The Rockets are coming off a 108-99 loss to the Lakers and a 117-89 dismantling at the hands of the Clippers. Our analysts assess the situation.
- I want to clarify: this upcoming declaration is not rooted in baseless, reactionary compulsions. After a couple of weeks of blistering basketball, I’m prepared to claim that I think the Portland Trailblazers look like the team to beat coming out of the Western Conference. In no other organization out West remains such a collection of roster depth, superstar-level talent, experienced and battle-tested coaching, infinitely rich ownership and a beyond healthy home-court advantage, and none of that even takes into account changes to the team’s general makeup that have pushed it over the edge from “possible contender” to “frontrunner” status this season. While the addition of Jamal Crawford may have seemed short-sighted to those of us NBA observers who knew all of his gunning, relentlessly frustrating limitations, the Blazers appeared well aware of the dynamism his long-range shooting and playmaking abilities would bring to this squad, one which seemed destined to cause damage in last year’s playoffs prior to a surprising exit at the hands of the soon-to-be-champion Dallas Mavericks. Bizarrely enough, the Mavs’ title team represents the ideal template for what Portland could do deep into this year’s abbreviated season: a pick-and-pop attack based around a dangerous outside shooter of a big man strong and large enough to punish any undersized defender that would dare take his post-up abilities for granted, surrounded by top-rate shooters (although, as Zach Lowe pointed out, taking an unhealthy amount of deep two-pointers) and a wing who can operate on the perimeter, on the block or gobbling up offensive rebounds. Given the addition of Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby’s enduring presence in the middle, the parallels to Dallas’ miracle struggle toward the ring run through and throughout, except for a couple of key differences that are actually in Portland’s favor: speed and youth. While Dallas’ multi-pronged assault from the pick-and-roll came at other teams slowly and methodically, the Blazers, easily the slowest team in basketball throughout the Brandon Roy era, power the ball across the floor, playing at the league’s fourth-fastest pace in this short season (Dallas played the league’s 19th fastest pace last year and 10th in the playoffs). The replacement of Andre Miller with Raymond Felton has allowed the latter to test any opposing team’s transition defense when given an opportunity, of which he was spotted many by a seemingly step-slow Lakers D Thursday night. This change has given a team that had a solid, well grounded half-court attack a new offensive weapon that just might be the difference between this campaign and past ones come postseason time. As for youth, Portland’s top eight players in terms of minutes played, outside of the two veteran centers Thomas and Camby, are all under the age of 32, and that number drops to 30 when X-factor Crawford is excised. The Blazers look like everything a title team should be: stout on defense, solid in the half-court and explosive on the break, with depth and a superstar capable of dragging them out of logjams. Don’t be surprised if this year’s Western Conference title runs through that noisy Rose Garden that America just saw bother the Los Angeles Lakers to no end.
I’ve seen a lot of bad basketball players during my time watching the Houston Rockets. They’re usually raw big men forced into playing the game due to their innate gifts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a point guard quite as bad as Jonny Flynn. When watching him play, I almost have to wonder if he’s ever even seen the team’s playbook.
For those of you who have not yet suffered the misfortune of watching Jonny Flynn attempt to run the Houston Rockets’ offense, I’ve broken down his play with a handy diagram:
Gazing at Chase Budinger the other night, and two questions popped into my head: 1) Why is he so much fun to watch? 2) How does he stay on the court long enough for me to enjoy it? Neither sounds complimentary, but both questions are meant in the most positive possible way.
Budinger is a joy to watch because of his puzzling ability to be productive in the never ending days and nights of NBA action. He has the look, skill, and demeanor of an All-Universe volleyball player, yet something about him belongs in the most competitive basketball league known to man. (Two nights ago he wasn’t shy in letting Metta World Peace know where he might find L.A.’s tastiest cheeseburger). Read More