D. Howard, Chandler Parson. Houston Rockets
Photo Credit: Troy Taormina, USA Today Sports
The feel of the Houston Rockets heading into the Playoffs.
Not many of us here in Houston saw the Rockets being down 0-2 in this playoff series against the Trail Blazers. I think it is safe to say that when Harden and Howard were paired together the minimum expectation in the first year was advancing on to the second round. Even Jeff Van Gundy was fully bought in as he picked the Houston Rockets to represent the West in the Finals.
Should we have known better?
The injuries to Howard and Beverly prevented the Rockets from ending the year on a good note. They finished the year losing 6 of their last 11 games, which is something that worried me when trying to figure how many games the series with Portland would be. I went into it assuming the Rockets would put things back together after a few days off heading into the playoffs. The bigger concern to me was beating the Spurs in the second round, and then the likely meeting with the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
All things considered I still felt that the Rockets should have been able to handle Portland in 6 games. I suppose as Houston fans we should have known better than to overlook any opponent in the playoffs, at least since the Rockets weren’t going into the playoffs hitting on all cylinders.
It is discouraging to see the Rockets in this 0-2 scenario but they have the horses to get back in this series. Along with needing LaMarcus Aldridge’s supernatural shooting to cease, these things with the Rockets must be addressed…..
Should the Rockets double team LaMarcus Aldridge?
LaMarcus Alridge has been so ridiculously automatic on his mid-range shot that I don’t see that it can possibly continue. Game 1 the Rockets did a horrible job getting a body in front of Aldridge, but in Game 2 they did better as he got a lot less rebounds and less points off of those rebounds.
The question is how do you keep Aldridge from scoring 40 points every game. There are many that believe the Rockets need to start sending double teams at him, but in my opinion I don’t think that should be the next option. It could possibly work, but the chances of it are very small because double teaming Aldridge when he spends so much time out on the perimeter could spell more trouble for the Rockets.
Aldridge contested shots vs. Lillard, Matthews, Mo Williams, Wright, Batum open 3s
The Rockets are already bad at switching on defense as it is, and if Aldridge gets doubled 18 feet away from the basket, he just is going to get the ball to the open man for easier buckets. Double teaming players is most effective in the post when the area is more likely to be crowded, making it easier for players to get back to their man. The Rockets one on one defense is fairly bad already, double teaming may not be the best strategy.
If double teams on Aldridge are to come when he is close to the basket and while he is backing Rockets defenders down, I would be more open to doubling him. But in any other case I rather take my chances of Aldridge’s shooting percentages to fall by keeping one defender in his face. We have to ask ourselves do we rather have Aldridge continue taking tough shots, or do we want to leave Lillard, M. Williams, Matthews, and Batum wide open for 3 pointers, which they will hit.
Footage credit to TNT, & Turner Broadcasting
Aldridge has been on an incredible run shooting the ball, and I have to believe he will fall back down to Earth. In the 4 games the Rockets played the Trail Blazers during the season Aldridge averaged 45% shooting, but in these first 2 playoff games he is shooting 59% percent. Kevin McHale was quoted as saying that the Rockets are going to just have to live with some of the shots Aldridge has been making. And it is something that I fully agree with because Aldridge is just flat out being great, the Rockets had contested most of Aldridge’s shots in Game 2, but they were falling no matter what.
What should McHale have the Rockets do with Aldridge then?
The important adjustment McHale has to make is the the lack of physicality in defending LaMarcus Adridge. Although I believe the Aldridge can’t possibly keep up his lights out shooting, the Rockets can’t allow him the chance to continue it. If Aldridge starts out the game still hot from long range then there has to be 1-2 early hard fouls on him and be as physical as possible with him is hopes of knocking him out of his rhythm. If it has to be flagrant then so be it. Even though a lot of Aldridge’s shots are with a man in his face, he is getting any shot he wants and is too comfortable out on the floor. He has to be knock down and taken out of his comfort zone.
There aren’t times where there’s just nothing else you can possibly do
Comparison of the regular season to the playoffs.
I looked back at the games between the Rockets and Portland on Jan. 20th and Mar. 9th, and saw a few obvious discrepancies from what has gone on in the playoffs.
Harden was on his game.
The biggest difference is Harden’s scoring, he was hitting jumps and threes at a good rate. He was able to help keep the foot on the throats of Portland in the January game, and was the reason the Rockets were able to make a late comeback to beat the Trail Blazers in March.
LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t shooting like a super human
The second biggest thing was the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge appeared to be in his mortal form because he wasn’t draining every shot that he threw up. Aldridge was actually missing a good amount of shots, and wasn’t able to be the focal point of the offense. Because Aldridge wasn’t hitting at a great percentage, the ball spent a lot more time in Lillard and W. Matthews hands.
Dwight Howard takes advantage of Portland’s big men.
It is no coincidence that Dwight has been able to have his way in the low post in these two playoff games. Dwight had big performances against Portland in the regular season consistently beating their big men in the post especially with his quick first step. Dwight averaged 25.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in the 4 regular season meetings with the Trail Blazers.
The team was penetrating and hitting their 3s
The Rockets have relied on their 3-pointers for a few years now, and in the regular season games they were able to hit their shots against Portland. So far through 2 games, the Rockets are shooting the worst 3-point percentage of any team in the playoffs. The Rockets in the two games in January and March had success penetrating and getting the ball to the open shooters. Parsons, Harden, Lin all had success penetrating because the Portland defense got sucked in every time trying to help on the penetration.
Rockets supporting cast has to step up.
Other players were able to pick up the scoring slack during the regular season, the Rockets need more help from the bench. In the January game Omri Casspi had an impact scoring 15 off the bench, also with Parsons exploding for 31 points, Beverly scoring 17. In the Overtime win against Portland in March, Jeremy Lin stepped up for 26 points that went along with Harden’s 41.
The 4 regular season game averages Shooting % Rebounds Points
The 2 playoff game averages Shooting % Rebounds Points
Stats, from NBA.com
James Harden must value the small things to be a true superstar.
James Harden is an elite scorer in the NBA, sixty-percent of the people in Houston haven’t been able to see him consistently these past two years, but Harden is elite. James Harden is a very special player to watch offensively with the things he can do with the basketball, and can display great passing off the pick and roll. For whatever reason he hasn’t been able to get it together in these two playoff games, and when Harden doesn’t have it going offensively his deficiencies as a player are exposed.
I don’t want go too far in critiquing Harden because the Rockets need him and you can’t replace a player with the talents he possesses. But Harden has two years under his belt as a starter in the NBA and he needs to have a sudden epiphany that if he wants to be a true MVP type player, he has to play both sides of the court.
Personally for me I get a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach watching how James Harden approaches everything that doesn’t involve the offensive side of the court. I really respect scrappy professional athletes because doing the little things matter to them. If Harden cared just a little bit more, his game would be on another level.
Harden gets caught ball watching on too many occasions where he doesn’t really ever have a chance to affect the play which allows his man run loose and get open. Harden too often gambles on trying to steal the ball instead of just playing defense, which leaves others out to dry. It is confusing how Harden can be so agile while on offense but it doesn’t translate to the defensive end.
Harden is going to have the ball in his hands at the end of games, he is the Rockets best player and therefore makes him one of the leaders of the team. If Harden isn’t scoring efficiently, penetrating, or creating or for others and combines that with taking bad shots, he offers close to nothing to the team. He has to realize that as a leader he can’t play so lazily on defense and not do the little things that make a player great.
The glimpse of the Dwight Howard we all envisioned.
The 1st Quarter of Game 2 was a beautiful thing to watch. What we saw in that first quarter, more specifically in the first five minutes of the game when Dwight scored the teams first 13 points, is what we all thought we would see when Darly Morey signed Dwight.
Dwight is a big time mismatched for the Trail blazers, they don’t have anybody that can stop him. Dwight just can’t be the one that takes himself out of games though. He can be very good at times, and dominate but for some stretches can get in a funk where he’s getting stripped easily or commits silly turnovers trying to post up. Against the Trail Blazers that hasn’t happen too much, but that concern is there. Dwight has been doing a good job of limiting the mishandling of the ball or getting called for traveling too much.
When Dwight was getting the ball on every possession and dominating, in my opinion it was reminiscent to what Case Keenum did in that first half of the Colts game. I say that because you can have a vision of a player and the things they could potentially do on the field/court. But to actually see them do what you envisioned gives you that feeling of disbelief in what you are watching happen. And that was the same feel watching Dwight dominate in that first quarter.
It took a while during the regular season for the Rockets to learn to play with Dwight. There were so many missed alley-oop opportunities, then there were a lot of bad alley-oop passes. The Rockets for a 3-week stretch struggled getting to the ball to Dwight in the post, because they literally had trouble passing the ball to him when his being denied. This resulted in Rockets shying away from getting Dwight the ball and was inexplicably getting under 10 touches some nights.
Despite the teams recent struggles, the Rockets have come a long way with Dwight Howard. The Rockets have to continue exploiting the mismatch problems Portland has containing Dwight.
Shaq, Charles Barkley past halftime criticisms of Dwight Howard
Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley have been some of Dwight’s biggest critiques over the past few years. This year we were able to see the criticism as Rockets fans a good amount as the Rockets had their fair share of TNT games. In each game where Dwight may not have been playing up to his potential you could 100% expect for Shaq and Barkley to blast Dwight. On the nights where they criticize Dwight it is usually the same thing every time.
They might say things like Dwight needs to be more dominant, improve post moves, demand the ball, etc. all of the above. Shaq is usually more adamant about it, but Barkley takes it to Dwight too. Many fans get angered by it but it is amusing, because it is the same criticisms every time. And also I usually agree with a lot of the criticism.
Shaq praises Dwight
Shaq believes that there shouldn’t be anybody in the league that can defend Dwight, and that Dwight should dominant every night. Shaq sang the praises of Dwight during the halftime show and was really upbeat about Dwight’s play after clamoring to see that dominance out of him. One thing I disagree with Shaq is that he doesn’t like Dwight leaving the post to run a pick and roll. But running the pick and roll with Harden, Parsons has shown to be a successful play for the Rockets.
Charles Barkley’s BAFFLING opinion
Charles Barkley apparently doesn’t like what Dwight Howard did because of how it conflicts with the Houston Rockets’ usual run n’ gun style of play. Chuck acknowledged that Dwight was playing great but said,
“That’s not the way they play, it makes their offense stagnant, it takes James Harden, who’s their best player out of the game, it takes Chandler Parsons out the game.”
“Dwight Howard played very well, but that’s not the way the Rockets win, and they are not going to win.”
Based off of recent years of criticisms of Dwight, Chuck on a night where Dwight is being dominant, contradicts himself saying that Dwight’s dominance not best for the team to win. Barkley’s number one reason for having this opinion was the the fact that the Rockets weren’t winning at halftime.
Chuck feels that feeding the ball like they were in Game 2 takes the Rockets out of the way they like to play. But the Rockets can still get out and run even with giving Dwight all of his touches. They just have to be active on defense, get pass deflections, steals, blocks, or get the long rebound, and they will still be able to get points in transition.
The Houston Rockets need Dwight to be dominant and to keep feeding him the ball, others need to hit their shots.
Chuck was looking at things in sort of a vacuum by using the fact that the Rockets weren’t winning as a reasoning for not liking the way the Rockets were feeding the ball to Dwight. If Dwight can play like he did in the first half and the rest of the team can actually shoot a good percentage, the Rockets will be very hard to beat.
The Rockets weren’t winning at halftime and eventually lost because the shooters couldn’t get the ball to go in the basket. The Rockets didn’t lose because they were feeding Dwight the ball so much that it caused the team to lack flow or offensive rhythm. Portland’s shooters had their shots going in, none more important than LaMarcus Aldridge’s. When the Rockets have clean looks they have to hit, at the end of the day that is the bottom line
When Parsons, Harden, etc. have looks, that’s all the “rhythm” they need, even if Chuck doesn’t see that, or agree.
How else should the Rockets approach the game?
I want to see the Rockets continue to give Dwight his touches, why should Rockets do Portland a favor by not getting the ball to him. Dwight may hit a stretch where he can’t get the ball to go in, in that case he needs to get good position and look for teamates cutting to the basket, or the open man.
More pick and rolls with Parsons, Harden and Lin, the Rockets have proven to be successful penetrating with these players against Portland’s defense before. Instead of all the ball handling isolation that lead to step back jumpers or 3s, they should run pick and rolls to get better looks. When long range shots aren’t falling, the Rockets can’t look to shoot themselves out of it, digging themselves a bigger hole.
I don’t understand why the Rockets ball handlers don’t attack the basket looking for an opening but if they don’t see one, just dribble the ball back out instead of taking a bad shot. Steve Nash had a lot of success doing this, and there isn’t much downside to it.
The Rockets did a better job rebounding the ball in Game 2, and they need to continue that. Rockets must be stuck on the man they are defending like magnets. Backs are against the wall and everything is riding on these next 2 games, the Rockets need to play like it. Mental mistakes in defensive assignments, and silly turnovers must be eliminated.
“Game 3 is our season.”- James Harden
Yes it is.