Preview: Bulls @ Rockets

The Bulls arrive in Houston as part of their annual Circus Road Trip, when their home floor is turned into a big tent and they have to take what is usually an obscenely long tour of the country by NBA standards. This year it’s a mercifully short 5 games, of which the Rockets are the fourth. They will be looking to bounce back after bad losses to the Clippers and Blazers, and come in with a couple of days rest. The Rockets, on the other hand, looked tired and beaten down in their loss to the Jazz on Monday night, and have only had one night off to recover. It remains to be seen whether James Harden can recover from the illness that beset him during that game.

Lineups:

There’s a glaring hole in the Chicago Bulls lineup where Derrick Rose should be. This team is basically treading water until he can get back, hoping to stay afloat in the comparatively uncompetitive Eastern Conference without him. And they still boast the core of the great team of the past few seasons – Hamilton, Deng, Boozer and Noah all return as starters from last year, and Gibson is still there coming off the bench and providing great defence. But the rest of the team has been assembled on the cheap from the free agent market. Aging veteran Kirk Hinrich starts at the point, with Nate Robinson coming off the bench to provide a bit his usual scoring. Marco Belinelli can come in for three point shooting, and Nazr Mohammed is still hanging around in the league providing backup big man minutes. The one young player to break his way into the rotation of what is otherwise a very old team is Jimmy Butler, who in his second year has looked good in limited minutes.

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Searching for Linsanity

When Daryl Morey offered Jeremy Lin a back-loaded 3-years $25 million contract this offseason, the move generated both controversy and excitement amongst Rocket fans. Were the Rockets getting a bargain on a potential star player with international appeal who had taken the league by storm over the span of a few weeks of “Linsanity” or had they just overpaid for a mediocre turnover-prone point guard with no jump shot? While it is far too early to definitively evaluate Lin’s season (let alone his NBA career), early signs suggest that, as is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in-between these two extremes.

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Marcus Morris has been killing it

 

Look at those numbers!  The man so many declared a bust last season is shooting 49% overall this year and 40% on threes!  Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 17.3 points and 7.9 boards.  At the moment, Morris is far and away this team’s second best offensive weapon.

Also noteworthy is the rebounding rate.  Morris is getting 12% of the available rebounds while he’s on the floor.  Patrick Patterson is getting 9% of the available rebounds.  (By comparison, Omer Asik grabs 20% of available rebounds.)  I’m not sure how much value that comparison holds as Patterson shares more court-time with Asik and also plays more against first-stringers…but it’s something to note.






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How defenses are dealing with James Harden

James Harden is an efficienct game plan in human form. Taking into account his ability to attack the rim, shoot with accuracy from anywhere on the court, live at the free-throw line (and make free-throws), and actuate an opposing defense with potent penetration and smart decisions, he excels at everything you want from a guard in today’s NBA.

The same people who’re unsatisfied with his offensive game would ask for more money after winning the lottery. It isn’t perfect because, well, he’s still technically a human being. But it’s damn near close.

 

Harden’s offense is genius in that the results are predictable, yet the defense is still helpless as he’s about to do what everyone in the gym already expects. Despite shooting an embarrassingly low 27.9% on three-pointers, defenses still have to treat his range honestly, knowing an early season shooting slump could melt away in a matter of seconds.

According to Hoopdata.com, only 4.1 of his 18.9 shots per game come from 3-23 feet, an absolutely astounding figure. All of his action either comes at the rim or behind the three-point line. Part of this is by design: Harden’s a smart player who—I’m guessing—understands the value of a three-pointer over an 18 foot jump shot, just as drawing contact at the hoop is more helpful than settling on a floater in the paint.

This isn’t to say Harden can’t shoot mid-range shots, it’s just that they aren’t a great component of his game. He’s smart enough to recognize that the value of this shot isn’t nearly as great as the other two options when extrapolated over the course of an entire season.

How do you guard James Harden? A fair answer might be “you don’t.” But let’s take a look at how opposing coaching staffs have tried, however futile they may currently be. [read more…]






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Utah Jazz 102, Houston Rockets 91

I hate Utah.

I’m 22 years old, and Stockton’s 3 is my very first clear memory in my life.  While I generally had some interest in basketball throughout my life, I became truly devoted with the Yao-McGrady Rockets – where they repeatedly ran into the one team which frustrated that team that was supposed to lead us to the promised land twice.  In my eyes, Utah is evil.  Whether it is Kirilenko flops or Malone elbows or Stockton nut shots, even this completely different Jazz team is always the enemy – just as the Cowboys will be the enemy even when Jerry Jones is six feet under.

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