Tuesday night in Atlanta, the Houston Rockets were missing suspended James Harden and injured Dwight Howard, on the road, against the best team in the Eastern Conference.  They didn’t win, but if Daryl Morey has taught me anything, it’s that this isn’t always a results-based program.

Although not through the NBA’s typical scheduling process, this was as much of a “schedule loss” as the Rockets will face all season.  And yet, Kevin McHale had Morey’s motley crew kicking and clawing (and for a long stretch, beating) the East-leading Hawks.  But when things slowed down in the fourth, and the Rockets couldn’t get out on the break, Atlanta choked-out Houston’s wily offense and put the game away.

The Rockets missed Harden, definitely, but it’s not like they were punchless.   [read more…]

in game coverage

The chess match: Clippers vs Rockets


A popular opinion I’ve seen expressed is that the Rockets’ game against the Cavaliers on Sunday was their most entertaining of the season. While it has a strong case, for sheer strategic richness my vote has to go to another game played in the last week – their matchup with the Clippers. Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan are a lethal pick-and-roll tandem and Doc Rivers has designed plenty of different ways for them to unlock their potential. On the other side of the court, the Rockets have been doing a great job on the defensive end this season and had a number of different approaches to defending it. It all added up to a riveting cat-and-mouse game, and in this post I’m going to play it back and show you how the two teams continually tried to outsmart each other by shifting their strategies.

[read more…]

in essays

James Harden vs. Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady’s best year in a Rockets uniform came in 2004-2005, his first in Houston, when he was 25 years old.  McGrady averaged 25.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on the year.  He shot 43% overall, 33% on 3’s, and 47% on 2’s.  He got to the line for 7.1 free throw attempts per game.  By comparison, James Harden this season, at age 25, is averaging 27.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game.  Harden is shooting 45% overall, 38% on 3’s, and 49% on 2’s.  He’s getting to the line 9.6 times per game.

McGrady turned the ball over 9.5 times per 100 possessions; Harden’s rate is at 15.3.  Each player has a usage percentage of 31% for the respective years in question.

McGrady shot 37% of his field goals from between 16 feet and the 3 point line, at an accuracy rate of 44%.  His next highest attempted area was from beyond the 3 point line, where he took 26% of his attempts, at 33%, as aforementioned.  Harden, on the other hand, takes 38% of his shots from beyond the 3 point line, shooting them at 38%.  Harden’s next highest attempted area is at the rim where he takes 31% of his shots, with a 62% accuracy rate.  (McGrady shot 57% at the rim in ’05).  Also, Harden takes only 13% of his shots from between 16 feet and the 3 point line, McGrady’s favorite area on the court.  Harden is shooting 34% from that area.

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in musings

No big deal here, it was just the most exciting and meaningful Rockets win of the season. LeBron James and his Cavaliers super team just happened to swing by and deliver the most intense and scrappy battle Houston has seen this year, and James Harden just happened to deliver item number seven thousand in his ever-growing MVP resume. It was pure coincidence that this game went to overtime, giving the world five more minutes to watch two of the best players in the world literally struggle against one another. And, somehow, in the end, the game came down to free throw shooting, but not in the way you might think.

This was a fun, tight, exciting game throughout the first half, with neither team gaining a double digit lead. And then the third quarter started, and Patrick Beverley tried to take a charge against LeBron James. That it was eventually called as a blocking foul was immaterial. The ensuing scuffle, however, set a tone that would persist throughout the remainder of the game. As LeBron James fell to the floor, he placed his hand on Beverley’s chest, something which Patrick seemed to take objection to. A shouting match upgraded to some kind of mass scuffle, and double techs were issued. The game was back on.

And then things got intense.

[read more…]

in game coverage

Screenshot 2015-03-01 10.47.06

Five games in seven nights, including three in a row against three of the strongest finals contenders in the league.  The East’s representative in late May will surely be one of Cleveland or Atlanta.  Take note that the game against Cleveland today will begin at 2:30, rather than the 6PM listed originally on the Rockets’ web site, as it was picked up by ABC.

The Cavs will be without Kyrie Irving, but are just as dangerous, with Lebron James on a mission.  After his performance last week against the Warriors, one can expect James to take similar aim at the Rockets’ James Harden.

That Tuesday/Wednesday back to back will be murderous, and Houston would have to feel good about even getting a split.  And then, with a back to back against Detroit and Denver, in games you would expect the team to win, the fear is that the exhaustion from the week will reflect in the results.

Screenshot 2015-03-01 11.00.09

Having now gone 7-3 in their last ten, and winning four straight, the Rockets have put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack, a feat truly remarkable considering their injury status.  Houston could even conceivably catch Memphis, with just two games separating the teams.  But they’ll have to get through this week first, and that will truly be a test.

in from the editor