Chicago Bulls 103, Houston Rockets 100: Failure

If there is anything I have learned about the NBA after this Houston Rockets season, it is the importance of coaching.

I have long held that in the NBA, you will have about five or so coaches who actively harm their team and five or so coaches who really help their team. Every other coach is in a mire of mediocrity, and you can substitute one out for another without any major effects.

Well, either coaching is more important than that, or the Houston Rockets have one of the five coaches who harm their team. Tonight demonstrated that no matter what happens over the rest of this season, Coach J.B. Bickerstaff is utterly unqualified to coach the Rockets over the long term.

Someone who runs the rotations he ran tonight cannot be expected to be a head coach.

Now to some degree, the talent is an issue. While I observed that the Rockets may be better off missing the playoffs and keeping their first-round pick, Bickerstaff has every incentive to want to make the playoffs. And if making the playoffs means hurling James Harden out there for 40+ minutes night after night and not resting him in the second half, then that is what Bickerstaff is going to do.

But there are so many other things which Bickerstaff could do to improve this team. He could actually play K.J. McDaniels for a change as opposed to sending Corey Brewer out there to score 0 points and play minimal defense. He could have a consistent rotation, or figure out what he’s going to do with Donatas Motiejunas, who struggled badly tonight. While Bickerstaff talks of maintaining what works, this team has to figure out what works in the first place.

Or perhaps most importantly of all, he might understand that playing Michael Beasley and James Harden is not a good idea. Because it was when those two were on the court that the Chicago Bulls pulled off their fourth quarter run led by Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, and someone named Cristiano Felicio which won them the game. While Beasley scored 20 points, he finished with a +/- of -19, continuing a pattern of poor numbers with that stat. And while +/- has its limitations, there is a difference between one game with a poor +/- and a constant pattern of games like that.

Now in some ways, I really liked what I saw from Beasley tonight. As I have constantly talked about, those mid-range jumpers he loves to take so much stopped falling. But unlike the Beasley I knew in Minnesota who would just keep launching those jumpers anyways, tonight’s Beasley really looked to take it to the rim. He was the only Rockets who looked aggressive for much of the fourth quarter, and showed that can be a valuable bench scorer for this team over the long term.

Key word: bench. And while I’m sure some think Beasley should start, he should really not be playing alongside James Harden. Sharing the ball with Harden would diminish his horrid defense and emphasize his horrid defense.

Beasley’s defense is just bad. He displays the classic tweener problem of “too small to guard 4s, too slow to guard 3s”. But while Harden gets lazy on defense, Beasley is just not a smart defensive player. He fouled Nikola Mirotic shooting a three-pointer twice in the first quarter, the second time by leaping into the air and crash-landing into Mirotic. While Beasley had 20 points, Mirotic had 28, by doing not much more than sitting behind the 3-point line and launching bombs.

Patrick Beverley had a terrific game where he was aggressive inside and hit his 3’s, James Harden did James Harden things, and the Rockets had a chance to put this away and improve their playoff hopes. Instead, they were undone by the Bulls bench. Not Derrick Rose or Jimmy Butler (though Butler did play well, Rose left the game in the first half with an elbow issue), but the bench.

Perhaps that’s the most humiliating thing about this game. Coach Bickerstaff and the Rockets could not devise a plan to score down the stretch against the Bulls bench. “Harden, do something” has now become “Harden and Beasley, do something.” Until this changes, this team is not going to go anywhere. And all of the team meetings in the world (it appears that something like that was held after the game) are not going to change a blasted thing.

To make things worse, the Rockets will probably finish with a sub-.500 record for the first time in a decade. Houston responded to that debacle of a season by bringing in Daryl Morey. Now with Daryl Morey at the helm, the Rockets find themselves right back where they started.

About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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