I have made it clear in past recaps and roundtables that I have real issues with certain aspects of this Rockets squad – their three-point shooting is not strong enough and they do not have enough size without Howard among other concerns. Even though Houston has the rarest and most important part of a championship team, a true MVP candidate, their flaws will likely prevent them from winning the championship this year. Nevertheless, I remain irritated that the Rockets continue to be overlooked as a championship team for reasons beyond said flaws. Even the Spurs, a team that has never looked this bad in the Duncan era, are given more credibility. The reason seems to be nothing more than a shallow declaration of how the Rockets are soft and Harden does not have “it” – just like Dirk did not have “it” before 2011 and LeBron before 2012.

Well, maybe winning 40 games before losing 20, Phil Jackson’s mark on what makes a contender, will change the tone. Only the Hawks, Warriors, and Grizzlies have accomplished the same, while Portland could at the time of this writing. And if that was not good enough, the Rockets did not have to ask Harden to shoulder everything tonight. The Beard was not the scoring machine that he usually is due to his sprained ankle, but Houston still prevailed over an inferior Brooklyn with a true team effort.

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Lineup data to this point

After seeing Houston pull away last night to start the fourth, my hypothesis was that the Rockets’ offense is at its best with Corey Brewer in the lineup.  I set NBA.com’s parameters to a minimum of 10 games played together, and found that the top Rockets quintet is Ariza/Harden/Motiejunas/Smith/Terry, with an offensive rating of 143 in 23 minutes together.  For lineups that have played at least 35 minutes together, the top quintet is Brewer/Harden/Motiejunas/Smith/Terry with an offensive rating of 127 in 36 minutes.  The common theme there is that the team seems to be at its best offensively with Motiejunas/Smith/Terry/Harden and a wing.

Strangely, defensively, for lineups that had played at least 35 minutes together, the stingiest unit was Ariza/Brewer/Jones/Smith/Terry with a defensive rating of 72.9 in 40 minutes of shared court time.  For lineups that have played 10 games together, the stingiest unit is Ariza/Brewer/Motiejunas/Smith/Terry with a defensive rating of 74.8 in 37 minutes player together.

Interesting to note above the glaring omissions of Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard.  And in Howard’s case, its not that he hasn’t played enough to qualify for the parameters – he can be found in some of the later units.

Obviously, small sample size alert.  And a lot is lost in the numbers.  But some of the combinations seem to meet the eye test.  Once a sufficiently sizable sample accumulates, I’m very curious to see how lineups with Terrence Jones fare in general to the other combinations.

in musings


James Harden might not have dropped a monster game on the Clippers, but he got something even more important: the second win against his hometown Clippers in his tenure with the Rockets. Even as the clock ran down and the Rockets led by double digits, Los Angeles refused to submit, coming back to within four as Houston escaped with a precious victory. The turning point of a close game was a breakout run by the Rockets bench in the fourth quarter, creating a gap that was just too wide for the Clippers to overcome. Even when Harden is struggling, even when Dwight Howard is missing, even against a team that seems to have their number, the Rockets were able to put it together for a national audience.

As heartening as this victory was for the team, there are still causes for concern. The Clippers were also without Blake Griffin, and the Rockets still seem to have no answer for J.J. Redick. Houston was lucky that he only did 15 points worth of damage given that he shot 50% from deep (and overall). Chris Paul will always get his, and DeAndre Jordan’s demolition should be curtailed somewhat when Dwight Howard returns, but Redick is a savvy player without the ball and a ruthless shooter when he does touch it. It’s good to know that the Rockets are physically able to beat the Clippers, but they still would be a tough out in the post season. And, of course, they’re currently slated to be Houston’s first round opponent, because the Western Conference can never stop being ridiculous.

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It was only a matter of time before Terrence Jones supplanted Joey Dorsey in the Houston starting lineup.  Since coming back from the nerve issues which derailed his start to the season, Jones has slowly rounded back into form into the player the Rockets hoped he would become.  On the year, he’s now averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in just 24 minutes per game.  Diving deeper into the numbers, we can see how Jones has done his damage.

While he’s shooting 64% from within less than five feet, Jones astoundingly is just 5 for 33 from the field for 15% on all jump shots.  He’s also made just 3 three pointers all season.  What’s more, Jones has taken just two corner threes all season, missing both.  I’ll have to watch more closely now that I’ve seen these numbers, but it seems the Rockets no longer want to use Jones as a ‘stretch 4’ and are allowing him to play a traditional role, to his strengths.  That would make sense: with Dwight Howard sidelined, and Donatas Motiejunas and Josh Smith (sort of) able to provide spacing, there isn’t really that much reason to worry about Jones clogging the paint.

I’ll be curious to see how things play out when Dwight returns.  If these trends continue, it might be indicative of a desire to keep Jones inside the paint at all times.  That would mean less court time with Dwight.

in musings

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Teams: Los Angeles Clippers @ Houston Rockets
Time: 7:00 p.m. CT
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Television: ESPN

Notes: Since Dwight Howard joined the Houston Rockets, they have not beaten the LA Clippers in six tries.  The primary reason?  James Harden.  Harden just can’t figure out how to score against the Clips.  He’s only averaged 17 PPG, shot just over 30% from the field and only about 10% of his 3’s.  In several of those games, JJ Redick has really caused problems for Harden on both ends of the floor.  But Harden also struggled when Redick was out, so I’ll be curious to see if it’s the match-ups that have slowed Harden or if it’s something scheme-wise that Doc Rivers is cooking up.

Howard has missed both games against the Clippers this season.  In his absence, DeAndre Jordan has given the Rockets fits.  He’s averaged a +/- of +17.5, with 15.5 PPG and 70% FG, 16.5 rebs (5 offensive), and 14.5 FTA.  Especially in the last game, in which Blake Griffin didn’t play, Jordan’s length and athleticism wreaked havoc on the boards, as he kept multiple possessions alive on offense.  And on defense he was downright Russell-ian, with 3 steals and 2 blocks, while keeping Harden and the Rockets out of the paint more than usual.   [read more…]

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