The Rockets and the bullies

Everyone says that brain beats brawn. The saying is “mind over matter,” Psychic type beats Fighting type, and any other platitudes and aphorisms offer succor to the underweight but overbrained kids of the world. That same theory supposedly applies to the NBA, a place where Moneyball is sometimes Moreyball and three pointers are always good. But what about in practice? When push comes to shove, push comes to shove on the court, and another truism takes precedence for the Houston Rockets.

Might makes right.

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On the case for including Chandler Parsons in a Carmelo Anthony trade

Forum moderator John Gold had an interesting take last week in response to my thoughts on a proposed Carmelo Anthony deal to the Rockets.  He says that while the conventional wisdom dictates that the team would most likely include budding power forward Terrence Jones in an Anthony deal (along with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin), the Rockets would be wise to include critically acclaimed supermodel Chandler Parsons in lieu of Jones.

While I disagree with Gold’s take that Jones’ upside is higher than Parsons’, I would have to agree with his overall thesis regarding Parsons’ worth, a belief I’ve been forming since late last season.

First, on Jones: I’m not as high on him as most seem to be.  To wit, he’s been marvelous in filling the role he’s been asked to fill.  But as I’ve said numerous times, I don’t trust him in a playoff series against the big boys, and when I look at him, I don’t see the budding All-Star everyone else sees.  He doesn’t have the elite indicators you’d look for in a young player to prognosticate high level growth.  He’s average athletically (what makes him look so above-average in this department, at times, is above average length.  Watch him fail to get anything around the rim against the likes of Ibaka and you’ll realize his weaknesses), has dreadful form on his jumpshot, and makes all of his moves as the result of muscle memory motion.* (More on this below.)  In fact, his best chance at taking his game to another level is re-working the mechanics on his jumpshot so that he can be dependable from anywhere a la Carl Landry.  Unfortunately, it’s very rare for an NBA player to put in that kind of effort.  (Players work on their shots, sure, but it’s a rare thing to change form. )  What has made Jones such a revelation this season is his ability to fill in the gaps: he runs the floor hard, cuts hard, and has good hands; he’s the perfect role player to fill the open spaces created by the massive presence of Dwight Howard.  When those things are taken away, because he has little in a vacuum, he struggles against the big boys.

*Next time you’re playing pick-up, unless its at a ridiculously high level, notice that 99% of the guys do some of the same moves every time, regardless of the situation.  Everyone has a pet move they do, and they’ve done it so many times it’s become second nature.  The problem is when you do that some motion every single time.  It indicates that that player is not really thinking but just acting involuntarily.  That’s the case with Terrence Jones and that crossover.  When he’s on the perimeter, he’s going to just bust out that same crossover dribble, regardless of the second line of defense.  (A fascinating point Steve Nash made in the recent Bill Simmons podcast was that he felt Amare didn’t really make the big leap until he started reading the second line of defense later in his career, because he had never learned how to play the game properly growing up.  Jones can learn too but Amare is one of the hardest working athletes in the NBA and was also in the top 1% athletically…)  Now watch James Harden, or any point guard.  They make moves with their mind, not their muscle memory.  They do different things based on different situations.  I digress: this post was supposed to be about Chandler Parsons.

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A look at the Houston Rockets’ schedule for the week of February 9 through February 16

The Houston Rockets start the week out tomorrow with a game at Charlotte against the Bobcats regarding which, in normal times, I’d be very afraid.  But while disappointing losses against the Thunder, Bulls, and Heat proved this team isn’t yet a legit, legit contender, the team’s overall dominance since the New Year has sufficed to indicate that at the least, they have turned a corner.  They are no longer in the business of dropping games to inferior opponents.  That in itself is a pretty big accomplishment (though these recent late-game collapses are rather disturbing.)

The team then comes back home on Thursday to face the 76ers in a game which should be over by the four minute mark of the first quarter.  For all of the ridicule that Philly has endured this season regarding their season, I’d submit that apart from the top teams in basketball, no club has pursued a more rational course of action during the past twelve months than the 76ers.  I haven’t kept up, but after widespread negativity and skepticism on behalf of the mainstream Philadelphia press following the Hinkie hire during the summer, I’d be curious to know if that tune has stayed consistent.  Only a fool would prefer the hopeless mediocrity presented by the 76ers’ prior makeup to the prospect of adding two top selections in next summer’s draft with Nerlens Noel also in tow.  But fools are abundant – as those reading this page are well aware, even Houston GM Daryl Morey didn’t start reaping praise here locally until Dwight Howard was secured, despite years and years of shrewd maneuvers leading up to the coup.

Finally, on Saturday, the Clippers will come to town in a game televised on NBAtv regarding which I’m not holding my breath.  If they win, I’ll be pleasantly surprised and will take it from there; if they lose, it will be par for the course with this matchup.

A glance at the current standings reveals the eight teams sitting in the single, lone layout which stands as Houston’s best chance at reaching the Western Conference Finals.  The Rockets are presently at 4th, with Portland at 5th and the Spurs at 1st.  Not only does that layout allow Houston to avoid the Thunder/Clippers for as long as possible, but it also delays potential matchups against Golden State, Memphis, and Dallas, all three of whom I consider far more dangerous than Portland, especially the former two.  I’d even go so far as to say that I’m more scared of the Warriors and Grizzlies than I am of the Spurs.

I laid out last week why a deal for Carmelo Anthony this summer was a no-brainer and nothing would do more to plant the seed in his mind that the Rockets were just an inch away from the title than a trip to the WCF (other than a trip to the Finals, of course).  If the current standings hold course, maybe Hell-week, which deflated so many hopes–including those of yours truly–wasn’t so bad after all.  We can only hope.

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Houston Rockets 118, Cleveland Cavaliers 111 – All’s well that ends poorly

With three quarters in the books in Cleveland, the Houston Rockets had scored 101 points and led the Cavaliers by 22 points.  After three quarters of dominance, the Rockets let their foot off the gas as the Cavaliers floored it for all they were worth. The effect was awkward, spotty, and hard to watch from all angles, as an accelerating Cavs team still sputtered and clanked along the way. The Rockets’ deep bench was unable to keep up with the energy of Cleveland and nearly fell apart late. The buffer the starters had built proved strong enough, and the Rockets made it out of Cleveland in one piece.

The biggest takeaway from this, as with all the games against losing teams of late, is that the Rockets are putting away the teams they need to put away. In the early going, an extended spurt of activity, a bout of intensity or just a hot hand from a lottery team could spell doom for the Rockets. The chemistry was half-mixed, the sets were still coming together, and the effort was spotty. Now, the Rockets threw away an entire quarter and still cruised to a win. Most notably, the effort is there, even though there’s little at stake.

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Houston Rockets 129, Minnesota Timberwolves 106 – Balance of power

The Rockets were handed the benefit of the schedule tonight as the Minnesota Timberwolves came into town off the back of an overtime game against Dallas the night before. Though the Timberwolves came out of the gates quickly, they faded noticeably as the game went on and the Rockets slowly but surely pushed the game out of reach. In their second consecutive clinical showing, the battle hardening that comes from playing a string of playoff contenders was in full evidence – the team played efficiently and from the moment they drew level in the second quarter the result never really seemed in doubt. A very balanced attack (7 players in double figures) and some hot shooting from behind the arc allowed them to blast their way to 129 points, and it’s difficult to lose if you can put that many on the board in regulation.

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