On McHale, perception

This was easily the most candid Kevin McHale had been all year during a postgame presser.  He spoke of crying after the first game of the year; of getting one hour of sleep after the Wolves game, re-watching it five times.  He said he asked himself why he had taken the job; said the group had initially been hard to coach.  After last week’s loss to the Wolves, a frustrated McHale met our questions with abrupt answers, wadding a paper at the end and hurling it across the room.  Tonight was McHale, raw and uncut, pouring out from the heart moments after an emotional win in an unlikely season.

Here the Rockets sit, at 20-14, heading into the break, where no one thought they could be.  They will likely make the playoffs. We heard the rumors.  That he was brought in as a ‘puppet’, a ‘yes-man’ to buy time for Chris Finch.  But Kevin McHale has done one of the best coaching jobs in the NBA this year, given the entirety of the circumstances.  He won’t win the award or even come close, but he should at least be commended.  He has his faults.  (One can’t too readily forgive the three or so games which were sacrificed due to ‘Scola-at-the-5.’)  But who can say he’d have this team where it is right now?  You can’t give him less than an A.

I spoke to another writer after the game and we both agreed that it wouldn’t be a shock if this team won a playoff series.  I never thought I’d think that.  But here they are, getting it done with a guy the Grizzlies tried their best to give away, a guy on [essentially] a one-year deal, a second round rookie, and two guys they already traded.  Remarkable.

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in essays

On this Sunday afternoon, as J.R. Smith floated his way around Madison Square Garden in his first game since returning from his self-imposed exile in the only country big enough to contain all of his persona, viewers could only grin, comforted by the fact that all was right again in our jangling, pieced-together NBA culture. While Earl chucked countless threes on his way toward fifty-plus scoring nights in a basketball land so brilliantly upside-down that Stephon Marbury both feels at home and seems to be a model citizen, the NBA wanted desperately for our screw-ups, our knuckleheads. So many eras have come and gone post-Jordan, overlapping over one another messily, that the time when tattoos and snarls dominated headlines as threats to society rather than eye-roll-worthy commonalities feels about as far away as China itself, but not too long ago, this was a league of thugs and rapscallions, let the right onlookers tell it. How did we move so far from the Time of the Ne’er Do Well, and what did we do with all of the flotsam since? [read more…]

in columns

Huq’s Pen: On a lot of things

If you hadn’t yet noticed, notes are filed under ‘Huq’s Pen’ simply when having no particular topic.  Much is on the agenda for today.

  • There are, ostensibly, two new members of the Houston Rockets as we speak.  Rookie forwards Marcus Morris and Greg Smith were each called up to the big leagues in the past week.  I chatted at length with Smith on Sunday and will catch up with Morris sometime tomorrow.  I’ll say this: that’s one young lockerroom.  Teammates ribbed the 20-year-old Smith on Sunday when first, he mistakenly sat in Courtney Lee’s chair, and then, sat in Jonny Flynn’s.  Remarked Flynn, while waiting patiently, “one good game and he’s taking our seats.”

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in columns

First, if it’s not already, my quick-hit recap for ESPN should be up here by tomorrow morning.  Check it out – just some quick notes on the game.

Forward Greg Smith had four blocks today in his NBA debut.  I’m trying to temper my expectations, but I’m excited – the kid looked pretty good in pre-season.  Smith is a full-grown 6’10 with a solid, solid base.  He’s not like some of these other young bigs that come into the league carrying just skin and bones.

Apart from what you heard above, I spoke to Smith for quite some time off-camera before the game.  He is real eager to finally show what he can do. Kevin McHale raved about his IQ in the presser, saying that Smith had been asking him about some of the plays they had learned in camp and whether they would still be running them.  That to me, in combination with the enthusiasm with which he spoke about the learning experience in the D-League, is what has me excited.  A lot of guys in this league–see Jordan Hill and Hasheem Thabeet–have the raw tools.  Few of them have basketball-IQ to match.  We’re already seeing Patrick Patterson make a huge impact just based on his court-smarts, even without any standout physical gifts.  Smith has both.  Let’s see what he can do.

in multimedia

This was an interesting sequence.  The Rockets run a side screen to get Kevin Martin open at the free throw line.  Tony Allen snuffs it out.  Martin hands it off to Parsons and Allen reacts, thinking he’s snuffed this play out too.  The only problem is that he makes a costly error.

The play is interesting because it places light upon a tradeoff.  Shane Battier might not have recovered over the Scola pick.  But had he been able to, he undoubtedly would have known Parsons’ strengths and would not have gotten over-agressive.  It leads one to wonder: is the cerebral defender who knows his personnel superior to the instinctual athletic specimen?

in multimedia