All That Power – The Rockets finish the year at no. 7 in Marc Stein’s ESPN Power Rankings, a one-spot improvement over last week:
The contention here is Sunday’s sorry showing in OKC was a schedule loss on the heels of Houston’s impressive Christmas Day dismantling of the Spurs and ensuing wins over Memphis and New Orleans. Having just three games in the next 11 days is a welcome break after some crazy travel.
I mean, if ESPN wants to blame that embarrassing beat down on the schedule, then who am I to argue? The Rockets moved the opposite direction in John Schuhmann’s rankings at NBA.com. He has them at no. 9:
The Rockets just played seven games in five cities over the last 10 days, a stretch that featured Christmas’ best performance (a comfortable win in San Antonio) and ended with a serious thumping in OKC. Now they get a well-deserved break and a chance to enjoy those Christmas presents they got from Dwight Howard, with only home games against the Kings, Knicks and Lakers over the next 11 days.
The cruelest ranking for the Rockets this week is Hollinger’s computerized system at ESPN. It ranks Houston at no. 11. Not a good place for a team aspiring to be a contender.
Snooze – Andrew Lynch at Hardwood Paroxysm had some thoughts about the aesthetics of James Harden’s game after the Beard shot approximately 947,574 free throws against the Grizzlies last week. Lynch’s argument is simple: Harden’s cynically efficient approach is boring.
Yes, when James Harden is on one of his crusades to the foul line, he can make the game incredibly boring. And it’s only noteworthy because the rest of his game is cause for such excitement. The reckless abandon with which he chucks up triples any time he even thinks he’s close to being open, regardless of reality, is vicarious gambling. The odds seem stacked against him — and against the observer — but the payoff is so rewarding that the risk taken seems more than worth the potential outcome. His defense, which to describe as “matador” would do a great disservice to generations of Spaniards, makes for electrifying plays on the other end when his mark blows past him for a vicious dunk or kicks it to the corner for a wide-open 3 after the defense has to collapse. And Harden’s own drives to the rim are riveting, at least until they terminate in a blown whistle and another long walk to that stripe 15 feet away from the basket.
Lynch concedes that for folks who are rooting for the Rockets, the approach is anything but boring, because it leads to wins. I agree wholeheartedly. When you don’t care who wins, watching free throws is mind-numbing. When you’re hanging on the outcome of the game, the success of a 15-foot set shot is high drama, akin to watching a pitcher with a full count winding up to throw.