Huq’s Pen: And so it begins

  • Despite not really being a true contender, Houston was among just a handful of teams whose season didn’t really matter.  All they would be judged upon would be their postseason play.  And now we’re here.  After an 82-game rollercoaster, the boys in red will be opening up at home this weekend against the Portland TrailBlazers.  
  • The topic merits more than just a paragraph, but you can divide Houston’s 2013-2014 campaign roughly into four parts.  They opened up awkwardly, struggling to find their identity and struggling to find a suitable power forward – it cost them in the standings.  Upon the insertion of Terrence Jones into the starting lineup, the team took off but at the cost of Omer Asik.  Then, they got Asik back, roles were defined, and for a certain stretch, looked like the best team in the entire league.  After that, nothing mattered but getting to the postseason healthy, leading to the fourth segment when they lost Beverley and Howard and skittered to the finish line.  Despite the joy of last night’s victory, we still don’t really know who this team is.  Are they the defiant group that stomped the Pacers and Heat or are they the lazy cast that got steamrolled by the Bulls and tormented successively by Oklahoma City and the Clippers?
  • You have to really be grateful because the scheme by which things fell into place is the one that outlines Houston’s highest likelihood of a Western Conference Finals berth.  The stage is set for the Rockets to face the two teams in the West against whom they matchup best.  Despite the series sweep of the Spurs, I don’t think necessarily that Houston should be favored to topple their cross-state rivals.  But if given the choice between facing the Spurs, Clippers, and Thunder, the answer there is pretty clear.
  • The interesting thing about the Spurs is that they are the one “good” West team that simply cannot handle Howard and Jones.  As I said last night during the game, it almost feels like it did back in the 90′s when an aging Olajuwon, Drexler, and Elie simply could not keep pace with Payton, Kemp, and the Sonics.

  • The keys to this upcoming series against Portland will be Omer Asik and Patrick Beverley.  Several of you have been asking my opinion on whether McHale will open up with the Twin Towers.  To respond, I don’t think he will.  I think the team has settled into a groove and McHale won’t want to tinker with that chemistry by changing things up immediately.  If he replaces Jones before the ribbons are even cut, he will likely have lost the sophomore for the playoffs – young players have fragile self esteem.  But McHale will have a very quick hook.  If Aldridge gets going early, you’ll see Asik almost immediately.  And if Houston somehow drops Game 1 with Aldridge having a big game, I don’t have any doubts that McHale will then consider starting the Twin Towers from the opening tip.  Remember that last year against Oklahoma City, McHale showed that he isn’t averse to taking drastic measures, starting an ultra-small lineup with Patrick Beverley at the point.  
  • Patrick Beverley’s defense on Damian Lillard was one of the keys to Houston’s dominance over Portland this year.  My worry right now is that, so soon after the knee injury, Beverley’s lateral quickness may not be at the peak level that allows him to do what he does.
  • Houston’s ace in the hole is the ultra-small lineup they deployed in the comeback win against Portland which saw James Harden playing the power forward and guarding LaMarcus Aldridge.
  • I don’t want to be overconfident, but depending on Beverley’s health, I can see the Rockets sweeping these guys.  It could happen.  But most likely, I think Houston closes Portland out in 5.

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Total comments: 19
  • tombrokeoff says 3 months ago

    OKC Redhawks?

    lol

  • Steven says 3 months ago

    for some reason i thought this would be a tough fought, home team wins every game. im pretending to not be disappointed. been a houston sports fan since 91 and every year (outside of 94, 95) gets a little bit easier to deal with, i think. so much disappointment wrapped up in the rockets, oilers/texans, and ..... that other team .....forgot who they were. i think they played baseball in the NL.

    OKC Redhawks?
  • tombrokeoff says 3 months ago

    for some reason i thought this would be a tough fought, home team wins every game. im pretending to not be disappointed. been a houston sports fan since 91 and every year (outside of 94, 95) gets a little bit easier to deal with, i think. so much disappointment wrapped up in the rockets, oilers/texans, and ..... that other team .....forgot who they were. i think they played baseball in the NL.

  • feelingsupersonic says 3 months ago I see stark differences between the way Matthews has approached the two games versus how Harden has played and that's pretty telling.
  • tombrokeoff says 3 months ago

    Didn't know the difference in coaching would matter so much. Plus Beverly is hurt, while Portland is healthy.

    in hindsight, its very surprising to me that we won the season series. they absolutely dominate us at our two weakest positions. i personally dont blame anything on beverley being hurt. dwight has done a decent job, but our next 2 guys have been complete no shows.

  • Steven says 3 months ago

    funny how many people took the portland series for granted

    Didn't know the difference in coaching would matter so much. Plus Beverly is hurt, while Portland is healthy.
  • tombrokeoff says 3 months ago

    funny how many people took the portland series for granted

  • Buckko says 3 months ago

    Dwight's time to step up big time. Rockets in 5, hopefully, but I'm afraid it might go 7. Either way, the Rockets should win, setting up a battle with the Spurs. Regular season success means little against this team, and if it stays close, I can easily see Pop out dueling McHale. But, bottom line, Dwight can win this series as well, and if we steal one of the first two at SA, I like our chances of taking the series in 6.

    Against OKC or the Clippers? Everything I can think of tells me the Rockets have no chance. But, I saw a physically inferior Mavs team beat The Lakers and OKC convincingly a few years ago. Anything is possible.

    It's an exciting time.

    So yesterday during Truehoop TV Amin said the teams that win any season series 4 to 0 go on in the post season with a 51 and 4 record versus the losing team. Hmmmmmm... From FSS in the shoutbox

    Now it makes those regular season games feel a bit more significant.

    Even though the rockets get killed by OKC and LAC. I feel they do match up better with OKC.

  • SadLakerFan says 3 months ago Dwight's time to step up big time. Rockets in 5, hopefully, but I'm afraid it might go 7. Either way, the Rockets should win, setting up a battle with the Spurs. Regular season success means little against this team, and if it stays close, I can easily see Pop out dueling McHale. But, bottom line, Dwight can win this series as well, and if we steal one of the first two at SA, I like our chances of taking the series in 6.

    Against OKC or the Clippers? Everything I can think of tells me the Rockets have no chance. But, I saw a physically inferior Mavs team beat The Lakers and OKC convincingly a few years ago. Anything is possible.

    It's an exciting time.
  • SouthAustinDTH says 3 months ago

    I was saying the same thing just last night. The only thing, I hope Dallas winds up in the 8th; either MEM or DAL are fodder for cannon fire for SA, so who plays them is irrelevant (as is the obvious dominance HOU has shown over SA all year). No, where I want the big, bruising bodies of MEM going to work is against OKC. If their trajectory can be disrupted early, meeting them in the WCF may not be as difficult. HOU has dang near a golden paved road to WCF, but right now, it's likely got OKC or LAC waiting for them (OKC -- let's be honest); it sure would be nice to have them face a physically beleaguered when they arrive.

    To that end, I would rather SA face DAL, since they'll beat whoever anyway, as opposed to wasting a wrecking ball like MEM on a team we already know HOU can beat.

    HOU in 5 vs POR

    HOU in 6 vs SA

    WCF: HOU vs OKC

    (if OKC faced MEM) HOU in 7

    NBA FINALS: MIA vs HOU

  • Steven says 3 months ago Portland is terrible (cueing Charles Barkley). I will be mightily disappointed if they lose a single game.
  • tombrokeoff says 3 months ago

    i hope the Rockets sweep (or even win in 5), but I see this going 6 or 7 with Portland. Portland could have easily been a top 4 seed and I just dont see them rolling over in the first round.

    I also dont like the idea of Memphis upsetting SA and then the Rockets having to face the Griz. Eh, one series at a time. Plus there is no surefire, easy trip to the Finals. Especially not out West.

  • Buckko says 3 months ago

    Grind out series? You remember last year's WCF. SA has the size to guard Memphis and the IQ, spacing, and shooting to rip their defense apart.

  • PhillyCheese says 3 months ago

    The Suns run, but the Spurs are so deep, I don't think it matters. Plus playing the Suns will prepare them better when they play the Rockets. I also think a Suns-Spurs series will end quickly, buta Memphis-Spurs series could have a chance of becoming a long grind it out series.I think the Rockets playoffs are set up quite optimally.

  • Buckko says 3 months ago

    I wanted the suns to be 8th seed to wear down the spurs with their youth and speed. SA will kill Memphis like last year.

  • Joe says 3 months ago

    This is Dwight's time to shine. The talking heads will point to his sheer dominance at the conclusion of this series. He has posted 2K-esque numbers against Portland this season, and he'll be motivated to legitimize Houston as the championship contender he deemed them to be in the wake of "The Decision II". 5 years ago, he was alpha dog on a Finals squad. He knows what it takes.

  • chantu says 3 months ago

    I think the key to the success in the playoffs will be how well Bev's knee holds up. I know he thinks his knee is OK and it very well may be, but the playoffs will be a real grind. His knee is probably not 100% and that's just the way it's gonna be. Jlin will also have to step up. He needs to forget about the regular season's inconsistency, and just play.

  • majik19 says 3 months ago

    It really did set up almost too nicely for the Rockets. Memphis is a tougher matchup for the Spurs because they will definitely bang with them every night. I don't expect Memphis to win, but they will be able to batter the Spurs a bit. Portland isn't a physical team, so assuming we take care of business, we should be able to come out in good shape.

    Portland also lacks a true "wing stopper" (though Batum is pretty good) so Harden has destroyed them. I also don't think Harden will have to chase around anyone too much on defense - both Batum and Matthews can beat you, but neither is like JJ Reddick (who runs around constantly and is a great shooter). Harden should be able to be fully effective in this series.

    I don't think we'll sweep Portland - I think we'll take it in 6. I think we'll have one bad game where the 3's don't fall and we won't be able to compensate, and one bad game where the defense isn't focused (especially if we go up 3-0 or 3-1). Overall, I expect our defense to play better - a lot of our defensive trouble is focus, and if they can't focus in the playoffs, this team will never win. Hopefully we'll see the Chandler Parsons that went gangbusters on Kevin Durant a few weeks ago. If he's that guy throughout the playoffs, I think we have an excellent chance of getting to the Western Finals.

    I think Terence Jones may be the most interesting player to watch. How will he play in his first playoffs series with big minutes? Can he guard LA competently for 20-25 minutes a night? Will he finish games? Or will he be the guy who beats up on bad teams (none of those left out West) and shrinks against the good teams? I really have no idea what to expect from Jones.

  • Texan Ensemble says 3 months ago

    I quick series here is best case scenario, for obvious reasons....rest. While we are the third youngest team in the league, Beverly and Howard could use the rest for injury reasons, and Parsons and Harden were both in the top 10 in mins played. If we can get an extra 3-4 days of rest because Memphis takes the Spurs 6-7 games, that would be perfect.