Rockets Roundup: 01/21/15

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

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

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

Sports On Earth. Rockets starting to take off.

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

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

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

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

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in conversations
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Looking at Harden against the Warriors

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

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in musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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