Houston Rockets @ San Antonio Spurs – January 11, 2012 7:30PM

The gist: The Rockets, albeit ugly, won their first road game against the Bobcats, 82-70. The Spurs, on the other hand are coming off a 106-103 road loss to the Bucks but remain an impeccable 6-0 at the AT&T Center. TJ Ford (strained left hamstring) and Manu Ginobili (broken left hand) are the casualties for this game.

Key matchup: Chandler Parsons vs Richard Jefferson

Jefferson has been blistering from outside, converting on 56.1% treys this season. If Parsons gets the starting nod again tonight over Chase Budinger, he will have to do two things: (1) close out Jefferson from the arc and (2) make his free throws, as he is shooting a Chris Dudley-like 20% for the season.

X-factor: Kevin Martin

While Martin has been a pedestrian 40.7% from the field, he torched the Spurs in their last outing, gunning 10/17 for 25 points.

Code Red: For all the reps the Rockets have been getting as an offensive juggernaut, the Spurs are fourth in scoring, averaging 100.9 points thanks to streaky downtown shooting and unselfish basketball. The Rockets cannot expect to trade baskets, especially knowing that they are on the road.

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Rapid Reaction: Houston Rockets 82, Charlotte Bobcats 70

Houston Rockets82Final
Recap | Box Score
70Charlotte Bobcats
Luis Scola, PF 29 MIN | 4-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | +12

The normally consistent Scola finally had a down game, but I suppose that’s excusable. Boris Diaw is a BEAST.

Chandler Parsons, F 31 MIN | 9-16 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 20 PTS | +7

After the Bobcats cut it to 5 with just under 3 minutes left, Parsons hit a huge three, then a fallaway two in the corner. After Kemba Walker came back with a jumper of his own, Parsons put it on the floor and finished with a nifty reverse lay-up. He was the team’s closer tonight, leading them in scoring and playing an all-around great game. It’s good to see Morey’s found yet another ruby searching through second round sewage.

Samuel Dalembert, C 26 MIN | 2-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 6 PTS | +18

Dalembert was solid on the defensive end, but saw a bit of trouble against Byron Mullens, who led the Bobcats in scoring.

Kevin Martin, SG 42 MIN | 5-19 FG | 5-6 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 17 PTS | +11

Martin had a terrible shooting night, and managed 17 of the ugliest points you’ll ever see.

Kyle Lowry, PG 41 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-3 FT | 11 REB | 8 AST | 6 PTS | +19

It was weird to watch Lowry not look for his shot tonight. He finished second on the team in rebounds and had a respectable number of assists, but the results didn’t feel like his triple double flirtations of the past.

Goran Dragic, PG 12 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 5 PTS | -6

Dragic just didn’t bring it tonight. From the start he looked wobbly, finishing with 3 turnovers and 1 assist in 12 minutes. With the Spurs coming to town tomorrow night, Dragic’s lack of sobriety forced McHale to play Lowry over 40 minutes.

Three Things We Saw

  1. This may have been the most repulsive excuse for a professional basketball game the league’s put on display this season. Was the lockout a possible reason for it? Maybe. The two defenses heading into tonight’s game ranked at the NBA’s bottom, yet Houston shot 38.6% and Charlotte 34.1%. Offense simply did not want to show its face.
  2. The Rockets had 22 turnovers, but Luis Scola was called for traveling 97 times. Weird.
  3. As gross as things were, the Rockets won the basketball game, and did so with their second round draft pick leading the team in scoring, and closing the game down the stretch. That’s great news as the team prepares for its eventual major roster turnover next season.

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Houston Rockets @ Charlotte Bobcats – January 10, 2012 6:00PM

The gist: The Rockets are still winless on the road and are losers of their last four outings. The Bobcats have dropped their last three, the most recent coming off a loss in Madison Square Garden when they allowed the Knicks’ starting lineup to combine for 88 points.

Key matchup: Luis Scola vs Boris Diaw

Despite having one too many hors d’oeuvers, Diaw can still produce if the defenses slack of him, as it was evident in their two meetings with the Knicks. With a defensive slouch like Scola, don’t be surprised with Diaw runs amok and gets his share of numbers across the board.

X-factor: Jordan Hill

Kevin McHale has chided the Rockets for a lack of road intensity. To be able to compete with gusto, energy must come from the big man, McHale’s students of the game. There are no more excuses for allowing hosting opponents to crush the Rockets with an average of 110.2 points a game. It starts with post defense.

Code Red: D.J. Augustin is surprisingly the Bobcats’ top scorer but he is shooting well under 40% from the field. If he suddenly gets his act together in this game, the Rockets will be in trouble.

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Hooplaw: Game Time vs. Jail Time

Below is legal analysis of Kyle Lowry’s predicament according to a local criminal defense attorney, Joel Hayter:

Kyle Lowry’s misdemeanor battery charge in Nevada will likely not seriously interfere with his game time.  Although he faces up to six months in jail if convicted, this does not necessarily mean he will be out for the season.  Sure, this would happen if he were to plead guilty at his court date in February and get sentenced to the full six months right then and there.  But he will no doubt spend some money on a good criminal defense lawyer.  Besides the possibility of having a misdemeanor conviction on his record, missing game time will be a concern that Lowry and his lawyer will take into consideration.

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Does Daryl Morey’s focus on stats cause him to overvalue offense?

Last night, espn.com’s recap headline for the Lakers/Memphis game read “Kobe led Lakers beat Grizz.” In the game, Kobe led all scorers with 26 points. While I’m not disputing the fact that Mr. Bryant is and has been the unequivocal leader of the men in purple and gold, his scoring is not the only reason why the Lakers won this or any of their games. In that particular contest, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol gathered 15 rebounds apiece and held Pau’s brother to 2 points on 0-9 shooting.

It’s easy for us as fans to focus only on offense because high flying dunks, circus lay-ups, and contested threes are the moments we remember and talk about when the games and seasons are over, and as we get even nerdier with box score dissections, most of what’s easiest to measure are offensive stats because these plays largely are a result of individual successes.

Defense on the other hand is much more difficult to quantify. A center rotating to cut off a driving lane, an expert close-out, a timely double-team, or a flawless switch are mostly subjective distinctions. A defensive player can guard his man perfectly and still watch 35 points fall easily in front of him. The effect of defense is more cumulative and more often the result of how teammates work together (especially now that the zone is no longer illegal) than of how well a single player performs.

I’m not Daryl Morey. I’ve never been inside the Rockets’ team offices or facilities nor have I laid eyes on the specific stats the team collects. But I am a huge nerd for this sport and have tried myself to put numbers to the affect/value of individual players’ contributions on the court, and without question, the sheer volume of available offensive data far exceeds the number and reliability of defensive stats.

Since Morey became the Rockets’ general manager in 2007, the team’s effective acquisitions, players who’ve received at least 10 minutes a game for a season (not including this season), have been as follows: Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Meta World Peace, Trevor Ariza, Von Wafer, Kyle Lowry, David Anderson, Brent Barry, Jordan Hill, Kevin Martin, Brad Miller, Courtney Lee, Patrick Patterson, and Chase Budinger. Among those 15, only four are decidedly good defenders, and 9 of the 15 offer only offensive contributions, actively hurting the team on defense.

This trend is consistent with Houston’s attempted moves as well, from the overnight Chris Bosh courting, to our toothless interest in Carmelo Anthony, to the failed Gasol trade, to the team’s rumored interest in Nene. The Rockets’ front office seems to place significant value on players with high-powered offensive skill sets, regardless of their defensive acumen.

Each consecutive year that Daryl Morey has been the Rockets’ GM, the team’s defense has gotten worse. Houston so far this season has ranked dead last in opponents’ field goal percentage, allowing opposing teams to convert on 49% of their attempts. John Hollinger’s more advanced team defensive efficiency rating places the Rockets second to last, just barely edging out Charlotte.

Decision making in an NBA front office is a complicated process, I’m sure, and many factors must certainly weigh into a team’s philosophy on a small and large scale. When Morey took over the Rockets, Houston had the 3rd stingiest defense in the league and was in desperate need of offensive production from anyone not wearing 1’s on their jerseys. Adelman is an obviously offensively minded coach who must have worked closely with the front office in most, if not all, personnel decisions. The team was built around the expectation that Yao and T-Mac would actually play out their primes, and when they didn’t, their complimentary parts had to become what disparate, broken pieces never can.

I wonder if Morey is like me in that when comparing Carmelo and KG, he might privilege Melo’s spectacular numbers because, like diamonds, they sure do look pretty. But also like diamonds they sure do cost a lot and don’t serve much of a practical purpose.

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