Behind the Scenes - Last week, ESPN ranked all 30 NBA front offices as a whole, and then broke them down into owners, GM/Presidents and coaches. We already discussed owners, so now, the decision makers. Daryl Morey ranked about as high as you would expect, coming in fifth.
There’s not a whole lot of argument to be made about Morey’s placement. No one has taken the route that Morey did to get this high on this list, and I doubt anyone else could have accomplished what he did, the way he did it. But the four decision-makers ahead of him are all very good at their jobs and have had more success than the Rockets head-honcho. As for the head coach rankings, some holes could be punched in the list in defense of Kevin McHale’s mediocre rank of 13th.
As I said when discussing the overall rankings last week, Brad Stevens was a smart hire for the Celtics and may very well end up a great coach, but to already be calling him the 11th best coach in the league is an insult to the rest of the Association. The man is (understandably) 23-54 for his career thus far, so you can’t call his ranking anything more than a guess.
And as for Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers, his guys started off as the hottest team in the league for two months before a second-half swoon has left them fighting to hold onto the 5-seed. A second-half collapse for the Blazers might sound familiar because it’s exactly what they did last season under Stotts. The Blazers were fighting for a playoff spot at 25-23 last spring before floundering to an 8-26 record the rest of the way. But sure, I guess there could be a case to be made that he’s the 8th best coach in the league in there somewhere.
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As the season draws to a close and the excitement of the Playoffs looms just around the corner, the Houston Rockets and their fans are entering into a bizarre, gray space. This is a place reserved almost exclusively for teams good enough to sit near the top of the standings (and teams that aren’t tanking but miss the playoffs badly), and is one of the few downsides of such a season. The Rockets are passing into limbo, a period of time in which the games don’t matter. It won’t last long, it won’t be very exciting, and it’s easy to get frustrated. The thing to remember is that everything is fine… even if they drop some games you think they shouldn’t.
Heading into Monday morning, the Rockets sit atop a pile of 51 wins (and 25 losses), the last win coming from a strange limbo meeting with the Denver Nuggets. The Rockets are two losses behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the third spot and three losses ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for the five seed. Due to how many games each team has left, this means that the Rockets are all but locked into the 4 seed. There are games left, and there are wins to tally, but the consequences are all but gone. This is the void. This is the calm, and the storm isn’t coming for 13 days.
Houston fell back into the model they toyed with the first half of the season; that being the Jekyll and Hyde variety. You remember, down one quarter with an effort that was extremely lacking, then they would mercurially shoot the lights out, run and look like an elite team. The Rockets in the first half of the season could not put a whole game together, and they would have lost tonight’s game. They haven’t lost a game that they should have won in a long time and that’s why this game was so depressing…until there were about 4 minutes left to play. Of course the second quarter was amazing, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take it from the top.
The Rockets came out in the first quarter and tanked it. Yes, they have the excuse of Howard and Beverley not playing, and it looked like T Jones was anything but 100%, but come on. Houston shot 25% from the field in the first and were lucky to only be down by 5 at the end of the frame. No one could hit. They looked lethargic and Harden had a very slow start. Good thing the Rockets got to the line so much or this would have been a blow out (more on that later).
One month ago, Dwight Howard went up against an Oklahoma City frontcourt which had little more than rookie center Steven Adams as well as the too thin Serge Ibaka. Yet despite the seemingly obvious advantages, he had a disastrous game, scoring just 9 points on 4-12 shooting. Rahat was incredibly worried about the result of that game, as he argued that the inability of Howard to dominate players which he should seemingly dominate like Adams or DeAndre Jordan boded poorly for Houston’s chances of a title, both over the short and long term.
That may or may not be true. But over the extremely short term like tonight? With Howard continuing to rest his ankle? James Harden did show up. He did dominate. He dropped 39 points, and showed up with crossover after tomahawk slam after 3 pointer after free throw and so on and so on. Combine that with Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia hounding Durant like they did so much during the 2013 playoffs, and it was the Thunder player who was traded here that willed the Rockets to an absolutely crucial victory. Just 24 hours ago, Houston was worried about losing their hard-fought home court advantage to the suddenly surging Portland Trailblazers. Now? With a win over the Thunder to make 50, a secured playoff spot, Portland losing to Phoenix tonight, and a upcoming creampuff schedule which has Houston facing only one playoff team ( although it is San Antonio) over the final 7 games? Fortune is a fickle mistress, but as of this moment, it appears that she has chosen to favor the Rockets after all.
Terrence Jones is an interesting basketball player. Really talented. Really exciting. Really young. He not-so-coincidentally plays extremely well in wins and not so great in losses—dumb but true: Jones shoots nearly 60% from the floor when Houston wins, and just above 40% when they lose—but symbolizes a brighter tomorrow. Is the hope valid? Or is Jones an overreaching product of his environment? Rahat and I talked it over via e-mail this week, discussing Jones’s value, productivity, future, and more. Enjoy. Read More