June 20, 2017 at 5:38 pm

Houston’s chances of landing a star this summer

When an NBA star is put on the trading block, you can guarantee the Houston Rockets are inquiring. Reporting that the Rockets are interested in or have made calls about available superstars is like breaking news that water is wet. It’s Daryl Morey. The Rockets will always try to add a star to their lineup, whether they have three already on the roster or none at all.

So it’s no surprise that the Rockets are mentioned in several rumors as trade season starts to get into gear with the NBA Draft looming this Thursday. Let’s take a look at some of the names on the market and weigh in on Houston’s chances.

Paul George
Paul George James Harden Houston Rockets
Paul George has told the Pacers that he will not re-sign with them in 2018 and he is dead set on signing with the Los Angeles Lakers that summer. George is 27 years old and a top performer on both sides of the floor. He shot over 39% from three last season with the Pacers (a career 37% from deep) and averaged nearly 24 points a night. He would be a brilliant get for Rocket brass — an athletic wing who can shoot, run, score and defend would be a terrific complement to James Harden and a great fit for Mike D’Antoni’s system. So it’s little shock the Rockets are trying to get George. The problem is it doesn’t appear the Rockets have the type of assets to get such a player. However, one wild card remains: George and his agent are telling teams that he would only be a rental, which likely drives down the price for him in a deal. Threats like that don’t scare Morey — it certainly didn’t when he pursued Dwight Howard in 2012. I don’t like the prospects of giving up future draft picks for someone who might walk in a year (ask Brooklyn about that), but this is a must-chase player. It’s still a longshot, but I would expect the Rockets to push very, very hard for a deal here.

Kristaps Porzingis
So the Knicks have supposedly put their only hope for a future on the trading block. It’s a bit hard to believe, but if Phil Jackson is actually going to move Kristaps Porzingis, the Rockets would have no chance. Combining Clint Capela, Sam Dekker, Sergio Llull and future picks isn’t going to beat better packages of young talent that the Knicks could acquire.

Chris Paul
Chris Paul Houston Rockets
If Chris Paul is interested in your team, you’re listening. He’s an incredible talent that will hit free agency on the first day of July. He reportedly has the Rockets on his list. The Rockets would have to get quite creative to even have the cap room to sign him, but having said that, I can’t think of a superstar who would be more luxury than fit for the Rockets than Paul. The team just spent an entire season handing the point guard reins to Harden, who led the league in assists. The strength of Harden is that he’s such a playmaking force with the ball in his hands. Are you going to make him a true two, spotting up off of Paul and getting buckets off cuts, or are you turning Paul into the secondary playmaker and shooter? Granted, Paul is far superior to Ty Lawson, but it seems we learned this lesson already in 2015-16. And from Paul’s view, why not choose the Spurs, who are clearly in need of a point guard? Hey, I wouldn’t turn down the chance to have two of the best point guards in the league on my team, but it just doesn’t seem ideal in many ways.

Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler is definitely on the trading block and the Houston (err, Tomball) native would be a nice fit with the Rockets, but the price is very high. The Bulls are notorious for being tough to trade with, but the market value for Butler is simply not something the Rockets can meet.

Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony Houston Rockets
Remember that? I still think of this image every time I walk by that wall in the Rockets locker room. I have to confess: When Morey said the Rockets had “something up their sleeve” and might “up their risk profile” to try to beat the Warriors, I immediately thought of Carmelo Anthony. Why? In a nutshell, he’s widely available. His play has been declining, he hasn’t been happy and Phil Jackson wants to ship him off. The Rockets have had past interest and though Anthony’s a risk at this stage, there is explosive scoring ability potential there. His contract is one year shorter than Ryan Anderson’s and the upside could be high as a smallball four — where Anderson came up short in the playoffs and lacked scoring punch, Anthony is not shy about launching. But the past history between Anthony and D’Antoni makes this unlikely. If the Rockets strike out elsewhere and the price ends up significantly reduced, I could see Morey envisioning this as a buy low possibility.

Landing a superstar is no easy task. The Rockets get criticized often for “falling short” in their pursuit of one, but there should be no shame in trying. In fact, we should consider ourselves lucky that the Rockets consistently make these efforts. This organization is in a much better situation than they were last summer when they couldn’t get an audience with Kevin Durant and couldn’t even woo Kent Bazemore. The 2016-17 turnaround season changed that. While the end result of superstar chases is likely to be unsatisfying, the Rockets should once again get more looks their way as a viable championship contender.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 18, 2017 at 12:58 pm

James Harden named First Team All-NBA — and it was unanimous

James Harden MVP performance in Denver

James Harden may have laid an egg in his final playoff game, but his historic regular season performance was not forgotten.

Harden was named to the All-NBA First Team on Thursday alongside Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.

Harden was the only unanimous selection, receiving all 100 first team votes. LeBron and Westbrook each received 99/100 first place votes.

The fact that Harden did not make any of the three All-NBA teams last season does look pretty silly right about now, however, he has made All-NBA in four of his five seasons in Houston.

As a result of this year’s honor, Harden is now eligible to sign an even bigger extension this summer.

Harden’s regular season numbers were truly impressive. He was second in the league in scoring and first in assists in just his first year as a defined point guard. He set career highs in scoring (29.1 ppg), assists (11.2 apg) and rebounds (8.1 rpg). He was the first player in NBA history to record at least 2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in a single season.

It’s bittersweet timing for many of us in Houston as Harden is beloved here, but he clearly came up short at the end of the San Antonio series. It will be hard to forget that, for sure, but the Rockets aren’t there or much of anywhere without him and he undoubtedly had an MVP-caliber season.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 7, 2017 at 2:36 pm

The Harden Pick and Roll: We Have A Problem

James Harden Rockets Spurs Game 3

The Spurs have been throwing some different defensive looks at the Rockets during the course of the series so far, stumbling into a couple of strategies that have slowed down the normally potent Harden pick and roll.

One thing they’ve started doing more is sending Kawhi Leonard (or whoever is guarding Harden) under the screen, taking away Harden’s drive and encouraging him to take a three-pointer instead. The Spurs used this strategy six different times in Game 3 (up from only once in Game 1), and it worked, as Harden only shot 1-6 on the three-pointers he took in these situations.

While Harden is making the right read here — taking the shot when he has separation from the defender — the looks he’s getting aren’t totally clean, and the defender is usually able to recover enough to get a hand in Harden’s face when he’s shooting.

In the playoffs so far, sending the defender under the pick has been by far the most effective way to guard the Harden pick and roll, as his points per possession in these situations are a measly 0.67, nearly half of the 1.2 PPP he’s generated when the defender goes over the pick.

While the sample size is small (and the strategy wasn’t this effective in the regular season), sending a defender under the pick is working right now, and that’s what counts. For Harden and the Rockets, finding a new way to attack in these situations will be key in Game 4 if the threes aren’t falling their way.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
May 2, 2017 at 9:21 am

Rockets vs Spurs: Breaking Down the Game 1 Beatdown

Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs Game 1

The Rockets posted a complete team victory in game 1 of their 2nd round series against the Spurs on Monday night, annihilating San Antonio 126-99 with all cylinders of their high-octane offense firing. There were too many highlights to mention–from a barrage of threes to a chant of “let’s go Rockets” reverberating around an emptying AT&T center–so I leave you with my favorite seven highlights and storylines from the game.

Harden’s unstoppable pick and roll game

Much pre-game analysis focused on how the Spurs would guard the Rockets’ favorite offensive play, the pick and roll. The talk was right: the Spurs have options for how they defend the play. The bad news is that none of them worked. The Rockets went to the pick and roll 53 times last night, creating all kinds of problems for the Spurs defense.

When the Spurs tried hedging and recovering, Harden burned them with the drive.

The Spurs then tried switching, so Harden abused whichever poor soul was switched onto him, like this time when sunk a stepback three with Jonathan Simmons guarding him.

Finally, they tried denying Harden the ball. Welp, no luck there either.

To coin a vintage Bill Worrell term made famous last time these two teams faced off in the playoffs, I thought James Harden had the Spurs defense just “bamboozled”. The play above sums it up: Ginobili overplays Harden to deny him the ball, so Harden cuts back door, receives the ball, and lobs it to Capela for the easy dunk as the defense collapses. The Spurs will undoubtedly come up with a new scheme to defend the Harden pick ‘n roll but Gregg Popovich looks to have his work cut out for him based on last night’s evidence.

The return of Clint Capela

Clint Capela was ineffective in the OKC series, looking out of his depth when matched up with the Thunder bigs. Not tonight. Capela rebounded from a poor round 1 with a peach of a game against the Spurs, dropping in 20 points on 8-10 shooting (all of his points were in the paint or free throws). Capela played his role to a T, being aggressive on the boards and making himself available to finish lobs, fast breaks, and pick and rolls. Capela was an uber-efficient 1.54 points per possession on the night, the most by any player who played significant minutes.

Moreyball at its finest

The Rockets knew their 3-pointers just had to start falling if they were going to do any damage in the Playoffs. This game showed what the Rockets are capable of when they do. The Rockets shot a blistering 44% from the 3-pt line against the Spurs, making 22 from 50 from deep, the second-most ever by a team in the playoffs. Trevor Ariza led the way with 5 3-pointers, while compatriots Ryan Anderson (4), James Harden (3), Eric Gordon (3), Lou Williams (2) and Patrick Beverley (2) also made their presence felt from behind the arc. The Rockets shot chart reflected their near-perfectly executed offensive performance.

Ryan Anderson’s shot shows some life

One of the most worrying parts of the OKC series was the woeful shooting of Ryan Anderson. Ryno was 3-24 against the Thunder and seemed hesitant to shoot much of the time. In one game against the Spurs Anderson has already surpassed his 3-point production in the five games of round 1, shooting 4-10 from three. Anderson seemed to find a comfort zone on the left wing, where he made 3 of his 4 3-pointers.

Harden’s passes set up the Rocket offense

James Harden’s 14 assists were a playoff career high for him. He found his favorite roll man Clint Capela for six of those assists, and his mate Trevor Ariza for another four. Harden assisted on seven of the Rockets’ 22 3-pointers.

Cranking up the pace

In the regular season the Rockets played at the 3rd-highest pace (102.5 possessions) while the Spurs were one of the more pedestrian teams, with just a 27th-ranked pace (96.4 possessions). Last night’s game was well and truly played at the Rockets’ speed as they cranked the pace up to 105.4 possessions.

The Rockets pushed the pace as much as possible, running off makes and misses, and putting the Spurs defense on its heels. They created transition opportunities and got good offensive motion early in the shot clock–one of the issues they faced against OKC. One of the leaders of the transition team was Trevor Ariza who had 7 of the team’s 27 fast break points.

Beverley channels his focus

Last but not least, a word for Patrick Beverley. The Rockets starting guard didn’t fill up the stat sheet last night but his impact was felt in the advanced statistics. Beverley had the team’s lowest defensive rating (with 61.3), the lowest opponent EFG% at 28.6%, and the team’s second highest +/- at +36. He avoided the two near-melees and turned in a measured, mature performance. He’s taking Tony Parker’s mini-resurgence personally and is out to do whatever he can to help the team win.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
April 30, 2017 at 8:24 pm

Kawhi Leonard and his ever-changing pivot foot

Kawhi Leonard Travels

Make no mistake — Kawhi Leonard is a bad, bad man.

On both ends of the floor, Leonard has proven himself to be a great NBA player. He is an assassin working the mid-range game and has developed into a near-40% three-point shooter. Starting Monday night, the Rockets will have their hands full trying to contain him.

But there’s something else that the Rockets will have a hard time controlling.

Kawhi is devastating enough to guard in the post, but even harder when officials aren’t watching his footwork. When Leonard picks up his dribble, there’s no telling what he’ll do and it seems as if NBA rules no longer apply. Leonard will hop into the lane, take extra steps and change his pivot foot — often.

It’s that pivot foot that’s the problem. Sometimes it just slides and slides. Other times he changes his pivot foot completely when the defense doesn’t give him what he needs. It’s the kind of thing that once you see him do it, you can’t unsee it… and you will see it in this series. It cost the Rockets a game back in December when Leonard’s six-step travel set Patty Mills up for a game-winning three-pointer, something the NBA later acknowledged in their L2M report.

Have a look for yourself.

“But doesn’t everybody travel in the NBA?”

Certainly the league, to their own detriment, has let an extra step slide by here and there and that shouldn’t happen. But it definitely shouldn’t be this egregious to where the go-to move of one of their marquee guys is to pivot off either foot. Why do NBA officials not see this when it’s happening? Good question. As I’ve said, Leonard is plenty good enough and doesn’t need this to do his damage, but it does give him an advantage when he operates inside the arc.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
April 14, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Beard Over Brodie: Why Harden, not Westbrook, should be MVP

James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook 2016-17 MVP Race

We just witnessed two of the best, historical individual performances ever in a regular season since Oscar Robertson. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have made their way to the record book with impressive seasons and will duel in an explosive first round matchup in the NBA playoffs.

However, one of these players has seemingly pulled ahead in the MVP race. Russell Westbrook is the popular vote to become the 2016-2017 NBA Most Valuable Player. Despite putting on an equally astonishing individual performance this season, James Harden has been discredited in his MVP campaign due to his team’s success.

Below is a compilation of the most common reasons used by national media for Westbrook as MVP … and my reasons why not.

Russell Westbrook is Mr. TRIPLE-DOUBLE! He is averaging one and has the most ever in one season!

Let’s put this out there now. This is an amazing feat. Averaging a triple-double and getting the most triple-doubles in a season is crazy. James Harden was less than two rebounds away from averaging one himself. Check out the comparison between the MVP finalists:

The Brodie: 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists per game
The Beard: 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 11.2 assists per game

The triple-double is Westbrook’s strongest (maybe only) case over James Harden. But if we dig a bit deeper, we’d see Harden’s numbers are actually more impressive. You might not be able to fit the headline in 72 characters or less, but Harden has put up similar numbers on a more efficient level.

Despite the similar stat line average, Westbrook had a higher usage rate than Harden, meaning Brodie had more opportunities to put up his numbers. Westbrook got his extra bucket on five more field goal attempts per game and at a lower field goal percentage than Harden.

James Harden

Russell Westbrook is putting up numbers we haven’t seen since Oscar Robertson!

So is James Harden!

James Harden averaged 29.1 ppg, 11.2 apg, and 8.1 rpg this season. Only Oscar Robertson has averaged at least 28 ppg, 11 apg, and 7 rpg in a single season.

Speaking of which, Harden is the only player since Nate Archibald in 1973 to average at least 29 ppg and 11 apg.

James Harden has the most 30+ points, 10+ assist games in a season since 1983-84.

James Harden is the only player in NBA history with at least 50 points, 15 assists, and 15 rebounds in a single game.

James Harden is the first player in NBA history to have multiple 50-point triple doubles in a season.

James Harden is the only player in NBA history with 2,000+ points, 900+ assists, and 600+ rebounds in a single season.

James Harden is the only player in NBA history to score at least 2,000 points and assist on at least 2,000 points in a season.

It’s like James Harden is a tree of records, and he’s shaking them all loose!

James Harden

James Harden has a better team around him. Westbrook did it on his own.

Really? That’s not what the talking heads were saying before the season started. Here are some predictions from major sports media outlets:

ESPN
HOU: 45-37 (tied 6th seed)
OKC: 46-36 (5th seed)
They were pretty close with one of those teams. The other team exceeded their expectation by a large margin.

CBS Sports
HOU win totals: 42, 43, 45, 47, 45
OKC win totals: 45, 44, 44, 43, 47
Similar numbers. Again, one team blew these projections out of the water. The other team was in the realm of their forecast.

USA Today
HOU: 40-42 (tied 8th seed… with Dallas)
OKC: 44-38 (7th seed)

Sporting News
HOU: (8th Seed)
OKC: (5th Seed)

Bleacher Report
HOU: 38-44
OKC: 43-39
“The Rockets didn’t do quite enough to avoid a lottery finish.”
“The Thunder added plenty of talent by trading for Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova … This team is no longer a playoff lock, but it enters the season as a good bet to play more than 82 games–even if it’s not many more.”

Actual outcome:
HOU: 55-27, 3rd
OKC: 47-35, 6th

Harden is truly responsible for the success of this team. Along with his historical season, Harden leads the league in touches per game, and he is number one in win shares. That’s quite an impact on the 3rd best team record in the NBA.

Russell Westbrook lost Kevin Durant and finished with a worse record than last year’s team. As expected.

James Harden lost Dwight Howard and finished 3rd overall in the league after going .500 the previous year. With a new coach. As not expected.

Check out this gem:

Nice opening argument there, Skip. “There’s snipers. Everywhere. Russell doesn’t have … ” I would bring up the poor 3-point shooting percentage the Rockets have since the All-Star break, but I don’t want to depress myself. People are acting like Harden is playing on the Dream Team.

James Harden

James Harden is a product of D’Antoni’s system; of course he’s producing those numbers.

D’Antoni coached the 76ers (associate), Lakers, and Knicks before joining the Rockets. He had a rebuilding project in Philadelphia, he had Melo in NY, and he had a star-studded roster in LA. Yet, all of those teams vastly underperformed and underwhelmed despite playing in D’Antoni’s system.

If I told you a washed-up, one-way coach in Mike D’Antoni was going to fix the dysfunctional and disappointing 41-41 Houston Rockets who just lost Dwight Howard, you would have put Morey on the hot seat. And you did. And I did. And the media did.

Many fans and media members questioned the hiring of a coach whose best days were far behind him and locked in a box in Phoenix. D’Antoni was considered outdated in today’s game.

Fast forward to today, and all of a sudden, Mike D’Antoni is the maker of stars.

Where are the historical seasons and top-3 seeded teams of Robert Covington, Carmelo Anthony, and Kobe Bryant under D’Antoni’s system?

It takes a lot more than plugging in a player into a system for it to work. Harden deserves credit for taking D’Antoni’s system to new heights. Some would say he deserves credit an MVP would get. By the way, where was the “Kerr Effect” argument when Steph Curry won the MVP during Steve Kerr’s first year as his head coach in 2014?

James Harden

Conclusion

Somehow, finishing with the 3rd best record in the NBA has become a negative to James Harden’s case for MVP. This is a world where having a better team goes against you. As if “working harder” should be a significant metric in determining this year’s MVP.

Since when has having a top-seeded team been a detriment to a player’s MVP case? Not in the last 30 years. The MVPs in the past 30 YEARS were on a top-3 team. Westbrook’s OKC Thunder will finish 6th in this year’s western conference. Harden’s Rockets will be 3rd overall.

Stephen Curry was back-to-back MVP for 2015 and 2016. His GSW were 1st place both years.

What a time to be alive. Harden and Westbrook have put up historic numbers in entertaining fashion. Historic individual numbers versus historic individual numbers AND team success. How is this even close?

If each MVP case was presented without the national media hoopla and bias, there really is only one player that stands out.

That player is James Harden.

James Harden

Posted in Houston Rockets |
April 13, 2017 at 8:12 pm

Laurel D’Antoni is passionate about helping Houston’s kids

Houston Rockets Women's Book Drive - Laurel D'Antoni

The Houston Rockets Women’s Organization and Reliant have teamed up to host a book drive for Game 2 of the Rockets first round series with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Fans can bring in new or gently used books and for each book donated, they get a raffle ticket for a chance to win one of six player prize packages that will be given away during the game.

I had a chance to interview Laurel D’Antoni, the wife of Mike D’Antoni, and it was a great experience. She’s passionate about the fans and helping the literacy problem here in Houston. Here’s what she had to say about the book drive, the Rockets and being married to an offensive genius.


It’s great to meet you.

You too. By the way, I like your website. Did you do it?

Yes, I started it a little over 20 years ago…

Did you hack your girlfriend’s site?

Wow, you’ve done your research.

I thought it was pretty cool. Are you still with that girlfriend?

She’s my wife now.

OK, so she forgave you.

I hope so by now.

But it’s cool. I think our fans are our greatest attribute. They’re very generous. We did a season ticket event and said ‘hey you guys, bring books because we’re collecting them’, and people actually bought us books. That tells you a lot about Houston people, right?

No doubt. And this is your first year in Houston. What has your experience been like in the city and with the Rockets organization?

I’ve been in the league a long time. I’ve been with Mike for 30 years. Most professional sports teams have a women’s organization. They understand it’s a platform to go out into the community and do something. The fact that we move around a lot means we need to jump into the community pretty fast. We have an incredible Community Relations department here under Sarah Joseph. She can only send the players out so much time so she can use the women to go out and do things in the community. That’s kind of where it came from. Specifically, with the book drive, I did it three years. We created it in Phoenix. The first year, we got 6,000 books. The second year, 8,000. The third year, 10,000.

I proposed it to our women here and they all said yes. Then the Rockets came back and said, hey, we want to partner you with Reliant. Reliant, one of their most prestigious marketing partners, felt it was a perfect marriage. Then we found a community partner with the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation, who has already vetted the non-profits and already done massive research on the literacy problems here. They’re published. They know how to reach these kids. It was made for us, a perfect opportunity. I’m excited about it.

I’m passionate about it. All my family are educators. All of Mike’s family are educators. The reality is in Houston, we know that one of out of five Houstonians are functionally illiterate. Now part of that is because we have a very big immigrant population but there are a lot of other reasons. When you look at third grade students, one in four aren’t meeting the standards here.

So we know that we have a problem. But if you have middle and upper income families that have on average 13 age-related books in their household and then you go look at the lower income families and they have one book for every 300 kids — there’s a problem. The problem is those Moms are trying to feed their kids and they can’t go buy a book. That’s where we step in because we’ve got the most awesome fans in the NBA. They’re compassionate. Everybody has books in their closet. We are looking for new or gently used books. We’ve got seventh graders that are reading adult books. So you can do this. This is something that is very easy to do.

So fans can bring them in to Toyota Center on the second game of the playoffs?

Yes. We are going to do this for the second game of the first round of the playoffs (on Wednesday). We have partners from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Reliant and our Rockets Women’s Organization are going to be outside all of the entrances of the arena for Game 2. We are going to collect all the books. For every book you give us, I’m going to give you one raffle ticket. So if you bring me 50 books, you’re going to get 50 tickets. For every ticket you get, you will have an opportunity to win an incredible player package. What we’ve done is we’ve got Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson, Patrick Beverley, Eric Gordon, James Harden and Trevor Ariza and for those six packages, we’re going to give you their autographed jersey and an incredible MVP player package. And then we’re going to grab you at the end of the game when those players come off the floor, you’re going to meet them and he’s going to give you the jersey.

That’s awesome.

All their girlfriends asked the guys to participate and the guys said, ‘yeah, we’re in’. I hope we win because it will make it a little bit less nerve-wracking, but they’re going to get the chance to meet the player and get their jersey at the game.

What kind of books are you looking for?

We’re looking for children’s books but keep in mind that we’ve got older kids reading at an adult level. Not to worry. The very next day, the Bush Foundation is going to bring in over 30 non-profits and they are going to select those books that are appropriate for their constituents. Whatever books are left over, we’re going to donate to the Houston Library and it will be one of their fundraisers, so it’s a win-win for everybody.

I got to ask you about the Rockets. I think when Mike was first hired here, fans were a little bit, maybe, shocked thinking —

What is wrong with those fans?

I think we all have egg on our face at this point.

But that’s OK. It makes me feel good.

But here he is now getting all this play for Coach of the Year and, obviously you’re going to be biased but —

I am biased, yes.

Do you think he deserves that award this year?

Absolutely. I think that… he’s an exciting coach. He gives maximum confidence to his players. He likes his players. His players are like his kids. We have a 23-year old so they’re kind of the same age group. He likes them. He doesn’t try to change anybody to be what they’re not. What he asks of all of his players is to adapt a little bit because it’s never one player that we all have to adapt to him. It’s a team sport. And for us to win big, we have to have complete team commitment. Everybody does that by adjusting and adapting and learning.

I have to tell you, what James Harden has done and decided to take on a completely different role as a playmaker. You look at his assists. It’s incredible what he’s done. He’s done it willingly and openly. It’s amazing. That’s a real credit to him and a credit to my husband that they like each other. It’s good.

You were there with the Suns when Steve Nash was MVP twice. Does watching Harden and the Rockets remind you of that?

Yes. Where it’s similar — in Phoenix, the owner of the team, the Colangelos, our general manager at the time was Bryan Colangelo, the families, we were very tight, we were all on the same page and there were no nooses around. That’s the way we are here. These are special opportunities. I think anybody will tell you, in a work environment, if you are from the top down all on the same page, you’re going to be extremely productive. We all know that if there is one guy in the organization that is a kink, we know our productivity is going to go down. There is a lot of research on that about the one jerk will lower the expectations and productivity. That’s where it’s similar. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody wants to win and they’re all willing to adjust to a singular vision on how we’re going to do that. That’s why we’re successful. Our guys are committed. Our coaches are committed. Our staff is committed and all the way through to our ushers to our video coordinators to Tad (Brown) and to our owner Leslie Alexander. Completely committed.

I wish you the best of luck with this. I hope you have a great turnout.

I appreciate it. The biggest thing for us — I see the fans. They’re a little bit slow getting here, but you know what, we were in LA and New York and it was like that as well. I hope that they’re enjoying the product we’re putting out there because I know my pillow talk is about my husband, if the fans are having fun and how was the game. The first question he asks me about the game is ‘Did I have fun?’ He loves the way his team plays and he’s doing it because he wants the fans to appreciate it and enjoy it so I hope that they are.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
April 10, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Rockets vs. Thunder: Five Matchups To Watch

James Harden Russell Westbrook

I can’t remember the last time we knew the Rockets’ seeding so early. This conference has been competitive for so long that it usually comes down to the last day, but the first round matchups in the West are set and the Rockets are getting ready to host Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder this weekend.

This is going to be a classic and there are plenty of games within the game to keep an eye on.

James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook

Let’s be honest: This was meant to be. It had to happen.

The league’s top two MVP candidates go head-to-head in this series. The award has all but been handed to Westbrook already with media fawning all over his every move. Of course Harden is just over here having a better and more efficient individual season and (as a result) more team success, but hey… triple-doubles.

Still, it’s fascinating to witness the hypocrisy that goes on with the media’s view of Harden. This is a guy who put up monster numbers last season and didn’t make a single All-NBA Team because his team wasn’t that impressive, finishing as the 8th seed. His numbers are even better this season, his team has destroyed all expectations by likely finishing as the third-best team in the league and here he is actually being discredited because his team is so good. When did the Rockets suddenly become the Warriors or Cavs? Harden is not playing with a single All-Star, past or present. I don’t remember anybody picking the Rockets to finish very high this year or to even finish ahead of OKC.

Meanwhile, Westbrook has OKC as the 6th seed and is being crowned at every turn. Yes, he’s having a terrific season as far as raw totals, but the double standard by the media when it comes to Harden is just comical.

The votes will already be in, but this matchup and series is Harden’s chance to show who truly is the most valuable player this season.

Andre Roberson vs. James Harden

And it won’t be easy.

Andre Roberson is a very tough individual defender — maybe the best in the league at defending Harden. He’s 6-foot-7 with a nearly 6-foot-11 wingspan and has the athleticism to stick with quick guards. In four games against the Thunder this season, Harden is averaging just 20.5 points per game (about nine points under his average) on 34.3% shooting and just 22.6% from long range. A big reason for that is Roberson.

For that reason, you worry that this series has some 2013-14 Portland-like potential, with Roberson playing the Wes Matthews role. If OKC can limit Harden’s effectiveness with just one guy, they can stay home on the shooters.

So Harden is going to have a very challenging matchup. It’s up to him make life tough on Roberson and force the defense to help, creating opportunities for outside shooters or alleyoops inside.

Patrick Beverley vs. Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley

This matchup has real history

Bad blood, folks. You have to love that this is happening again. This one has a lot of history. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, feel free to watch this… and this… and this… and this.

I don’t think Beverley is going to be able to really hinder Westbrook that much on a one-on-one basis… at least not consistently. Westbrook is averaging 36.3 points a night against the Rockets this season, well above his average, so he hasn’t really been slowed by Bev.

But I do think he’s going to play him physical and try to get into his head, forcing him to try to do it by himself. Westbrook has a lot of DeMarcus Cousins in him where his pride and anger can get the best of him. We’re going to see some real friction between these two at some point — guaranteed.

Clint Capela and Nene vs. OKC’s bigs

The Thunder are the best rebounding team in the league, grabbing 46.5 caroms a night, and they rank second in offensive rebounding. They also lead the league in Points in the Paint, scoring just under 50 a night, with nearly 47% of their points coming inside. The Rockets? They give up the most Paint Points in the league at just under 49 a night. So OKC is going to be attacking the Rockets inside over and over again.

The Thunder come at you with a lot of different looks at the big spot in Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson. Kanter in particular has been able to take advantage of the Rockets’ defensive weakness inside. In Houston’s last matchup with the Thunder at Toyota Center, OKC scored 62 points in the paint.

My point is: Clint Capela is going to have his hands full. If he’s not able to handle the physicality, we’re going to see a lot of Nene, who shot nearly 77%, averaging 14.3 points, in four games against the Thunder this season.

Houston’s bench vs. OKC’s bench

This is where the Rockets must take advantage.

Despite the fact that in the four games head-to-head, the Thunder are matching the Rockets in three-point percentage at 37.2%, OKC is the worst three-point shooting team in the league at just 32.7%. The Rockets start several three-point shooters and can bring in a couple of sharpshooters off their bench as well.

The problem is — Eric Gordon is shooting just 32.5% from three since January 1 while Lou Williams is shooting just 32.8% from three since joining the Rockets. But there’s no doubt about it, both players must come up large in this series. The bench’s job won’t be to hold down the fort when Harden sits but rather to extend leads or trim deficits.

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