The Rockets and the bullies

Everyone says that brain beats brawn. The saying is “mind over matter,” Psychic type beats Fighting type, and any other platitudes and aphorisms offer succor to the underweight but overbrained kids of the world. That same theory supposedly applies to the NBA, a place where Moneyball is sometimes Moreyball and three pointers are always good. But what about in practice? When push comes to shove, push comes to shove on the court, and another truism takes precedence for the Houston Rockets.

Might makes right.

Think back to school. There’s a reason that we tell the brainy kids that computer nerds make millions. The reason we advertise the future is because the present is pretty bleak. The bruisers bruise and the twerps get swirlies. The same story is true for the Rockets, a team that’s all about trying to play a metagame while some opponents are playing mosh pit. Why are the Rockets so vulnerable to bullies and how do they stop them?

Several teams in the NBA use raw size and power to manhandle their opponents. The Indiana Pacers and the Memphis Grizzlies rank high among them, but this category also includes the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls, the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. All of these teams feature big, physical players, with the odd inclusion of the Miami Heat, a team who plays small but beats you up at a high level.Roy Hibbert from Indiana, Marc Gasol from Memphis, Kendrick Perkins from OKC, Joakim Noah from Chicago and Andrew Bogut from Oakland all patrol the paint and lay out punishment. DeAndre Jordan is the odd man out, and he’s still willing to get physical down low despite his middling defense.

These teams present the axis of failure for the Rockets, a grouping against which the Rockets have 7 wins and 10 losses. In fact, this group includes the only teams the Rockets have losing records against, with the exception of the Philadelphia 76ers (who are 1-0 against Houston on the backs of a bizarre early season overtime game that’s hard to even comprehend at this point). The formula for beating the Rockets is pretty simple: run them off the three point line and crush them to paste inside. They might take a lot of free throws, but that’s not going to hurt you because they’re 29th in the league at it.

This issue, in fact, is one part of why the Rockets shoot more free throws than any other team. The first factor is, obviously, that they prioritize free throws. They’re high-percentage shots with no opposing defense and no time off the clock. Players like James Harden willfully leap into the teeth of the opposition defense, happy to try for that silly foul. The problem with this is that it’s dependant upon the referees’ whims and styles, which change from day to day. If the ref gets tired of sending Howard to the line every possession, Marc Gasol then gets to shove him in the back even more. That’s not cheating, it’s just the reality of the game.

The Rockets also have Dwight Howard, a player who’s a magnet for free throws. Not only does he shoot them badly, but he’s notoriously easy to frustrate with intense physicality. The whole Rockets team shares this, and other teams know it. They’re liable to foul when the Rockets offense comes barreling down, but poor free throw shooters do little stop other teams from simply hacking to save themselves.

The burden is not on these teams to stop hacking and shoving, nor is it on the NBA to change the rules or the way they enforce them. The obligation is on the Rockets to adapt to this reality of the game. If there were some sort of magic foul robot which could know exactly what was a foul and what was not, the Rockets would rejoice and prepare for a deep playoff run. Humans, however, are the best we have in this world, meaning that if other teams are going to work the refs and work the Rockets over, the Rockets have to work on their own game.

Sometimes, the only way to fight fire is with fire. There’s been progress on this front, as the Rockets seem to spend less time being frustrated by what they feel are bad calls and more time getting angry about it. Bullying is harmful and cruel in our world, but in the world of the NBA, it’s just the imposing of will through physical means. Dwight Howard, in particular, needs to continue to learn that if someone elbows you in the back, you should probably elbow back, but preferably when the ref isn’t looking.If anyone can teach that kind of resilience, retribution and rage, it’s head coach Kevin McHale. Let’s just hope the Rockets keep listening.

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Total comments: 12
  • Drew in Abilene says 4 months ago

    Drew I think we discussed this in another thread saying that we would be more than happy to keep Asik and we're seeing the benefits now!

    I remember that! I understood why many wanted to ship him off, but I love that he stayed! I think he's going to be crucial this postseason.

  • TeamBall says 4 months ago

    I totally concur that we got bullied by physical teams such as IND, OKC and LAC. We just played out of sorts like a bullied kid.

    However, we should make the bully pay by aggressively attacking the paint and get more high probability FTs.

    Instead of shying away from mid-range Js, Harden and Lin can be quite effective with those uncontested mid-range Js.

  • YaoMan says 4 months ago

    He certainly does. This is exactly why I was thrilled that Houston didn't trade Asik this season. He's also been rounding into form in the last couple of weeks, which should help us match up with some of the more physical teams. Glad to have you here on the forum!

    Drew I think we discussed this in another thread saying that we would be more than happy to keep Asik and we're seeing the benefits now!

  • YaoMan says 4 months ago

    I disagree with the premise of this article, particularly with Forrest's list of 'physical teams'. He listed:

    Indiana

    Memphis

    Chicago

    Miami

    Golden State

    Oklahoma City

    LA Clippers

    Now, the first three definitely belong in this category, but I don't agree with any of the others.

    - Miami are a team that beats you with their quickness and anticipation, not their strength.

    - Golden State are keyed off the defensive excellence of Iguodala, who blends his physical and mental tools well. Bogut is a curmugeonly distraction, not the reason the Warriors beat you with their defence.

    - Oklahoma City do have great rim protection in Ibaka and some rugged post defenders in Perkins and Adams. So maybe you have a point there, although I would argue that they are not a team defined by defensive physicality, merely a team with an excellent defence.

    - The LA Clippers have big players, but not physical players. Blake Griffin isn't as soft as everyone says he is (and obviously both he and DeAndre are incredible athletic specimens) but nevertheless they are not a team that attempts to overwhelm you with physicality. Explosive speed and hops maybe, but not defensive wrestling.

    It feels as though you've just picked all the teams we've struggled against and tried to find a unifying theme rather than the other way around, that's all. Now, your point about running the Rockets off the three point line seems like it might hold more merit - here are where your group rank in opposing three point percentage according to teamrankings.com:

    1. LA Clippers

    3. Indiana

    5. Golden State

    9. Oklahoma City

    11. Chicago

    13. Memphis

    18. Miami

    Once again though, it is not the case for all of the teams on your list. Chicago, Memphis and Miami are hardly elite in this category (for the record, Houston are currently 7th). And in general I think trying to find a single area that is the Rockets' Achilles Heel is going to be a futile exercise. There are multiple ways to stymie the Rockets' offensive game. There is one metric that might be useful, as it ranks the teams like this:

    1. Indiana

    2. Chicago

    3. Golden State

    5. Oklahoma City

    6=. LA Clippers

    9. Memphis

    12. Miami

    What's the metric? Defensive efficiency. So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that "teams with good defences do well against the Rockets". But not all teams with good defences are bullies ;).

    ST

    Agree 100%. There are certain match-ups that are just bad for these Rockets and the two most glaring ones so far being the Clips and Thunder. I wholeheartedly agree that neither are physical bullies who uses smash-mouth defense to beat teams down. However the Rockets usually win against Golden State winning 5 of 7 in the past 2 seasons if my memory is not mistaken.

  • NorEastern says 4 months ago

    With the return of Asik and the emergence of D-Mo not many teams are going to out muscle the Rockets. From watching his Prokom games D-Mo is a master of the low concealed elbow to the ribs. He just hasn't let his inner bully out.

  • Sir Thursday says 4 months ago

    I disagree with the premise of this article, particularly with Forrest's list of 'physical teams'. He listed:

    Indiana

    Memphis

    Chicago

    Miami

    Golden State

    Oklahoma City

    LA Clippers

    Now, the first three definitely belong in this category, but I don't agree with any of the others.

    - Miami are a team that beats you with their quickness and anticipation, not their strength.

    - Golden State are keyed off the defensive excellence of Iguodala, who blends his physical and mental tools well. Bogut is a curmugeonly distraction, not the reason the Warriors beat you with their defence.

    - Oklahoma City do have great rim protection in Ibaka and some rugged post defenders in Perkins and Adams. So maybe you have a point there, although I would argue that they are not a team defined by defensive physicality, merely a team with an excellent defence.

    - The LA Clippers have big players, but not physical players. Blake Griffin isn't as soft as everyone says he is (and obviously both he and DeAndre are incredible athletic specimens) but nevertheless they are not a team that attempts to overwhelm you with physicality. Explosive speed and hops maybe, but not defensive wrestling.

    It feels as though you've just picked all the teams we've struggled against and tried to find a unifying theme rather than the other way around, that's all. Now, your point about running the Rockets off the three point line seems like it might hold more merit - here are where your group rank in opposing three point percentage according to teamrankings.com:

    1. LA Clippers

    3. Indiana

    5. Golden State

    9. Oklahoma City

    11. Chicago

    13. Memphis

    18. Miami

    Once again though, it is not the case for all of the teams on your list. Chicago, Memphis and Miami are hardly elite in this category (for the record, Houston are currently 7th). And in general I think trying to find a single area that is the Rockets' Achilles Heel is going to be a futile exercise. There are multiple ways to stymie the Rockets' offensive game. There is one metric that might be useful, as it ranks the teams like this:

    1. Indiana

    2. Chicago

    3. Golden State

    5. Oklahoma City

    6=. LA Clippers

    9. Memphis

    12. Miami

    What's the metric? Defensive efficiency. So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that "teams with good defences do well against the Rockets". But not all teams with good defences are bullies ;).

    ST

  • dbd says 4 months ago

    Not sure why you poke innocent brain while using your brain to write this. :) Just a tease. Please don't get mad.

    Not saying we are soft but you are right that results showed we failed against those big tough boys.

    OKC is a great example, took 3 out and rough insides, Rockets has no other way to respond and attack.

    I am so eager to see upcoming game against OKC on our court. Yeah, players are responsible for most but this is where a good coach can make a bit difference. I wonder what McHale has up in his sleeve.

  • Drew in Abilene says 4 months ago

    He certainly does. This is exactly why I was thrilled that Houston didn't trade Asik this season. He's also been rounding into form in the last couple of weeks, which should help us match up with some of the more physical teams. Glad to have you here on the forum!

  • Houston Fan says 4 months ago I think Asik can be used to advantage here. He is a big presence and does not bully easily. He also does good job setting picks for guards.
  • rocketrick says 5 months ago So rather than responding to what I stated about Hakeem and Rudy and the Rockets playing through all the referee BS in 1994-1995 instead you chose to focus on the rest of my post?

    OK, whatever dude.
  • Drew in Abilene says 5 months ago

    Rocketrick:

    Disagreeing is fine, but the point of this forum is to breed conversation, even conversation between people who disagree. You apparently disagree with the premise of this article, so feel free to explain your thoughts. But please refrain from posting comments that stifle conversation.

    Period.

    End of Story.

    And Probably End of Me for Disagreeing.

    This part of your post seems like a good way to squelch conversation, which isn't what we want. Whether you agree with the premise or not, Walker put a lot of time and effort into the article, and I think it's fair to ask that we as posters allow for conversation around the topic. So to be clear, I don't have a problem with you disagreeing, I just want there to be an open conversation available to everyone who might want to weigh in on the conversation.

  • rocketrick says 5 months ago Are you kidding me?? Hakeem and Rudy and all the rest just played through all this BS.

    That is exactly what Championship Teams do.

    Period.

    End of Story.

    And Probably End of Me for Disagreeing.