NBA Season Preview: 2014-2015 Season

A year ago we at HooPs, excited to start the 2013-2014 season previewed and highlighted last year’s season with excitement on the following:
– the Battle in the Western Conference
– Weighed on the chances of the Heat three-peat
– Return of Derrick Rose
– And the draft class of the summer of 2014

Some things haven’t changed and some have.

The West is conceivably just as deep as it was a year ago. There are 7 or 8 teams that have championship aspirations. There may be as many as 12 Western teams that could make the playoffs if they were in the Eastern conference.

Derrick Rose is set to return “AGAIN”. Wish him a healthy season.

The Heat failed to three-peat while The Spurs hoist their 5th championship of the Duncan era. Now on to the 2014-2015 season.

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New Faces in New Places
Jeremy Lin in Los Angeles. Chandler Parsons in Dallas. Trevor Ariza in Houston. Jason Terry in Houston. LeBron JAMES BACK IN CLEVELAND! Chris Bosh stays in Miami. Pao Gasol in Chicago. Luol Deng in Miami. Kevin Love in CLEVELAND. Lance Stephenson to Charlotte. Melo stays in New York. Who else of importance? Paul Pierce to the Wizards. And the Spurs still have their big 3 and the best coach in the league. Favorites? Yes!

How the West was Won
The West is better than ever. We say that every year but chew on this. The top 3 teams in the West in no particular order are Spurs, Thunder and Clippers. The next 3 are Warriors, Blazers and Grizzlies again in no particular order. Only 2 of these 6 teams will make the playoffs: Rockets, Mavericks, Suns, Kings and Nuggets and Timberwolves.
It’s possible that 10 teams in the West will have winning records. To get into the playoffs may require 50 wins this season in the loaded West!
(Last year, Dallas won 49 games as the 8th seed)

Opening Night: October 28, 2014
Three games slated for Tuesday, 10/28/2014
Magic vs Pelicans
and then 2 games on TNT. First the Mavericks visit the Spurs for a Texas showdown and then the Rockets visit the Lakers in the late night game.
In game 2, Kobe Bryant plays against Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin plays against his former team.

Championship Contenders

East– NewLookCavs

Cleveland. Any team with LeBron James, who is widely regarded as the best player on the planet, is an instant title contender. Now add Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao and James Jones. First you had my interest, now you have my attention! (Django Unchained)

Chicago. Adding Paul Gasol to a healthy Derek Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich AND a tenacious Tom Thibodeau defensive system will be a welcome nemesis to Cleveland’s supremacy.

All other eastern conference teams are playing for third place with Raptors and Wizards likely to round out the top 4.

West
Spurs – Embark on their first “successful” title defense.
Clippers and Chris Paul – Hope to get to CP3’s first ever Conference Finals.
Thunder – Plan to weather the storm till reigning MVP Kevin Durant returns.
Warriors, Mavericks, Rockets and Grizzlies – Wish to join the elite of the West and make deep playoff runs.

LoveThisGame

Let’s get it Started!
Welcome to the 2014-2015 NBA season.
May the best team win!

HooPs

The Youngest Team in the Playoffs: The Houston Rockets

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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.

@HoopsReportCard

https://twitter.com/HoopsReportCard

Battle for the Playoffs: In the West – March 9, 2013

wildwildWest

 

After a Friday night of 12 NBA games, let’s reflect — the Miami heat (after 17 straight wins) clinches a playoff birth in the East. But let’s focus on the Western conference, where things are far from settled.

Welcome to the wild wild West.  Yes, this is the west. A place that the best team record-wise San Antonio has NOT clinched the playoffs yet. And the worst team record-wise (a tie between Phoenix and New Orleans) has not been eliminated from playoff contention YET.

San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers hold the top 3 spots. Memphis and Denver hold spots 4 and 5 respectively. The tightest race is for the final 3 spots in the Western conference playoff race currently held by Golden State, Houston and Utah for the 6th, 7th and 8th spots respectively.

The LA Lakers are in the 9th slot only half a game (0.5) behind Utah for the 8th and final spot. The door appears to be wide open for the Lakers to snatch the 8th slot from Utah. Utah has lost 3 straight games and 7 of their last 10 as they struggle on the road.
Kobe Bryant aka Black Mamba led the Lakers to a thrilling come-from-behind win against the visiting Toronto Raptors last night with 41 points and an array of impressive 3 point shots and dunks. That’s 3 wins in 4 games for the Lake Show. All 3 come back wins. And the only loss coming against the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s clear that LA is playing its best basketball of the season. The final 5 weeks to the season will be exciting to say the least as we see who gets in and who goes home.
 Utah loses a heart breaker in Chicago when Marco Belinelli sank a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left to send Utah to its 3rd straight loss.
The Houston Rockets win a crucial Western Conference matchup against Golden State to  win their 3rd straight against the Warriors and move within 1 game of them for the 6th seed in the West. Houston hosts Golden State on March 17 for the final meeting between these two teams this season.
In other relevant news, Memphis beats Cleveland for their 11th win in 12 games.  Dallas squeezed by Detroit. And Darren Williams sets an NBA record with nine 3-pointers in the first half and a franchise record with eleven (11) 3-pointers in the game!
The West is heating up.  Stay Tuned
Signing off,
– King of Hoops