rockets playoff watch: march 29th

I took the weekend and an extra day off to let the standings develop a little more and as a result it looks a lot clearer who is still in the race. At 36-39, I’m ready to eliminate Utah, for whom it would take the most miraculous of circumstances to pull through for a playoff spot. At 36-36, Phoenix looks all but eliminated as well, but I’ll leave them in the list until they cross the suggested threshold of 45-37 for the 8th seed.

Over the last few days we’ve seen a lot of the playoff teams in action. Houston lost its game at Miami but came very close to pulling off an upset. That occasion, of course, was completely ignored by the national media who instead decided to pour accolades all over the big-3’s impressive achievement of each of them recording 30-10 nights. The fact that the Rockets lost by just 6 points and were in the game going into the last couple of minutes was somehow lost in all the hoopla.

New Orleans lost David West but has so far coped well, with Carl Landry stepping in nicely into his place. The Hornets were not able to take care of the Lakers but they were able to squeeze past the Suns with a late push (that, in my opinion, eliminated the Suns from that last playoff spot). The Grizzlies have been on a freaking tear and seem like they’ll be impossible to catch down the stretch. They’ve won all the games they need to and also some that they don’t need to. They’re still a game behind the Hornets, but with one of the easiest remaining schedules in the NBA, they should be able to pull through to a 7th seed.

Finally, the Spurs have looked a little vulnerable. After losing Tim Duncan for a few weeks, the Spurs also listed Manu Ginobili day-to-day and gave Tony Parker and Antonio McDyess a night off yesterday against the Trailblazers. The Blazers, who were playing the Spurs twice in 3 games, ended up winning both and quite possibly the season series as well. The Spurs are in the middle of a 3-game skid (all three while missing Tim Duncan). While they have no reason to panic, I think they’re finding out how Duncan’s loss in the post closes off their three point game considerably.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
— already qualified —
5. Denver Nuggets
6. Portland Trailblazers
— probably qualified —
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2.5)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1.5)

Today’s Games

There are a only two games of interest tonight.

Houston Rockets (38-35) @ New Jersey Nets (23-49)

There is not much to say about this game except that it is a must-win (as will be the case with almost every game down the stretch). A loss here will almost absolutely eliminate us from the playoff race. A victory here won’t be anywhere near guaranteeing a playoff berth. So there’s everything to play for, for Houston, as we continue our final Eastern Conference road trip. This is the first game of a back-to-back and we need both games.

Phoenix Suns (36-36) @ Sacramento Kings (20-52)

Phoenix are in a similar situation to us in that a loss to a team like Sacramento will all but end their postseason hopes. The Suns do have one of the tougher remaining schedules of the teams competing for the last playoff spot, given that they are playing OKC, San Antonio twice, Chicago and Dallas in their last 10 games.

Other Notes

LeBron James returns to Cleveland for the second time this season. Watch out for angry fans and much hoopla about nothing. Last time the Heat visited Cleveland, LeBron dropped 38 on them and began a suicidal skid where I think the Cavs lost like 21 of 22 games and the Heat went on a similar positive run. Miami has already won the season series, leading 3-0, but we can always hope that LeBron trips over a Dwyane Wade who is feigning injury and twists his ankle as he barges into Chris Bosh’s nose, breaking it.

rockets playoff watch: march 24th

The 4 games the Rockets were interested in yesterday went 2-2 so it can be considered an okay night. Fortunately, one of the results going in our favor was a home victory over the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies’ game was one result that went against us, as Memphis managed to pull off an improbably upset in Boston. Let’s take a look at the games one by one.

Memphis played a tight game against Boston that, I believe, didn’t go more than 3 points in any team’s favor in the 4th quarter. The Celtics were playing from behind for most of the way. Going into the last minute, down by three points after a missed shot from the Grizzlies, Rondo ran the break and, instead of looking for a good shot, tried to finish a tough teardrop to cut the lead to 1. He failed and the Grizzlies had to foul. Marc Gasol managed to miss both free throws (just a day after his brother, Pau, made to clutch free throws to send the game into 3OT) but the Celtics were unable to convert on the other end with about 4 seconds left on the clock. Boston, as a result, fell a game behind Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings. These losses could be crucial for Boston since they will be the difference between playing Orlando and Miami in the second-round.

Next up, we had Utah in Oklahoma City. Thankfully, the Jazz were working with a depleted roster with neither Favors or Harris active and fell to the Thunder by 12 points. That loss pushes the Jazz to a .500 record and they can probably write off their playoff hopes now unless the rest of the teams competing for a spot in the Western Conference severely implode. The Jazz shouldn’t mind missing out on the playoffs too much as they have gone through wholesale changes during this season.

The Rockets took on the Warriors at the Toyota Center next and it was the exciting, high-scoring affair that was expected. Well, exciting if you are a Rockets fan, which I am. The first quarter was pretty close, with the Warriors pulling up to 57-57 at one stage, before a 9-0 run gave the Rockets a bit of a cushion going into the halftime break. The Rockets came back in the second half and totally took care of business, with Chuck Hayes recording his first career triple-double. Most of the Warriors starters sat out most of the fourth quarter as Houston pulled out an easy win 131-112, including their highest scoring output this season. Interestingly, new signees Mike Harris and Demarr Carroll got minutes yesterday, but Terrence Williams continued his accommodation at the RADHisson (that’s the Rick Adelman Dog House).

The last game of the night was Phoenix hosting the lowly Toronto Raptors. The Suns, of course, were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after their close 3OT loss in LA on Tuesday night. Their tiredness showed as they were trailing most of the way, but Aaron Brooks came off the bench fresh (he was suspended for the previous game) and drained 25 points en route to a comeback win. The win keeps the Suns hovering around that last spot.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+0.5)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+1)

Today’s Games

New Orleans Hornets (40-31) @ Utah Jazz (36-36)

The Hornets should have all but locked up a playoff spot this season, but the fact of the matter is that they are still just half a game ahead of the Grizzlies and 2.5 games ahead of the Rockets with about 10-11 games remaining for all the teams competing for a spot. A win for Utah would be nice here, but the last time we wanted them to do that they went and got blown out by the Grizzlies. Nevertheless, the Jazz are back at the Energy Solutions Arena and their motivation is that a loss here will almost certainly eliminate them from the playoffs (with the 8th seed mark speculated to be 45-37). Let’s hope Harris and Favors are back today and put a pounding on the Hornets.

Other Notes

The Nuggets continued to show how awesome they have become in the post-Carmelo era by taking care of the league’s best team, minus one Tim Duncan. The Spurs were off to a hot start again, opening a double-digit lead against the Nuggets in Denver, before the home team fought back through Al Harrington, of all people. It seemed like the Spurs were reduced to mainly a jump-shooting team and were beaten at their own game (three-pointers) by a sharpshooting Nuggets offense. Even with Arron Afflalo, their self-elected closer of late, injured the Nuggets were able to pull out a 3-point victory. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Spurs the rest of the season. If they continue to struggle without Duncan, perhaps a first-round date with them wouldn’t be entirely catastrophic for whoever the the 8th seed is.

rockets playoff watch: march 23rd

There were two games that had playoff implications for the Rockets yesterday night and they went 50/50 in the Rockets favor.

First, the Blazers hosted the sinking Washington Wizards and took care of business. This was not surprising or unexpected. What is more concerning for the Rockets and the other teams grappling for playoff spot in the West is the performance of Gerald Wallace. Wallace led the Blazers to the victory scoring 28 points off 14 shot attempts and also recording 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Even while keeping in mind that this performance came against the lowly Wizards, it’s certainly demonstrating that Wallace has been fully integrated into the Portland offensive and defensive schemes. We are done with our season series against the Trailblazers and given that they’ve probably more or less confirmed their playoff spot, this event should only really be a danger sign for whomever between the Lakers and Mavericks gets that 3rd seed.

In the second game, Phoenix visited the Los Angeles Lakers and for most of the game they looked like they were up against it. However, a late rally from the Suns sent the game to overtime. In OT, Channing Frye went to the line shooting three with 1.1 seconds left and drained all of them to send the game to double-overtime. In 20T, it was this time Pau Gasol knocking down two important free throws with a little more than 2 seconds left on the clock to tie the game up. Grant Hill was unable to handle an inbound pass from Dudley to shoot for the win and the game went into an unprecedented triple-overtime. This time, Ron Artest took over (never thought I’d be typing those words in that order) with some solid defense and a ferocious left-handed dunk that probably was the last nail in the coffin for the Suns. Some very questionable play-making in the ensuing Suns possessions ensure that they fell short by 2 on the night.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+0)

Today’s Games

There are many games of interest today as every one except the Hornets and Blazers are in action.

Memphis Grizzlies (39-32) @ Boston Celtics (50-19)

This is a very important game for the Rockets, who themselves beat the Celtics just about a week ago. The Grizzlies open a tough stretch of games, playing on the road at Boston and then Chicago on Friday before coming back home to face the Spurs on Sunday. If they go 0-3 in that stretch, they will end up with 35 losses, which is one more than the Rockets have now. That would be the ideal scenario for Houston. This is the last difficult stretch of games remaining for the Grizzlies and, in fact, their only remaining opponents above .600. If they swing even one of these three games, I would wager that the Grizzlies will lock up the 8th seed.

Utah Jazz (36-35) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (45-24)

Oklahoma City is in a strange position where they don’t really have too much room for improvement with regards to playoff positioning. A rough last couple of weeks, however, could mean that they surrender home-court advantage in Round 1 to the Nuggets. Hopefully that is motivation enough for them to take care of business against the Jazz. Devin Harris is listed as a game-time decision for the Jazz and Derrick Favors is currently questionable. Given that a loss here would push the Jazz to 36 losses, I would say it is extremely likely that they try to get both to play to give them the best shot at victory. A victory here for the Thunder would be perfect and probably push the Jazz one game away from playoff elimination.

Golden State Warriors (30-41) @ Houston Rockets (37-34)

This is the final game in the homestand for the Rockets before they head on an Eastern Conference road trip including a match-up against the Heat. A victory here for Houston coupled with a loss for Memphis would put the Rockets just 1 game out of the 8th seed. The Warriors are a team that depends heavily on their offense and I’m hoping that Houston’s improved defense of late will be able to counter them. The Rockets will be missing Budinger, however, which means that Courtney Lee will be starting, so the team chemistry may be affected slightly. This is a must-win game for Houston–a loss in a game like this most certainly eliminates us from playoff contention.

Toronto Raptors (20-50) @ Phoenix Suns (35-34)

After a chaotic game last night against the Lakers, the Phoenix suns head home for the second-night of a back-to-back. The Suns are likely going to be very tired–not only is their core made up of veterans (Nash, Hill, Carter) but they played a 3OT game last night. The Raptors have had a torrid season after Chris Bosh took his talents to Miami and our statistically eliminated from the playoffs, I believe. They have nothing to lose at the moment. A win here for Toronto against a tired and drained Suns team would push the Suns over the Rockets in terms of losses, as long as we win our game.

rockets playoff watch: march 22nd

Not too many updates since yesterday. There was one game of importance for the Rockets: Utah vs. Memphis. We needed Utah to win this one so that we’d pull closer to the Grizzlies in terms of losses but unfortunately the Jazz were still smarting from their loss against Houston on Sunday. Or perhaps it was just that they lost Devin Harris in the first quarter, apparently. I don’t know how serious his injury is but if he is out long term then we can probably comfortably eliminate Utah from the playoff race.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+0.5)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+0.5)
11. Utah Jazz (+0.5)

Today’s Games

There are two games of interest today as both the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers are in action.

Washington Wizards (17-51) @ Portland Trailblazers (40-30)

This should be a pretty simple walkthrough for the Blazers, who have managed to integrate Gerald Wallace into their line-up pretty quickly. The Wizards are having a season to forget. With Portland probably out of reach for the Rockets, a victory here for them wouldn’t hurt our playoff chances all that much. So while I’ll be cheering for John Wall and the Washington Wizards, I don’t really care what the outcome of this game is all that much.

Phoenix Suns (35-33) @ Los Angeles Lakers (50-20)

This is an important game for the Rockets because if Phoenix wins these types of games, they will jump ahead of Houston in that push for the 8th playoff spot. This is the first of 6 remaining games on the Suns’ schedule against teams above .700. LA has their playoff participation locked up, but the Mavs are close on their back for what would be homecourt in the second round of the playoffs, so I don’t expect the Lakers to take it easy. They also need to get Kobe into some rhythm heading into the April.

If the Suns lose here, like they’re supposed to, they’ll slip another half a game down from the Rockets and, more importantly, will have the same number of losses as Houston. This would mean that Houston would have to win more games down the stretch than Phoenix, which should be easier considering we have an easier remaining schedule. I’m sure Steve Nash is not going to go down easily, so this will probably be a good game to watch. Go LA!

Other Notes

Just saw the news on Tim Duncan’s injury this morning. Apparently the Spurs were still able to take care of business against the Warriors. Unfortunately, it seems like a pretty minor injury in the context of things, and Duncan is expected to be out only a couple of weeks. I don’t expect the Spurs record to deflect much as a result of it but it could present itself as a ray of hope for whoever ends up getting 8th seed in the West, although in reality Duncan’s usage has been so low this season that it probably won’t mean much in the opening rounds.

On Carmelo and the Rockets

The buzz around the basketball world the last few days has been focused around one man–Carmelo Anthony. This is no surprise, since Carmelo is probably just a little jealous that this summer didn’t feature any discussion around his name because he chose to prematurely sign a contract extension during his first few seasons in the NBA. Now, he apparently doesn’t want to wait one year to hog the limelight all to himself but is creating waves by trying to get traded away from the Nuggets. The Rockets have come up over and over again because of Daryl Morey’s wealth of trade assets–ranging from expired contracts (9 of the players on our roster will be coming up for new contracts next year) to young talent (Hill, Budinger, Brooks) to two New York Knicks draft picks that could be pretty high if the Knicks don’t gel with their new-look team.

Rockets fans over the entire interwebs have been chiming into support several different trade scenarios–ranging from giving them bench pieces that we don’t really need to trading away most of our starting line-up. I am on the more conservative end of this spectrum. My opinion: Carmelo would be a nice add, but we shouldn’t wreck the team just to get him.

Last season, people did not expect the Rockets to be a team that won more games than it lost. Admittedly, we shaved it close finishing the season 42-40, but in doing so we demonstrated that you don’t need a superstar talent to be successful in the NBA–at least not in the regular season. In fact, our mid-season trade to unload McGrady at the expense of Carl Landry, thus fetching Martin in return, although a very savvy trade executed by Morey, probably ended up keeping us out of the playoffs. Our team chemistry was pretty good, Landry and Scola were monsters off the bench at the PF and the rest of the team was contributing pretty well. When we traded Landry away, K-Mart came in and wasn’t immediately explosive and didn’t start producing at his expected levels immediately. Given that the Western Conference playoff race is always this tight, this was a dealbreaker for us that prevented us from qualifying to the playoffs. Martin getting injured shortly after joining didn’t help us, either.

We’ve now got the same core from last season that are great playing with each other and we’ve added a superstar talent–Yao Ming. People tend to take a lot of credit away from Yao just because they expect him to be a lot better since he is a lot bigger than every one else. This is unfair to Yao. Shawn Bradley, for example, was 7’6″ and the second overall draft pick but ended his careers with extremely average numbers (8.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG). Unless Yao loses an arm or something, his numbers won’t drop that low because he is a solid basketball player, not just a tall one. We have to give Yao a shot with this team. One of our major weaknesses last year was at the center–we had 6’6″ Chuck Hayes starting, backed up on the bench by 3-point sharpshooter David Anderson. Scola/Hill sometimes played the center spot but they were out of their comfort zone. Teams could play our guards tight and yet we shot through the roof–or at least AB did.

With Yao, we’ve now got a legitimate post players who may require two defenders when he’s playing well. We’ve got perimeter sharpshooters galore in the form of AB, K-Mart, Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee and Shane Battier. Heck, even Brad Miller can knock down a corner three. These guys will be getting a lot more open looks if Yao can get the ball to them. We now have the flexibility to play both big (Yao, Scola, PP + 2 guards) as well as small (3 guards + Scola + Hayes) lineups depending on whether we need to run and gun or slow down the clock. Trading away key pieces to this flexible offense to get Carmelo seems foolhardy to me, especially if the trade is going to happen before the season gets underway.

To summarize, I’m not against a trade for Carmelo but I don’t want to do it for the core of our team, and especially not if it must be done now rather than closer to the trade deadline. Carmelo, although matured, isn’t the most stable person and he’s coming from a culture where players are more reliant on their own talent (J.R. Smith is a trigger shooter and Billups is a former SG turned PG). The Nuggets, for example, were 18th in the NBA in assists per game, compared with the 11th that the Rockets were. The only notable teams below them on the list were OkC (23), Orlando (25) and Miami (28).

Darly Morey has shown a good track record of making decisions that both help our team out strategically as well as financially. Let’s hope he continues this trend and doesn’t fall into the trap other GMs have fallen into in the past, of thinking that you can simply drag and drop a player from another environment and expect the production level to be the same or better, immediately. Carmelo over a few months would probably make up for trading a bunch of our best players away since he is that good, but we’d probably be burning the season in exchange for someone who could take off and leave for NY as soon as the season is over.

houston rockets 2010-2011

I’m going to go ahead and take a premature look at the Houston Rockets outfit for the upcoming NBA season. Premature because Morey may still have a few aces up his sleeve. If so, these will probably have to be sign-and-trades since it appears that we have used up our salary cap while renewing the contracts of Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola.

Starters

#0 Aaron Brooks (PG)

Aaron Brooks will come back as starting point guard after a stellar year last season, where he won the Most Improved Player honor from the NBA. Brooks led the NBA in three pointers made last season and took on the role of our primary scoring option (at least for the beginning of the season) as the Trevor Ariza experiment kind of failed and Kevin Martin was finding his feet.

This season, Yao is back which means that our guards should get even more open shots as teams try to crowd the middle and double Yao. This should mean more open looks for Aaron Brooks and as long as he keeps up the performances, more points. With several scoring options on the team now, with Yao back and Kevin Martin having the summer to work his way into Adelman’s offense, Brooks will have to tone down his shooting game a bit and look for his teammates. Let’s see if he’s up for the challenge!

#12 Kevin Martin (SG)

When the rockets pulled off the blockbuster deal earlier this year, signing Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill and a couple of other guys, they were making an investment in a young shooting guard who could become our primary scoring option after Tracy McGrady moved on. Kevin Martin took some time to find his feet in Adelman’s offense and although his final season numbers left a bit to be desired (about 21 PPG), he did miss a significant portion of the end of our season, due to injury (and the fact that we were probably not going to qualify to the playoffs).

Here’s hoping that Martin has worked his way into Adelman’s offense over the summer and that he is less of a ball-hog. That stuff worked in Sacramento where apart from Tyreke Evans, he was the only dependable scorer, but the Rockets are looking at several scorers on the roster now, so Martin will need to share the ball a bit. He’s got to be our go-to guy, though!

#1 Trevor Ariza (SF)

Trevor Ariza was our main pickup last offseason after being a pretty clutch player down the stretch for the Lakers in their 2009 NBA championship. With Artest leaving for the Lakers, it was effectively a trade. Artest had been okay for us–his defense had been good but his offense left a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, Ariza has struggled with more of the same problems during his year at the Rockets. Of course, it was unfair to ask a player coming off the bench to start and be our primary scorer, but I do think Ariza’s talents were overrated a bit.

Ariza contributed 15 points a game last year, but what he was best at was his defense. He’s not as strong as Artest by any stretch of the imagination, but he plays the passing lanes really well and he can finish strong on fast breaks. His nearly 2 steals a game was good enough for #6 in the league. His defensive contribution is inarguable but he definitely needs to improve his shot selection to continue to justify his place in the starting line-up (although we don’t really have much in the bank to replace him with).

#4 Luis Scola (PF)

Luis Scola just signed a huge contract with the Rockets. Although it has not yet been confirmed, the contract is rumored to be worth $47 million over 5 years. Considering that Scola made a little over $3 million last year, that can be considered quite a huge upgrade. And he’s worth it, too.

Scola is an absolute workhorse and probably cannot be matched in the league for hustle. He’s new to the league but he’s shown that good talent can succeed in any league. With Yao out for all of last season, Scola had to step up and help the undersized Chuck Hayes guard the paint. His offense wasn’t bad, either, putting up 16 points a game along with 2 assists. His stat line was certainly impressive.

With Yao back in the starting line-up, Scola will be even more effective in offense on the weak side. Defensively, he’ll probably allow Yao to play smaller minutes and help out a guy like Jordan Hill or Chuck Hayes coming off the bench at the center position. Scola is on the wrong side of youth, though, so his 5-year contract may well see him finish off his career in the Rockets uniform. Let’s hope he can continue contributing as he did last year. Oh, and let’s also hope that he stops flopping so much.

#11 Yao Ming (C)

For a team that was missing it’s starting center (and such a huge one at that), the Rockets did pretty well to finish as the only team in the league with a winning record but no playoff berth. Of course, Adelman tweaked our offense quite a bit to have us run more and play smaller, especially with our 3-guard line-ups and with Chuck Hayes starting at center.

Our offense this year is going to be a lot different with Yao comingĀ  back, and especially a ginger-footed Yao coming back (one who cannot really run the court, if he even had that ability before–luckily we have Scola for that!). However, it will not hurt to have a shot-blocking presence in the paint once again.

At his peak, Yao was getting 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. He’s going to be a lot less than that statistically speaking, but I think he’s going to have a huge effect on the intangibles. With Brooks, Martin and Ariza all able 3-point shooters, we should be able to work an inside-outside game into our offense. We just need to keep Yao healthy, which means he’s probably going to have low minutes. I sure hope Jack Sikma has been working Jordan Hill into NBA shape!

Bench

The Rockets have the luxury of having one of the deeper benches in the league, although some of that advantage is wiped out by not having an incandescent (I’m stealing a word from NBA 2K10, here) starting line-up. Let’s take a look at our bench:

Centers

Our back-up centers list consists of David Anderson and Chuck Hayes with Jordan Hill filling in sometimes. Certainly not an impressive list, but one that is capable. David Anderson is a different kind of center in that he has almost no post game but has a really good outside shot. However, towards the end of last season he was showing off a few post moves, so hopefully an offseason with Sikma will have done him wonders. The Chuckwagon is… well… the Chuckwagon. He’s not going to blow anyone away, but he’s had a few good games.

Power Forwards

Our power forwards list consists of Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries and Patrick Patterson. Of this bunch, I think Hill is probably the biggest prospect because he’s young, tall and athletic. Recent press from Sikma suggests that Hill hasn’t developed as quickly as desired. I’m hoping that they are just being tight-lipped about it! Jeffries is a decent back-up forward. He gets a lot of offensive boards and doesn’t like dunking. He’s more in the team to fill up minutes and I suppose clear cap space next season when his contract expires. Patrick Patterson is our first round draft pick but I unfortunately did not follow enough NCAA basketball to comment on him.

Small Forwards

Our backup small forwards come in the form of Chase Budinger, Shane Battier and Mike Harris (if he get’s re-signed from the D-League). Budinger could be more accurately classified as a shooting guard given how much of a scorer he is, but he’s usually not playing that position when he’s in the rotation. Budinger remains one of our shinier prospects off the bench next year. Battier used to be our defensive backbone but his performances have fallen off a bit. I personally think his best basketball is past him, but he could still be useful, given that most of our current line-up is all offense and not so much defense. Harris came from Rice (woot!) and has been dominating the D-League without managing to secure a long-term NBA contract. He’s around more for backup due to injury.

Guards

The final two players off the bench are Kyle Lowry, who recently signed a 4-year deal worth $24 million, and Jermaine Taylor. Taylor is a scrub, so not much to talk about him (apart from his great athletic ability). Lowry if a player who is coming into his own in the NBA, as our 3-guard rotations demonstrated last year. He’s great at running the fast-break and drawing fouls and he’s also worked a hell of a lot on his 3-point shot. Lowry is a pass-first point guard so he would be useful in situations where Brooks is not shooting well. Definitely a good guy to hang on to, although I foresee him being traded away towards the end of his contract.

So that’s basically it! I’m pumped for the NBA season although there are still several months to go!


playoffs, round 2

Round 2 of the NBA playoffs have now begun with a couple of teams I was supporting having crashed out. To start off with, let’s see how I did with my predictions:

Eastern Conference
Cleveland (1) vs. Chicago (8): Cavs 4-1 (Prediction: Cavs 4-0)
Orlando (2) vs. Charlotte (7): Magic 4-0 (Prediction: Magic 4-1)
Atlanta (3) vs. Milwaukee (6): Series tied 3-3 (Prediction: Hawks 4-2)
Boston (4) vs. Miami (5): Celtics 4-1 (Prediction: Celtics 4-2)

So I’ve got 3 of the 4 series winners right (and could get the Hawks-Bucks match-up as well). Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of the scorelines right! Apart from the Hawks-Bucks tussle, everything really went as planned. Which is not really a surprise since the East was pretty segmented in terms of strong teams and weak teams.

Western Conference:
L.A. (1) vs. Oklahama City (8): Lakers 4-2 (Prediction: Lakers 4-1)
Dallas (2) vs. San Antonio (7): Spurs 4-2 (Prediction: Spurs 4-3)
Phoenix (3) vs. Portland (6): Suns 4-2 (Prediction: Suns 4-2)
Denver (4) vs. Utah (5): Jazz 4-2 (Prediction: Nuggets 4-1)

My predictions here were kind of all over the place. While I nailed down 3 of the series winners and even one scoreline, I predicted pretty badly on the Nuggets-Jazz match up. To my credit, the 4-5 seed match-up is always a bit harder to predict! But seriously, the Jazz surprised me with their performance. Boozer looked unstoppable and Nuggets were missing George Karl a lot more than I expected. Not particularly happy, either, since I hate the Jazz (and the Spurs).

Let’s take a look at Round 2, now, the conference semi-finals. These are a lot harder to predict, but I’ll take a swing, anyway.

Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Boston Celtics (4) — Cleveland leads 1-0

Game 1 was pretty hotly contested with the Celtics leading most of the way before the Cavs took over down the stretch. LeBron had another good performance and the Cavs have taken the lead and maintained home-court advantage. This series is difficult to call because you never know how well the Celtics’ veterans are going to play. Ray Allen had an okay night and has had only an okay playoffs with bursts. LeBron, the regular-season MVP, has being gunning at full power. I think the Cavs will win this one and it won’t go the stretch, but I’m not sure how many games it will take.

PREDICTION: Cavaliers 4-2

Orlando Magic (2) vs. Atlanta Hawks (3)/Milwaukee Bucks (4) — TBD

Hard to call a series that hasn’t even had the opponents determined yet! The Bucks are challenging the Hawks well, and it seems that Atlanta has been suffering from at least some level of complacency. Brandon Jennings is aiming for a fairy-tale finish in his rookie playoff series. I think Orlando will win the series to set up an EC final clash with the Cavaliers, but the scoreline depends on who they are facing.

PREDICTION: Magic 4-2 (vs. Hawks); Magic 4-1 (vs. Bucks)

Now, the Western Conference…

Western Conference

L.A. Lakers (1) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

The Lakers are coming off a harder-than-expected battle against the inspiring Oklahoma City Thunder whereas the Jazz have polished up the Nuggets in the first round pretty easily. The Lakers bench has finally began to show signs of life, punching in 30 points in Game 6 against the Thunder. However, they are still dependent on their starters and with Bynum injured for potentially a few games, they could be in a bit of a hole. The Jazz have learned to play well without a few of their regulars, but I think the Lakers play far too good team basketball to be outdone in similar fashion to the Nuggets. Boozer will find it harder to score against the likes of Gasol and Bynum (provided he’s back). Deron Williams is likely to draw Artest as his defender and we all saw how poorly KD shot during the first-round match-up. I’m going with the Lakers in 6.

PREDICTION: Lakers 4-2

Phoenix Suns (3) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)

The Suns will be happy to have landed home-court advantage here, since at the beginning of the playoffs they would have undoubtedly been preparing for a second-round match-up with the hot Dallas Mavericks. The Suns ended up cleaning the heavily-injured Trailblazers in 6, probably a game or two longer than they would have liked. Phoenix cannot afford to lose home-court advantage to the Spurs in this series, especially not as early as the Mavericks lost it. The Spurs are playing some really hot basketball right now with George Hill on absolute fire. The big three of Ginobili, Parker and Duncan haven’t really been firing on all cylinders, either, so it would be scary to think of the possibilities if all four of those guys are playing well. I’m supporting the Suns, as usual, but I think the Spurs will take this. I will be very disappointed if they do so, since they would effectively have taken out 3 of the teams I do support in the West (Houston couldn’t make a playoff spot, Dallas in the first round and now, Phoenix).

PREDICTION: Spurs 4-3

Bring on the second round!

time to build a run

The four new Rockets have now been dressed for two games, and half of them have seen playing time. Kevin Martin came off the bench in both our losses whereas Jeffries had his debut in the ketchup-mustard alternate today, against the Hornets. So far, the signs have been encouraging, but unfortunately the “W” has been in the wrong column for the Rockets, on both days.

Yesterday’s loss to Indiana stung particularly hard, especially since these are the teams that the Rockets have to beat to make it to the playoffs. Indiana is currently the second-worst team in the Eastern conference, and considering that the worst team are the lowly New Jersey Nets (who will probably end the season with a single figured number of wins), this was a harsh loss. What was worse was that the Rockets lost despite scoring 115 points. I think Indiana average in the mid-90s this year, but yesterday they put 125 on us.

Kevin Martin came off the bench and Ariza moved to the small forward position, as expected. He had a particularly nondescript shooting night, scoring 14 points going 3-16 from the field. Today wasn’t much better, as he went 5-12 against the Hornets. He’s yet to hit a three pointer in a Rockets uniform, too. However, he seems to be getting into the rhythm, especially late in the game today. It’ll be up to Adelman and his staff to get these new additions to get into the system asap. The Rockets commentators suggested that this may take as many as 10-15 games. Unfortunately, with 27 games remaining in our season as of now, that may be a bit too many.

Jared Jeffries played his first minutes today and he was pretty impressive, especially on defense. The 6’11” length that he brings us is definitely going to help us. The Rockets are already a pretty good offensive rebounding team, from what I remember, and if Jeffries can repeat performances like today’s, where he grabbed 6 offensive boards, we’ll be in good shape. Jeffries did miss a couple of easy lay-ups and for some reason he abhors the dunk. Late in the fourth quarter, Jeffries took drop in lay-ups with no one at the rim instead of flushing it down. Perhaps he’s just playing it a bit easy until he gets comfortable with his team and the coaching staff.

Jordan Hill and Hilton Armstrong are yet to see minutes. It’ll be interesting to see how many opportunities they will get to earn a spot in the rotation, going late into the season.

Our schedule next week is rough–we play Orlando, who dealt the Cavs their third straight loss today, on Wednesday, followed by back-to-back games against San Antonio and Utah on Friday and Saturday. So if we think it’s going to get easier for our new players to adjust, we’ve got another thing coming! Let’s see if Kevin Martin and JJ can prove that they are a proper replacement to Landry (who had 18 points in the Kings’ loss to the Suns tonight).

One more off-topic point. I saw T-Mac play yesterday for the Knicks against the extremely hot Oklahoma Thunder and he certainly impressed. Now, one game is not enough to judge anyone, but I think one can safely conclude that no one expected McGrady to put these sorts of numbers up any game this season, let alone the first one. He had 19 points at the first half, and what was particularly encouraging for him was the fact that most of these points came from layups. As usual, though, he missed a pair of clutch free throws that could’ve earned him his first Knicks victory, allowing KD to tie up the game with a deep three and beat the Knicks in OT. T-Mac’s performance was impressive, and he is a player I will follow closely this season (I already added the Knicks to my League Pass). Let’s see if he has the legs and conditioning to come back and play his best basketball night after night.

the new rockets

Well, the draft deadline has officially passed and contingent on a few physicals, it seems like the dust has settled for the new Rockets team. Honestly speaking, and after thinking over it for a while, seems like we’ve come out on top. The only current piece that we traded away from our line-up was Landry. Landry was probably our best player this season but he was not the kind of dominating player that could take us to the playoffs. He did play really well in Adelman’s offense, though, and is in the middle of his break-out year. For his sake, I hope going to Sacramento doesn’t effectively end his career.

Let’s look at the trades:

Houston get: Kevin Martin (SAC), Hilton Armstrong (SAC), Jared Jeffries (NYK) and Jordan Hill (NYK)
Sacramento get: Carl Landry (HOU), Joey Dorsey (HOU), Larry Hughes (NYK)
New York get: Tracy McGrady (HOU), Sergio Rodriguez (SAC)

Kevin Martin was definitely a big pickup and if he starts, as expected, it’ll add some offense to our starting line-up that has been struggling as Ariza has lost his touch. The worrying factor, though, is the pick up of the contracts, which pretty much douses our free agency hopes. Not that we were planning to go for a big name, anyway, but this more or less gets rid of that potential drama. Both Jeffries and Hill have non-expiring contracts, a combined $10m next year. Martin adds another $9m-ish to the spectrum, an estimate based on the fact that he earns $8.7m this year. Armstrong earned $2m this year… and I’m not sure what his contract looks like, either. But all-in-all, it appears that we picked up all the non-expiring contracts. This adds up to about $21m, approximately equivalent to the amount T-Mac earns this year ($23m). So we did dump T-Mac, but we ended up picking approximately the same in contracts. We will also have to make a decision on Scola and Lowry… so with all these contracts, it doesn’t look like we’ll have a lot of space to pull a free agent in.

From an actual basketball point of view, this may be a good thing. The starting line-up will probably be Brooks and Martin as the guards, Ariza and Scola as the forwards and Hayes at center. David Anderson will have to share his minutes with Hilton and Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries will probably end up sharing Landry’s minutes. When Lowry comes back are rotation will end up being pretty long, especially with Budinger performing well of the bench this season. I suspect this isn’t as much of a problem, but it doesn’t look like we’ll be playing any of these guys except for Martin for a lot of minutes, unless they show themselves to be spectacular.

All in all, I’d say I’m pretty pleased about how things worked out. Definitely better than the 2-team trade with Sacramento which was trading Dorsey, Landry and T-Mac for Martin, Armstrong, Sergio Rodriguez and Kenny Thomas. That seemed to bring in a lot of pieces that we did not need.

Let’s see how quickly these guys can get into Adelman’s offense!

offensive fouls are just offensive

This may be weird coming from a Rockets fan, having, as we do, on our roster two of the premier charge-drawing players in the NBA–Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola. However, I’ve been following this season closely and I will conclude that the thing that has annoyed me the most after the general state of refereeing, is the definition of an offensive foul.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I can see where the idea of the rule came from. It works as a way to prevent bigger, stronger, and more athletic players from moving you out of the way to get their shot. Believe me, I sympathize with that, given that I am a small, relatively rotund guard.

However, the idea of “drawing a charge” is getting out of hand. I don’t see drawing a charge as a particularly admirable skill. Especially if you are a center/forward. If you are a center the size of Nene Hilario, you have no business trying to draw a foul against the likes of Aaron Brooks, for example. Unless he is shoving you out of the way on a layup, or elbowing you in the face, there’s no real way that Brooks can create enough offensive contact to get a good shot. I think the NBA needs to move in and make more “common sense” rules. If you’re a center, play like a freaking center. If a puny guard is going up for a lay-up on a fast-break, go for a block, don’t just cover your genitals and fall over. This applies to Houston players as well, and I’m looking squarely at you, Luis Scola.

The offensive foul started out as a way to protect weaker defenders, but today it has become a joke that everyone in the NBA has attempted to pull. Much respect for Shaq, by the way, for publicly making fun of centers who take charges (I think it was a few years ago, and he was talking about Vlade Divac, but I may be mistaken). I mean, how much respect do you lose if you’re a 300-pound behemoth and fall over on a gentle drive.

At the very least, you should eliminate charges taken by secondary defenders. The situation I’m referring to is an offensive player using a pick and the secondary defender stepping into his path at the last moment and falling over. I mean, come on. Is that really worth a foul? Protecting a guy who wasn’t even initially defending? Punishing the offense for the defense unable to communicate and respond to a pick-and-roll situation?

They should also implement unofficial rules wherein a smaller player cannot commit an offensive foul on a larger player. I mean, it makes no sense if you’re a 150-lb guard and routinely run over NBA-caliber centers on the way to the basket.

This hasn’t been a very well-composed entry, but it’s something that I’ve had on my mind for a few days. I think rethinking the rules of offensive fouls would make NBA games more fun to watch and would eliminate the European football culture of diving that is slowly creeping into the game of basketball. The current rules make the definition of a good defender a joke–I’d much rather take someone with a lot of steals and blocks than a guy who takes 2-3 charges a game.