Houston fell back into the model they toyed with the first half of the season; that being the Jekyll and Hyde variety. You remember, down one quarter with an effort that was extremely lacking, then they would mercurially shoot the lights out, run and look like an elite team. The Rockets in the first half of the season could not put a whole game together, and they would have lost tonight’s game. They haven’t lost a game that they should have won in a long time and that’s why this game was so depressing…until there were about 4 minutes left to play. Of course the second quarter was amazing, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take it from the top.
The Rockets came out in the first quarter and tanked it. Yes, they have the excuse of Howard and Beverley not playing, and it looked like T Jones was anything but 100%, but come on. Houston shot 25% from the field in the first and were lucky to only be down by 5 at the end of the frame. No one could hit. They looked lethargic and Harden had a very slow start. Good thing the Rockets got to the line so much or this would have been a blow out (more on that later).
One month ago, Dwight Howard went up against an Oklahoma City frontcourt which had little more than rookie center Steven Adams as well as the too thin Serge Ibaka. Yet despite the seemingly obvious advantages, he had a disastrous game, scoring just 9 points on 4-12 shooting. Rahat was incredibly worried about the result of that game, as he argued that the inability of Howard to dominate players which he should seemingly dominate like Adams or DeAndre Jordan boded poorly for Houston’s chances of a title, both over the short and long term.
That may or may not be true. But over the extremely short term like tonight? With Howard continuing to rest his ankle? James Harden did show up. He did dominate. He dropped 39 points, and showed up with crossover after tomahawk slam after 3 pointer after free throw and so on and so on. Combine that with Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia hounding Durant like they did so much during the 2013 playoffs, and it was the Thunder player who was traded here that willed the Rockets to an absolutely crucial victory. Just 24 hours ago, Houston was worried about losing their hard-fought home court advantage to the suddenly surging Portland Trailblazers. Now? With a win over the Thunder to make 50, a secured playoff spot, Portland losing to Phoenix tonight, and a upcoming creampuff schedule which has Houston facing only one playoff team ( although it is San Antonio) over the final 7 games? Fortune is a fickle mistress, but as of this moment, it appears that she has chosen to favor the Rockets after all.
Terrence Jones is an interesting basketball player. Really talented. Really exciting. Really young. He not-so-coincidentally plays extremely well in wins and not so great in losses—dumb but true: Jones shoots nearly 60% from the floor when Houston wins, and just above 40% when they lose—but symbolizes a brighter tomorrow. Is the hope valid? Or is Jones an overreaching product of his environment? Rahat and I talked it over via e-mail this week, discussing Jones’s value, productivity, future, and more. Enjoy. Read More »
Behind the Scenes - ESPN put together a panel to rank the different aspects of all 30 NBA front offices from 0-10. The rankings started with the total front office experience and then broke down into the specific positions within the group, starting with owners. The rest of the positions will be done later in the week. The Rockets front office was ranked seventh with a score of 7.1, well behind the first place Spurs at 9.45.
San Antonio is the obvious choice for number one. Greg Poppovich is one of the league’s biggest assets and RC Buford has consistently kept a contender around Tim Duncan. Their owner, Peter Holt, is very hands-off and has been content to let smarter people than he run the basketball operations while he polishes his rings. The rest of the teams ahead of Houston are, for the most part, hard to argue against. The Heat have Pat Riley, the Mavs have Mark Cuban’s particular brand of enthusiasm and Rick Carlisle, and the Pacers have Larry Legend. The two teams directly in front of Houston, however, are a little more curious.
I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of all NBA franchises, but I do know that Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has been staunchly against pushing his team salary into the tax threshold despite playing in one of the biggest markets in the Association and having a pseudo-contender built around a former MVP for the past several years. But they do have Tom Thibodeau. And the Celtics were ready to run Danny Ainge out of town before his ole pal Kevin McHale gift-wrapped Kevin Garnett for him and saved his job. Brad Stevens is a nice coach and could turn out to be great, but it’s a little early to give him too much credence. Read More »
I don’t really have much to say about last night’s loss. As Forrest Walker put it in our recap, the Houston Rockets just need to do a better job of having Dwight Howard. As we’ve seen in these past few losses, for all of Omer Asik’s beastliness on the boards, with him in the middle, this Rockets team is, for the most part, mediocre. With Howard, for all of the bitching I do on this page regarding his failure to produce against elite competition, this outfit is a borderline contender. The task now will be to surround Howard and Harden with the last complementary piece that will allow them to challenge the Thunders of the world.
One thing I did see last night of which I’d like to see more: James Harden in the post. We’ve seen it a few fleeting times these past two seasons, almost like the spotting of the Yeti, only to not again get a steady dose.
Late in the second, Harden started with the ball up top. He passed it off, curled around below the baseline, re-received the rock, backed down and hit the turnaround over a slightly taller defender. The few times I’ve seen Harden in the post, he’s looked not-so-surprisingly deft. This is one of the two or three most gifted offensive talents in the entire league, at just 24 years of age. There are facets of his game which have yet to have been tapped which I think we will see develop over the next few years. With his touch, dexterity, and imposing beer belly*, there are few wingmen who should be able to handle Harden down low.
I’d like to this in spots late in games. The conventional wisdom (well maybe not the conventional wisdom, but the conventional wisdom in certain circles) is that the post-up is a low efficiency option. There could be merit to that. But the problem with having Harden up top for successive plays is that things get predictable – we often see the defense begin crowding him, stuffing out the play. When I rant about Heroball, people think I’m against Harden having the ball altogether. That’s incorrect. I want Harden to either be the end point or the facilitator for every single possession down the stretch of a close game. (I was livid when McHale inexplicably had Chandler Parsons try to create for himself on successive plays in an earlier loss to Memphis.) What I don’t want is to see a 1-4 flat on every trip down. That allows the defense to settle in. Put Harden in different spots. Run a 1-2 pick&roll. Hand it off to him at the elbow. Bring him around for a dump off in the post. He’s such a frighteningly gifted player that you can use him in a multitude of ways, never allowing the defense to get comfortable.
*Whenever I mention Harden’s beer belly on Twitter, several of you respond with indignation, citing various pre-draft leaping measurements, wingspan statistics. Whatever. The point is, he’s not exactly an underwear model and that’s a good thing. I’m wary of guys like Dwyane Wade that rely abundantly on their physical gifts. Give me a fat guy that can straight up ball 10 times out of 10, and I’ll watch him age gracefully into his mid-30′s and still kill defenders with stepbacks and pivot jabs.
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Michael Pina John Eby Forrest Walker John Wilmes Robert Dover Paul McGuire Richard Li Justin Wehr Eric Nielsen