To rest or not to rest?

With two games to go before the playoffs, the Houston Rockets face a quandary. Should head coach Kevin McHale rest his starters (and key bench players) for these last two games? If so, how much? Perhaps most importantly, how does Portland’s overtime win over Golden State figure into it? Some teams will simply shut down before the playoffs while some bear down on the starters. Which path will the Rockets take, and more importantly, which path should they take?

As far as predicting the next couple games, the safe bet is on minutes for the starters. McHale has never been shy when it comes to minutes load, and it seems unlikely that he would change that up for two games. Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard were on a minutes restriction after returning from their respective injuries. That minutes restriction took exactly one game to get blown out of the water when the Rockets needed contributions from them late in a tight game against the depleted Pelicans. McHale might surprise, but the safe money is on a playoff rotation for the next two games.

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Houston Rockets 111, New Orleans Pelicans 104: 15 to 0 run finishes the Pelicans

This game really mattered.  After a run of games with Howard and Beverley hurt, the Rockets hold on the 4th seed was slipping. They were 5 and 5 in their last ten and their momentum late in the season seemed to be slipping away.  It wasn’t looking good for Houston for most of the game.  The Pelicans were playing without seven players tonight, but they led most of the game and were up by 11 with 9:20 left on the clock.  That’s when the Rockets woke up.  Desperate to get something going (and with Parsons out with hip and wrist ailments) McHale went with a line up of Harden, Lin, Beverley, Daniels and Howard.  That was the line up that finished the game on a 15 to 0 run to close it out.

This game was important.  McHale had mentioned that Howard and Beverley were going to get 20 minutes.  Howard played 29 and Beverley played 33 and they were the difference.  Beverley is the true heart of this team and having him back on the floor changes the intensity level of the rest of the Rockets.  After missing 8 games, the Red Bull hit 4 threes and had 14 points in the 4th quarter.  His back to back 3’s with two minutes left were mercurial.

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Minnesota Timberwolves 112, Houston Rockets 110: Is it Lebron? Is it Durant? No, it’s…Corey Brewer?!

The Rockets have very little to show from tonight’s performance. They played lackadaisically for much of the game, the starters didn’t get any rest and they didn’t even get a win to show for it as the Timberwolves pulled out the victory on the back of Gorgui Dieng’s late game-winner. With the playoffs coming up, you want to keep your starters fresh, but tonight’s game was a masterclass in not doing that as McHale elected to play Harden 46 minutes and Parsons 43. This is the sort of game that the Rockets should not be having at this stage of the season. Either your team should be ironing out the last kinks before the playoffs come around or wrapping your stars in cotton wool. Houston did neither. I can only hope they don’t come to regret it.

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Huq’s Pen: On Greg Smith

  • In a move that came as a bit of a shock (to use that term loosely), the Rockets announced yesterday that they had waived forward/center Greg Smith and signed center Dexter Pittman to replace him for the remainder of the year.  First, before I dive into the obituary on Smith, a funny story on Pittman: our days at the 40 acres collided, though I can’t remember for how long and in what year.  That in and of itself is depressing.  In any event, one day, word spread that campus legend Vince Young was on site at Gregory gym.  Naturally, myself and a few trusted colleagues headed over to check out the scene.  (If it comes as odd to you that anyone would interrupt their daily schedule to see Young, realize that this was a) before it was realized that he isn’t a very good quarterback at the professional level and b) this was on the 40 acres where the man stands behind only maybe Jesus Christ and Elvis Pressley as the most significant figures in human history.)  Young and his entourage were partaking in a game of pickup on the main center court, much to the delight of a massive crowd of onlookers.  Pittman was part of the aforementioned entourage.  I can’t remember who else.  Maybe T.J Ford?  In any event, Young played it safe the entire game, launching lazy perimeter jumpers but at one point went crashing down after absorbing contact from a driving Pittman.  Young turned and remarked to the crowd, “damn, that’s a big boy.”  That’s it; that was the story.  Slow news day.
  • I swear I have a post somewhere, specifically about Greg Smith where I devote at least half of it to a monologue about how difficult it is to forecast young players because the likelihood of success is so small.  I’m serious, I wrote about this but can’t find it.  Anyways, wow – this is why you just can never feel safe about player projection.  It is hard to succeed in the NBA – it is hard.  We don’t fully appreciate that.  I said in the other Smith piece–and probably put it much more succinctly–we often look at ten year vets who never amounted to much and deride them dismissively as “scrubs”…and while they may not rank highly on the NBA totem pole, in the job market, lasting ten years in one of the most highly specialized workforces in the entire global economy is damn impressive.  Now, to be sure, Smith isn’t going to flame out completely.  He’ll catch on somewhere quickly.  But the greater point stands.  We too often see a tantalizing stretch of play and assume long-term extrapolation as a guarantee.  After that game last year where Smith outplayed Dwight Howard (the irony) to the tune of like 20 and 10, how many of you thought Smith was the team’s future at center?  At the least, how many of you thought he’d be a long term fixture in the team’s rotation?  Had I told you after that night, or hell, after the end of last year when Smith closed out the season at power forward next to Asik helping the team to a sparkling overall +/-, that Smith would be outright waived in less than a year’s time (in favor of Dexter Pittman of all people), it might have come as hard to believe.  But this is the NBA, man.  It’s hard to succeed.

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Denver Nuggets 123, Houston Rockets 116: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

If there was such a thing as a schedule loss, tonight was it.  The Rockets were playing in Denver, having played another late game the night before in Los Angeles, which thus meant that they lost an hour through time zones.  If that was not bad enough, Denver, a team which has plenty of energetic bigs who love to run like Kenneth Faried and Jan Vesely, was a terrible fit for a Houston team with such a thin frontcourt.  Combine that with Randy Foye going off against Houston like a mixture of Jason Terry and Jordan, and hey, there’s nothing that can be done, right?

If viewed solely from the perspective of wins and losses, perhaps.  But tonight was a test about whether Houston could have just a little fortitude and come one step closer to securing that home court advantage they have fought all season for.  But at the very end, it was not the Houston players who will be playing in the playoffs who showed toughness, but rather the D-League players fighting for their next contract who nearly pulled off a miraculous victory.

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