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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