Taking a look at the schedule

The one interesting thing in August has happened: the NBA schedule was released last week. Now that we all have the full schedule at our fingertips, it’s time to take a look at Houston’s slate of games and check for items of note. There are always peculiarities to the schedule each year, and this one is no different. Back to backs are back, the Mavs are in for a nasty surprise, and there’s a surprise that’s not so surprising.

How many back to backs are there in this schedule? That’s a good question and it’s one of the first ones people ask. This year there are twenty sets of them for Houston, a fairly unremarkable number. They have nineteen games against teams on the second night of a back to back, so it’s not a huge factor. There are two instances of four games in five nights, one right before the All-Star Break (with another back to back immediately after the break) with another four in five spanning the end of March and the beginning of April.

What this means for Houston is that they won’t be particularly fatigued. The first year of Harden, the 2012-2013 season, contained a horrifying gauntlet of back to back and four in fives, something that really put a damper on the team at the end of the calendar year. This year, like the 2013-2014 season, is lighter on the endurance trials, something the Rockets should be relatively thankful for.

The Dallas Mavericks, however, are getting the opposite of a Christmas present from Houston. As division rivals, the two teams square off four times. The new and improved Mavs get four shots to exact revenge for Chandler Parsons against his old team… except that they’re on the tail end of a back to back every time. The Rockets are also on the second night of a back to back… the last time. The previous three, Houston will have the endurance advantage every time. That’s good news for a team that needs every advantage they can get in a brutal division. On a related note, two of Houston’s meetings with San Antonio come on the second day of a back to back for the Spurs.

The biggest non surprise is that the Rockets’ schedule starts out nasty, as always. The period before the All-Star Break is noticeably tougher than the period after, which features a lot fewer second-round teams. November may be a smooth start, but December and February in particular look to be unpleasant stretches of road for a Rockets team hoping to prove the world wrong.

Next time we’ll look at what the schedule means for Houston’s win-loss record, and I’ll give the best predictions I can. The numbers might surprise you, just like whatever insane trade Daryl Morey’s lining up will.

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The Red94 Podcast: The most boring episode so far

Today’s was one of the more underwhelming episodes we’ve had in some time, with not much going on, but we did discuss the impact the Team USA experience might have on James Harden.  Also, you know how when the battery in a fire alarm gets close to dying and so the alarm keeps beeping intermittently?  Yeah, that is going on right now in my apartment, where this was recorded.

Download this episode (right click and save)

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On contention

There are about four questions that people ask over the course of the NBA season. “How does he compare to Jordan” is probably number one, asked about seemingly half the league, with “Will this team make the playoffs soon” at a close number two. The last two, in no particular order are “Will this player get traded” and “Is this team a contender.” Well, Houston’s more or less a playoff lock now, nobody on the team is comparable to Jordan, and everyone is always on the trading block, so that leaves the last question to burn in the minds of Rockets fans. But what makes a contender in the first place? What’s the rubric there, and how do we use it to judge Houston?

To jump to the end a bit, the answer is no. The Rockets aren’t a true contender. (They could potentially win it all but it would take a few major things to swing their way. Some people call these teams “sub-contenders.”) They were in the same boat last year, and probably aren’t greatly different in terms of overall team strength. They’ve changed out parts but what they haven’t changed out are the pieces that a team needs to win it all: stars, elite coaching and cohesive, skilled role-players.

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Houston Rockets’ summer assignment list: Part 2, James Harden

Read Part 1 where I discussed Pat Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas, and Trevor Ariza.

James Harden:  First, the obvious – Harden needs to show commitment on the defensive end.  It’s simple, really.  This team doesn’t have a chance until its star player brings consistent effort on both sides of the ball, though the Parsons/Ariza swap should mitigate the problem and increase their odds.  As I told a reader last week, when asked my thoughts regarding the reports of Harden’s defense with Team USA, it’s not an issue of ability with The Beard.  It’s the same “too cool for school” mentality that you see so prevalently in any pickup game amongst amateurs.  Certain people think they’re just too cool, or too good to try defensively, and that they can just get the points back on the other end.  Odd considering how much the defensive greatness of Michael Jordan and Lebron James, the two best players of the last thirty years, is lauded and pointed out.

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Houston Rockets’ summer assignment list: Part 1

The summer before I began third grade, my mother resolved to teach me multiplication before commencement of classes.  I taped the entire ‘times tables’ onto my closet door, every morning drilling through the combinations.  By early August, I had them down cold.  I finished the year with something like a ’99′ average in ‘math’, more importantly developing a reputation as a ‘times’ assassin amongst my peers.  We’d play a game in ‘math’–the name escapes me–where all of the students sat in a circle, with one standing up behind someone else.  The pair would battle, getting a multiplication question, with the winner advancing to the next pairing.  I’d absolutely kill it.  9×9.  Boom.  81.  6×5.  Boom.  30.  They didn’t have a chance.  My self esteem was soaring.

Looking back, my mother and I never did this again in any other summer and consequently, I never again enjoyed such a head start over my classmates.  My mother will tell you it was obstinance on my part.  But I wonder what made me so driven that one year.  The point of this story was to attempt to tie in the larger moral that success is built in the heat of July, or something poetic like that.  For NBA players, the greats always come back one notch better having added a new move in their spare time.  The middle class works on flaws, hoping to either take the next step or not get swallowed up by the most competitive labor force in America.

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