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.