A week ago, I began writing a piece on the Houston Rockets entitled “The team no one wants to see in the playoffs”. This was on the strength of the young Rockets clinching their first playoff berth since 2009 on 4/9/2013.
Since then the Rockets have lost 3 of their final 4 games and dropped from the 6th seed to the 8th and final seed in the Western conference playoffs. Rest assured: the NBA gets what they want. Dream matchups and high ratings: 1) James Harden against his former team with an abundance of story lines 2) The Lakers get the best chance to stay in the playoffs longer against the Spurs. Okay! Enough with conspiracy theories 🙂
What is the Rockets ceiling?
I recall the ESPN analysts and so-called NBA experts making their preseason picks. Not one picked the Rockets to make the playoffs. Surprisingly, the Rockets were battling for the 6 seed just 2 days. They just finished the 2012-2013 the regular season with 45 wins. To think that this young team which actually endured a 7 game losing streak earlier in the season and still finish just short of 50 total wins is unfathomable but should be delightful to Rockets fans.
How did they do it?
Time to give credit to the coaching staff and the GM. We live in a world where no one gets enough credit when a job is “well-done” yet receive extra helpings of blame when things turn south. (As a reminder this was partially written on April 9th, much of this was not evident during the Rockets meltdown against the Lakers last night in Los Angeles).
Kevin McHale has instilled a unique offense that has the youngest team in the league lead the league in scoring. The Houston Rockets will make history this season. They will as a team be the team that has 1) taken the most 3 point attempts in a season on NBA history and 2) the team that has made the most 3 point field goals in NBA history. This team does not have a Ray Allen nor Reggie Miller nor Tim Legler nor Ryan Anderson for that matter. What they do have is 2 guards that push the pace and create open looks for 5 or 6 very capable shooters.
GM, Darryl Morey pulled a major deal by signing James Harden from the OKC Thunder giving the Rockets a bonafide star and surrounding him with talent that has promising potential.
To say that Harden has surpassed expectations is an understatement. It would be a good investment for a team to see positive rewards in 2 or 3 seasons in seeing a star player blossom into an ALLSTAR “eventually”. But what did Harden do IMMEDIATELY:
– started the first two games of the season by scoring 37 and 45 respectively.
– becoming an unquestionable Allstar at his first shot as a starter in a conference loaded with high caliber guard talent
– breaking a few Rockets records in his first season including consecutive games scoring 20+ points, consecutive games scoring 25+, most free throws made and attempted in a single season and more
– leading the league in free throws attempted. The only player this season averaging over 10+ free throw attempts
– Should I continue?!
Chandler Parsons – Chandler is the best monetary value in NBA basketball. Do you remember a nice young player named Chase Budinger?! Yeah, I almost didn’t either. Chandler has made us all forget him. And with Budinger being out most of this season with injuries, Parsons is the undeniable choice between the two. He has improved his shooting, really good at cuts to the basket and if he gets his defense back to its previous 1st year prowess, will be on his way. And that shot to send that game into overtime! Chandler might be the only “untouchable” (untradeable) player on the Rockets besides Harden.
Jeremy Lin – has improved in every month this season. I think his improved play especially in the past 3 months has brought him into his own. I think Lin is the X-factor in the Rockets making any noise in the playoffs. When he limits his turnovers and plays with the aggressive motivation like he showed against his former teams (NY Knicks and Golden State), the sky is the limit for the Rockets. He doesn’t have to be CP3 nor does he even have to be LINSANITY. But if he limits his mistakes and fearlessly runs the offense, then the Rockets can make some noise.
What makes the Rockets unique? The following players were virtual unknowns from last year but have really impressed this year.
Omer Asik – Omer has been in the top 3 league leaders in rebounding all season. He is another player that has met and exceeded all expectations for him. He would be a perfect candidate for Hakeem Olajuwon’s “big-man-camp” this offseason. The development of a post game and ability to hit a 12 to 15 footer would end talks/speculation/dreams/lusts of Dwight Howard in Houston (unless Dwight says he wants to leaves LA).
Patrick Beverly – Patrick is the prototype of a backup point guard. Tenacious on defense, decent spot up shooter, reliable rebounder, limits turnovers. And McHale has gone to him increasingly in the 4th quarter to close out games. I have seen about 3 instances that Rockets would probably have lost games offensively and defensively without him on the floor. The most compelling in San Antonio when he was subbed in for Lin because Tony Parker went basket, basket, free throws, basket on Lin consecutively. Beverly comes in and gets a huge block (like a center!), which the for-sure basket would have resulted in a 6 point deficit instead of the resulting 1 point deficit (5 point switch! with Chandler knocking down a 3).
Greg Smith – Greg spent a lot of time in the D league. Has a back to the basket game. He is a 2nd year, 6′ 11″ big man out of Fresno State. And gives huge contributions for an undrafted center in my opinion.
Terrence Jones – He had the most DNPCD of any Rocket this season. Also spent a lot of time in the D-league. Now making solid contributions in more minutes played of late especially with Chandler and Delfino out in the past 10 games. He might be the wild card. He appears to have a more polished offensive game then both Donatus Motiejunas and Thomas Robinson (in limited sample size).
And there are more: James Anderson, Aaron Brooks, Francisco Garcia, Donatus Motiejunas & Thomas Robinson.
Bottom line, Houston is good enough offensively to win a road game. When you can win a road game, then you can win a series — against the Memphis Grizzles or against the San Antonio Spurs! Since the Rockets “shot-themselves-in-the-foot” and did not take care of Phoenix on the road or LA, they get a gift of a postseason matchup with the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder.
How will the Rockets fair? Will they win a playoff game? Will they force 7 games? I won’t attempt to predict the outcome. You can find such predictions on every website out there.
Consider this the quiet before the storm. The time for reflection before the battle. The team with average experience under 2 years finishes at 8 games above .500. The same record as a Lakers team that has been on fire lately and has 4 “superstars”.
Turnovers and defense will be the big questions surrounding the Rockets. Can the young Rockets limit their turnovers? Can they hold their own defensively? Will their high octane offense still operate at a high level in the postseason?
We will begin to find out on Sunday.