Parsons Prevents Harden from Helping OKC Sweep Rockets, Rockets Still Alive

I predicted that the Rockets would take care of business tonight. When I made my prediction, I didn’t factor in how detrimental Harden would be to the Rockets tonight. If it weren’t for Harden’s numerous turnovers, Rockets would have taken care of business. In the last few regular season games, Harden has been toying with a double-double in turnovers. Well, tonight, he finally got this double double with 10 turnovers and 15 points. I think the record for turnovers in the playoffs is 11. Harden ended with just one shy of a record no one wants.

So, because of Harden’s awful performance, the game, once again, went down to the wire and, as usual, Harden messed things up again down the stretch. But this time, Rockets defense prevailed and Parsons and the rest of the Rockets prevented Harden from helping OKC sweep the Rockets. I think Harden’s bruised leg or whatever must be bothering him, but that doesn’t explain some of his reckless turnovers. Hope he gets some rest and is back in form in Game 5. McHale still hasn’t figured out that iso Harden is going to kill them down the stretch. I was actually happy when Harden had 5 fouls and stayed out of the game tonight. I thought he was a liability more than a help tonight.

With the exception of Harden, every Rockets stepped up, exactly how I expected, which is why I predicted that they’d take care of business. But Harden, being a major part of the team was the factor that dragged the entire team down and caused this game to be a lot closer than it should have been. That being said, OKC played pretty well. They had their guys step up, like Martin and Fisher. I actually did expect Martin to play well tonight, but Fisher was the x-factor as Fisher usually is in big games. I thought Rockets would contain Durant tonight, but that didn’t happen. Durant played a very efficient game and ended with 38 points on 12 of 16 shooting. This guy is pretty good.

The big hero for the Rockets was Parsons. That’s another guy that is under-utilized because of too much reliance on Harden. Parsons is a guy that has stepped up in big games all season long. He ended with 27 points and had more field goal attempts than Harden. I think that’s a first. Parsons was 11 for 21 from the floor (3 of 6 from three point). But he did more than just score. Parsons had 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Played a complete game with lots of energy and aggression. He’s been doing better with each game during this playoff series. Hope he can stay close to the level he played tonight. Delfino showed up tonight with a couple of nice steals and had an efficient shooting game. Every single Rockets showed up tonight, but Harden (and Smith was pretty quiet, as well, but he didn’t play much). Aaron Brooks got the most minutes he had all season and the crowd went wild, as expected, when he hit a three. I thought McHale’s rotation was excellent tonight–especially since he had to juggle so many Rockets players in foul trouble. Come to think of it, his rotation was probably good, BECAUSE he had to juggle players in foul trouble. He couldn’t just play a couple of guys to the ground and ignore the entire team. It’s no coincidence that McHale actually does a better job of coaching when he’s FORCED to not rely on only a few players because of injuries and such. So the fact that I thought he did a good job with his rotations tonight, because he had so many players in foul trouble is probably not a sustainable model going forward.

Tonight, because McHale had no choice, he rotated players exactly the way I wanted him to rotate players. Part of me thinks that if Harden didn’t get into foul trouble, Rockets may actually end up losing this game, because McHale would have played Harden to death even though Harden was clearly playing hurt.

Beverley had a quiet, but solid game, which is unusual, because when Beverley has a nice game, it’s usually not very quiet. But I thought he did a good job of being in control tonight and did the things that were needed of him, like driving aggressively to the paint to make plays. He also hit a couple of threes. Overall, a solid showing. Only 3 assists, but assists is not really Beverley’s game, anyway. That’s more of Lin’s thing. Asik had his best game in a while and ended up being the second leading scorer (with 17) for the Rockets. I’m not sure if that’s ever happened. Maybe once or twice this season. He also had 14 boards, 8 of which were offensive rebounds.

Now, the stage is set for Linsanity. Lin just needs to watch his movie that debut at Sundance, while he’s recovering from his Chest injury. Needs to get his confidence back, before he steps on the court. I’m not sure if he’ll be recovered by Wednesday, though. We’ll see. Without Lin, I don’t think Rockets have a chance of winning Game 5. Harden needs to get back to being a superstar and play within the flow of the game, rather than trying to take games over. He’s been struggling with his shot for the past couple months. It’s been getting worse and worse, yet, Harden still plays like his shot is still good. I hope he gets his shot back, at least for one night in Game 5 and redeem his awful performance tonight. He almost lost the game for the team and he knows it. A fierce competitor like him should step up in the next game. Hope that’s enough time for him to take care of his bruise.

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Rockets Will Take Care of Business Tonight to Avoid a First Round Sweep

I was only able to catch the tail end of the fourth quarter of Game 3. Man, what a heart breaker. But I guess it would have been a bad loss for either team, because if Rockets won, then Thunder blew a 26 point lead. But, once again, the game was within reach for the Rockets, but couldn’t come up with the win. Game 3 was especially heart breaking, because Thunder won it down the stretch with luck. They got a lucky bounce on the Durant three and they benefited from multiple unforced turnovers by Rockets down the stretch. So I didn’t feel like Thunder won the game like they did in Game 2. When Garcia hit that three to put the Rockets up, I thought Rockets would come up with the win–especially when Durant’s three bounced like 5 feet in the air. I have no idea how that ball dropped in. That was just so deflating.

I was glad to see Garcia out there in Game 3, even though it was probably due to Lin being out. Like I’ve been saying this in this blog over and over again, Garcia offers the same spacing that Delfino provides, but Garcia is a more reliable player and all around better player than Delfino. I think if McHale had played Garcia instead of Delfino, Rockets would have won Game 2. I liked Delfino before he messed up his elbow, but ever since he got injured, he hasn’t been the same player and is pretty much taking up valuable minutes out there on the court. Garcia is not only more consistent with his shot, he’s more selective with his shot and is a better defender. This is total hindsight, but Delfino should have passed the ball to a wide open Parsons for a potential game-tying three in the last possession, instead of forcing up a highly contested three that had little chance of going in. But I can’t blame Delfino for that. I think the play was probably drawn up for him and the clock was winding down. So he did what he could. That being said, remember that Lakers game (the last game of the season) when Lin had the composure to pass it to a wide open Parsons with the shot clock winding down and Parsons tied the game up to put it into overtime? That’s what I wanted Delfino to do. But the game shouldn’t have even come down to that. Rockets basically handed the game to the thunder by essentially giving them the ball time and time again down the stretch. That was pretty ridiculous (especially the Harden no look intended for Garcia), even though Rockets ended up with low turnover numbers for the game.

Of course, there’s a lot of talk about whether or not Lin should have played. From his performance it looks as if the chest injury is still bothering him significantly and he probably shouldn’t have played. But that’s a tough call. It’s pretty much a lose-lose situation for Lin. Don’t play and people say you’re weak, play and struggle and people blame your for losing the game. I was surprised to see that Lin ended up playing 18+ minutes in Game 3. I figured that he and McHale would be able to gauge his condition after like 5 minutes out on the court or something. I think Lin should have just shut it all out and made the decision to bench himself once he figured he wasn’t going to help the team out on the floor. It also would have prevented him from getting it aggravated by Durant before halftime. Because it didn’t work out very well with Lin playing in Game 3, I don’t expect him to play in Game 4.

Anyway, I think the Rockets have the ability to beat the Thunder–especially if they have a healthy Lin. This series should be 2-1. Tonight, I’m guaranteeing a win for the Rockets and I don’t think it’s going go down to the wire. I think Rockets will take care of business and win without too much drama. It won’t be a cake walk, but I don’t see it being a tight game with constant lead changes going down to the wire, either. I’m expecting Rockets to be leading the majority of the game and end up winning by 7+ points.

I know Lin is a game time decision and most likely won’t play, but I’m still guaranteeing a Rockets win, simply because Rockets will be very focused tonight, because they know they’re better than the way they have been playing. They are going to play hard and get their frustrations out on the court.

Beyond tonight’s game, Rockets’s success will depend on Lin’s health. I think if Lin is healthy and can play in Game 5 the way Lin is supposed to play, then I think Rockets can push this series to 7 games and may even do the impossible and win this series. But without Lin, I think OKC will win this in 5 games. So that’s basically my outlook for the Rockets. It would be quite a story if Lin could come back in Game 5 and pull off some Linsanity and help the Rockets advance to the second round. That would redeem Lin’s first playoff appearance, which has been a very frustrating one for Lin so far. (He looks totally deflated in the interviews.) But as long as Lin stays with the Rockets, there will be many playoff appearances to come.

 

McHale’s Gamble Almost Pays Off, Rockets Almost Steal Game 2

After getting blown out in game 1, McHale decided to try something new and insert Beverley in the lineup, going very small. Analysts thought he was out of his mind, but McHale’s out of the box thinking ended up working out and Beverley provided a lot of energy and ended up with a double-double in his first playoff start (16 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 3 turnovers). Harden also ended up with a double-double (36 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 turnovers, 1 steal). Lin didn’t play in the second half due to a shoulder contusion. No update on Lin so far.

The ball movement was good, tonight. It’s been a while since I’ve seen good ball movement by the Rockets. I can tell that McHale drilled ball movement in during practices, because the players definitely made an effort to get the ball moving from side-to-side. They also made the extra pass to night–especially in the first half. Things got bogged down a bit in the second half without Lin and it got even worse when Beverley had to sit with 4 fouls. Beverly ended up playing 41:13 minutes tonight, but he didn’t seem tired. That kid is full of energy. He reminds me of Tigger in Winnie the Pooh–constantly bouncing around. Also, he was not intimidated by his first playoff start. He just played his game. Harden did a slightly better job of playing within the offense, although, he still continues to settle quick threes. He was 1 for 7 from three tonight, so his shooting struggles continue. Another guy who’s still struggling with his shot is Delfino. He was 3 for 10 from three tonight. I’m still mystified why McHale continues to trust Delfino when he’s got a much more reliable Garcia. Garcia plays a very similar game to Delfino, but he is also taller, which is a definite plus. Garcia only played 6:29 minutes tonight, while Delfino was out there jacking up one missed three after another, wasting valuable possessions. But I can’t complain too much about McHale tonight, because he made the unconventional decision to start Beverley and it almost won the Rockets the game. Now it could also be because the Rockets got over the first game jitters, so they might have just been playing better. But Beverley was definitely a big factor for the Rockets tonight. He was everywhere and made a name for himself in the spotlight.

Even with the valiant effort by the Rockets, I expected a loss tonight. Even when the Rockets were up by 4 points on a three by Delfino with over 3 minutes left in the game, I fully expected OKC to come back and win the game. So I guess because I expected OKC to win, I just shrugged off the loss. It wasn’t a heart breaker to me like it should have been. But I’m sure Rockets fans are heartbroken, because Rockets were so close, then Durant took over and refs missed that foul committed by Perkins (I think) against Parsons, which left a wide open three by Sefolosha, putting OKC up by 4 with a minute left to go in the game.

So, lots of questions for game three. Is Lin going to be back? Is McHale going to go back to the unconventional lineup if Lin is back? Has McHale figured out how to beat OKC? At least with tonight’s game, the Rockets can come back home without their tails tucked between their legs. So that will make for a more fired up crowd.

Rockets, Full of Jeremy Lins, Make Playoffs In Spite of, Not Because of McHale

NOTE: If you’re going to read this post, please read the ENTIRE post and give me the chance to at least lay out my argument, before you dismiss it, based on just reading the headline of the post. Also, you may think I’m a McHale-Hater, but if you followed this blog since the beginning of the season, you’ll know that I was a McHale defender early on, because I wasn’t familiar with his coaching and I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, read on and it’ll all be clear what I’m trying to convey.

The Houston Rockets is a team that’s made up of a bunch of Jeremy Lins. In other words, it’s made up of a bunch of guys who have suddenly been giving bigger roles than the ones they had prior to joining the Rockets and also guys who don’t quite fit the mold of a good to great basketball player:

  • Asik: from bench to starter
  • Lin: from third or fourth big name on a team to “face of the Franchise” (that is prior to Harden’s arrival)
  • Harden: from third best player, 6th man on a team to best player, starter on a team
  • Parsons: from second round pick no name rookie to one of the leaders on the team

Because Rockets are full of Jeremy Lins, analysts severely underrated their capabilities (granted, they had a lot of reasons for doubting this young squad full of first-time starters). As a result, Analysts didn’t have very high hopes for the Rockets. In fact, there was a general consensus that the Rockets wouldn’t win more than 29 games (I believe that was the over-under in Vegas, as well as the over-under for some analysts). I don’t go onto message boards very often, but here’s a message board posting I made back on November 1st on The Dreamshake:

Post on Dreamshake about Underrated Rockets

The mistake that a lot of analysts and Rockets fans made was to let their preconceptions of these players get in the way of actually seeing these players for their innate abilities and attributes. It’s the same mistake that Lin Doubters/Haters made (and are still making) with Lin. Lin just doesn’t look the part and doesn’t have the “right” background to be a very good player. And this is sort of the same thing that went on in people’s preconceptions of the Rockets: a starting lineup of bench players and second round picks can’t possibly win more than 29 games!

To me, although I understood where people were coming from, I thought the absurdly low expectations many fans and analysts had of this team was ridiculous. What I saw was a starting lineup of very talented players with unique basketball skills, high basketball IQs, strong work ethic and high character. I saw a starting lineup of guys who have potential to have great chemistry on the floor, because of their unselfishness. So I didn’t hesitate to say on a post on October 29, 2012 that the Rockets are a LOCK to make the playoffs. I looked past the preconceptions that hold so many back (not just as basketball fans and analysts, but in life in general) and saw the players as they are, not based on my judgments of them.

So what does all of this have to do with McHale? I’m getting to that. A lot of analysts and fans are giving credit to McHale now that the Rockets have made the playoffs. It’s something that they didn’t think was even within the realm of possibility, but rather than giving credit to the players, they reasoned that it was McHale who got a bunch of bench players and no names to play well and make it to the playoffs. In other words, analysts/fans highly underrated the Rockets’s players, because of their own erroneous preconceptions, and rather than admitting that their initial judgments of the players were wrong, they work on the assumption that they were right about the players, but somehow McHale got all these players to play much better then they were capable of. What has really happened is that the players played EXACTLY the way they are capable of. Because I didn’t let preconceptions get in the way of evaluating these players’ capabilities, the Rockets did EXACTLY what I expected them to do back in October 29, 2012: make the playoffs. To me, it’s unfortunate that McHale is being given credit for basically being at the right place at the right time. This is unfortunate, because McHale has actually been more of a hindrance than a help to the Rockets. By giving McHale credit he doesn’t deserve, it covers up the reality that McHale has performed well below average as a coach this season and should probably be fired, rather than be a candidate for Coach of the Year. People who think he should be a candidate for COY only see the surface of things and draw simplistic conclusions.

In the beginning of the season, I really liked the game plan that McHale had for this young Rockets team: uncomplicated, free-flowing offense. I loved McHale’s emphasis on ball movement/player movement, as well as running after every possession. He also appeared to have the trust of the players. So this is why I was a defender of McHale early in the season and these are the things I still like about McHale. The ESSENTIAL question to ask, when evaluating McHale is whether or not you think any average coach would have been able to do these things or is this unique to McHale. Here’s where I stand on this question:

  • Any average coach would have been able to come up with the uncomplicated, free-flowing offense. From an X’s and O’s perspective, there’s not much to it.
  • Ball movement/player movement is something that every coach emphasizes, but not every coach can actually get their players to do it. Rockets have players who are unselfish and willing to share the ball, so that makes McHale’s job easier. I would give McHale a little credit for this, but with McHale’s free flowing offense, it is often very confusing to players about where they should move to on the floor. So points deducted for that. So I pretty much come out on this with giving a tiny bit of credit for McHale for ball movement/player movement.
  • Running after made baskets is something that I give McHale the most credit for, because that’s something that every coach says, but not many coaches have the patience to keep preaching it over and over and over until it is ingrained in the players. McHale did this and he did a god job of this earlier and midway through the season, but I think even he has lost some patience with this. I deduct points for McHale’s poor management and usage of player minutes, which makes it very hard for players to run after every possession, because he has tired them out by playing them too many minutes without rest. So at the end of the day, McHale gets a pretty good amount of credit for this, but less than you would think, because of his poor management of player minutes.
  • McHale is often called a player’s coach and it appears that many of the players do enjoy playing for him. They have good rapport with him. Players have good rapport with a good number of coaches, simply because of the nature of the relationship. So McHale just gets some credit for this. Rockets are also full of high-character guys, so I think pretty much any average coach can come in and elicit a similar level of respect and comradery. So, again, McHale gets less credit than you would think, because it’s easy to have rapport and comradery when you’re coaching a bunch of high-character guys.

Overall the positive things that McHale provides, I think pretty much any average coach can provide to a similar extent. Maybe McHale does these things slightly better than the average coach. If McHale performed every other aspect of his coaching duties at an average level, then I wouldn’t have too much of a problem with McHale. And this explains why I was a McHale defender earlier in the season. I hadn’t seen him coach enough to fairly evaluate how he performs in in-game situations. All of the positive things McHale does that I mentioned above has to do more with off the court coaching duties, such as providing an overall offensive scheme/structure and player communication. My attitude back then was that there are better coaches out there, but McHale is good enough. I mean, if Morey and Les thought there was someone else they could bring on who can do a better job, I wouldn’t have complained, but at the same time, I wasn’t calling for his head.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see McHale perform for an entire season, I’ve been very disappointed with him as a coach overall. He performs below average or well below average on every other aspect of coaching from player evaluation to player rotation and has committed an alarming number of in-game mistakes and lacks any sort of end-of-game strategy. As the season wore on, I accumulated more and more evidence that McHale is a terrible coach and that’s why I went from being a McHale defender in the beginning of the season (when all I knew of McHale was his general free-flowing offensive scheme) to calling for his head now at the end of the season. I’m not just calling for his head, because I’m a LOF and don’t like the way he’s been misusing Lin, I’m calling for his head as a basketball fan who has been shocked by the number of mistakes McHale has made as a coach. I have nothing against McHale as a person and he has been through a lot this season. I also think he is great at communicating with his players. I’d be fine with keeping him on as some sort of motivational coach or an assistant coach or something. For example, I give a lot of credit to McHale for making the correct decision to show the players clips of them when they were rolling to get them over the psychological drain of losing seven games in a row, rather than dwelling on their mistakes. But McHale is not ready to coach an NBA team–especially one that has aspirations of becoming championship contenders. If Morey and Les are serious about making the Rockets championship contenders, they need to find a coach who can help take the Rockets to the next level or at least a coach who won’t get in the way. It’s hard to prove a “what if” but I do believe that Rockets would have had a much better record and maybe been a 50+ team if McHale wasn’t the coach. It is said that players lose blow outs and coaches loose close games. Well, the Rockets have not been good in end-of-game situations this season, and I think the blame rests squarely on McHale. If we just got at least ONE of those close games back, the Rockets are playing the Spurs with a very good chance of advancing to the second round. This alone should be a fire-able offense, because it has direct playoff implications. Again, if Morey and Les are serious about being championship contenders, they need to look long and hard at this.

For those who say that this is not fair, because I’m not looking at all the games that McHale made good decisions. I say, the games that McHale made good decisions, any average coach would have made those same decisions. In fact, I can only think of ONE decision McHale made that can be called somewhat unique that won the game and that was going with Beverly in the Magics game and benching Lin. But even I (a LOF) would have done that in that game, so I think any old coach would have done that. So McHale has really made NO positive in-game decisions that any average coach wouldn’t have made and he has made PLENTY of poor in-game decisions that any average coach wouldn’t have made. To me, this is the definition of a way below average coach.

Throughout the season, McHale has committed many mistakes and poor judgments. Here are just a few. NOTE: What follows is admittedly poorly written, because I’m more concerned about just throwing out a bunch of evidence, rather than the prose, so feel free to skip over this part unless you are looking for specific evidence for McHale being a below average coach.

  • Lack of end-of-game strategy. McHale’s end-of-game strategy amounts to giving Harden the ball ALL THE TIME and praying Harden does something. When I refer to “end-of-game” I’m not just talking about the very last possession. I’m talking about the last few minutes of a close game. Sometimes, McHale’s “strategy” works, but most of the time, it ends up with Harden turning the ball over, throwing up a prayer, throwing up highly contested shots, or giving it up to his teammate with the clock winding down, because he can’t figure out what to do with it. The problem with McHale’s strategy, is that when Harden has the ball, everyone just stands around ball-watching, waiting to see what Harden is going to do. Since McHale doesn’t run any sets, players don’t know where to move on the court, because they don’t want to mess up the spacing for Harden. I get that this is a strategy that a lot of teams employ: iso your best player. In GENERAL, it is okay to fatten out a good majority of the time in end of game situations. This is very common in the league. I think this is so commonplace in the league, because not too many teams have multiple clutch players who are also great ball handlers and play makers. Rockets happen to be a team that has two guys who are great ball handlers, play makers, and are also clutch, so I think it’s a mistake to fall into the convention. It shows a lack of understanding of your team to use a cookie-cutter approach. I’m fine with Harden being “the man” a majority of the time, but I think to have Harden be “the Man” ALL the time has hurt this team tremendously and it’s the reason why Rockets don’t do well in close games and this is going to really show in the playoffs if McHale continues to follow this cookie-cutter approach blindly. McHale ONLY uses Harden during clutch time and ignores the rest of the team to their detriment. Rockets become a one-man team. I actually think it’s much wiser to have the ball in your best decision-maker’s hands rather than your best scorer at the end of games. And to me, that’s clearly Lin. Go here for a more detailed discussion: https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/rockets-is-more-dangerous-with-the-ball-starting-out-in-lins-hands-with-the-game-on-the-line/. I’m not saying to ALWAYS do this. But I’m saying it’s wrong to ALWAYS do the same thing every time and give the ball to Harden and flatten it out. It’s way too predictable and causes everyone to stand around. When the ball is in Lin’s hands Lin has a higher probability of make the right decision and find the optimal play and guys move around when Lin has the ball, since they don’t expect Lin to just go iso. Rockets also have another clutch player in Parsons. And I think if Lin handles the ball in end of game situations, you have a guy like Parsons that suddenly comes into the fold. There have been an over reliance on Harden in clutch time and that’s been a detriment to the Rockets, I believe. It has caused us to lose a lot of close games and this is all on McHale.
  • Poor understanding of his players. McHale’s singular focus on Harden during clutch time points out that McHale is actually blinded to the talent on his team. He doesn’t recognize that Parson and Lin are actually clutch players in their own right and have the ability to deliver in end-of-game situations. McHale also has fixations on a lot of his players–either seeing only faults or only strengths. He doesn’t seem to see them as they are. With certain players, he’ll stick with them no matter what and relies on them heavily, even when they’re clearly not doing well. Delfino is a great example of this. Ever since Delfino messed up his elbow a couple of months or so ago, Delfino hasn’t been the same player. His shot has been unreliable, going 2 for 10 from three on some nights. Delfino also tries to do too much on the court and often turns the ball over. But McHale can’t seem to see any of Delfino’s faults, since Delfino was his only veteran player in the beginning of the season. So McHale let this fact cloud his judgment of Delfino. McHale also inexplicably uses Beverly as a floor general, even though Beverly is just a talented defender, but an inadequate floor general. McHale also over-value’s Beverly and finds every reason to keep Beverly on the floor. It’s as if 1 good thing Beverly does counts as 4 good things that Lin does. I’m a fan of Beverly for his defense and his energy, but McHale often rides Beverly for too long–past the time that Beverly is effective. Beverly is an energy guy and should only be used sparingly. Beverly also shouldn’t not be used as the floor general anywhere close to 100% or even 50% of the time when he’s on the floor. And, of course, the big one is McHale’s lack of understanding in Lin’s game, as well as his doubt in Lin as a player. I’ve beat this horse to death, so there’s no need to say anymore about it here. If you want more information, you can watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPStYh4Zxj8. Also, McHale has been a big reason for Lin’s struggles early in the season. Go here for a more detailed breakdown: https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/reasons-for-lins-scoring-struggles-and-why-the-spurs-game-is-his-breakout-game/. Since Lin is a key player on the Rockets, I think McHale has hurt the team by his lack of trust in Lin and his misuse of Lin. Had Lin been allowed to play Lin’s game more this season, I think the Rockets would have been a 50+ winning team, but again, it’s hard to prove a “what if.” Just to give you an idea, however, here are a few games in which Lin was not just misused (since Lin is misused all season and continues to be misused), but not used or under-used altogether (in terms of minutes) that MIGHT have made the difference in Rockets winning the game: Benching Lin vs. Lakers on April 17, 2013 (McHale sat Lin with 4:24 to play in the third and didn’t bring Lin back again until 6:19 to go in the fourth, even though Lin was hot in the third); vs. Dallas on March 6, 2013; vs. Indiana on March 27, 2013 (https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/rockets-lose-to-pacers-due-to-poor-management-of-player-minutes-by-mchale/); vs. Denver on January 30, 2013 (https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/rockets-lost-a-game-they-could-have-won-against-denver/); vs. Dallas on December 8, 2012
  • Poor management of player minutes. McHale plays Harden and Parsons to death–even though Rockets have players who are capable of spelling both players. Anderson is a player who has been severely under-utilized by McHale, because McHale doesn’t trust ANYONE to spell Harden. But I don’t understand why McHale would trust Anderson to start in place of Harden when Harden was injured, but then not play Anderson any minutes when Harden isn’t injured. That rationale doesn’t make too much sense to me and I think has to do with McHale’s fixations. There have been far too many games in which Harden plays an entire half with no rest. Same with Parsons, although McHale is finally trusting Garcia (again his eyes were only opened due to injuries when he was forced to play Garcia big minutes in the Clippers game on March 30, 2013 https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/rockets-success-against-clippers-should-put-mchales-usage-of-players-into-question/) to spell Parsons towards the end of the season. Most recent examples of McHale playing Harden to death: vs. Pacers on March 27, 2013 McHale played Harden for the entire second half in a game in which Harden was clearly struggling and playing hurt, which resulted in Harden having to sit out the next couple of games due to injuries. And when Harden came back, McHale, again played Harden for entire second halves vs. Suns on April 9, 2013 and vs. Grizzlies on April 12, 2013. McHale severely over-utilizes a few players and under-utilizes the rest of the team. I think this is even more misguided considering that McHale’s ENTIRE offensive scheme relies on having fresh bodies that can hustle up and down the court. I think for McHale’s offense to run the way he designed it, it’s actually more important to have fresh bodies than to run a few guys to the ground, because you don’t trust anyone else. Also, McHale’s poor management of player’s minutes is partly responsible for Rockets’s turnovers. In particular, Harden has been racking up the turnovers in those games that he played the entire second half: 9 turnovers vs. Suns and 8 turnovers vs. Grizzlies.
  • Player Match-Up Mistakes. Going with a Lin-Harden-Beverly lineup vs. Grizzlies on April 12, 2013. This lineup was clearly ineffective (having both Beverly and Lin on the court didn’t do much against the Grizzlie’s lineup), but McHale stuck with it for the ENTIRE fourth quarter, I believe, or nearly the entire fourth quarter, simply because of his fixation on Beverly. McHale wants to play Beverly any chance he gets and since he knew he’d be ridiculed for benching Lin, he kept that ineffective trio in the game, when he should have had Garcia out there for a more reliable spot up three and also for defense against a lengthy Prince, so Harden wouldn’t be forced to match up against Prince. Aside from Harden having to expend maybe more energy than he needed to to guard Prince on the defensive end, Prince made Harden’s life on the offensive end tough by making it harder for Harden to shoot over a lengthy Prince (Prince had at least one block on Harden at the three point line). Using Delfino as a Power Forward against Gasol vs. Lakers on April 17, 2013. This is so obviously bad that I don’t even feel the need to explain it. This being said, player match-up is probably the one in-game area in which McHale actually does do a good job of. He is very versatile with the lineup and will make quick changes depending on the flow of the game. But this only applies to any player that’s not named Harden, Parsons, Delfino and Beverly.
  • Slow learner who doesn’t seem to recognize what works and what doesn’t. One example, of course, is McHale’s insane end-of-game tactics. The defninition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. McHale is, indeed, insane when it comes to his end-of-game tactics and he has made no progress the entire season. He also seems to fail to learn what works and what doesn’t. The Rockets played their best ball back in December when the talk about Lin-Harden co-existing really heated up and McHale started really focusing on making it work. After Lin had his breakout game against the Knicks, McHale FINALLY let Lin be the primary floor general and he also staggered Lin’s and Harden’s minutes. The result was one of the best stretches the Rockets had with blowouts against a very strong Grizzlies team, as well as the Bulls. Inexplicably, McHale has gone completely away from this and seems to have stopped trying to make the Lin-Harden synergy work. He seems to have disregarded all of it and stopped staggering Lin’s and Harden’s minutes, even though that clearly was working. The strategy for making the most of Linharden is so clear to me. I don’t understand why McHale still doesn’t get it. When Lin and Harden is on the floor, Let Lin be the floor general 65% to 75% of the time. Either Lin or Harden should be on the floor at all times or nearly all the time. When Lin or Harden is on the floor without the other, Lin or Harden should be the floor general 80% to 90% of the time. Beverly should rarely be used as the floor general. Beverly should generally be used as the floor general to give Lin or Harden a rest from ball-handling duties. Right now, McHale has the usage of Lin, Harden and Beverly so backwards it’s laughable. Harden is on the floor pretty much 100% of the time so there’s no chance for Lin to be on the floor without Harden. And he’s even inexplicably sat both Lin and Harden and let Beverly be the only ball handler on the floor. Lin is rarely on the floor without Harden and when Harden is on the floor with Beverly, Beverly is the primary floor general, but when Lin is on the floor with Harden, Harden is the primary floor general. McHale has had an entire season to learn about his players and how to play them, but I don’t see him making any measurable progress. It takes a lot for McHale to change his views. I think this is partly why Morey traded away the Power Forward lineup to force McHale to play the other Power Fowards on the team. It also took injuries to Harden and Parsons for McHale to discover that Garcia is someone who deserves to be in the rotation. TJones is another player that McHale took a long time to trust to play any minutes–even though he was stellar in the pre-season, in the summer league and in the D-league. And Anderson has been a guy that’s been forgotten all season and McHale still doesn’t recognize that Anderson can actually spell Harden and keep Harden fresh and less turnover prone. As a coach, you’re the closest to the players, so there’s no excuse for not having a deep level of understanding of their capabilities and how to use them. McHale seems to only see his players through his preconceptions of them and it takes McHale a very very long time to break free of these preconceptions and see the players as they are.
  • Specific Boneheaded In-Game mistakes. Left Harden in after he picked up his fourth foul with less than a minute left to go in the third quarter vs. Spurs on December 28, 2012. Harden ended up committing his 5th foul before the end of the third quarter and had to sit out for most of the fourth quarter. For more info go here: https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/valiant-effort-by-rockets-in-loss-to-spurs-i-blame-the-loss-on-mchale/. There were also a few games in which he lost track of Asik and left Asik on the bench when we needed him to get rebounds in end-of-game situations when the opponent was shooting free throws. I don’t remember specifically which games these were, but I do remember that the opponent got offensive rebounds off of their missed free throws and not having Asik in cost us those games.

If you’re still doubtful about whether or not McHale should be given most of the credit for the Rockets making the playoffs, just ask yourself this question: Would McHale be as successful coaching on another team? I think we already have the answer to that, because McHale did unsuccessfully coach on another team (granted he is a little more experienced now). Would the Rockets have made the playoffs with another coach? I’ll leave this answer up to you.

Harden Hero Balling Kills Rockets’s Chances of Advancing in the Playoffs

I don’t feel like writing much after this game. Basically everything I was hoping would happen tonight didn’t. Every team I wanted to win lost. Actually, after Denver won, I was rooting for Golden State to win, because I wanted Rockets to go against Spurs.

For tonight’s game, I either expected the Rockets to blow out the Lakers or I expected the Lakers to win. So when Lakers kept hanging around, I was concerned. Down the stretch, Rockets still have no plan. And I can tell Harden really wanted to win the game single-handedly so he wouldn’t have to face his former teammates in the first round. Harden jacked up missed three after missed three (4 of 13 from three) as well as pressing and hanging onto the ball for too long. We had no offense in the fourth quarter and especially down the stretch and in overtime. It was one iso after another–nearly all by Harden. Zero ball movement. Harden hangs onto the ball too long and it forces everyone to just stand around and watch, waiting to see what he wants to do, because they don’t want to move around and clog the lane in case he’s looking to drive. Since McHale has no set plays, guys don’t really know where to move to. So that’s why you’re getting the zero ball movement. I also hate how Harden lets the clock run down much lower than he should before making a move. I’ve complained about this since early in the season about Harden. This leaves very little room for error. He did a lot of that tonight and would give the ball to Lin or someone last minute, causing Lin to jack up prayers. Several of Lin’s missed threes were because of this. That’s why Lin went 2 for 7 from three. As opposed to Harden’s missed threes which were shots that Harden willingly took.

I felt this game being lost in the fourth quarter, when McHale went with a small line up that included Delfino going against Gasol. Good thing McHale didn’t stick with that crazy lineup. Then McHale sat Lin for too long and I felt that killed Lin’s momentum. Lin did well in the third quarter (actually he did well in the first half, as well as, distributing the ball), but McHale sat him with 4:24 to play in the third and didn’t bring Lin back again until 6:19 to go in the fourth and by the time Lin got back, I think he lost a lot of his momentum in the third quarter and barely touched the ball. Harden played the entire 3rd quarter, which is common, but why wouldn’t McHale put Lin back in before putting Harden back in? Instead, McHale puts Harden back in with 8:55 to go. Why not put Lin back in before Harden? Of course, McHale doesn’t do this. A little decision like that could have been the difference between winning and losing last night. McHale makes a lot of these little in-game mistakes. Lin was doing a pretty good job, up until the 4th quarter, of running the floor. And I think having Lin sit for so long messed up his rhythm, as well as the rhythm of the team, because Rockets offense looked horrendous from the fourth quarter on.

I couldn’t believe Parsons nailed that three at the end to put the game into overtime on a smart feed from Lin. Rockets should have rewarded Parsons for hitting such a clutch shot. I thought for sure the game was over when guys were scrambling for loose balls. But Parsons comes up with the clutch shot and Rockets just pissed it away by doing one iso after another. It was painful to watch and I was not at all surprised that Rockets ended up losing the game. Parsons hitting that clutch shot should make McHale realize that he has more than just Harden as a clutch player on the team. McHale’s Harden Hero Ball strategy is killing the Rockets in end of game situations. Sometimes it works. But most of the time, it fails. This is why Rockets are not good in end of game situations. It’s an issue that McHale can’t resolve and this is one of the reasons Morey and Les need to seriously look to see if there are any coaches available who can take the Rockets to the next level.

I hate how McHale just seems to throw out the playbook and just give the ball to Harden, hoping that Harden delivers in end of game situations. Why not continue to play Rockets basketball? Instead, the ball just goes to Harden for the last few minutes of the game and that’s McHale’s entire game plan. I’m sort of okay with giving the ball to Harden for the VERY LAST possession, but when you give the ball to Harden with minutes left to go in the game on like every possession, it sends a message to the other Rockets players that they need to stop playing the way they have been playing and just stand around and ball-watch. Anyway, tonight, it cost Rockets the chance to advance in the playoffs and get some much needed playoff experience. Boy, don’t we wish we had that Suns game back!

Oh well, if Rockets do end up beating OKC and then the Knicks for the championship, then I think they need to just end the NBA, because it really doesn’t get any better than that. That is BIG!

Perfect Results Vs. Grizzlies, but Poorly Coached Game by McHale + No Ball/Player Movement by Rockets

Rockets lost to the Grizzlies last night on Harden’s wide open shot that could have sent the game to overtime, so why am I saying that it’s a perfect result? Well, because if Rockets beat the Grizzlies last night, then Denver will surely secure the #3 seed, since they have the tiebreaker against the Grizzlies. But, because the Grizzlies won last night, they still have a shot, albeit a very small chance, of overtaking the Nuggets for the #3 seed. Right now, both the Grizzlies and the Nuggets have identical records, but the Grizzlies have a tougher schedule going into the home stretch (vs. Clippers, at Mavs, and vs. Utah) than the Nuggets (vs. Blazers, at Bucks, and vs. Suns). So the overwhelming odds is that Denver still hangs onto the #3 seed, but that would have been pretty much a certainty if the  Rockets beat the Grizzlies, last night. It was also a perfect result, in my eyes, because the Rockets proved to themselves that they could compete against the Grizzlies and they proved to me that they can win a series against the Grizzlies.

Rockets played with a lot of heart, but they weren’t given much of a chance by McHale’s terrible player rotation and the ball movement has looked really bad ever since Harden has come back into the lineup. That’s a big concern for me that I will go into a little bit more after I rant on about McHale’s terrible usage of players last night. First of all, McHale, once again played Harden the entire second half. He also included Lin in this crazy scheme of his, last night. Both Harden and Lin played an entire second half. McHale doesn’t seem to understand this concept that players need a little rest and he doesn’t seem to grasp that the KEY to his offense is that he needs fresh bodies AT ALL TIMES. That having fresh bodies is probably even more important than having the best players on the court, if he truly runs his offense the way it’s meant to be run. That means stressing that the ball and player need to constantly be moving and consequences will be paid for those who don’t buy into this, with the exception of the Point Guard who has the license to hang onto the ball AT TIMES. We didn’t have fresh bodies out there last night, because McHale played Harden and Lin to death. I can’t blame him too much for trying out the Lin-Harden-Beverly trio, but thought it was pretty ineffective last night. I thought we should have had Garcia out there for a more reliable spot up three and also for defense against a lengthy Prince, so Harden wouldn’t be forced to match up against Prince. Aside from Harden having to expend maybe more energy than he needed to to guard Prince on the defensive end, Prince made Harden’s life on the offensive end tough by making it harder for Harden to shoot over a lengthy Prince (Prince had at least one block on Harden at the three point line). Because of these reasons, I think McHale should have realized this more quickly and brought Garcia back. But McHale stuck with the Lin-Harden-Beverly trio for the ENTIRE fourth quarter, I believe, or nearly the entire fourth quarter. That was another rotational mistake by McHale. The other big rotational mistake came at the end, when McHale brought Delfino back into the lineup for the last possession. I get why McHale would play Delfino some tonight to get the rust out, so I was fine with McHale playing Delfino, even though Delfino had like three air balls from three point. But why in the hell would you go back to a guy that just got back into the lineup and is obviously very rusty for the last possession of the game when you have a guy like Garcia, who’s been shooting like 45%+ from three? That makes absolutely no sense to me and it’s further proof that McHale has some sort of crazy blind spot for Delfino. So ridiculous. As the season is nearing a close and I’ve had a chance to see McHale, I have to say, he’s one of the worst in-game coaches I’ve seen. I’ve never had much of a problem with a coach’s player rotation. I mean, I can’t recall ever complaining about it last year with D’Antoni or Woodson. But this year, it’s become a very common theme in my blog. Player rotation is how a coach directly influences the game and McHale gets an “F” for his player rotation. This Delfino mistake wasn’t the only one player rotation he’s made in end-of-game situations. There have been a disturbingly large number of end-of-game substitution or lack of substitution errors. Too much so for a professional NBA coach. I’m sure Morey and Les see this. I don’t know how anyone can NOT see it.

The other thing that is becoming more and more concerning is that Harden seems to be reverting to Hero Ball mode more and more as the playoff approaches. And I mostly blame McHale for this. Here’s why. Harden is untouchable for McHale, either because McHale worships Harden and doesn’t want to criticize him or because McHale worships Harden and is blinded to all of his mistakes. Harden, once again, almost got another double-double with 8 turnovers last night. Again, I think fatigue plays into this, so McHale is to blame for Harden’s fatigue. But it’s also because I feel like Harden is wanting to be THE hero as the playoffs are approaching and he has been given no consequences for his Hero Balling by McHale, so he has no reason to change. Again, McHale is largely to blame. In fact, I think McHale encourages Harden’s Hero Balling–whether McHale means to do it or not–by the way he relies SOLELY on Harden’s Hero Balling at the end of games. I think this feeds into other parts of the game and it causes the guys to subconsciously stop moving when Harden has the ball at the top of the key, because they expect Harden to just score himself. And when guys aren’t moving, Harden really has no one to pass it to, so this perpetuates Harden’s Hero Balling. Harden also expects to get fouled when he gets in the lane so he presses too much and forces up bad shots, rather than passing to his teammates when he’s driving into a congested lane. Harden had an EXTREMELY RARE (meaning I think it’s the first time I’ve seen it) play last night where he drove into a congested lane and passed it back out to Lin for a game tying three. This play is open to Harden pretty much every time, but I’ve never seen him do it, whereas Lin does this often (probably a little too much) to give his teammates open looks rather than forcing up a bad shot. This is why it baffles me why McHale would think that Harden has better decision making than Lin. Lin, to me, has elite decision-making skills, whereas Harden is only pretty good when it comes to decision-making. Harden misses way too many open teammates. For example, what I see quite a bit is that during transition–not in a fast break context but in a missed shot context–when Harden is dribbling past the half-court, Lin is usually running really hard to Harden’s right and the defense isn’t set. Rather than passing the ball up to Lin to see if Lin can make something happen before the defense gets set, Harden just stops and waits for the defense to set. I see this time and time again. Lin usually has a wide open lane, but Harden is too caught up in figuring out how he’s going to score himself that he misses Lin and his other open teammates and doesn’t take advantage of a defense that isn’t set in transition. Often, the defense is focused on Harden, so this is why other Rockets players are wide open in transition. I have no idea why the coaches aren’t showing this to Harden. How do I know they haven’t shown it to Harden? Because Harden hasn’t changed on bit in this regard. Actually, I do know exactly why they haven’t pointed this out to Harden. It’s because McHale worships Harden and either doesn’t want to point out something that Harden is doing wrong or is blinded to any of Harden’s deficiencies. This is also how Harden can rack up turnovers without consequence. McHale needs to go back to having Lin be the primary point guard. Lin barely played Point Guard last night and that’s a big mistake by McHale. It’s a big reason why the ball got so “sticky”. Also, when Lin checked back in in the beginning of the second quarter, Lin barely touched the ball, because my “favorite” player Delfino still has a blind spot for Lin on the court. I don’t think he passed it to Lin once when they were on the floor together. He would either try and make plays himself or look for Beverly. Lin also wasn’t aggressive enough at calling for the ball. He pretty much just hid in the corner. Lin should be taking over in the beginning of the second quarter now that McHale is giving him the chance to be on the floor without Harden. This is one of the few rotations that McHale has gotten right. McHale’s first half-rotations have been spot on, lately. But then he just has some sort of mental lapse in the second half.

Anyway, enough harping on McHale. I can go on and on, but I’m sure you’re all tired of it. Lets move on. The other reason last night’s result was perfect, in my eyes, is because it had no consequences in terms of how I want the playoff standings to shakeout. The standing pretty much stayed the same, because the Warriors lost against the Lakers. Even though I want Lakers out of the playoffs, I now want the Rockets to get to the sixth seed since there’s still a slim chance that the Grizzlies can overtake the Nuggets for the third spot. Also, the Lakers win last night was fine, because Utah also won, so Utah still has a pretty good chance of knocking the Lakers out of the playoffs–especially now that Kobe has come down with an injury and is probably out for the season. This is even more motivation for me to root for the Lakers out of the playoffs, because Kobe won’t be able to play even if they make it. I hate to see players go down with injuries, but that being said, everything worked out more perfectly than I could have hoped last night form a playoff standings perspective. Also, with Kobe out, the Rockets have a much better chance of beating them in the last game of the regular season. So everything worked out so perfectly last night in the NBA for what I want to see.

Thoughts on the Playoff Picture

As the playoffs are approaching, I just wanted to talk a little about what the playoff picture can look like in the Western Conference. With four or so games remaining, here is where things currently stand in the West:

Western Conference

Right now the Rockets are in the seventh place and OKC just moved up into first after the Spurs lost last night to Denver. Here are the games remaining for the teams in the West:

Remaining Games

I’m not gonna go through and make any specific predictions about what teams are going to win which remaining games. You can feel free to do that yourself. Without going into too much detail, here’s where I think things will shake out come playoff time. I think Rockets will finish in the 6th place and OKC will stay at number 1. I think Denver is also going to hang onto the number 3 seed. So here’s the standings in the West as I see them:

  1. Thunder
  2. Spurs
  3. Nuggets
  4. Clippers
  5. Grizzlies
  6. Rockets
  7. Warriors
  8. Lakers or Jazz

The reason I think OKC will hang onto the top spot is that the Spurs are going to rest their players–especially Parker–and OKC has more incentive to stay in the number 1 spot for several reasons. This young OKC team has accomplished a lot, but I don’t think they’ve finished with the best record in the West, yet. So I think they’ll want that for bragging rights. I also don’t think any of the players or management want to face Harden in the first round (even though Rockets are likely to move into the 6th seed), either because they don’t want to be the ones to eliminate him or management would get skewered if they lost to Harden in the first round. So, overall OKC has much more incentive to take the top spot.

I think Rockets will take the 6th seed, because they have a much easier schedule than the Warriors going into the home stretch. Unless there’s going to be shenanigans and teams rest players or are trying to throw games, I think the Rockets will overtake the Warriors for the 6th spot. This means that the Rockets will likely match up against Denver or maybe even Memphis. Clippers are out of the picture, because of tiebreaker situations, etc. Clippers will stay in the 4th spot, so there’s really no chance the Rockets will be facing the Clippers. This being the case, if Rockets move to the 6th spot, they have to pick their poison against the Nuggets or the Grizzlies. I would probably prefer the Grizzlies to the Nuggets, but I don’t think Nuggets are giving up the 3rd spot, since they own the tiebreaker against the Grizzlies. So the Rockets can either choose to stay where they’re at and throw a few games and rest some guys so they can battle against the Spurs or move up and go against the Nuggets.

I don’t know how you all feel, but I’d actually rather the Rockets match up against the Spurs, so I would prefer them to stay where they’re at. The Spurs are, no doubt, a very tough team—especially in the playoffs–since they’re so well coached. But I think Rockets style of basketball has a better chance of winning against the Spurs than the Nuggets. Nuggets are just a better, more athletic version of the Rockets. Iggy has Harden’s number and Asik also has had trouble against the really fast and athletic Nuggets team. I wonder what Morey or McHale or the Rockets guys are thinking. My guess is that they’re going to do their best and move up and, at the end of the day, I’m fine with that, because it’s not like it would be a cake walk against the Spurs anyway. Hopefully, Harden learns how to play against Iggy and not revert to desperation Hero Ball mode. Lin seems to do well against the Nuggets, so I guess as a Lin fan, I should be rooting for Rockets to take on the Nuggets. Also, I don’t like the idea of throwing games. I think it probably does something to the winning psyche. So I guess Rockets should just play their game and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe rest some key players here and there. Either way, I just hope for no injuries or flu or food poisoning, etc. for the rest of the way and into the playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see how McHale handles the playoffs, as well as how these young guys respond to the test.

I haven’t been paying too much attention to the Lakers, so have no idea how they’ve been playing, lately. The Jazz are only a game behind the Lakers and Jazz own the tiebreaker. Lakers also have a much tougher match up going into the playoffs, even though they’ll be playing at home the rest of the way. It’s crazy to think about it, but there’s actually a pretty good chance the Lakers don’t make the playoffs. Not sure how I feel about that. I was inactively (meaning I didn’t pay much attention to them, but was content to see them fight for the 8th spot the entire season) rooting against the Lakers this entire season, because I don’t like teams that just try and throw a bunch of big names together for the sake of having big names. I wanted the Lakers to fail to teach GMs a valuable lesson. But now that the playoffs are approaching, a small part of me feels like there’s something not quite right about Kobe not being in the playoffs. To hell with it. What am I saying? It would be pretty awesome if the Lakers don’t make the playoffs. This is what I’ll be watching for and actively rooting for in the coming days. Go Jazz!