee time.  But around 12:30 last night, my phone started buzzing with texts from my buddy Chad.

“Holy S***”

“You watching??”

“49-18 run!!!”

Needless to say, I restarted the fourth quarter immediately.  After finishing the game, the opening paragraph of Jonathan Abrams’ Grantland piece on Josh Smith was sticking in my head.

From the stands, Pete Smith can still hear people complain about his son’s play. He has to restrain himself from responding. He detests the critical comments, the jabs from people who’ve never played the game at an elite level. They don’t know how hard it can be. They don’t know that you need guts to take those shots. They don’t know that Josh Smith is living a dream that’s been transferred from father to son.

Well Mr. Smith, can you hear the haters now?

Dwight Howard (20 pts, 21 reb with 7 offensive, 1 ast, 1 stl & 2 blk) was the only reason the Rockets were hanging in the game early while LA was running their layup lines on Houston’s defense.  But his obligatory silly fouls and even a flagrant and technical foul each eventually handcuffed his aggressiveness.  James Harden (scored 17 of 23 points in the 2nd) was the only reason Houston fought back and took a lead in the second quarter, but remnants of the flu sapped his strength early and he went MIA in the second half.

So near the end of that dreadful third quarter, after Kevin McHale’s mistimed Hack-A-Shaq had sparked the Clippers into retaking the lead, the Rockets were running out of ideas.  With their two best players hamstrung, who would step up and be the reason they got back in the game in the fourth quarter?  Who would grab the team by the belt and make certain that they didn’t go meekly into the offseason?  Josh Smith and the rest of the Headband Brigade, that’s who.

jason-terry-josh-smith-corey-brewer-nba-minnesota-timberwolves-houston-rockets1-850x560

When the Rockets were healthy this season, or at least healthy-ish, I L-U-V loved their bench mob.  It didn’t matter who else was on the court (although D-Mo made them particularly formidable), what really made it fun to watch was the Brigade.  Smith added his playmaking, Jason Terry his shooting and Corey Brewer his Corey Brewer-ness.  At full strength, I liked Houston’s bench as much as any in the NBA.

But never in my wildest dreams did I think they had that in them.  Against Chris Paul (31 pts, 7 reb & 11 ast) fighting to prove he can carry a team past the second round and the best Blake Griffin (28 pts, 8 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl & 1 blk) we’ve seen to date, in a do-or-die elimination game ON THE ROAD, and without the league MVP runner-up, the Rockets outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the fourth quarter.  Smith (19 pts, 6 reb & 2 ast), Brewer (19, 10 & 2, and a +/- of +32) and Terry (7, 7 & 5) were good all night, but definitely saved their best for last.  They combined for 34 of those 40 fourth quarter points (15 for Brewer, Smith 14 and Terry 5).  Smith more-or-less played the point and was nearly flawless.  He took care of the ball and although he shot too much from the outside (4 attempts), they were going in (3 makes), so it didn’t matter.  He had the guts to take those shots.

But it wasn’t just the offense.  The defense in the fourth quarter was outstanding as well.  I don’t know if it was tired legs on the Clippers part, but the Rockets looked quicker, sharper than they have all playoffs.  They didn’t miss a rotation and there were no open shots to be found on the perimeter for Clippers’ shooters.  Blake Griffin definitely got tight and was scared to pull the trigger on his 17-footer, which had been deadly all night up to that point.  Dwight Howard and Smoove controlled the rim and kept the Clips’ bigs off the glass while Brewer and Trevor Ariza bounced around the outside like they were spring-loaded.  I don’t want to think James Harden, even sick, was hurting them so much in that department, rather they just finally felt the heat on their ass, but that was the kind of defense that’s required to win championships.

As for the rest of the Rockets, Terrence Jones was big off the bench, scoring 16 points on 6-8 shooting, with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. He thoroughly outplayed the Clippers backup bigs, but just doesn’t have much to offer against Blake Griffin.  I’m oddly a huge Pablo Prigioni fan, but he was actively bad last night, and even picked up a tech for punching a chair.  On a positive note, Jamal Crawford seems to have cooled off from where he was earlier in the series and Austin Rivers has come back to earth, as both were a non-factor last night.

So now, back to Houston for Game 7.  This is undoubtedly the biggest game the Rockets have played in almost 20 years, since John Stockton buried them in Game 6 of the ’97 Western Conference Finals.  The three days will help James Harden get his legs back after the flu, but it will also give the Clippers some much needed rest; they haven’t had three days off since Game 2 of the first round against San Antonio.  You better believe Chris Paul will be as focused and ready as we’ve ever seen him, with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan at max volume.  The Rockets can’t afford another slow start or count on more dreadful Hack-A-Shaq to keep them in it.  They need to feed off the home crowd and come out hot, with the same intensity on defense that they showed in the fourth quarter last night.

But if the Rockets do fall behind and need a spark, be sure that Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Jason Terry will be ready.  For when the night was at it’s darkest, and the Rockets hanging by a thread, it was the Brigade that rescued them.  Let’s just hope they’re not so necessary on Sunday.

And as for the Clippers, they should have taken Pam Poovey’s advice and finished Houston when they had the chance.

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Houston Rockets 124, Los Angeles Clippers 103: One more Gamehttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-124-los-angeles-clippers-103-one-more-game/15934/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-124-los-angeles-clippers-103-one-more-game/15934/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 09:58:27 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15934 There are few things that irritate me more  – whether about the Houston Rockets or otherwise – then when people talk about basketball players in terms of “heart” or “will.” Everyone in the NBA playoffs wants to win. The Houston Rockets lost Games 3 and 4 to the Los Angeles Clippers primarily because of horrible […]

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There are few things that irritate me more  – whether about the Houston Rockets or otherwise – then when people talk about basketball players in terms of “heart” or “will.” Everyone in the NBA playoffs wants to win. The Houston Rockets lost Games 3 and 4 to the Los Angeles Clippers primarily because of horrible defensive execution and a punch-drunk bench, not because of a lack of heart. There is nothing more to it.

But tonight the Rockets did execute better, the Rockets shot better, and the Rockets played harder with their backs against the wall. And this time was yet another blowout, but in favor of the good guys. Harden dropped in a triple double along with 26 points, Howard thrived with DeAndre Jordan in foul trouble, and the result of the Rockets learned of this concept called “shooting.” And now, there will be a Game 6.

One of the most important things to take away from tonight are the adjustments which Kevin McHale did (and McHale has been criticized for not making adjustments.) It was not just the decision to start Josh Smith instead of Terrence Jones. Before tonight, McHale had placed Ariza on Paul, Terry on Redick, and Harden on Barnes. The problem is that Terry is too old and slow to keep up with Redick, who ran through screens and got easy shots.

In Game 4, McHale placed Ariza on Redick and Terry on Paul. And Terry was not a total disaster against Paul. Paul did have an efficient 22 points and 10 assists, but Terry funneled Paul to Howard throughout the game and limited his shot attempts. Meanwhile, Ariza can chase Redick around, and Redick scored just 9 points on 3-12 shooting.

Furthermore, sending Smith to the starting lineup was just as much about improving the bench as it was the starting lineup. We all know how Smith can do ridiculous things and goes for the high-risk pass or play if he is left in control of the ball too much. The Clippers have taken advantage of Smith’s turnovers to get into transition, and that is something Houston cannot allow. By putting Smith in the starting lineup, Houston managed to avoid this.

And while Blake Griffin had 30 points and 16 rebounds tonight, Smith did a better job on Griffin than Jones. Jones does not have the strength to battle with Griffin in the post. There was a possession in the third quarter when Griffin just backed Jones all the way from the mid-range area to besides the rim before taking the easy jump hook.

Jones did much better off the bench, with 15 points on 8 shots. In fact, the Rockets as a whole did really well off the bench for once. Houston’s improved defense made more opportunities in transition which Corey Brewer thrives off of. DeAndre Jordan’s lack of minutes meant that Clint Capela did his dunk routine, including this monstrosity which reminded me of McGrady over Shawn Bradley.

In Game 1, Blake Griffin beat the Rockets. Houston moved to slow down Blake Griffin by himself, but then the Clippers destroyed the Rockets with the Paul-Griffin pick and roll, transition play, and shooting. In Game 5, Houston moved to shut those opportunities down as well, and the Clippers collapsed on offense as the game progressed. I wonder whether Houston might be better off letting Griffin do his thing while focusing on shutting down Jordan crashing the glass as well their perimeter shooters.

I do not think Houston can win both Games 6 and 7. Something will happen, whether it’s a Chris Paul monster performance like he did against San Antonio in Game 7, or a Jamaal Crawford can hit everything he throws up game, or the Clippers as a unit shoot 50 percent or more from three. But after getting destroyed over and over again, Game 5 was important to avoid utter humiliation. The Rockets may have work to do in the offseason, but they are closer than we had thought they were after games 3 and 4.

Also, something I will observe about Hack-a-Whoever: in what may be the final home game of the season for the Rockets, fans were leaving with three minutes left in the game. On one hand, it is frustrating given the reputation of Houston sports fans. But even though this game was over around the three to four minute mark, it still lasted almost three hours thanks to hacking. If it had been a close game, the length would have been even worse. Furthermore, all of this comes when there are numerous reports that the NBA is looking into shortening games, not lengthening them.

When you consider that, is it really a surprise that our (more causal) fans left early? Hack-a-Whoever will probably be addressed this summer. The NBA is about entertainment. People can sniff “Make your free throws” all day long, but that is not going to stop less fanatical fans from switching the channel when DeAndre Jordan or Howard shoots his 20th free throw of the night.

Finally: TNT reported at the end of the game that Harden had a cold of some kind. It does not appear to be too serious since he dropped a 26-11-10 game, but keep that in note for the next few days.

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Los Angeles Clippers 128, Houston Rockets 95: The abysshttp://www.red94.net/los-angeles-clippers-128-houston-rockets-95-the-abyss/15933/ http://www.red94.net/los-angeles-clippers-128-houston-rockets-95-the-abyss/15933/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 04:12:32 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15933 Things were breaking to give the Houston Rockets a surprisingly realistic chance to win a championship. The Warriors, their greatest concern, were struggling with the Grizzlies, the Eastern Conference in general was becoming even more of a tire fire, and the Los Angeles Clippers had a hobbled Chris Paul and a very tired starting lineup. […]

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Things were breaking to give the Houston Rockets a surprisingly realistic chance to win a championship. The Warriors, their greatest concern, were struggling with the Grizzlies, the Eastern Conference in general was becoming even more of a tire fire, and the Los Angeles Clippers had a hobbled Chris Paul and a very tired starting lineup. All the Rockets had to do was not suddenly become a horrible team. They had remained an elite team for 82 regular season games and 2 playoff games, so things looked good. Then the Rockets became a horrible team, and now the Rockets are down 3-1 to a far superior Clippers team.

The good news is that Dwight Howard played well. The bad news is literally everything else. The Rockets played terrible defense and offense in the first half when they weren’t fouling DeAndre Jordan endlessly. Somehow the team was down a mere 7 points at halftime despite playing some of the worst ball they’ve ever played. If anything changed, they had a real shot at taking a lead. Well, things did change. The Rockets played even worse and lost as badly as they’ve lost all year.

This season is lost. The Rockets are staring into the abyss, and the abyss is presumably staring back. It’s hard to know, given the haunted looks on their faces. Endless frustration fouls and sloppy play don’t paint a happy picture, however. The Clippers are doing whatever they want to the Rockets, whenever they want, and only Dwight Howard is making any attempt to resist. For whatever the reason, the Rockets were suckered into playing a sloppy, offensive style against the Dallas Mavericks and have yet to pull out of that nosedive. Instead of gathering themselves and returning to the fundamentals that got them 56 wins, the Rockets are turning tail and giving up.

Blake Griffin is the playoff MVP so far, and DeAndre Jordan is James Harden’s kryptonite. Harden still ended up with 21 points on 12 shots, but he wasn’t slashing the defense apart or finding open men. Trevor Ariza hit a fair number of shots, but he wasn’t a key cog in an interlocking perimeter defense. He was one man trying to hold back a flood before it washed Dwight Howard to sea, and he was not enough. Dwight Howard buckled under the weight of an entire team coming at him and played very limited minutes before fouling out.

Corey Brewer played like a man possessed, but not in a good way. He was like the child in The Exorcist, spinning his head and vomiting on the people that care about him. His energy was wasted in a system that was unable to capitalize on the most basic fast breaks and open looks. Terrence Jones was badly outmatched, fighting a losing battle with the force of gravity as his particles compressed beyond their ability to stay intact. A depleted mass of stellar waste was left on the court, the imprints of Blake Griffin’s monumental grasp still visible on the wreckage.

Jason Terry came to shoot threes, and that he did, a pale imitation of JJ Redick, the man he was guarding. Redick has the ability to play defense and find shots in rhythm. No Rockets had any abilities. Josh Smith played a mere 14 minutes because he managed to produce his least impressive outing of the season, somehow shooting too much with only two shots. He was a totem for Houston’s inexplicable transformation, making poor choices on both ends of the court and emitting consternation upon a Clippers team that found only sustenance in this grim radiation.

Once the Rockets stopped fouling Jordan, once he had taken his 34 poison-soaked shots and converted 14 of them, the lid was off. The Clippers ran roughshod over the Rockets and did not stop. If the goal was to see how far a team could fall, the Clippers were masters of the craft and still could not find the floor of the cavern the Rockets are tumbling into. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and even Austin Rivers kicked Houston into a the abyss, and the Rockets did nothing to hold onto the precipice.

There is freedom here, for Houston, for the Rockets, and for the NBA. There is no more doubt, now. The Rockets have fallen too far to recover. The weight of expectations can no longer break their backs, because that weight is plummeting below them in the abyss. There is plenty more down to go for the Rockets, but the good news is that it no longer matters. The abyss has been staring into them for seven games. The Clippers have given them no choice but to stare back.

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Los Angeles Clippers 124, Houston Rockets 99: Beaten by Austin Rivershttp://www.red94.net/los-angeles-clippers-124-houston-rockets-99-beaten-by-austin-rivers/15932/ http://www.red94.net/los-angeles-clippers-124-houston-rockets-99-beaten-by-austin-rivers/15932/#comments Sat, 09 May 2015 05:21:46 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15932 I respect the Los Angeles Clippers. I respect them a lot more than most people. I think Chris Paul is an all-time great, and a top 30 player in the history of the NBA . I think the Clippers are a well-constructed team (well, their starters are). I think that Blake Griffin is a great, […]

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I respect the Los Angeles Clippers. I respect them a lot more than most people.

I think Chris Paul is an all-time great, and a top 30 player in the history of the NBA . I think the Clippers are a well-constructed team (well, their starters are). I think that Blake Griffin is a great, well-rounded power forward and anyone who calls him just a dunker is a moron. I think that J.J. Redick is a lethal piece, and an off-ball shooter of the sort which is becoming more important in this league and which Houston desperately needs. And while I do think that Golden State is going to steamroll everyone at this point, the Clippers are the one team that could make things tough for them.

So, I can tolerate losing to the Los Angeles Clippers.

I cannot tolerate losing to Austin Rivers. And Austin Rivers, Austin freaking Rivers, led the Clippers on a 23-0 run which ended this game by the start of the fourth quarter.

I’m just going to close this out with two simple thoughts, which I am sure I have noted at some point in the past.

First, I don’t think Josh Smith’s biggest problem is his three-point shooting. Josh Smith’s biggest problem is that he’s not as good finishing in the paint as you would expect from an athletic power forward with his skills. Part of that is because just like with his three-point shooting, Smith goes for teardrops and fancier layups over just bulldozing his way into the paint. Sometimes those shots works. But a lot of the time, as we have seen throughout this series, they don’t.

Even if Smith stopped shooting the threes that we know are just part of his game, I don’t think he would be an effective scorer even then.

Second, Trevor Ariza has been a fantastic perimeter defender in this series. But Trevor Ariza cannot guard three players at the same time. And while Houston really has only one perimeter threat, everyone on the Clippers is dangerous. Paul is the point god, Redick can shoot, Crawford hits the stupidest shots ever taken, and so on.

Harden’s defense has slipped over these past three games and I suspect that will be in the headlines after this game. This is especially so because he did get lazy on an Austin Rivers breakaway score and everyone knows you can judge how well a player did by the highlights. But that problem is exacerbated by having to play Harden alongside Jason Terry for so long. Redick went off in the first quarter and scored 11 of Los Angeles’s first 22 points because Terry was stuck guarding him.

And yet the Rockets need Terry because no one else can hit a three pointer. It’s a problem that I don’t think will be solved in this series, and it will be a major reason for Los Angeles’s likely series victory.

And that is all I have to say for now. Forrest Walker and I will be getting together tomorrow to discuss this game on the Red94 podcast. Check in for a more detailed analysis, or rather an analysis when heads have cooled down after this travesty.

 

 

 

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Los Angeles Clippers 109, Houston Rockets 115: Lob Citieshttp://www.red94.net/los-angeles-clippers-109-houston-rockets-115-lob-cities/15928/ http://www.red94.net/los-angeles-clippers-109-houston-rockets-115-lob-cities/15928/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 12:36:18 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15928 Cheames Hurdemph wordmpt. (Extracts foot, clears throat) Unique, New York.  Unique, New York.  The Human Torch was denied a bank loan. The arsonist has oddly shaped feet. That’s better.  Now, if you’ll allow me a moment:   Felker: Rockets in 6. I don’t believe a word saying that Paul will miss even one second with […]

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Cheames Hurdemph wordmpt.

(Extracts foot, clears throat)

Unique, New York.  Unique, New York.  The Human Torch was denied a bank loan.

The arsonist has oddly shaped feet.

That’s better.  Now, if you’ll allow me a moment:  

Felker: Rockets in 6. I don’t believe a word saying that Paul will miss even one second with his injury. That noise about him never making it out of the second round is getting louder and he hears it. And I wonder how injured he actually is. Paul embellishes on a Paul Pierce-ian level, and Doc Rivers is full of it. They’re just giving themselves a scapegoat for when they go belly up again.

Having said that, maaaybe he is a little hobbled. Either way, I’ll take a rested team over a shaky seven-man rotation coming off one of the most grueling first rounds ever any day of the week. Doc Rivers will keep playing his guys 40+ minutes a game, because his only other option is Big Baby and Austin Rivers. Check Please.

Well, someone was feeling their favorite team’s first playoff series win in years, weren’t they?

Except for the part about the big minutes, that was just a bunch of wrong, topped with inaccurate and a side of misguided. Oh, and a heaping helping of presumptuous for dessert.

Mere crow is but too fine a dish for that breed of prognostication.

It’s quite safe to say that the Clippers are more complete as a team and better coached than I presumed. Or maybe it’s just Blake Giffin.  Either way, what the hell?

The Rockets evened things up last night in Houston, sending the series to L.A. tied at one apiece.  But how is this team not leading 2-0?  Perhaps it shouldn’t be so difficult to comprehend, seeing as the Rockets only hosted games one and two because they are the two-seed; a result they achieved despite the fact that they played most of the season without one of their two best players.  Chris Paul is in fact injured, rather seriously it seems, and yet the Rockets are still the ones chasing the game.

I thought removing the head was supposed to kill the snake, but instead of edging the Clippers into chaos, Paul’s absence has instead given Blake Griffin room to shine.  Griffin came out scorching and had 26 points by halftime.  He finished with only 34, but shot 56.5% from the field and added 15 rebounds and 4 assists.  He was so thoroughly in control of the first half that when Reggie Miller commented that Griffin looked more like LeBron than LeBron in Game 1 (and to that point in Game 2), everyone watching in my living room could only nod their heads and shrug.

Griffin cooled off in the second half, but the only reason the Rockets were even still in the game at that point was because the Clippers could not keep Dwight Howard away from the rim.  All night long Dwight slammed home lob after lob, and kept DeAndre Jordan stuck to the bench with foul trouble.  Jordan played only 25 minutes (his lowest so far in the playoffs) after picking up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter.  He had been averaging 25.6 mpg.

Dwight finished with 24 points on 8-11 shooting, 16 boards (4 offensive), 3 assists and 4 blocks.  But once again proving that no one is perfect, Howard missed his free throws at an alarming rate, clanging 13 of his 21 attempts. Jordan did give Howard problems at times, but for the most part Dwight could be found patrolling the paint, crushing everything he got his hands on.  For someone who was told repeatedly to stay on the floor, Howard spent an awful lot of time hovering somewhere just short of the stratosphere.

And as good as Griffin was in the first half, James Harden was in the fourth quarter.  He scored 16 of his 32 points in the final frame, after sitting for half of the third quarter with foul trouble.  Before his fourth quarter clinic, Harden wasn’t overly effective.  He only made 3-10 from deep, but hit two big ones in the fourth as Houston was pulling away.  He was still being too careless with the ball at times (7 turnovers), but he also made several excellent skip passes to open shooters on the backside and had one particularly sublime full-court outlet to a streaking Corey Brewer.

As for the Clippers, after halftime stole Griffin’s mojo and Jordan had to back off due to fouls, L.A. had no one to turn to. Without Griffin’s playmaking, Matt Barnes’ open looks got a little tighter and Austin Rivers tried to do a little too much.  JJ Redick had his second straight subpar game, and is only shooting 39.1% from the field for the series.  Jamal Crawford made a few tough shots to keep the Clippers around but was inefficient overall.  Someone named Lester Hudson, who is apparently kind of a big deal in China, provided a Patrick Beverley-ish spark off the bench for the Clips, but was gassed after only 11 minutes of action.

Besides Harden and Howard, the rest of the Rockets were scrappy if not efficient.  No one shot particularly well, but Trevor Ariza finished with a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds.  Meanwhile, Terrence Jones and Josh Smith only shot 7-21 from the field as a pair, but still managed to fill the stat sheet (18 pts, 14 reb & 5 blk combined).  Corey Brewer played with his hair on fire.  He attacked Griffin from all angles as part of the double-team, and even beat him to a jump ball after tying him up in the post.

Now the series shifts to L.A.  There’s still no way to know if and/or when CP3 will be back, but the crowd at the Staples Center will be a welcome sight to the Clippers regardless.  All those thunderous dunks Blake Griffin has been hammering down will feel a lot different in front of his home crowd.  And let’s not forget that James Harden is an L.A. guy himself.  Who knows what kind of emotion that will add to his game.

The realistic goal is surely just to split Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles, but the Rockets shouldn’t lose another game that Chris Paul misses or comes back ordinary.

But what do I know?  I’m still chewing crow.

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Los Angeles Clippers 117, Houston Rockets 101: You actually have to tryhttp://www.red94.net/los-angeles-clippers-117-houston-rockets-101-you-actually-have-to-try/15926/ http://www.red94.net/los-angeles-clippers-117-houston-rockets-101-you-actually-have-to-try/15926/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 05:29:26 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15926 Tonight, the Houston Rockets learned the hard lesson that a Los Angeles Clippers team without Chris Paul is still an NBA team. Austin Rivers may be a giant downgrade from CP3, but he’s still able to throw a basketball at a hoop. Glen Davis might not be a world beater, but he’s still going to […]

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Tonight, the Houston Rockets learned the hard lesson that a Los Angeles Clippers team without Chris Paul is still an NBA team. Austin Rivers may be a giant downgrade from CP3, but he’s still able to throw a basketball at a hoop. Glen Davis might not be a world beater, but he’s still going to hit wide open shots. Dwight Howard was the only member of the team to show any sort of agency and any signs of life during a critical game that the Houston Rockets absolutely had to capitalize on. Letting the Clippers steal a win while Chris Paul rests a hamstring injury is either a sign of a team being worse than expected, less mentally prepared than expected, or a terrible combination of the two. This wasn’t simply a Clippers bench going wild. This was a massive egg laid by the Rockets, and now they’re going to have to fight twice as hard for the rest of the series.

The best player of the night was Houston’s pile of 24 turnovers, which had a game-high 34 points. Rockets turnovers had a slightly better night than Clippers turnovers, which was only 23 turnovers deep but only resulted in 21 points, a much worse showing. The Clippers were much more aggressive in the fast break, much more coherent as a team, and generally didn’t look like they expected to play the 7-win Charlotte Bobcats team from 2012. Giving away live ball turnover after live ball turnover was a bold play from Houston, and tonight it just didn’t work out.

Dwight Howard was probably the only Rocket to look like he belonged on the court. he made 9 of his 13 attempts, flushed on some lobs, grabbed 10 boards and protected the rim to the tune of 5 swats. He was athletic, quick, aggressive, and calling for the team to calm down and make solid plays. Of course, none of it would end up mattering as the team crumbled around him. He only hit 4 of his 9 free throws, and the team followed his example, shooting a desultory 14-24 from the stripe. He was as good as the Rockets could expect, and it wasn’t close to enough.

This is in part because James Harden apparently got hit with a Freaky Friday type skills swap, known as the Space Jam or Thunderstruck in some regions. Hopefully the unknown individual used Harden’s ability to good effect, because James Harden wasn’t much good to his team. People wondered if seeing Steph Curry win MVP would motivate Harden to step up his game. If this was him trying to prove the world wrong, it could use some work. Going 3-6 from three point range is well and good, but going 3-7 otherwise and scoring 20 points on 13 shots is sub-par for a team that badly needed his contributions. Like a classic Thunderstruck victim, he preferred to pass the ball instead of shooting, leading to a very respectable 12 assists. It also led to a very ugly 9 turnovers. This is not Harden basketball, and it is not Rockets basketball. This is Moron Mountain basketball, and the Space Jam revival is good and over.

Pablo Prigioni and his 3-5 three point shooting were the only other bright spots for Houston’s ugliest outing in months. Corey Brewer tried hard, as always, but was sloppy and unsuccessful. Josh Smith started jacking up threes after hitting a timely one, and looked out of sorts all night (apart from a lovely lob to Howard). Terrence Jones went 1-6 and couldn’t have been more invisible. Trevor Ariza started hot by hitting 4 shots in a row, but then went 4-9 the rest of the way and it was worse than it sounds. The Rockets went from leading by 12 to trailing by 10 in about 18 minutes, a feat only topped by their complete concession with 2 minutes left in the game.

In the first round, the Rockets did what they were supposed to and stamped out the Dallas Mavericks. But after winning convincingly in the first two games, the Rockets got into rut of bad decisions and sloppy play, and they have yet to pull out of it. perhaps going up so commandingly in that series made them complacent. Perhaps they caught whatever the Atlanta Hawks have that makes them terrible now. I choose to believe head coach Kevin McHale. Here’s what he had to say:

“There are no excuses. They wanted it more.”

On nine days out of then, “they wanted it more” is just a trope and an aphorism that fails to explain the much more tangible factors that led to a loss. It just so happens that today was that tenth day. Maybe next time the Rockets will want it enough to actually try.

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Red94 Clippers Rockets Roundtablehttp://www.red94.net/red94-clippers-rockets-roundtable/15924/ http://www.red94.net/red94-clippers-rockets-roundtable/15924/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 11:45:42 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15924 Walker: Getting to the second round is good, but going all the way is better. What’s the single biggest factor going against Houston making the finals? McGuire: I can’t decide between lack of depth or lack of shooting. Josh Smith is just a coin flip. When Smith is good, like he was against Dallas, he’s […]

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Walker: Getting to the second round is good, but going all the way is better. What’s the single biggest factor going against Houston making the finals?

McGuire: I can’t decide between lack of depth or lack of shooting. Josh Smith is just a coin flip. When Smith is good, like he was against Dallas, he’s awesome. When Smith is not good, he actively hurts the Rockets with crazy passes and his infamous shooting. Brewer can also be hit and miss from game to game, and you can’t coin flip your way to the NBA Finals.

On the other hand, I’ve railed about Houston’s lack of shooting for this entire season. The closest Houston has to a knock-down shooter is Terry. The Warriors have a pair of decent shooters and the Clippers have Redick. Even the Grizzlies have Courtney Lee, though the Grizzlies don’t matter because they’ll be lucky to last six games against the Warriors without Mike Conley.

Felker: The Rockets are streak shooters for the most part, but because of the way they play the percentages I think it would be difficult to go cold enough as a team to lose a series just off of that.  My biggest concern is consistently generating points out of the halfcourt.

Their shooting certainly plays a part in that, but Corey Brewer corner threes are always Plan B to James Harden’s offense.  The Rockets are just too dependent on Harden, especially without Donatas Motiejunas and to a much lesser extent Patrick Beverley.  It might not matter much against the Clippers and their middling defense, but even they have Matt Barnes and Chris Paul to throw at Harden on big possessions.  The Warriors will be an entirely different story, however, what with all their 6’7+ wings to choose from.  Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Draymond Green should all be able to stay fresh while constantly harassing Harden.

He will have to be superhuman offensively to carry this team all the way to the Finals.

Dover: I think it is point guard play. With Beverley injured, Houston has by far the worst rotation at the position left in the playoffs (I guess if Conley doesn’t make it back there’s an argument for Memphis, but it’s pretty clear cut otherwise). To a certain extent you can mitigate this by switching, but there are going to be possessions where the Rockets are forced to match up either the 37 year old Terry or the 38 year old Prigioni against Chris Paul or Steph Curry. Those are unlikely to end well.

Li: The Rockets don’t have an offensive system. This is pretty much rephrasing Mitchell’s concern that the Rockets struggle to generate points in the half-court. Against Dallas, Houston scored roughly 25% of their points in transition against an older, slower team undergoing a family feud meltdown. That won’t be the case against the Clippers. Chris Paul is currently on pace to turn the ball over once every other game. Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin both run like gazelles. These circumstances will limit transition opportunities and the cherry picking that Corey Brewer loves so much.

If it comes down to offensive execution, the Rockets are going to be severely handicapped versus the most offensively efficient team in the league. Houston’s half-court offense is basically–1) Harden tries to score, 2) Harden passes to someone and hopefully that guy scores, 3) someone jacks up a three. That’s not good enough.

McGuire: So, it’s the Clippers. Why do the Rockets win this series? And why do they lose?

Felker: Win or lose, the answer has to be Dwight, doesn’t it?  The way he’s played since coming back from his latest DL stint has been exciting, to say the least.  People have written off “Orlando Dwight” for so long that most don’t want to believe he’s back, and really, who can blame them.  Just don’t include me in that group.

He’s running, jumping and doing the dirty work like he was born to do.  And now he gets the one guy that’s on his level athletically.  If Dwight wants to take back his throne, he needs to thoroughly outplay DeAndre Jordan.  Because Howard isn’t calling for the ball constantly, his rebounding is up. Howard and J-Smoove have looked downright Lob City-ish and he still has the ability to lock things down on defense.  Jordan’s best season is Dwight’s worst, and there’s no real reason for this to be a toss up.

Before he became a running joke to people that weren’t quite paying enough attention, Howard was the most feared man in the league.  He battled injuries but has flashed his former self for a month now.  If he can get there and stay there, there really is no ceiling for the Rockets.  Consider the gauntlet thrown.

Walker: The short answer is that the Rockets are very good. The long answer is that they have a defense that guards the perimeter, a primary scorer that’s unstoppable, and a deep enough bench to put the hurt on anyone. The long answer involves the fact that Chris Paul hurt his hamstring, and like seemingly every other starting point guard in the playoffs, will now be battling injury. Pile that onto a shaky bench and a starting lineup that is starting to feel the effects of fatigue, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Houston wins the first two games.

Houston’s doom would come from the Clippers being able to overwhelm the Rockets up front. Houston has been strangely poor at rebounding lately, and the Clippers will pounce all over that. If Houston can’t keep Los Angeles from grabbing every offensive board and flushing every lob, this series may be over before the Clippers’ starters fully drain of energy. If the Rockets don’t capitalize on any games or minutes Chris Paul misses, they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

Dover: There are two areas where the Rockets match up well with the Clippers. There is no obvious defender to slow down Harden and the Clipper bench is weak. To win this series, the team needs to exploit those two advantages.

The Clippers know they don’t have a primary defender who can check Harden, so they use a defensive scheme that tilts the focus of the rest of the defense towards slowing him down. Defenders take an extra step off their man and they keep a weakside defender (usually Jordan) primed to come over for the shot block. Harden should be good enough to find the players this strategy leaves open – he just has to avoid getting frustrated and putting too much on his back. His performance in the last round against Dallas is an encouraging sign that he’ll make the right decision when it really matters.

The Rockets’ bench should be feasting on the weakness of their counterparts when the starters sit. While the Clippers do their best to limit transition opportunities by getting back instead of contesting the offensive glass (a boon for the Rockets who haven’t been great at protecting their boards this season), if the long arms of Brewer, Ariza and Smith can get in the passing lanes they should be able to get the Greyhound off to the races. Davis may be nimble for his size, but I don’t think he can keep up with Smith off the dribble, so I would back Josh to have a good series.

Li: Rockets win if:

  1. Chris Paul is hurt;
  2. The Clippers starters are running on fumes after World War 3 vs the Spurs;
  3. Two Rockets pull a Marco Belinelli in separate games, despite no Rockets being as good as Marco Belinelli at shooting;
  4. Harden crushes.

Rockets lose if:

  1. Clippers limit Rockets’ transition opportunities;
  2. Howard feels like he has something to prove against Jordan (read, Howard posts up to demonstrate his “dominance”);
  3. They can’t find someone to run with JJ Redick. This, I think, is an underrated storyline. Guarding Redick is a pain in the ass. It’s basically non-stop running and the defender can’t afford to lose focus for even a split second. The Spurs split this annoying responsibility between Leonard and Green. Can Ariza do this for a whole series? If so, who guards Paul?

Who is the most important role player in this series? (i.e., not Harden, Howard, Griffin, or Paul).

McGuire: Jason Terry. Not just for his three-point shooting, but more for the problem of who does he guard at the beginning of the game? Terry guarding Chris Paul might be a slight problem, and Terry is too small to hide on Matt Barnes. So, does Houston place Terry on J.J. Redick? As Li just noted, guarding Redick is going to be very difficult and involve non-stop running. Can you really expect a 37-year old to fill such a defensive burden?

Walker: It’s Trevor Ariza and it’s not even close. He’s the alternator in the Rockets’ engine this season. He’s not flashy or powerful, but if he’s not clicking the engine can’t even get started. He’s been on a pretty raw shooting slump lately, and the Rockets still buried Dallas in five. He’s mission critical to have on the floor as much as possible for defensive reasons, and if he can provide some shooting and spacing on the offensive end, the Rockets are sitting pretty.

Dover: So many choices…I’m going to go with Josh Smith. We saw in the Dallas series how he can provide an extra dimension to the team’s play when he’s on his game. There should be times in this series where he’ll be the best player on the court – when the benches are in he should be dominating. Get consistent production out of him and I think the Rockets have enough firepower to overcome the Clippers’ top-heavy attack.

Felker: Corey Brewer. He’s a catalyst for the second unit, with his scoring and ability to fly around on defense.  He’s the one of the few Rockets that can get easy buckets for himself, simply by running the floor as hard as anyone in the league, even capitalizing when the defense gets back in time.  Plus, I think he’ll guard CP3 on big, end-of-game possessions.

Dover: The Rockets have had a poor record in the recent past against the Clippers. Why do you think that is, and what do you think the team is most likely to do differently in search of a series win?

McGuire: Do we actually have a poor record? I mean, sure the Rockets of the past struggled the Clippers. But the Rockets of the past also beat down the Warriors, and I don’t think any of us are enthused at having to face them next round.

Houston went 2-2 against the Clippers this season, and did not have Howard for any of those games. True, Blake wasn’t himself in some of those games, but the Howard we’ve seen in these playoffs is just as good as Blake.

I noted in our Round 1 roundtable that I thought the Clippers were an easier matchup than the Spurs machine, and I still hold by it. As long as Houston can make their threes and do all the stuff that we know this team can do, we can defeat the Clippers. Especially so given Chris Paul’s situation.

Walker: Harden’s career numbers against the Clippers are horrifying. The better question is why Harden’s been bad against LA his entire career until this year. Maybe he stays up late in Los Angeles, maybe Blake Griffin’s presence is like kryptonite, or maybe it’s just coincidence. Whatever it is extended well past the tenure of Matt Barnes, JJ Redick, Chris Paul and Doc Rivers, and whatever it is seems to have dried up this season. The Rockets finally have a match for DeAndre Jordan in Dwight Howard, and it may be as simple as that.

Felker:  Before this season I really think it was simply that the Clippers had better chemistry.  Their core had been together for a few years, Jordan and Griffin matured while playing with Chris Paul, taking their cues from him and playing his game.  Not to mention, these last few years were the most athletic versions of Paul and Blake Griffin that will ever play together.

Meanwhile, Houston was constantly flipping over their roster, Harden wasn’t much for defense, and the Rockets just didn’t quite fit together.  The roster makes sense now, Dwight has accepted his role and JJ Redick won’t run amok on Harden like he has in the past.  The Clippers are still the same, but the Rockets have figured each other out.

Also, I never considered Walker’s point about Harden in Los Angeles, but that man definitely lives it up the 3-4 times he’s in LA during the season.

Li: I think most teams have a poor record against the Clippers recently because, you know, the Clippers are good. I’m not terribly concerned that the Rockets play more poorly against a good team than against lesser teams.

I’m going to call this the McHale vs Morey series. We will find out what the identity of this team truly is. The Clippers don’t have a glaring basketball weakness. They have good players in key roles and they are very good at modern basketball. Let’s see–pacey and spacey point guard play, dunk-defense-rebound big man, athletic stretchy power forward, annoyingly efficient three-point shooting–it’s all there.

I don’t think you can just nullify any of these components. The Rockets also don’t have the personnel to just blow the Clippers out of the water. Instead, the Rockets need to nip at the Clippers’ edges. The process needs to take prominence over the result. For instance, the world now knows that Griffin “can hit” that mid-range shot. Ahem, “can hit” is not the same as “should take.” While definitely better than league average, Griffin’s FG% on 16-24 ft mid-range shots this season was 40.56%. His FG% on those shots when he’s wide open (closest defender at least 6 ft away) is 42.21%, or 0.84 PPP. He’s basically become efficient at a very low-efficiency activity.

I don’t know about you, but I am totally OK with just leaving him wide open at that spot for the entire series (PS, he took more of those wide open shots than anyone else in the league, suggesting that other coaches might have caught onto this). But will McHale dare to do it? Is he going to listen to the old school talking heads who say you have to respect that shot? Or is he going to go full Morey and just trust the process and ignore any unsavory results that come along the way?

Another extrapolation of the above–Chris Paul shoots over 59% on the same wide open mid-range shot. So, if you’re Jones or Smith and you see Paul’s defender get picked off by Griffin, do you hedge on Paul and leave Griffin wide open at the elbow? HELL YES YOU DO. Over the course of twelve such possessions, that’s an average difference of two made field goals. It’s not much, but i bet the Spurs would love to have those four extra points. Will the Rockets be told to do that? We’ll see.

Finally, I say we hack the crap out of Jordan. If they come back and hack Dwight or Smith? So be it. That’s a 38% free throw shooter vs two 50%+ shooters (and their fouls are more valuable given their lack of depth). With enough repetitions, the process favors the Rockets.

Prediction Time: How many games does this series go, and do you have a bold prediction for Round 2? And what other series/player/matchup are you most interested in watching in Round 2?

Walker: I’m actually riding with Houston here. That’s not the general consensus, and I get why, but enough has happened in this series to call a Houston “upset.” (And can we note for a moment that the lower seed may end up as the favorite in both Clippers series so far?) The Clippers are a fantastic team and surely deserve all the faith people have in them, but I think the Rockets are better than people think, and I’m gonna go ahead and call the 2 seed making it to the conference finals. I mean, when’s the last time that happened? Rockets in 7.

Bold prediction? James Harden scores 50. Twice.

I’m interested, like everyone else, to see what happens with the Warriors. The Grizzlies without Conley are basically adrift in a sea of pain, but I think Memphis could make Steph Curry’s life a lot more miserable than people expect. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Griz steal a couple games based on sheer physicality and disruption.

McGuire: Bold prediction: Jones will not get totally destroyed by Blake Griffin. Griffin will certainly win this matchup, but I believe Jones with Howard sitting back there will be able to limit him to some degree.

As for a prediction for the series: the Chris Paul hamstring injury is the difference in this series. Never forget that when Daryl Morey was asked in a Reddit Ask me Anything who his all-time starting lineup would be, he picked Paul as his point guard. Not Magic Johnson. Not Oscar Robertson. Paul.

Paul is ridiculously good, as he showed in that gritty Game 7 win over the Spurs machine. But if he can be limited just a hair, then Houston’s better depth and wing rotation will do just enough to get this win.

Prediction: Rockets in 6. The longer this series goes, the less I like Houston’s chances.

As for the other series? I live in DC, so I’m going to have to say Wizards-Hawks. This season has been such an up and down roller coaster ride for a perpetually hapless team. But that Toronto sweep was unexpected and terrific. Meanwhile, Atlanta has been struggling to hit shots both against Brooklyn and in Game 1 yesterday.

Dover: Bold prediction: with Howard drawing all the attention from Jordan and Griffin, Terrence Jones has an excellent offensive series, averaging around 15 ppg.

Series prediction: The Clippers are banged up. The Rockets are too, but they have the depth to absorb it. Rockets steal one of the first two on the road and take it in 6, with Harden and Paul trading daggers down the stretch of the final game.

Most Intriguing Matchup: I want to watch Ariza trying to slow down Chris Paul. In the breakdown of their game I did a while back, I noted that Trevor was struggling to navigate the screens the Clippers were setting on him when trying to free Paul. Since Ariza will probably be taking the lion’s share of the defensive responsibility on CP3, whether or not he can improve in that department will go a long way to determining the outcome of the series.

Li: Bold prediction: JJ Redick will outscore Dwight Howard.

Series prediction: “The Clippers don’t have enough depth.” -Everyone, all season. “We won.” -Clippers, all season. Provided Paul is healthy, I think this is, unfortunately, where the ride ends. Clippers in six.

Most intriguing matchup: JJ Redick vs the field. It won’t be Ariza, because he’ll be on Paul. It won’t be Harden, because this is his achilles heel matchup, plus he needs his energy for offense. Terry and Prigioni are too old. Corey Brewer could. But Redick is going to play 40+ minutes, will Brewer?

Felker: Rockets in 6.  I don’t believe a word saying that Paul will miss even one second with his injury.  That noise about him never making it out of the second round in getting louder and he hears it.  And I wonder how injured he actually is.  Paul embellishes on a Paul Pierce-ian level, and Doc Rivers is full of it. They’re just giving themselves a scapegoat for when they go belly up again.

Having said that, maaaybe he is a little hobbled.  Either way, I’ll take a rested team over a shaky seven-man rotation coming off one of the most grueling first rounds ever any day of the week.  Doc Rivers will keep playing his guys 40+ minutes a game, because his only other option is Big Baby and Austin Rivers.  Check Please.

And as for a bold prediction, I think Corey Brewer and Josh Smith by themselves will outscore the entire Clippers bench for the series.

And finally, I cannot wait for Bulls-Cavs.  It lost some of its shine with the Kevin Love injury, but this one has been 3 years in the making.  Rose won the MVP and was supposed to be the biggest hurdle for LeBron every year, but only got one shot at the Heatles before his knee injury.  I feel like this exact series is why we were so disappointed that he kept getting hurt.

It may not be MVP vs MVP, and it certainly isn’t Miami-Chicago, but to me they are the two best teams in the East. If nothing else, at least Joakim Noah in Cleveland will be entertaining.

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Would you rather…http://www.red94.net/would-you-rather/15923/ http://www.red94.net/would-you-rather/15923/#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 14:53:43 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15923   …have the only actual, functioning lightsaber or your very own dragon to ride? Wait, wait, wait.  Thats not what I meant. Basketball.  Spurs, Clippers. Game 7. Saturday night.  Staples Arena, Los Angeles, CA. Lob City and the last(?) ride of Tim Duncan and his Immortals. All for the chance to play our Houston Rockets in the second […]

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…have the only actual, functioning lightsaber or your very own dragon to ride?

Wait, wait, wait.  Thats not what I meant.

Basketball.  Spurs, Clippers.

Game 7.

Saturday night.  Staples Arena, Los Angeles, CA.

Lob City and the last(?) ride of Tim Duncan and his Immortals.

All for the chance to play our Houston Rockets in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs.

So, who will you be rooting for?

I mean it has to be dragon, right?  Imagine showing up to work on that bad boy.  Or a first date?  Game. Over.

But, then again, how can you turn down a lightsaber??  Even Han Solo wishes he had a lightsaber and he had an almost-dragon.

Okay, okay.  Seriously.  Who should Rockets fans be rooting for tomorrow?

There is a thread dedicated to this very question in Red94’s forum, and it certainly leans “go Clippers”, but not as much as I expected going in.  There’s concerns about the never-dead Spurs, met with fears of what CP3 might do.  The Clippers short bench, matched with the Spurs tired legs.  You could really go round-and-round looking at the pros and cons.

To me, it basically boils down to one question: After a grueling seven game series, with six days of rest for the home team and only two for the survivor, would you rather the Rockets face the Spurs aging depth, or the Clippers athletic trio and short bench?

The case for the Clippers

It all starts with what the Clippers don’t have, and I mean more than just an NBA-level bench:

Kawhi. Anthony. Leonard.

Kawhi Leonard was basically put on Earth to stop James Harden from getting buckets.  He’s long, strong and wildly athletic, with hands like a shortstop and the reach of a red-zone wide receiver.  If Harden is the puppeteer to the Rockets’ marionette, Leonard is a giant rusty pair of scissors that wants to give him tetanus.  Harden was a mixed bag against Leonard this season, but in their final matchup of the season with so much on the line, and in the second game of a home-and-home to boot (similar to what things will be like in the playoffs, where teams have more time to scout and prepare), Leonard held Harden to just 16 points on 5-19 shooting, and did so without fouling (Harden shot only six free throws).

And then, there’s also that bench.  That dreadful, eyesore of a Clippers bench.  The bench that can’t stay on the court, over-extends the starters and leads to tweets like this:

The bench that had been leaning awfully hard on Glen Davis, and may have just ended his season.  It’s being called a sprained ankle, but my first reaction – and everything I’ve seen since – was that he hurt his achilles.  I could be wrong, but either way, chances are he won’t be 100% anytime soon.

So what does that leave the Clippers’ frontcourt?  A whole lot of Hedo Turkoglu and Spencer Hawes, who has played only eight minutes in the playoffs.  How sweet is it going to be watching Josh Smith come off that Dwight Howard screen and Hedo Turkoglu is scrambling to get back to him?  Doc Rivers is going to wish he had Dirk’s lead feet on defense.  And if the Clips don’t find minutes somewhere else, how long can Griffin and Jordan stay productive with all that wear and tear?

And then there’s Austin Rivers.  How effective is that sputtery high-dribble going to be with Corey Brewer lurking?  Good luck getting to the rim, Austin.

But probably the biggest advantage to avoiding San Antonio: No Hack-a-Shaq.

(And for the record, it is called Hack-a-Shaq. We don’t rename the “Bird Rule” every time it’s used on another player, it’s simply “Team Y exercised the Bird Rights on player X”.  Same with with Hack-a-Shaq.  That is the first and last time I will ever agree with Reggie Miller).

There’s no way Doc Rivers can play DeAndre Jordan 36.3 minutes per game and try to employ Hack-a-Shaq on Dwight or J-Smoove.  The level of hypocrisy required can’t possibly exist in this, or any, universe.  Gregg Popovich, however, has mastered his most sinister of game plans and wields it like a Jedi with his lightsaber.  He could take a shining moment in recent-Rockets history and turn it into a three hour perversion.

Yup, that’s it – Popovich knows best – Lightsaber it is!  But only if it’s one of those new ones that everyone hate-loved, and in Mace Windu-purple.

The Case for the Spurs

I still haven’t completely figured out how the Spurs are hanging with LA in their series (OK, yes I have).  Tony Parker looks like 32 year old who has played 1200 games (plus international) with nary a rest for 13 straight years.  Tiago Splitter has barely played all series before last night and, while he was decent, is still limping around with a bum-calf.  Danny Green is slumping badly, and as for Manu Ginobili, well, see: Tony Parker.

And while we’re on the subject of age and health, when was the last time Dwight Howard looked this good?  Would you rather see him bang against DeAndre Jordan for 40 minutes and (possibly) wear him out, or feast on a 39 year old and a 240-pound stiff with a bad calf?  Dwight has had big games against the Spurs in the past, when their only option was to “unleash” Aaron Baynes against him, and is primed to do so again.

Also, remember what JJ Barea did to the Rockets defense in the first round?  Well, Rajon Rondo isn’t walking through that door, but Chris Paul very well could be.  The Rockets had no answer for a 5’9, 180 pound microwave and now we’re supposed to be looking forward to matching-up with the best point guard since Isaiah Thomas?

Then there’s the sheer un-likability of the Clippers.  Maybe this is just a personal one with me, but they have been my least favorite team since the first time CP3 found Jordan for a backdoor ‘oop.  Between Chris Paul’s constant caterwauling and Doc Rivers’ incessant, whiny stink-face, I can hardly stand to watch their games.  And if Blake Griffin is so likable, why does every other NBA big man hate him? (save for Tim Duncan, apparently.)  Of all people, Matt Barnes is the only one I like watching and he’s the biggest ***hole of them all!

Final Verdict

Rahat is right: the answer is N.E.V.E.R. the Spurs.  I tried, for the sake of impartiality, to make a case for San Antonio and even very nearly wrote the sentence, “The Spurs may actually, finally, be running out of gas”.  But I refuse to be one of those.  And remember that bit about Tony Parker and his 1200+ games?  Well, 39 year-old Tim Duncan and his near-1600 games blocked a Blake Griffin hook shot three days ago.  Let that sink in.

The fact is, after taking a few notes and lining things up side-by-side, it just has to be the Clippers.  Plus, the possible joy of being the nail in the coffin for Duncan & Co. would hardly be worth the sheer terror of having to sit through a seven game series of Gregg Popovich’s mind games.

Either series would be a bitch, but only one might end with more scorn from those arrogant, bombastic Spurs fans we all know (I’m looking at you, Dean).  Let’s go Clippers!

Dragon, it’s definitely 100% dragon.  Who needs a lightsaber when you can fly and breath fire?

Gotta be dragon, right?

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Houston Rockets 103, Dallas Mavericks 94: Round Twohttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-103-dallas-mavericks-94-round-two/15922/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-103-dallas-mavericks-94-round-two/15922/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 06:59:27 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15922 The Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks. I don’t really know what to say. It’s been such an up and down season. Having an actual defense. The injuries. Harden taking another leap to a true superstar. The injuries. Motiejunas becoming useful. The injuries. Josh Smith, the good. Josh Smith, the bad. And now, the Houston […]

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The Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks.

I don’t really know what to say. It’s been such an up and down season. Having an actual defense. The injuries. Harden taking another leap to a true superstar. The injuries. Motiejunas becoming useful. The injuries. Josh Smith, the good. Josh Smith, the bad.

And now, the Houston Rockets have beaten the Dallas Mavericks. Not so much with Harden heroics but with solid, real team defense that was not there last year. And the result turned out to be so much different from last year.

I don’t actually believe that old phrase of “defense wins championships”. A NBA team needs both to win, not just one or the other. Every championship team since 2000 outside a few quirky exceptions has been a top 10 offensive and defensive team.

But defense won tonight’s game, and thus the series. Sure, Houston did have problems in transition and let the Mavericks grab 23 fastbreak points. But the Mavericks had no idea what to do in the half court game.

Some of that could just be attributed to Dirk’s rapid decline. Dirk missed a lot of shots which he would have made four years ago, and we all know that he cannot guard anyone anymore. This may be his final playoff game as Oklahoma City returns next year and the Pelicans rise. Whatever your feelings about Dallas, the Mavericks, and Mark Cuban, you have to respect Dirk. I think he is one of the 20 greatest players in NBA history.

But it is not 2011, and Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones stayed with Dirk. Some Rockets had poorer shooting nights than others, but no one had a bad defensive night. Harden made a crucial steal at the end of the game. Pablo Priginoni drew a charge on Al-Farouq Aminu, who apparently becomes the fusion of LeBron James and Kyle Korver when he plays the Rockets. Even Jason Terry got in a blocked shot.

And at the center of it all was Dwight Howard. Howard played 39 minutes tonight, the most of any Rocket. It’s great to see him terrorize any Maverick near the rim, or catch passes from Harden or “fellow AAU teammate” Josh Smith ( Marv Albert must have mentioned that tidbit a thousand times tonight.) But the best part is that McHale appears to be confident enough in Dwight’s health to give him proper playoff minutes. Hopefully, Howard can stay on the court throughout Round 2 and be as monstrous as he was against Dallas.

On offense, no a “big four” of Smith-Howard-Jones-Harden carried Houston throughout the game. Houston did try to pass the ball around to the open three-point shooter, but the best option became “give the ball to Harden and just let him distribute.” Jones and Smith took advantage of Dirk’s horrible defense throughout the game and had a great time in transition, while Dwight Howard was just too heavy for Chandler. It is one of the few times where working Howard in the post becomes a sound offensive strategy.

While Smith, Howard, and Jones were all effective on the field, the free throw line was a different matter. The Rockets as a team started off hitting just 1 of their first 11 free throws. Carlisle employed Hack-a-Smith/Howard a few times throughout the game. Dwight and Smith failed to be accurate enough to deter hacking, but Houston managed to stay alive during that stretch with their strong half court defense. If Houston draws the Spurs for Round 2 (as seems to be more likely), Popovich will hack more often than Rick Carlisle did or Doc Rivers will.

And now one observation: At the end of the day, I do believe that this is Houston’s best chance to win a title in the near future. Yes, the Warriors are looming over everything else, ready to swamp every other team on their path to basketball dominance. But Memphis, Cleveland, Chicago, and so many other teams are vulnerable thanks to injuries. And while Howard has been terrific this year, that knee is a bomb which can go off at any second.

A championship windows can open and close shut with the slightest change. But for now, the Rockets can sit back and enjoy this wonderful victory. For the first since 2009, they are in the second round of the NBA playoffs. And that is good enough – for now.

 

 

 

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Q&A with Tim Cato of Mavs Moneyballhttp://www.red94.net/qa-with-tim-cato-of-mavs-moneyball/15920/ http://www.red94.net/qa-with-tim-cato-of-mavs-moneyball/15920/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 18:40:27 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15920 Ahead of Game 5 and another chance for the Rockets to close out the Dallas Mavericks, we caught up with Tim Cato of MavsMoneyball.com MF – Rockets fans adored Chandler Parsons. Half still do, while half blame him for leaving even though thats pretty much Daryl Morey’s fault for underestimating the troll inside of Mark […]

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Ahead of Game 5 and another chance for the Rockets to close out the Dallas Mavericks, we caught up with Tim Cato of MavsMoneyball.com

MF – Rockets fans adored Chandler Parsons. Half still do, while half blame him for leaving even though thats pretty much Daryl Morey’s fault for underestimating the troll inside of Mark Cuban. How hard did you fall in love with him this season, and how did it change your outlook to lose him so early into the playoffs?

TC – It took some weeks. His November was objectively terrible as he started his season with some terrible shooting and a ton of missed layups, but as the year wore on, we all began to realize just how great this dude was. From January on, I’m one of many who would argue Parsons was the most important Maverick. His spot up scoring skills, whether it’s an actual jumper or that pump fake of his, make him a fit with literally any four players you put next to him, and as the season wore on, we saw Carlisle putting the ball in his hands more and more as a primary option.

When Parsons went down, the series was over. I’ve said for a while Houston was Dallas’ best matchup, but I still picked the Rockets in seven. The Mavericks needed him for a chance at an upset, something that’s pretty evident from watching the series.

Al-Farouq Aminu has had some big games against the Rockets this season comparative to the rest of his season.  In short, he’s killing Houston. Where did he come from? How the hell did he only average 6 and 5 for the year?? And, most importantly, whats his deal with the Houston Rockets???

He only really got into the rotation in January because he wasn’t quite this good to start the season, but damn do Dallas fans love him now. His offense is in a bit of an unsustainable groove this series — he’s a below-30 percent three-point shooter — but the defense, rebounding and hustle are a season-round thing. He honestly might be the most important Maverick free agent this summer.

I’m on the record admitting my reverence for JJ Barea. What he (and Dirk & Tyson & J-Kidd & Carlisle) did in 2011 was the most fun I’ve had watching basketball since I was a kid watching the Dream do his shake-thing. How did Minnesota not have a spot for this guy?

Dallas really is the perfect spot for him, in a flow offense with floor spacing around him where he can run a half dozen pick-and-rolls every time down the floor when he’s the lead ball handler. There’s something about being back “home” too, I think. I’m not sure the exact failings of his play in Minnesota, but he’s a player who really needs all the right conditions to succeed. With Rondo out, he has that with the Mavericks.

The Rondo trade was an unmitigated disaster. How much did losing Jae Crowder and Brendan Wright hurt the Mavs? And what do you see the long-term effects being now that he appears to be leaving?

I don’t really see Wright or Crowder as huge losses. Wright’s a free agent this summer while Crowder’s a player who’s extraneous with Aminu on the roster. The big effect the trade might have had is it crippled the Maverick chances to make a move as other point guards became available closer to the trade deadline. It’s impossible to know, but could Isaiah Thomas have been available? Brandon Knight?

From an outsider’s view, what sort of things are you seeing upon closer inspection of Houston that has surprised you? Disappointed?

Dwight Howard’s renaissance has been great to watch as an NBA fan, and if he can play like this, I think you guys have a chance against most teams. At the same time, I’m worried that if Barea can do this, how worse will things get when it’s Chris Paul or Tony Parker next series?

The series is 3-1 and headed back to Houston for another chance at a close out. Do you think Carlisle has anymore tricks up his sleeve, and what are you hoping to see in Game 5?

Of course I’d love the Mavericks to push the Rockets another game, but I have my doubts. A lot of things went right in Game 4 that aren’t really sustainable — the three-point shooting on both sides, for example.

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Houston Rockets 109 Dallas Mavericks 121: No D in Dallas. Or rebounding. Did I mention no defense?http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-109-dallas-mavericks-121-no-d-in-dallas-or-rebounding-did-i-mention-no-defense/15918/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-109-dallas-mavericks-121-no-d-in-dallas-or-rebounding-did-i-mention-no-defense/15918/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 08:25:34 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15918 Do you believe in jinxes? Because to me, worrying about them always seemed so silly.  In high school, guys who wouldn’t wash their socks after big wins weren’t insuring a repeat performance, they were only making their shoes stink.  As Chris Webber says (and to which I agree), believing in such things just means you don’t trust in […]

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Do you believe in jinxes?

Because to me, worrying about them always seemed so silly.  In high school, guys who wouldn’t wash their socks after big wins weren’t insuring a repeat performance, they were only making their shoes stink.  As Chris Webber says (and to which I agree), believing in such things just means you don’t trust in yourself and your training.  I personally just never had much use for superstition (and certainly didn’t need any help making my shoes stink).

But jinxing was on my mind when I wrote the headline for Game 3’s post-game coverage, “You may or may not want to consider thinking about possibly pulling out your brooms”.

As you can see, I was a little timid with the headline at first, afraid to outright upset mystical forces that I don’t understand and/or believe in. But as I got to writing and re-watching some of the game, I couldn’t help but notice how dominant the Rockets looked; Dwight snatching every rebound, Harden slicing and dicing the Mavs defense.  Even though it was a wire-to-wire game, the Rockets had absorbed two 30-point performances by Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, and saw every trick in Rick Carlisle’s toolbox and still came out on top.

So if i was a little concerned at first that perhaps I was being too cavalier with the title, by the end it was all I could do to not out-and-out guarantee the sweep.

But I was wrong: maybe jinxes really do exist, and Rick Carlisle definitely still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

First off, Carlisle made the obvious decision to start JJ Barea and my new least favorite player in the whole world, Al-F@$#% Aminu, in place of Raymond Felton and Richard Jefferson.  In all honesty, that should be an indictment of Carlisle, not praise.  Starting Ray Felton and Richard Jefferson?  What was he thinking?!

But beyond just shaking up the starting five, Carlisle used Aminu as his own personal Kawhi Leonard, and was rewarded with a very Kawhi-like performance: 16 points on 6-10 shooting and 3-5 from deep, with 12 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 assists and 1 block.  After doubling to force the ball out of Harden’s hands and getting beat over the top in Games 1 & 2, the Mavs tried playing him straight up in Game 3 and the Beard went off for a playoff career-high 42 points.  But last night with Aminu starting, Carlisle had him hound Harden one-on-one all night, keeping Harden out of the paint and even forcing a turnover on an eight-second violation after poking the ball away in the backcourt.

And it wasn’t just stifling defense; Aminu was all over the court, making plays on both ends.  He swatted a Harden layup into the second row in the first half, bullied Harden on the block in the fourth quarter for a vicious dunk and grabbed multiple offensive rebounds at the worst possible times. The Rockets just had no answer for his energy.

And speaking of energy: JJ effing Barea.  I could save myself some time and just copy & paste what I wrote about him after Game 3, but unfortunately for me (and Houston), I wasn’t effusive enough for it to really work for Game 4.  Barea was even more aggressive last night, going for 17 points, 13 dimes, 3 boards and a steal.  As I’ve stated before, nothing Barea can do will ever take away how happy he made me in the 2011 Finals, but dammit if he isn’t trying.  Patrick Beverley may not have have been able to make a huge difference against the likes of Steph Curry and Chris Paul, but boy do the Rockets miss him against the Mavs diminutive point guard. He’s just too quick and too crafty for elder statesmen Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni, who both had terrible games with Terry missing eleventy open threes and Pablo providing next to nothing.

Monta Ellis had another killer game, following his 34-point Game 3 performance with 31 last night.  He only hit two threes, but they were both back-breakers as the Rockets were trying to fight back from a 20+ point deficit.  Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t quite as spry as he was in Game 3, but his timing could not have been worse for the Rockets.  It seemed like every shot he hit was either capping a big Mavs run, or hitting the breaks on one for the Rockets.  With Houston switching so much, Dirk had no problems finding a wing to backdown and shoot over.

As for the Rockets, everything that they did well in Game 3 was missing last night.  Harden (24 pts, 5 reb, 5 ast & 2 stl) played decent, but hardly looked like an MVP candidate.  Aminu’s length really frustrated him at times, and his usually solid post-defense was nowhere to be seen against Dirk and Aminu.  Trevor Ariza had, by my memory, his worst game as a Rocket.  He wasn’t just a non-factor, he was a huge hindrance.  There were multiple times when he took the dreaded pull-up 19-foot jumper in transition that everyone knows the Rockets hate.  He did little to take advantage of Dirk’s defense when he was matched up with the lead-footed German, and was a total non-factor on the boards, usually one of his strengths.  I was glad to see it wasn’t just me that was so bothered by Ariza’s performance, even Trevor himself noticed:

“I take a lot of responsibility because I didn’t play particularly well. I played with low energy. That won’t happen again.”

But Ariza was hardly the only Rocket to play substandard.  Dwight Howard, so dominating on the glass in Game 3, couldn’t be found after the first quarter of Game 4.  He started solidly, scoring 8 points in the first while abusing the Mavs big men on the block and out of the pick-and-roll. But after the opening quarter, the Mavs were monsters on the boards and nothing Dwight did seemed to help.  By the end of the game, he wasn’t even really fighting for rebounds anymore and the Mavs finished with ease. And let’s not even discuss his free throws.  After going 12-18 from the stripe in the first three games, he probably deserves some leeway, but 3-13 is unacceptable.  Josh Smith caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points on 7-7 shooting (hitting 4 threes, including two dagger step-backs) in the final frame, and made a game out of a blowout. But even when paired with Howard, he couldn’t help the Rockets on defense and especially on the glass.

The Mavs had 16 offensive rebounds to the Rockets 7, and as Houston (read: Josh Smith) was fighting back at the end, Dallas grabbed back-to-back offensive boards leading to a Monta Ellis three-pointer that was essentially the nail in the coffin.  For some reason McHale went away from Terrence Jones as the game went on, but he still had an easy 13 and 6 in only 18 minutes. McHale admitted afterward that he should have played Jones more, and he certainly would’ve helped against Dirk and on the glass.  Nick Johnson logged a few minutes for the first time this series, and although he didn’t make much of a statistical impact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him log a few minutes in Game 5 as well.  His energy on defense was noticeable and he looks more capable of keeping up with Barea than the rest of Houston’s backcourt.

The truth is, Houston looked like a team that had a 3-0 lead and was playing on the road.  Everyone knew the Mavs weren’t going to lay down, and yet the Rockets played exactly like that’s what they expected.  Things will be different in Houston on Tuesday, when the Rockets will look to close things out in Game 5.

San Antonio and Los Angeles look like they’re headed for seven, so there’s still time to get some rest before round two, should the Rockets make it that far. (See what I did there?)

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Houston Rockets 130, Dallas Mavericks 128: You may or may not want to consider thinking about possibly pulling out your broomshttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-130-dallas-mavericks-128-you-may-or-may-not-want-to-consider-thinking-about-possibly-pulling-out-your-brooms/15917/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-130-dallas-mavericks-128-you-may-or-may-not-want-to-consider-thinking-about-possibly-pulling-out-your-brooms/15917/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 07:52:59 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15917 When the Daryl Morey brought Dwight Howard to Houston to join James Harden, even the most pessimistic Rockets fan surely had fantastic daydreams of nights just like last night.  The two best players at their positions, together on the same team, doing the things they do better than anyone, at the same time, on the […]

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When the Daryl Morey brought Dwight Howard to Houston to join James Harden, even the most pessimistic Rockets fan surely had fantastic daydreams of nights just like last night.  The two best players at their positions, together on the same team, doing the things they do better than anyone, at the same time, on the same night.

And be sure, when Dwight plays the way he did last night, and all series really, he is still the most dominant big man around.

It may seem strange to anyone who watched last night that this article begins with Dwight Howard and not James Harden,
who scored 42 points on 15-24 shooting (5-7 from deep), dished 9 assists and grabbed 5 boards.  The Beard was wonderful, as always, but he has been doing that literally since the day he landed in Houston.

This new (old?) Dwight Howard, however, has been but a myth since the golden days of Orlando.  Not even Kobe got to play with the hover-near-the-rim-like-a-crouched-tiger Dwight, one with enough self-awareness to recognize that he was better suited for rim-protection and finishing than for posting and Dream Shake-ing.  Did all that time off, while the Rockets played their way to the 2-seed, finally open his eyes to this after three long years?

If anything did in fact open Dwight’s eyes to that reality, it was almost certainly sitting and watching James Harden do work.  As he showed all season, Harden only needs minimal help to pile up W’s.  And last night Dwight’s monstrous effort (13 pts, 26!!! reb, 3 ast, 2 stl & 2 blk) was the perfect compliment to Harden’s playoff masterpiece, as the Rockets took Dallas’ best shot and still came out on top.

When Harden hit his first two shots, both three’s from the right wing, you knew he was in for a big night.  The Beard went 2-9 from deep in the first two games of the series, and shot poorly in general (31% FG).  Last night he hit shots from all over the court, but was especially active from midrange.  This is normally such a faux pas for the Rockets, but with Tyson Chandler frantically trying to figure out how to protect the paint while also keeping Howard from tearing the rim down like he did in Game 2, it left quite a vacuum in the middle.  Chandler hung back by the rim more, rather than coming out to no man’s land to challenge Harden, and the Beard simply pulled up a few feet shorter than he normally would and knocked down several 15-footers.  He was surgical all night.

The rest of the Rockets weren’t exactly sitting back and watching either.  Josh Smith (18 pts, 3 reb and 4 ast), Corey Brewer (15), Trevor Ariza (13) and Terrence Jones (12) all scored in double figures as well.  The offense did stagnate at times, with too much standing around and too many pull-up jumpers, but overall the Rockets scored at will.

On the other end, the Mavericks may have just killed whatever free agent value Rajon Rondo had left.  After leading the league in offensive efficiency for most of the season, then falling to the middle of the pack after the Rondo trade, that the Mavericks just scored 128 points against a top defensive team in their first game without the mercurial point guard is not a good look for Rondo.

Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki led the way for Dallas, both scoring 34 points.  Ellis handled the ball more without the aforementioned Rondo, and attacked (15-25 FG) as ferociously as he has all season.  Dirk somehow managed 10-19 shooting despite moving around like a mummy, and hit a big three late in the fourth to keep Dallas in the game.

Al-Farouq Aminu (15 pts, 5 reb, 2 stl & 2 blk) continued his season-long personal vendetta against the Rockets.  With the way he’s played in a couple of games against Houston this season, I was shocked to learn he only averages 6 points on 41% shooting and 5 boards.  JJ Barea (11 pts, 6 reb, 9 ast & 1 stl) reminded us once again that he’s the guy who stared down Lebron James and outplayed him for an entire Finals just 4 years ago.  Despite Ellis’ and Nowitzki’s scoring, it was really Barea who caused the Rockets the most trouble.  In just 25 minutes of action Barea managed a +22 plus/minus; the next highest Mav player was Amar’e Stoudemire’s +6.   He started breaks, broke down the defense and attacked the rim like he was the best player on the court, but disappeared late.

And it was late, with the Rockets up one, that Harden iced the game.  Ellis added a beautiful lay-in off the glass over Howard, and then Brewer went 1-2 on his free throws for the final points.  Ellis had an 18-footer at the buzzer to tie, but was fading to the left, shooting right and missed badly.

So now the Rockets are one win away from the sweep and some sweet, sweet rest while the Spurs and Clippers battle on in what is definitely the best series of the first round.  The Mavs showed that they’re not going to take anything laying down, but if the Rockets can tighten up their defense and put the clamps back on Lurch Dirk, this series is over.

And when the Spurs and Clippers are done pounding on each other, the Rockets will be waiting.  And it won’t be just James Harden and his band of misfits.  They’ll be joined, not by Dwight Howard, center for the Houston Rockets, but by DWIGHT FREAKING HOWARD, Hall of Fame-r.

Maybe it won’t last, maybe it’s just an aberration and Dwight’s health will waver again and his newfound effectiveness will fade back to mere solid production.  But for now?  Bring on one-legged Tim Duncan and Aaron “Dunk-Bait” Baynes.  Bring on Wishes-he-was-Dwight DeAndre Jordan.  It won’t matter.  The only thing keeping this team with those two players from the Finals is Him.

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Hack-an-American? Are foreign big men really better shooters?http://www.red94.net/hack-an-american-are-foreign-big-men-really-better-shooters/15912/ http://www.red94.net/hack-an-american-are-foreign-big-men-really-better-shooters/15912/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 21:28:14 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15912 With the Mavericks seemingly exploding before our eyes (KNOCK ON WOOD), I thought it was time for something fun. All the talk about hacking has resurrected conversation about the differences between American and foreign big men. Conventional wisdom has us believe that American big men are more physical but less skilled. Foreign big men, on […]

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With the Mavericks seemingly exploding before our eyes (KNOCK ON WOOD), I thought it was time for something fun. All the talk about hacking has resurrected conversation about the differences between American and foreign big men. Conventional wisdom has us believe that American big men are more physical but less skilled. Foreign big men, on the other hand, get pushed around easily but are more adept with the ball in their hands. In the current times of hack-a-you, this means that American big men are characterized as being dunces from the free throw line, while foreign big men conduct symphonies from the same spot. To what extent are these stereotypes true? Let’s use data to find out.

The data are from Basketball Reference. I made a few important decisions about how much of it to use. First, I’m only using data starting from the 2000-01 season. While the data go as far back as 1946, I figured there were not a whole lot of foreign big men to analyze from that time period and decided to use more recent data, when foreign big men are more numerous. Speaking of which, I’m defining “big man” as a player who is classified by Basketball Reference as a center, a center-forward, or a forward-center. This excludes players who might be tall in stature but play a different role, such as Kevin Durant or Dirk Nowitzki. Also, foreign doesn’t necessarily mean European. Yao Ming and Hasheem Thabeet are also considered foreign.

Finally, and importantly, the data classify players according to where they were born. If a player was born overseas, but then spent his entire life in the USA, that player is still considered foreign by the data. Since the conversation about domestic vs international big men typically refers to where players learned their style of play, and not necessarily where they were born, this quirk in the data is slightly problematic. I didn’t spend too much time making manual adjustments, but I did move Tim Duncan, Carlos Boozer, and Al Horford from the foreign pile to the domestic pile. I chose these three because they popped up frequently on the very first page of the international players data (sorted by win shares), so I figured they represented the biggest blips. I didn’t have the patience to switch other players.

Enough. Here are the results of all free throws shot from 2000 through 2015.

Birth countryFTMFTAFT%
Foreign38,07154,46969.9%
USA88,136130,88467.3%

It turns out there is some truth to the stereotype of foreign big men being better shooters. Over 15 years, foreign big men shot 2.6% better than domestic big men. Here’s what it looks like year by year.

graph

FT% for big men from 2000-2015

Foreign big men have a higher FT% than domestic big men in every season except 2001 and 2010. In this respect, the Rockets have had pretty poor luck. Their one foreign big man this season was injured right before the playoffs, and their recent foreign big man trade away (Asik) bucked the trend by being a poor free throw shooter.

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Houston Rockets 111, Dallas Mavericks 99: Flush cityhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-111-dallas-mavericks-99-flush-city/15910/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-111-dallas-mavericks-99-flush-city/15910/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 05:32:55 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15910 The Houston Rockets swept away the first three quarters of the game under and endless torrent of brutal slams. The Dallas Mavericks stayed close and mucked it up for almost 36 minutes, bogging down the game with fouls and intense defense on James Harden. Josh Smith and Dwight Howard had different plans. The Rockets ended […]

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The Houston Rockets swept away the first three quarters of the game under and endless torrent of brutal slams. The Dallas Mavericks stayed close and mucked it up for almost 36 minutes, bogging down the game with fouls and intense defense on James Harden. Josh Smith and Dwight Howard had different plans. The Rockets ended the game with fourteen slams, including several lobs from Josh Smith to his AAU teammate Dwight Howard. Much like the “run it again” era of Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets, this Houston team found a winning play and called that number over and over again. With no answer for Houston’s big men, the Mavs fell behind, even with James Harden on the bench. The Rockets now lead the series by a commanding 2 games to 0.

Dwight Howard and Josh Smith came alive, more alive than they’ve been all season, and both justified every second of their tenure in Houston with this game alone. Dwight Howard brought the hammer down with 28 points and 12 rebounds on a mere 15 shots, including hitting 8 straight free throws in 11 tries. This version of Dwight Howard, the thundering, rolling, dunking machine, is what Houston hoped for and what people predicted and all last season. The long absence due to his knee procedure has paid huge dividends so far, with these two playoff wins worth infinitely more than any regular season tilts. He’s healthy, he’s motivated, and he’s unstoppable.

Josh Smith is worth every penny that the Detroit Pistons are paying him this season, and every penny the Houston Rockets are paying him, too. It just turns out that the team footing the much smaller bill is the one he propelled to a stunning victory in the post season. Smith only played 26 mintues, but he nearly cracked a triple double with 15 points (on 15 shots), 8 rebounds and 9 assists. He was instrumental in the late run while James Harden sat, punishing the Mavs in pick and roll situations over and over again. He got off to a slow, inefficient start, but once he and Dwight became the primary weapons, they unleashed a torrent of lobs as Dallas tried to find a way to turn Dirk Nowitzki back into a person and not a turnstile.

Houston’s bench depth is looking increasingly solid, and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey used both shrewdness and luck to create a situation where the Rockets could lose two key rotation players and keep rolling. Even Clint Capela came off the bench to play fruitful playoff minutes. Corey Brewer remained a fireball off the bench, even if his 17 points on 7-13 shooting wasn’t as impressive as his last outing. The shallow Mavs were given no mercy, and it was through depth that the Rockets were able to absorb Dallas’ heaviest blows. Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle threw the sink at the Rockets, playing physical ball and trying to draw fouls on Houston.

It almost worked for half the game, while Harden was off his game and the Rockets couldn’t buy an open bucket. Harden ended the night a mere 5-17 from the field for 24 points, a line which is actually sub-par for his standard of excellence. His 5 rebounds, 6 assist and a steal were also below his standards slightly in a night where he was the focus of the defense. The Mavs, despite all their defensive holes, have done a good job of limiting James Harden. Unfortunately, they’ve done almost nothing to limit anyone else. The theory that Harden has nothing to work with was a talking point in favor of Harden’s MVP campaign, but now feels like brilliant propaganda from an extremely deep team that’s suckered other clubs into underestimating the role players.

The worst news was that Terrence Jones got hit in the face by Dwight’s elbow and sat down to get examined for a concussion. He only played 22 minutes due to it, but the Rockets didn’t end up missing him due to the Smith-Howard love connection. Jones seemed ready to return if needed, however, so it’s very likely he’ll be ready to go for the remainder of the playoffs.

This Rockets team, like a boxer saving his best moves for a title fight, pulled a pick and roll happy Dwight Howard out of nowhere and is suddenly a very different team. The Rockets have gone up 2-0 on a 50-win Mavs team and won both games comfortably. Most frightening for the league is that Harden hasn’t even gone off yet. This series is far from over, but all the questions it’s raised have been for the rest of the league, not Houston. The Rockets look ahead to Friday, now, and to a chance to go up 3-0 on the Mavs in Dallas. If they keep playing at this level, they may soon be looking ahead to the next round.

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On Dwight, Capelahttp://www.red94.net/on-dwight-capela/15909/ http://www.red94.net/on-dwight-capela/15909/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 14:12:50 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15909 In one of these games this postseason, Clint Capela will go for something like 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots, and then everyone on the Rockets portion of the Internet will collectively react in the online equivalent of how everyone storms the court and goes nuts at the end of those streetball videos […]

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  • In one of these games this postseason, Clint Capela will go for something like 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots, and then everyone on the Rockets portion of the Internet will collectively react in the online equivalent of how everyone storms the court and goes nuts at the end of those streetball videos where someone makes the other guy fall down.
  • Dallas is going to ante up the variance because that is the only way to overcome the vast talent disparity between the two teams.  It feels weird being on the other side of that equation.  They’ll give Harden different looks in pick and roll coverage and try something out of the box in assisting Dirk.  On the latter point, I don’t know what all can be done for such a challenging dilemma.
  • I hope we aren’t celebrating already as tempting as it may be.  I think back to 2005 when I and my friends, after Houston went up 2-0 against Dallas, not only looked past the Mavericks, but also Phoenix, in preparing for the Western Conference Finals.  We know how that turned out.
  • Over these past two seasons, because he’s had his ups and downs, and this season has been in and out of the lineup, there have been times during games where I’ve caught myself thinking, “wait a minute.  That guy with ‘Howard’ on the back of his jersey is Dwight freaking Howard.”  This was a guy who, as recently as within the past five years was the undisputed most disruptive force in all of basketball.  This was a guy who, before Kevin Durant made “the leap”, was considered, unarguably the second best player in the league.  We got a reminder of that former status in Game 1 when Houston looked like a machine during Howard’s minutes.  But can he sustain this level of dominance for long minutes?  If he can, maybe Houston needs to be taken a lot more seriously, and maybe they’re as good as people envisioned when Howard first signed.  Howard carried an Orlando team to the Finals with Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu setting him up in the pick&roll; he now has maybe the best player in the league tossing him lobs.
  • I’m no longer worried about Howard murking things up in the post because I think he understands his role on this team, something that wasn’t the case last year before the team’s hierarchy was set.  With Harden’s explosion this season, Howard now knows what he has to do, and I am feeling more confident that how the offense ran in Game 1 is how the team intends to play going forward.
  • The Mavericks have no answer for the Rockets’ star duo, but at the same time, you have to hope that Ariza and Terry continue to hit.  Everything only looked as smooth as it did because those threes were falling.  To that end, aren’t we glad its Terry in the corner instead of Beverley?  I have much more confidence in Jason Terry’s ability to consistently knock down open shots, rather than Beverley’s, as the latter was seemingly feast or famine.
  • Some of you are talking about Beverley attempting to return in later rounds as if I’m supposed to be excited at the prospect.  Why?  If Houston advances that far, I don’t know that I want them to tinker with their rotation if things are working.  And Pat already wasn’t hitting his shots before going out.  That’s supposed to change?  He also wasn’t slowing anyone down.  I suppose it would be nice to have his physicality against some of the elite point guards Houston may face, but we saw how that worked out during the year when he got torched on several occasions.  Not to think too far ahead, but if the Rockets go on to play Cleveland in the Finals, I’d rather just start Brewer and have him on Kyrie Irving, with Terry coming off the bench when Irving sits.
  • Clint Capela is an NBA rotation player.  No, I’m not saying he’s going to be a star or the next Dwight Howard or anything, but at the least, he will earn NBA checks.  That will present an interesting situation this summer with Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Motiejunas already under contract, and Josh Smith due for a raise.
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    Some thoughts on Game 1 of Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Maverickshttp://www.red94.net/some-thoughts-on-game-1-of-houston-rockets-vs-dallas-mavericks/15906/ http://www.red94.net/some-thoughts-on-game-1-of-houston-rockets-vs-dallas-mavericks/15906/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 00:14:39 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15906 I’m pretty much still shocked that we saw Capela instead of Dorsey last night, because it’s not a McHale move, given his track record.  We screamed collectively last year just to give Motiejunas even a look when no one on this team could cover LaMarcus Aldridge, and that didn’t happen.  And don’t tell me it’s […]

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  • I’m pretty much still shocked that we saw Capela instead of Dorsey last night, because it’s not a McHale move, given his track record.  We screamed collectively last year just to give Motiejunas even a look when no one on this team could cover LaMarcus Aldridge, and that didn’t happen.  And don’t tell me it’s because Motiejunas sucked last year.  He had made huge strides defensively, even coming in to slow down Zach Randolph in one particular game.  So when I saw Capela come off the bench for the usual Dorsey minutes, my jaw dropped.  It just made too much sense.  It’s not so much the shot-blocking that gives him an edge over Dorsey but rather the fact that he’s not a complete zero on the offensive end.  He can actually kind of finish and was serving as a target on some of the same plays the team was running for Howard.
  • Speaking of Dwight, we see now why people have been literally begging him to roll to the hoop and abandon the post ever since he left Orlando.  When he plays in that way, he’s still one of the most dominant forces in the game for the simple reason that he draws so much attention from the defense.  When Dwight is in the post, while he may score here and there, he’s almost just as likely to turn the ball over, and the rest of the team is standing around.  Don’t believe me?  Check the numbers.  Even if Dwight doesn’t complete the lob, the team is almost always guaranteed to at least get some kind of high percentage look because he’s sucking so much of the help away from wherever the ball is.  Had Dwight not gotten into foul trouble last night, that game would have been a blow-out.  Orlando didn’t just go to the Finals with Dwight rolling to the hoop by accident.
  • On that point, maybe this is a turning point?  Maybe Dwight has actually bought in?  He had some postup touches with Harden sitting, but maybe everything he said in an earlier interview with USA Today wasn’t just lip service?  We can only hope.
  • I’ve been saying for some time that I think Hakeem might be the worst thing to have ever happened to Dwight Howard.  Sometimes you need someone to tell you the truth, not to enable you.  Hakeem put, or reinforced in Dwight’s mind that he can dominate in the paint and that all great big men dominate in the paint.  In reality, Dwight was dominant already, playing as he had been.
  • Nice rebound from Terrence Jones last night, after being maybe the worst player on the court last year against Portland.  Shows how far he has come this season.
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    Houston Rockets 118, Dallas Mavericks 108: A team efforthttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-118-dallas-mavericks-108-a-team-effort/15905/ http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-118-dallas-mavericks-108-a-team-effort/15905/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 08:24:08 +0000 http://www.red94.net/?p=15905 We may forget it from time to time, but there are other players on the Rockets besides James Harden. Harden dropped 24 points tonight, but by his ludicrous standards did not score all that well. He took 17 free throws and shot just 4-11 from the field. Dallas was aggressive with the double team and […]

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    We may forget it from time to time, but there are other players on the Rockets besides James Harden.

    Harden dropped 24 points tonight, but by his ludicrous standards did not score all that well. He took 17 free throws and shot just 4-11 from the field. Dallas was aggressive with the double team and absolutely determined to make the rest of the Rockets beat them tonight.

    And that is what the rest of the Rockets did. Terrence Jones came close to a triple double, Jason Terry and Trevor Ariza blazed from three, and Corey Brewer was the hero of the fourth quarter. And while it is far too easy to massively extrapolate from just one game, there is one thing that is patently clear: the Mavericks may have an answer for James Harden. But they are as helpless as a newborn kitten in trying to stop Dwight Howard.

    In the Red94 Preview Roundtable, I noted that the big man battle would be key to this series. If Dallas prevails, it will be because Dirk looks like old Dirk and Chandler can challenge Howard. Well, Dirk looked like old Dirk on the offensive end, as he scored 24 points on just 10-14 shooting. But Dirk’s never-terrific defense has now completely collapsed, and Houston attacked him again and again through the pick and roll.

    Tyson Chandler in the meantime had 11 points and 18 rebounds, so one might think he had a terrific game. And he did – whenever Howard was not on the floor. When he was, Chandler could not do anything.

    Nor for that matter could the Dallas offense as a whole. The difference in Houston’s defense when Howard was in or out reminds me of 2013 when Houston’s defense collapsed whenever Omer Asik took a breather. The Mavericks can throw Rondo or Aminu or Harris or double teams galore to slow down Harden like happened tonight. But they have no answer for Howard’s defense and finishing ability. Howard shut down the paint completely, and if he had managed to play over 30 minutes, this would have been a blowout.

    But Dallas got him into foul trouble and limited Howard to just 18 minutes tonight. He started by picking up two cheap fouls in the first. At the beginning of the second quarter, Rick Carlisle started by ordering Amare Stoudemire to post up on Howard again and again. These post-ups kept failing, but eventually Amare managed to draw Howard’s third foul and send him to the bench. The pattern for much of the game is that the Rockets would destroy the Mavericks when Howard was on the floor. Then Howard would pick up a foul after three or four minutes, and then Dallas would then crawl back into this game.

    Kevin McHale surprisingly sent out Clint Capela to replace Howard instead of Joey Dorsey. Capela can block shots, but he needs more time in the weight room before he can successfully guard Amare or Tyson Chandler. He also is still not fully aware of the Rockets defensive rotations, as he hedged way too far on the screen and roll on multiple possessions. This left Houston’s defense vulnerable to cutters, which the Mavericks took advantage of.

    But while Clint Capela is not as good a defender as Dorsey, this is made up for by the fact that he is a much better offensive weapon. You can actually run a pick and roll with Capela and expect him to finish at the rim if you pass it to him. There were multiple plays which started with Harden passing out of the hard double team to Jones or Josh Smith, who would then make the interior pass to Howard or Capela. Capela finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds, a sound playoff debut for someone who few expected to see in the playoffs at all.

    Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, and Trevor Ariza also had some great games as well. Brewer only hit three 3-pointers over the final 12 games of the regular season. He hit three in the fourth quarter tonight, all of which came late in the shot clock, and finished with 12 points in the fourth quarter. Terry was the steady hand ready with a 3-point bomb when his former team seemed about to counterattack. And Ariza shut down anyone he guarded, whether it was Parsons, Ellis, or even Dirk late in the fourth quarter.

    This series is far from over, but I do believe after tonight that Dallas at its best cannot hang with the Rockets at their best. Houston has more depth, a better star, and a defense that they can fall back on should things go bad. The question is whether Rick Carlisle can muck things up enough over the next few games. With more Dwight on the floor protecting the paint, the Rockets could shut down the Dallas offense over the next few games.

    Shaqtin-a-Fool moment of the game: Late in the fourth quarter, Rick Carlisle hacked Josh Smith who went 1 for 2 at the foul line. Kevin McHale responded by hacking Rondo – but Houston was not in the penalty yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Final question: List your prediction

    McGuire: Rockets in 6.

    Rahat: Rockets in 6.

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

    Li: Rockets in 6.

    Dover: Rockets in 5.

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

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

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