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Intriguing Takeaways From Philadelphia

Last night the Houston Rockets were James Harden-less, but lost a very winnable game against the (Michael Carter-Williams-less) Philadelphia 76ers. Here are two takeaways from that game. Both are related to Dwight Howard.

Both Howard’s offense in the post and his pick-and-roll defense helped shape this singular contest, and not necessarily in a good way. (Please keep in mind: this was one game Houston played without its best offensive player, and for that reason, one of the issues discussed in this piece won’t be as applicable to the future.)

I’ll also break down a crucial late-game ATO (after time-out) play defended by the Rockets.

Howard in the Post

With no Harden in the lineup, Houston’s entire offensive game plan revolved around Howard in the post. For better or for worse. If you watched the game, you know the Sixers would have taken care of business in regulation had they not aggressively doubled Howard nine times out of every 10 he touched the ball. (Heading into the night, Howard had nine assists. Philadelphia gift-wrapped six for him in 42 minutes.)

Howard’s vision was great, and this isn’t taking anything away from his magnetic ability to single-handedly force multiple “Defensive 3-Second Violations” every week. But there are other ways to attack the opposition, and the moment Philadelphia realized they should probably play him one-on-one, the game felt like it was over.

Whatever the reason, Kevin McHale thought Howard gave Houston the best chance to win last night. It would’ve been nice to see a bit more Jeremy Lin off the dribble, specifically in the pick-and-roll with the most feared big man in basketball doing what he does best. But I understand the benefits of having Philadelphia’s entire defense strain over one player’s doing.

He recorded six assists, but Howard could be seen whipping the ball to a teammate many more times than that, similar to the play you can see below.

Don’t worry, a bland stretch of offense like last night’s won’t ever happen with Harden in the lineup. It’s biologically unthinkable.

Howard vs. the Pick-and-Roll

This was pretty bad. Preeeeeeetty, preeeetty, pretty bad. By all other means Howard looks 100% healthy. On the glass he’s leaping twice before opponents get off the court, spiking floaters 13-feet off the ground, hurtling back and forth, front to back, side to side. He’s great. Except defending the pick-and-roll.

To be fair, once again, this was just one game. And the center he was responsible for is known for dominating November, especially when given a few feet  of breathing room. But Howard was so passive. More passive than a dominant Defensive Player of the Year candidate should and needs to be, and that’s always been his standard. There’s a fear Howard won’t ever reach “2010 Dwight” levels again. I, for one, am not in that camp. I’m full on rooting to see that guy again because once upon a time, the things he did on the court regularly blew my mind.

Hopefully we see peak Dwight Howard again. Plays like these just aren’t very fun.

If you can stifle a pick-and-roll with two defenders, job well done. In both of these plays, Howard could’ve been the second stifler. Instead, Evan Turner gets around the corner both times on his way to the rim.

(In the second clip, you could say Parsons was supposed to get up higher and force Turner to use his screener, away from the middle. That’s fair, but I don’t know exactly what Houston’s trying to accomplish. Howard didn’t ICE a pick-and-roll on the sideline all night long. Hawes petrified him.)

Sixers ATO

Trailing by one with 46 seconds to go, the Sixers decided to run a nice play for Dwyane Wa–excuse me, James Anderson.

As the ball crosses mid-court on the left wing, Anderson starts from the baseline and runs towards the free-throw line. Not including him, Patrick Beverley, and Tony Wroten (who has the ball), Terrence Jones and Hawes are the two other players on that side of the floor.

As the ball is entered to Hawes on the wing, Anderson gets to the free-throw line, then makes a perfect v-cut towards the basket. Meanwhile, on the opposite wing stands Evan Turner, a career 32% shooter from behind the arc who’s stuck at 16% on 25 attempts this season (and was 0-4 last night). Chandler Parsons knows this, and isn’t bashful about drifting far off Turner and into the paint as a help defender.

Anderson beats his man on the cut, Hawes hits him with a perfect pass, and the Sixers go up a point on their way to winning the game! Just kidding. Parsons had one hell of a night, but what he does here is probably just enough to earn his game check. Look how far he’s drifted off Turner! He reads the play perfectly, meets Anderson at the rim, and blocks it to a teammate. Such an awesome play on so many levels. Too bad it happened in a loss.

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Houston Rockets @ New York Knicks on November 14, 2013 at 7:00 CST