By: Rahat Huq
- I wrote this weekend that the Houston Rockets had "collapsed", squandering a chance at what would have been the franchise's first division title in twenty years with back to back losses to the San Antonio Spurs. Oops. As we know, the team took care of business to close out the year, getting a bit of help in the form of good luck in some other outcomes, and now, they've reclaimed the #2 seed. Yes, in terms of appraisal, the second seed means no different than the sixth, and the only implications are in playoff positioning. But there's just a good feeling about the whole thing, at least for someone like me who has been following this team for so very long. Relatively speaking, this franchise has been mediocre for the better part of two decades, with nothing to really hang its hat on. I don't know if it has any cumulative effect, but there has to be some value to good feelings, right?
- Of course, the real implications are on the court where the Rockets can now avoid the Warriors for the longest duration possible. Here's a thought exercise I mulled over for the week before things became final: if the probability of defeating the Blazers was marginally better than the probability of beating the Mavericks, but the probability of beating the Spurs/Clippers was significantly higher than beating the Warriors, which route was overall more preferable? I think the way things played out was the best case scenario, personally. In terms of carryover repute entering the next season, there's a pretty big distinction between making the Western Conference Finals and making the second round. If you make the second round, nobody really cares; if you make the conference Finals, you're thrust into the upper-echelon. Yeah, maybe it doesn't matter what the media thinks, but it's fun to get praise, right? There's also the theory that the team comes back more focused and driven.
- I expect the Rockets to win this series, maybe even in five games, but I don't know if it's wise to just count the Mavericks out completely, like some of you have. They can be a dangerous squad and are still guided by the same core that pushed San Antonio to the brink last season. And Carlisle over McHale might be the biggest advantage in this series, though I know some of you will take issue with that statement. But ultimately, the Rockets will win this series because they have the sixth best defense in the league, and good defense is the determinant with lowest variance. Dallas, on the other hand, is down at 18th in the league, and their offense has fallen significantly from its historic levels before the Rondo trade.
- The Rockets closed the year just outside of the top-10 in offense, sitting at 12th, and it can be argued both ways whether the loss of Dwight Howard would have pushed that trend positively.
- I know injuries are a part of the game, but man, it's really a shame that Motiejunas had to go down for the year, especially with how he had been playing for the better part of the season. No one will even remember or even care, but it's a huge loss that cannot be overlooked. With a healthy Motiejunas, Houston had, I think even objectively speaking, the best frontcourt rotation in basketball, with Terrence Jones coming into his own upon his own return. Instead, the team has Joey Dorsey absorbing those same minutes once reserved for Motiejunas, the former a man who breeds new meaning to the term incompetence. It hurts man, it hurts. I know the rotation would've been shortened anyway, to where it would have been tough to find minutes for all four of those guys, but I had so thoroughly prepped myself for the prospect of demolishing second units with Terrence Jones and Josh Smith off the bench. That front court "freshness", versatility, and athleticism was going to be our big advantage over anyone we faced.
- On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure Patrick Beverley is a crushing loss for the team. I wrote back on March 16 that the Rockets were essentially playing 4 on 5 with Beverley on the court, and I don't know that anything he did after that point before his injury invalidated that statement. In theory, the team will suffer defensively against the elite point guards in the West, but the numbers show that Beverley wasn't exactly stopping anyone this season. And he certainly wasn't doing much of anything on the other end. Even if Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni are inferior defenders to Beverley, I'm not sure the dropoff is enough to negate the significant disparity in shooting between the players. Simply put, I'd much rather have Jason Terry on the court to close out games than Patrick Beverley and thus, Pablo should be just fine for the remaining 48, especially with Corey Brewer to pick up against bad match-ups.
- Lastly, for today, I'll ask you, dear reader, what in your mind would constitute success for the 2015 season? I tossed this around on Twitter a few weeks ago and I honestly think this season is already a success. Maybe that's sad that I've set the bar so low, but really, can you honestly say that losing in the first round in this western conference would warrant blowing the whole thing up? I don't know that I can.