The 2011-12 Houston Rockets season ended with a healthy mix of crashing and burning. They held the playoff key in their hands for most of the last month, but instead of using it for their own gain, they decided to neatly present it as a generous gift for the Utah Jazz. Super cool.
But the season wasn’t a total waste of time, just as no year before it ever is. Since Christmas we learned so much about this cast of characters—one of the league’s most eclectic collection of cultural backgrounds and differing personalities. When the season began, first year coach Kevin McHale was given a roster that featured a pouting, highly paid one dimensional player who’d eventually find himself in a mini-power struggle with the All-Star caliber point guard, and a wild pack of young, underachieving athletes trying to make Houston their place of self-resuscitation. Over half the roster had either been left for dead by a past employer or had yet to find their niche in the league. To make matters worse, all of them were too young to know the first thing about correcting a problem they didn’t know how to identify. It wasn’t a good situation, but as the year wore on they played less like a group of individuals trying to change a personal reputation, and more like a cohesive team that trusted one another, played unselfishly on every possession, and ended up being pretty good at winning basketball games.
For whatever reason, the wheels unhinged from the wagon three quarters of its way over the season’s rickety bridge, and everybody fell off the side. The playoffs just weren’t meant to be. Here are my individual awards for a memorable season. [read more…]
First, I want to apologize. My finals begin next week, thus the lack of activity on the front page. Having said that, we’ve had some riveting discussion in the forums, much of it pertaining to Dwight Howard. Join us.
I started a post last night with the intent of dissecting the ‘Scola at the 5’ lineups in comparison to the other frontcourt options the team had. NBA.com has production breakdowns of every lineup combination for every team’s roster so I was looking into Scola-Patterson. I got overwhelmed and gave up. There was just simply too much information available. Lazy of me, I know, but I didn’t feel like spending an hour dissecting that stuff. But it’s all out there, and statistically at least, the Rockets know if that lineup decision McHale made so often actually hurt the team. From a visual observation standpoint, at least, it seemed to me–and I would think the majority of you–that it killed them.
The Rockets won, improving their playoff odds to higher than the 2.3% it stood at this afternoon. We’ll need to keep an eye on the development with Phoenix and Utah, but for tonight, in my eyes, the big story was the benching of Kyle Lowry. The team’s former MVP did not see a single minute in the second half. We asked McHale about this and, as you just heard, he responded, he was “just trying to win a game.” We did not get a chance to talk to Kyle.
Also interesting were McHale’s comments on Marcus Morris. They provide a little bit of insight into why Morris may not have gotten much time this season. If you joined me on Twitter, I raved about Morris’ offensive arsenal after the forward scored six points in the second quarter including a beautiful turnaround from the corner. I asked McHale about Morris’ stint tonight, expecting a positive response, but instead, he pointed out the mental errors the rookie forward made on the defensive end.
I see offense. But McHale, needing to win, can’t afford defensive miscues. Mental lapses might be the one thing coaches tolerate least. That’s why guys like Shane Battier and Patrick Patterson (this year) are still held in such high esteem despite their apparent offensive inabilities.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Lowry. Tonight, combined with the shouting match during the Denver game, combined with the Dragic free agency situation makes me think it’s a safe bet Kyle will be dealt in the offseason.
Dry salt lies fresh in Houston’s open wound, and what I’d like to do right now— place the NBA’s postseason on its rightful pedestal—could sting a bit. The playoffs are an accomplishment and should be treated as such. This is about advancing to a second season, solidifying yourself among the league’s top half, and guaranteeing a chance at winning a championship. Opening yourself up to a different level of good will, competition, and public exposure, both on an individual level as players, and as a franchise, in my opinion, outweighs everything.
For just a second, try to ignore the connection between merit and losing that exists in today’s NBA. Ignore any good that comes by virtue of tanking. Ignore draft picks, renovation, and hope. What I want to do is forget about the future, and analyze what just happened. Before their loss in New Orleans on Thursday night, I said on Twitter all week that I believed the Rockets were mortal locks to make the postseason. The idea was unpopular, but after watching almost every game this team played all year, it seemed more than likely. These guys weren’t a typical annual feel good story line; pawns straggling along in some hopeless underdog narrative. Yes, they faced tons of adversity, and defied almost every conceivable odd in doing so, but regardless this team was good. They played hard, they played together, and they played with more talent than they’ll probably ever be recognized for. [read more…]
Quick programming notice for those who’ve seen the “Notes on a String”: I’m going to be shifting this column’s nature over to that of an all-purpose notebook column, more like the “Rockets Daily” column of olden times. Now that you’ve been reprogrammed, read up.
In a sweet bit of formality amidst a year full of informal sabotage, Dwight Howard finally decided to be a sweetheart and kill this season after slowly torturing it like a Takashi Miike villain in every face-palmingly obtuse way possible by shutting dow n his season thanks to back surgery. Firstly, the Indiana Pacers may thank their lucky stars that, though they may have only had to face a Magic team that was such (a team) in name only, they avoided even a diluted, half-hearted version of this league’s second-best player, given the matchup problems Howard has created for Indiana’s Ent-like Roy Hibbert thanks to his speed and agility in comparison to Hibbert’s… not those things. Secondly, at least Van Gundy will get to go out with his head held high, unworried about stepping on the notoriously fragile toes of this organization’s “franchise player” (who has shown no interest in this franchise beyond this obligatory upcoming year) and free to rant, fulminate and generally stew on the Orlando sideline to his heart’s content while wondering which new team he’ll have overachieving come next winter. Most importantly, though, is the actual reasoning behind all of this; the difference between a self firebombing and an actual back injury, the kind that lingers for years and hinders mobility to no end (which fans of both Houston and this Orlando team probably know), is vast and could change the future of not just this team, but this league. Either the league’s best big man has been injured in a way that might permanently affect his game and impact, or the league’s biggest primadonna just pulled one of the most brazen power moves in recent sports history; either way, this announcement mattered more than an impact on the outcome a series between a three and six seed. [read more…]