On Harden, Battier, and the bench

  • Last night was not the first time that James Harden has dominated a player after having been shut down by that player in a previous matchup.  Off the top of my head, this happened against Andre Iguodala, in Harden’s inaugural year with Houston, and also Wes Mathews this year, to name a few opponents.  It’s like clockwork.  A menacing defender forces Harden into a rough shooting night, maybe even blocking him a few times.  Everyone, including even me (sometimes), then responds saying that said defender is just too physically imposing for the 6’5 Harden.  And then Harden kills him.  It makes you, and really made me think, particularly on this occasion.  You don’t really realize how much hard work a guy like Harden puts in behind the scenes.  They, and he, aren’t advertising the hell out of his practice sessions the way that sort of thing is done with other guys around the league, like Kobe.  But for a 6’5 guy who isn’t that athletic to have become maybe the most unstoppable one-on-one force in the entire league…there is clearly quite a bit of attention to detail going in.  Harden is probably in the film room, analyzing tendencies, and seeing what adjustments need to be made.  Whatever it is, he came out and made maybe the single best wing defender in all of basketball look downright silly last night in the second quarter, putting him on skates on at least three possessions in like a ten minute frame.  It was something to behold.

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in columns

No Dwight Howard? No problem.

The reoccurrence of Dwight Howard’s knee injury will keep him out of action for at least one month, likely much longer. For Rockets fans, still haunted by the limping spectres of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, Howard’s injury seems like a latest iteration of a basketball jinx.

Once they shake off their collective gut punch, however, Rockets fans will see that losing Howard isn’t as consequential as it might seem. Former backup center and current starting power forward, Donatas Motiejunas, has quietly established himself as a capable (and maybe even superior) replacement. In this article, I examine how Motiejunas compares to Howard in their shot defense, shooting, and passing.

(read full article at Vantage Sports)

in musings

The Houston Rockets have plenty  of problems, but a lackluster bench isn’t one of them any more. After months, even years of struggling to put competitive talent on the floor for all 48 minutes a night, the Rockets have found a group that’s not just taking the load off the starters, but taking on good teams and coming out ahead. The bench clamped down on defense and hustled out to an 18 point lead while James Harden rested, which is a confluence of events so good that it had to be offset by four weeks of injury rest for Dwight Howard.

With Howard out, the Rockets are doubling down on defense and tonight they ramped up the effort in a game that was, on balance, tough and brutal. The Rockets shot 41% from the field and 30% from three point range and still led by double digits for much of the game. Joakim Noah had a career-high 19 rebounds, but made only a single point in a truly bizarre outing. Taj Gibson was the only Bull off the bench who had anything like a good night, and he played 30 of the 64 bench minutes for the team. The Rockets, on the other hand, used almost half again as many minutes for their bench unit, clocking in at a clean 90. Nobody played more than 36 minutes, the win was comfortable, and Dwight Howard is one game closer to health.

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in game coverage

McGuire: The ghost of Tracy McGrady is looming over, if not outright haunting, Dwight Howard. Let us not forget that while it was 2008-09 when T-Mac’s knees and body fell completely apart, I remember that there were concerns about his knee the previous season – a season where he led the Rockets to that great 22 game winning streak and six games against the Utah Jazz. Knees in the NBA rarely get completely better.

We know that Dwight Howard is going to miss a month as he deals with his right knee again, and we know how badly Houston needs even a limited Howard. Saturday against Detroit was evidence enough, as Drummond and Monroe just overpowered Houston’s remaining bigs.

So how worried are you about Dwight Howard for both this season and long-term? There is no way that Houston will ever trade Howard, so let’s not even talk about that. But how are the Rockets going to adjust over these next few weeks against other teams with strong big men?

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in conversations
  • If this were last year, I’d have immediately available at my fingertips pinpointed data demonstrative of why and how Patrick Beverley has been a disaster defensively during this recent stretch.  But Synergy no longer provides its service to bloggers, so I’m left with trends from last season and my mind’s attempt to patch together the eye test.  Why is Beverley getting roasted just about every night nowadays?  Last year’s data revealed that he struggled against the pick and roll, so maybe teams are using that against him more.  Maybe he’s still injured, but still defending just as aggressively, and getting burned instead of backing off a bit the way most guys would.  I don’t know what it is, but coupled with his abysmal shooting numbers (Beverley has shot 35% on 3’s in both January and February), the team is basically playing 4 on 1 whenever he is on the court.  You could posit that he’s injured, and will revert to his normal self, but do you want to commit long term money to a guy who is seemingly always injured and a guy who apparently requires peak physical condition for effectiveness?  The situation sucks because 1) I said months ago that Beverley was the perfect fit next to Harden, 2) the team desperately needs an upgrade at the point guard spot, 3) I don’t know if they’ll retain him, and 4) how could they retain him?  In failing to sign Chris Bosh, Houston prolonged the holding pattern they’ve been in for what seems like perpetuity whereby they can’t extend anyone for the preservation of flexibility.  That’ll be the case again with Beverley, and if they let him go, that’s yet another piece of the nucleus I thought they were building upon, gone.  Until the Rockets find that “third star”, they’re not going to be able to focus on continuity.

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in columns