It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance at the standings (or Forrest’s game preview) to know that tonight’s game was one of the most important of the season so far. Portland are the most serious challengers for the 8th seed the Rockets currently occupy, and in addition are 2-0 up in the season series. To keep the Blazers at bay and their chances of splitting the tie-breaker alive, it was critical that they get the W tonight. For the Rockets, Delfino returned to active duty after missing a game with an injured left elbow. It sounds as though it’s an issue that will continue to dog Delfino throughout the rest of the season – this may lead to him missing the occasional game in future. The Trailblazers came in with Batum nursing a bruised wrist, but otherwise their regulars were all healthy (a few fringe players – Sasha Pavlovic and Ronny Price – are out for them).
Superstarden – ESPN explains what James Harden’s performance against the Heat says about his place in the league. Also, Shane Battier discusses the difference between Harden’s struggles in the Finals versus his success now:
“We were able to hone in on what he was able to do and take some of it away,” Heat forward Shane Battier said.
“No one had done it, and I think it frustrated him a little. Probably the only thing that is different now is his freedom. You give any talented player freedom in this league and that player is much more dangerous. He’s the franchise guy, and he plays with a tremendous amount of confidence. He’ll take any shot at any time and, as a defender, those are the most dangerous guys.”
Playoffs?! – ESPN Insider breaks down the West playoff race. The simulations have the Rockets taking the seventh seed:
So if the Lakers make the playoffs, whom will they knock out? The Hollinger Odds say Utah on the basis of Houston’s superior point differential — including a 45-point Rockets win in Salt Lake City last week that skewed the recent numbers for both teams. Even taking that out, Houston has still outscored opponents by 2.0 points per game while the Jazz would have a plus-0.4 differential. Consider the Rockets the favorites to make up the 1.5 games that separate them in the standings and finish seventh.
After the break: Zen Beard.
For the third time this season, the Houston Rockets will face off against the Portland Trail Blazers, this time in Houston. Somehow, both times these two teams met ended in overtime contests. The Rockets have yet to win in overtime against any team, and find themselves needing to get a win to pull the season series to 2-1 in Portland’s favor, and a chance to tie the series by season’s end. The Blazers sit just a single game behind the Rockets, waiting in the 9th seed to grab Houston’s playoff spot, making this contest a must-win for Houston.
Money Matters – ESPN Insider took a look at how superstars’ salaries compared to their WARP (wins above replacement player). Predictably, LeBron and Durant play at a level that is nearly double their contract value. The next six guys whose value rates as higher than their contract are:
Russell Westbrook ($25.5 million on-court value)
Chris Paul ($24.8 million on-court value)
James Harden ($22.6 million on-court value)
Stephen Curry ($21.5 million on-court value)
Blake Griffin ($20.7 million on-court value)
Tim Duncan ($20.3 million on-court value)
That’s another way of saying Harden is a top-five player. Long live the Beard.
Rivals – The fact that the Rockets passed on Kawhi Leonard to draft Marcus Morris will always be a sore subject for me. But the fact that Morey later picked Parsons in the same draft (almost) makes up for it. 5-on-5 debates Kawhi v. Chandler, and here’s one of the pro-Parsons takes:
Frankel: Parsons. He might be the most underrated dunker in the NBA this side of Alonzo Gee. Hopefully we can get a few “Chandler Bang!” calls on Friday night.
Still, the writers took Leonard in a 3-2 decision. Anyone else seeing parallels to Rocky here?