Just the Beginning

Rockets fell short, last night, and ended their playoff run, but it’s just the beginning for this young squad of talented, hard-working, unselfish players with high basketball IQs and high character. It’ll be interesting to see what type of moves Morey is going to make in the off season. I do expect them to go hard for Dwight Howard, but I think that’s a mistake. No doubt, Howard is full of talent, but he lacks all of the other traits I listed above, except maybe high basketball IQ. I think he’ll mess up the chemistry of this team and chemistry is critical in team sports. I mean, he seems to make enemies everywhere he goes. It’s no coincidence that Metta World Peace spent the playoffs complimenting big men in the league, such as Asik, Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan through his tweets. I think that had a lot to do with MWP’s disappointments in Dwight Howard as a teammate. But I’m looking a little too far ahead.

What happened in last night’s game is exactly what I expected to happen in Game 5. I also had a strong feeling that KMart would shoot the lights out in his former building, so that didn’t surprise me at all. Scott Brooks finally went of panic mode and allowed the Thunder to play without over-relying on Durant. He let Jackson be the point guard and it paid off. Although, when Rockets went out to a 10 point lead in the third quarter, I thought Rockets had a real shot of doing something special. The Lin haters are going to have a lot of ammunition from this game, because it did seem like once Lin (and the second unit) stepped onto the court, the energy drained out of the Rockets. Lin played really tentatively, which is totally understandable. And it wasn’t like he did anything to hurt the Rockets, but all of a sudden the intensity that the Rockets had to open the game went away once Beverly, Garcia and Parsons checked out. At least that’s how it seemed to me. Lin ended up with a minus 18, which is the worst on the team. Normally, +/- per game doesn’t say much, but I felt Lin’s +/- did accurately reflect his impact on the game last night. It felt, to me, that Lin played longer than 13:26 minutes. I was surprised McHale played Lin as much as he did, but looking at the minutes from the box score, that looks about right.

Rockets were also hurt by Garcia’s foul troubles. One foul occurred before the ball was even in-bounded. They didn’t replay the foul, so have no idea if that call was legit or not. Beverly also got into a little foul trouble and ended up playing only 32:41. Also, I think Harden’s strep throat was really bothering him in this game, because he didn’t look like he had much juice out there. I think he was too tired to drive and ended up settling for threes, but this time, he didn’t shoot as well as he did in Game 5.

Anyway, the season is over, but there’s a lot to look forward to. I hope Lin stays with this team, because I think they got something really special here. I’m sure Lin is looking forward to the off-season to continue to hone his game, as well as all the other Rockets guys. Lin still has yet to get real playoff experience, so his season didn’t end on a high note. It’s all the more motivation for him to do everything he can to get back here. Such bad luck for him to be healthy the entire season only to not participate in the post season, once again, and then to be back on the court in a losing effort. But now that Lin doesn’t have an injury to deal with in the off-season, he’ll get to really work on his game. I want to see him back with a deadly long range and a range of individual moves to the basket. I want him to incorporate the short jumper and be better at drawing fouls. It’s actually a good thing that Beverly got a lot of attention in the postseason, because that’s just more motivation for Lin to work even harder in the off-season. I think he feels a little like he’s fighting for his job, again. And that hunger is what you need to keep getting better.

The Rockets will be back stronger next season. There’s no doubt about that, with all the cap space they have. Hope Morey uses it wisely and doesn’t just go out and get big names  just to get big names. Also, I hope they keep Garcia. He’s the veteran voice that the Rockets need on this team. Of course, all of my readers know that I prefer Garcia over Delfino. I’m glad Garcia got to finally play major minutes in the post-season, because I believed in him ever since I saw him play just a few minutes for this team (I hadn’t seen him play at all before he came to the Rockets). I also believed in Beverly’s defense and energy the first time I saw him play. I have no doubt that they’ll keep Beverly. For Beverly to improve, he’ll need to be more of a floor general. We’ll see if he can develop that in the off-season. I really like Asik as our center, so I hope it stays that way. Marc Gasol is really the only center I’d replace Asik with. I’m sure Asik is going to work on his ability to catch and finish around the rim this off-season. He’ll probably never be able to develop this aspect of his game at a high level, but hopefully he can keep getting better at it. There’s no doubt that he’ll work hard at developing it. That’s for sure. All these young guys will get better next season, now that they have a taste of their future. I’m especially curious to see what Parsons becomes next season. Can he get any better? Right now, he’s better than I expected him to be, so in my eyes, if he gets any better that’s just a bonus. I’m sure we’ll see guys get traded this off-season, but I expect the core to stay. The only two core guys who could be in jeopardy of being traded are Asik and Lin. Asik, because Morey is probably going to try and get Dwight Howard and Lin because he might be part of any deal that brings in a big name player. Also, now that the Clippers have been eliminated in the first round, talks about Chris Paul are heating up and I’m sure the Rockets are going to be involved. Harden is going to do his job and try to recruit hard for Chris Paul. After Lin’s non-performance in the post-season, I think Morey has more motivation to try and go after Chris Paul. So, it should be an exciting summer. Hope you all enjoy your summers and I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the season and this off-season. If anything interesting happens with Lin this off-season, I hope to see you here to discuss. Thanks for following me  through a very exciting season. It wasn’t quite Linsanity, but better in some ways, because I wasn’t just cheering for one player, I really enjoyed watching this entire team playing team ball.

Rockets Put in a Valiant Team Effort to Take Care of Business and Push a Game 6

This is how I expected Game 4 to go. With Harden back in form, Rockets did what I expected them to do in Game 4. But I did not expect the hobbled Rockets to win Game 5. Things didn’t look good at all before Game 5 started: Harden was under the weather, Lin was still unlikely to play and Asik is still dealing with back issues. I expected guys like Sefolosha to step up and I expected Martin to have a solid game. But OKC played without any energy and no one else but Durant (and later Jackson) could get anything going. Rockets, on the other hand, had pretty much every player going. Parsons had a poor shooting night, after a stellar performance in Game 4 and Smith, again, didn’t do much (but he also didn’t play much). Delfino had to leave the game with an injured foot or something. But Harden was back in form and got his shot back. He nailed his first 7 threes (tying an NBA playoff record held by Robert Horry) and ended up shooting 7 of 9 from three point. He hasn’t had a shooting night this good for like over a month or so. Ended up with a very efficient 31 points (10 of 16 from the field) with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and ONLY 3 turnovers. Asik, due to OKC’s fourth quarter Hack-Asik strategy ended with 21 points on 13 of 18 free throws (that has to be a record for Asik) and 4 of 6 from the field. Garcia was the third leading scorer with 18 points. He helped keep Durant scoreless in the fourth quarter, which is the first time Durant has ever been scoreless in the fourth quarter in the playoffs in his NBA career! In all, every single Rockets player was in double figures, except for Smith and Delfino, who barely played. So it was a great team effort. This is the way the Rockets have to play. Just keep the ball moving, keep bodies moving and be aggressive on the defensive end. I think they played their best defense tonight–at least the best that I can remember.

I thought OKC would get over their overcompensation for losing Westbrook, but it looks like they’re still scrambling. Their over-reliance on Durant is really shooting the confidence of their other players. Kevin Martin went 1 of 10 from the field, which is pretty much unheard of for him. I hope OKC continues to stick with their panicked strategy and keep their focus on Durant. The more Durant gets the ball at the top of the key, the better, in my opinion. But I can’t blame them for their strategy, because his teammates really struggled.

I’m sure Rockets fans were thrilled to see Brooks play some major minutes. He went 4 of 11 from the field, so not very good, but did provide a lot of energy. Beverley also had a pretty solid contribution with 14 points and 8 rebounds, but only had 1 assist in 39 minutes. Brooks had 3 assists in 19 minutes. So, for those who think the Rockets don’t need Lin, I think they’re of the mindset that 1 good thing that Beverly does = 4 good things that Lin does and 1 good thing that Brooks does = 16 good things that Lin does. I think it’s more over-enthusiasm that these guys haven’t dropped the ball in Lin’s absence, but Rockets do need Lin. Right now, they’re playing playground ball and are able to get away with it. Also, without Westbrook, Lin isn’t needed as much for this match up, since Beverly and Brooks can compete with Fisher and Jackson. I’m sure McHale isn’t in too much of a hurry to have Lin back and if they can win without Lin, then that’s great, because they’ll need Lin healthy for the next series.

What’s awesome about the Rockets, and what makes them so fun to watch, is that they play team ball. This is why the last few games of the season were so painful to watch, because they went into Harden Hero Ball mode. This Rockets team has a lot of players who can step up at different times. This is what makes them so dangerous. Rockets played with so much confidence tonight. As long as they continue to play with this much confidence, yet with a lot of hunger and energy and continue to play team ball, they have a great chance of pulling off something that’s never been done before in the NBA. Already, they’ve become only the 14th team in NBA history to force a Game 6 after being down 3-0. According to Ultimate Rockets, there has been 109 series that have started out 3-0. I find that pretty hard to believe that only 14 teams have forced a game 6 down 3-0. And I’m amazed that no team has come back down 3-0 in NBA history. I mean, you figure in all those years, some team must have done it. Rockets have a great shot, now that they’ve got the momentum. They need to stay hungry and not let up. OKC is scrambling and as long as OKC continues to scramble, Rockets have the best chance of doing the impossible. They’re in a great situation now, as long as different players continue to step up. I have a feeling Brooks will get even better in the next game and he’ll have to step up, since I’m pretty sure Lin will still be side-lined. I don’t think McHale trusts Lin enough to put him back in, even if Lin is healthy, because McHale doesn’t want to mess with the lineup right now.

NOTES: The smart play award goes to Harden with the play where he waited until the ball went across half-court to touch it and then launched a quick three so Rockets could get a 2 for 1 possession. That’s some high basketball IQ right there. And Asik gets kudos for not crumbling under pressure and sending a message to Scott Brooks that they need to come up with something better than Hack-Asik.

Rockets are still alive! I didn’t think it would happen, but what a great feeling as a fan. Time to make history!