Morey Finally Gets the Pretty Girl, Lets Hope She Doesn’t Turn into a Dwightmare

Dwight Howard officially became a Rocket on Saturday. It came as no surprise to me. What is surprising is that I’m actually quite happy about the Howard signing now that I’ve gotten to see more of Howard and have a better understanding of the issues that he faced in the past. I think Howard is finally with a team where he belongs. L.A. was the wrong place for Howard. D’Antoni was the wrong coach (for anybody ;-)) and Bryant was the wrong teammate (for anybody). Howard is perhaps the best pick-n-roll big, but didn’t want to do pick-n-rolls with Bryant, because Bryant would end up scoring most of the time, rather than feeding Howard out of pick-n-rolls. In Houston, I think Howard will be more willing to play pick-n-rolls, because he’ll get more chances to score–especially if he does pick-n-rolls with Lin.

Since I’m sure you’ve all listened to and read the news about the Howard signing, I won’t rehash everything that’s been written. From some of the interviews that I’ve seen of Howard, he doesn’t seem like a bad guy. So I’m having a change of heart about Howard. My biggest concern about Howard in the past is that he’d disrupt the chemistry of the team, because I thought he was a selfish player and person. But I think I felt that way, because I never really looked into his situation and so I bought into the media hype about him. Now that I’ve gotten to know him a little more, I don’t think he’ll disrupt the team chemistry–especially since most of the guys want him on the team.

As I’ve said in the past, even though playing in the NBA is a tremendous privilege, it is still a job for these guys, at the end of the day. And, like any job, when you’re not happy, you’re not performing at your best. Howard has not been very happy with his job for several seasons and that’s why he’s had a few rough seasons. But I think he finally does feel like he’s exactly where he belongs in Houston and will start having fun again on the court. I expect Howard to have one of his best seasons in this upcoming season, if he’s 100% healthy. I think he’ll thrive in a team that will do everything they can to make him successful. The most recent example is the fact that they’re working to hire Hakeem Olajuwon to coach Houston’s big men. So I don’t expect to see the Dwightmare in Houston.

I think Rockets will do exceptionally well with Howard. Of course, the big question for us LOFs is what happens to Lin? Well, there were a lot of Lin trade talks leading up to the Howard signing. I’m sure most of you have watched Paul’s videos from Conservative New Media. If not, go and check them out, because I completely agree with Paul’s analysis/speculations of what the Lin trade talks were all about. Rockets shopped Lin (and Asik) around mostly for Howard’s benefit. And now that they have Howard, Lin is very likely to remain with the Rockets. I think another big reason Lin will stay is that Lin’s stock has gone down due to everything that happened in the playoffs, so Morey can’t get the value he wants for Lin. I’m not as confident that Asik will stay, although I think Asik should stay. Even with Howard, Rockets still need a solid backup center and now Rockets have the luxury of having a premiere center as a backup. The only way I trade Asik is if we can get a good backup center and another pretty high caliber player. But I think it would be a mistake to trade Asik for an all-star level Power Forward and not have a solid backup center. I’m one of the rare people who don’t think we need a star Power Forward, because I have a lot of confidence that Terrence Jones will fill that role. He may not be an all-star, but he’ll be good enough for what we need at that spot in this upcoming season.

Anyway, I’m getting a little off topic. Back to Lin. From a purely basketball standpoint, Howard is perfect for Lin. I mean, you’ve got two of the best pick-n-roll players in the game, so their skill sets are very complementary. Lin lost out on tons of assists, because Asik wasn’t a good with catches and finishes. Also, Rockets didn’t do enough pick-n-rolls–especially early in the season–because they didn’t have any big men who were comfortable with setting picks. We all know that Lin thrives in the pick-n-roll, so that was a big reason for Lin’s slow start in Houston. So from a purely basketball standpoint, having Howard is great for Lin.

Of course, there are other factors involved for Lin. The biggest factor is that now that the Rockets have another big star, will McHale sacrifice Lin’s game even more? If McHale focuses purely on X’s and O’s then Lin’s game shouldn’t be sacrificed and should actually be emphasized even more. But I don’t have much confidence that that’s going to happen. We’ll see, though. At the end of the day, a lot of it will depend on Lin and how well Lin’s shot improves. He’s been working hard on his shot all summer and it was already improving very steadily last season. So I do expect Lin to shoot much better this season.

So, overall, I’m a lot happier than I expected I would be about the Howard signing. I see big things for Houston and for Howard. And I potentially see big things for Lin, too, unless McHale screws it up. The Lin situation will have to be monitored during training camp and such. Hopefully, Lin stays with the team, but, like Paul from Conservative New Media, I wouldn’t freak out if Lin got traded. We’ll follow him wherever he goes.

 

Advertisements

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!

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.

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.