rockets review: game 2 vs. warriors

This article has also been posted, with edits, to BleacherReport.com.

The defensive struggles continued for the Houston Rockets tonight as they fell to a scorching hot Warriors backcourt. Monta Ellis was absolutely unstoppable, except from the free throw line, and pummeled the Rockets for 46 points, his career high. Stephen Curry added 25 as the Warriors starting backcourt outscored the Houston one 71-41. The Warriors ended up winning by just four points, 132-128, but the end score looked a lot closer than it actually was due to massive free throw disparity between the two teams.

Houston could never get going from the field with most of their first half points coming from flashes into the paint. Brooks (4-15) and Martin (5-14) had poor shooting nights and you know it’s not going to be a good night when Chuck Hayes had the second most baskets from the field for this Rockets team. The team ended up shooting a respectable 48 percent, but their defense failed as the Warriors ended the night at 55 percent from the field, including 8 three pointers on 40 percent shooting.

As with yesterday, let me break it down into the positives and negatives that I saw.

Positives

Luis Scola played his heart out and ended up with 36 points and 16 boards. He was nearly unstoppable in the paint but once again missed a few open layups at the hole. Impressively, Scola even had a dunk early in the game, something of a rarity for the big Argentinian.

Kevin Martin quickly realized that he was not having his best shooting night and instead concentrated on getting to the line. The man’s ability to create contact is impressive as Martin converted on every single one of his 17 free throws. As our primary offensive option this season, it is good to know that he can still score points on a bad shooting night. A better defensive team may consider giving him more open jumpers, but he is a good enough shooter to eventually find his range. Chuck Hayes was the other positive for us, playing well above average on the offensive end to record 16 points while also dishing out 6 assists. He played David Lee pretty well and pretty much kept Brad Miller out of the game for almost the entire game.

We also did well to cut down on our turnovers–this game would have been even uglier for a Rockets fan if we had given the Warriors more opportunities to run their break.

Negatives

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. The negatives today were numerous in number. First and foremost, our defensive rebounding was once again suspect. We allowed the Warriors to amass 14 offensive boards, with most of these resulting in second chance points. Once again, even though we did pick up 15 offensive boards of our own, many of ours were once again botched at the paint or came in garbage time through Scola follows.

Aaron Brooks was horrible today and a lot of the Warriors’ transition buckets were scored off bad shot attempts by him. Brooks did still manage to get 6 assists, but he had a very poor shooting night, and tried to shoot his way out of it during the game. I remember him doing this a few times last season–shooting over and over again even though he was not shooting well–and more often than not, we lost those games. Many of our first half points were scored by getting the ball in the post to Battier, Scola and the Chuckwagon whereas in the second half we were trying to create high pick-and-rolls and attempt jump shots. Budinger was once again okay without being spectacular, although it was obvious that we weren’t running too many plays for him.

Going back to Battier, his defense was again seemingly non-existent against a red-hot Monta Ellis. Of course, the Rockets can’t be blamed for coming up against an Ellis that was on so much fire, but we are banking on Battier to be our defensive stopper, and letting a defensive assignment go 18-24 on the night from the field probably requires some criticism. I don’t think Battier is one of the elite defenders in the NBA anymore. He’s definitely lost a step that allows superb offensive weapons such as Kobe and Ellis to create space and knock down their shots.

Finally, our rotation was questionable today. Although the Chuckwagon was playing well, it was interesting that we didn’t see Brad Miller until very late in the second half. He didn’t do too much in his two odd minutes but then he didn’t really have a lot of time to work. This was probably a result of us trying to keep pace with the Warriors game, although it is worth pointing out that Hayes isn’t exactly speedy, even compared to Miller.

Summary

This loss will hurt. Starting the season 0-2 is never good, but losing to one of the few teams that has worse defense than us is going to hurt. I posted earlier on a discussion board suggesting that my biggest problem with the Rockets last year is that even though we went 42-40, we dropped a lot of games against opponents we should have beat. A win in the second game is worth the same as a win in the second-last game of the season. There’s a lot let pressure to get the win now, though, than getting it in crunch time when the Western Conference playoff race inevitably becomes tight.

We can write this loss off to a superb offensive performance from Ellis, but by doing so we’d be ignoring the other holes in our system–including our poor defensive rotation as well as our inability to prevent offensive boards. Stephen Curry was able to create too much space on his isolation moves and Brooks continues to let players fake him out and take open jumpers. Lowry cannot come back quickly enough.

All this said, it is worth pointing out that the Warriors won the game by making a lot of hard shots. It’s hard to stop a team that shoots between 50 and 60 percent the entire game, with most of the shots coming from jump shots.

Special Shoutout to Warriors’ CSN Announcers

The Warriors announcers evidently don’t understand how basketball works. All night they were complaining about free throw disparity whereas they failed to realize that the Warriors were essentially shooting and draining jump shots all game whereas the Rockets were taking it into the paint (hence the 66-48 disparity in the points in the paint statistic). There’s no rule in the NBA that both teams should shoot a similar number of free throws–if you’re not taking it to the hole you’re not going to be getting free throws. Learn the game, guys!

rockets review: game 1 vs. lakers

This article has also been posted, with edits, to BleacherReport.com.

Game 1 of the NBA 2010-2011 season and it couldn’t have come a moment sooner. After Miami struggled to gel and went down to a defensively strong Celtics team, the icing on the cake would have been for the Rockets to upset the Lakers in their own building right after the ring ceremony. And we got very close to that but fell short at the distance.

The Rockets opened up a big lead in the first half–I think it was up to almost 15 or 17 points at one stage. The Lakers trimmed it down to 11 at the half and then came out played solid defense in the second half. So solid, in fact, that the Rockets went from hovering around the 50% mark in shooting from the field to the 30s. Their offense was helped in no small part by the repeated second chance points as they got offensive rebound after offensive rebound to score off their misses. In fact, looking at the final box score, the Rockets shot better from the field and the free throw line, had more offensive and defensive boards and more assists. They made one fewer three pointer (which in hindsight was probably the difference) and committed far too many turnovers. You can’t afford to give a team like the Lakers five extra possessions and come away with the win.

Anyways, let me quickly dissect the positives and negatives of this game from the Rockets POV.

Positives

What worked for us today was our backcourt. Martin and Brooks dominated, scoring 50 points off 15/33 shooting with 7 combined three pointers off 12 attempts. If Martin hadn’t gotten into foul trouble for guarding Kobe, this game could’ve ended up differently. As it happened, Martin ended the game with fewer than 30 minutes. Brad Miller fit into the scheme very well indeed. Both of his assists were in the high post to players cutting the baseline–once Martin and once Budinger. Both players ended up with 3-point plays. I even saw him run the floor in one of the breaks and his 9 boards off the bench is something we will be counting on.

Budinger had good numbers without being spectacular. Courtney Lee looked pretty good in the minutes he played, but he will need to get rid of the one-on-one basketball that he tried in the fourth as the Lakers were on a run. He had a couple of fast breaks that will definitely be useful going up against teams that have poorer transition defense.

Negatives

Yao Ming was the biggest negative for me, although it is a bit unfair since this is his first “real” game back. Although he did grab 11 boards in his just-under 24 minutes, he missed a bunch of wide open layups. Missing a layup when you can touch the rim with your feet still on the ground is not something I am too impressed with. Hopefully it’s just a conditioning thing, though. He also missed a bunch of box outs that allowed Odom and Gasol’s stats look a lot better than they should have.

Our rebounding as a whole was pretty disappointing although Scola did pick up the slack eventually. Kobe did go 8-20, not his best night, but there were times when he looked unstoppable. None of Battier/Martin/Lee seemed to even bother him and many of the shots he missed were just rimming out. Hopefully this is just a case of Kobe being Kobe, but we may well struggle with other Western Conference playmakers such as Deron Williams, Kevin Durant, etc.

The team as a whole failed on protecting the ball, with our starters dishing out 16 of our 20 turnovers.

Summary

This was a good start to the season as a pessimistic Rockets fan (which I’m not) but it was a very winnable game. The Lakers have a lot of new pieces that don’t have the experience playing in this offense. The Rockets have a lot of new pieces as well, but many of these pieces have played the Adelman offense before.

It was interesting that neither of Jeffries/Jordan Hill were entered into the rotation given that we were being burnt by the Laker bigs on the glass (particularly Odom). Perhaps Adelman figured that we needed to beat the Lakers with our offense rather than our defense and decided to keep guys who could put points on the board (although to be fair, Jeffries/Hill would probably have taken the Chuckwagon’s minutes, and he didn’t really give up that many boards).

Anyway, here’s hoping that we’ve fixed the kinks and dominate the Warriors tomorrow!

On Carmelo and the Rockets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

houston rockets 2010-2011

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

Starters

#0 Aaron Brooks (PG)

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

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

#12 Kevin Martin (SG)

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

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

#1 Trevor Ariza (SF)

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

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

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

#4 Luis Scola (PF)

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

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

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

#11 Yao Ming (C)

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

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

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

Bench

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

Centers

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

Power Forwards

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

Small Forwards

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

Guards

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

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


playoffs, round 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastern Conference

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

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

PREDICTION: Cavaliers 4-2

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

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

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

Now, the Western Conference…

Western Conference

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

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

PREDICTION: Lakers 4-2

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

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

PREDICTION: Spurs 4-3

Bring on the second round!

it’s playoff time

Finally the only playoffs I actually care about have started–the NBA Playoffs. This weekend featured 8 games in two sets of quadruple-header action. Interestingly, there were no upsets whatsoever, with all the higher seeds getting the victory except for Phoenix. It will be interesting to see if this will continue being the case as we progress through the playoffs. I’m going to take a look at each of the series and give a slight prediction as to what I expect to happen, as well as who I’d rather see winning:

Eastern Conference

Cleveland (1) vs. Chicago (8) — Cleveland leads 1-0

This one’s a no-brainer for me. The Cavs have far too much offense for the Bulls to be anything more than a blip on their radar. This showed in Game 1, where Derrick Rose was the only guy who could really put up points for the Bulls, and even he scored 28 points off 28 shot attempts. The Bulls will need Hinrich to score to cause any upsets in this series. Personally, I want to see the Cavaliers win because I think a Kobe vs. LeBron final would be interesting.

PREDICTION: Cavaliers 4-0

Orlando (2) vs. Charlotte (7) — Orlando leads 1-0

Again, this seems to be a competition between high-powered versus low-octane offense. In Game 1, Orlando got off to a huge lead before Charlotte clawed back. The Magic hung on for the win, however. I’m pretty neutral about this match-up–I don’t care for either team. Charlotte is a mix between young, inexperienced players (like Gerald Wallace) and veterans (like Stephen Jackson). Jackson sat out a portion of the game due to injury, though, so it’s probably going to be a Magic roll. I’ll go ahead and give the Bobcats a game, but that is a very optimistic prediction.

PREDICTION: Orlando 4-1

Atlanta (3) vs. Milwaukee (6) — Atlanta leads 1-0

This is a match-up that I think could get really close, especially if Brandon Jennings gets some help from his team. Both these teams are young and inexperienced, relatively speaking. If Andrew Bogut wasn’t injured, I wouldn’t be surprised if this went down to 7 games. Atlanta has secured their highest playoff seed in the last few seasons (right?) so they can consider themselves a tad unlucky for drawing a relatively hot Bucks team. I think the Hawks will hang on, though. I’m supporting them.

PREDICTION: Atlanta 4-2

Boston (4) vs. Miami (5) — Boston leads 1-0

The 4-5 match-up is always the one most likely to throw up an upset, but it seems Miami’s offense has been a bit stagnant of late. This is probably going to be a pretty low-scoring series, with an emphasis on defense. Ray Allen continued to struggle in Game 1 as the Celtics hung on to a scrappy victory. D-Wade was sublime and questionable in equal measures in the first game. For example, I couldn’t understand why he picked up his dribble outside the three point line over and over again in the 4th quarter whereas he had been getting to the hoop at will in the previous 3 periods. With Garnett’s suspension, Miami has a chance to steal one on the road. I want to see this series go down to 7 and for Miami to win, but I think Boston will hold on–as they’ve managed to in the last couple of seasons.

PREDICTION: Boston 4-2

Now for the conference that matters… the Western Conference. 🙂

Western Conference

L.A. Lakers (1) vs. Oklahoma City (8) — Lakers lead 1-0

OkC would be disappointed with falling to the 8th seed in the West after having such a strong season and drawing a match-up with the Lakers. Luckily for them, the Lakers have been in questionable form for the last month or so. In their first playoff appearance, the Thunder, led by Kevin Durant, seemed overawed by the occasion. KD never really got going and the Thunder followed suit. They pulled close to the Lakers a couple of time, but even with Bryant shooting horribly, weren’t able to pull out the rare win in Lakerland. The Lakers will benefit mightily from having Bynum back and Odom will bolster up a very shallow and weak bench. If a Laker starter gets injured over the course of this series, I think the Thunder may get close, but as it stands, I think L.A.’s post presence is going to be enough to pull off the win. I’ll give the Thunder 1 win at home. I’m supporting the Lakers in this one.

PREDICTION: Los Angeles 4-1

Dallas (2) vs. San Antonio (7) — Mavericks lead 1-0

The Spurs are playing with their worst playoff seed since the 90’s or something like that. With many of their key players injured this season, I suppose they’ll take a low playoff spot rather than none. In Game 1, the game stayed tight for a long time but the Mavericks managed to hold on. Dirk Nowitzki was nearly perfect, yesterday, missing just 3 shots from the field and making all his free throws. Caron Butler provided a spark that was much-needed given Jason Terry’s lackluster performance off the bench (though Terry did nail some clutch jumpers at the end). The Mavericks have had a propensity to choke in the playoffs, though. Parker is still working his way into the rotation (he’s lost his starting job to Ginobili) and Duncan is still consistent but not phenomenal. I’m going to predict an upset here and say San Antonio will win in 7. I hope to hell that I’m wrong because there isn’t a team I despise more than the Spurs.

PREDICTION: San Antonio 4-3

Phoenix (3) vs. Portland (6) — Blazers lead 1-0

Phoenix were the only home team to lose on opening weekend and hence squandered their homecourt advantage to the perennially-injured Trail Blazers. With Brandon Roy recovering from injury for at least 2 weeks, the Suns were probably expecting a first round walkover. The Blazers have learned to play without their best players throughout the season, though, going through a bizarre sequence of injuries that affected everyone from Greg Oden to Pryzbilla to Aldridge to Roy over the regular season. They managed to get healthy to secure up a playoff spot, but lost Roy almost immediately. Andre Miller has played some inspired basketball of late, and the Blazers have snapped up the homecourt advantage to set up an intriguing contest. I’m supporting Phoenix in this match-up and I think Nash and Amare will eventually be able to get the away game back. In fact, unless Roy returns earlier than scheduled, I think the Suns will win with a game to spare.

PREDICTION: Phoenix 4-2

Denver (4) vs. Utah (5) — Nuggets lead 1-0

Denver would be disappointed at falling down to the fourth seed and possibly meeting the Lakers as early as the 2nd round. However, they’ve got to concentrate on the series at hand. Unfortunately for the Jazz, it looks like they’ve been hit by the injury bug at the worst possible time. Their offense has been severely dented by the loss of Kirilenko leading into the playoffs and now Okur, whose out of the rest of the postseason following Game 1. Boozer is not at 100% either, so that puts the burden of offense squarely on the shoulders of Deron Williams, with some help from the likes of Korver and Brewer. The Nuggets looked pretty strong on Saturday night, with Carmelo looking in great rhythm. I actually think that the Nuggs will take this series pretty easily. If the Jazz had been a bit healthier, my money was on them causing the upset, but this is just too many chips to overcome.

PREDICTION: Nuggets 4-1

time to build a run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the new rockets

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

Let’s look at the trades:

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

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

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

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

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

offensive fouls are just offensive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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