With Dwight Howard coming to the Houston Rockets, the team shifts from an interesting young squad, to a Western Conference contender with a blot of the ink. Joining Howard in the frontcourt are incumbent bigs Omer Asik, Greg Smith, Terrance Jones and Donatas Montiejunas, and the signing of D12 makes the once-thin big-man rotation now as deep as any in the NBA.
To ornament the wing positions, Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey has swiftly brought back Francisco Garcia, who was acquired mid-season from Sacramento, while also bringing in Israeli-born small forward Omri Casspi. With bearded madman James Harden, youngster Chandler Parsons and the undervalued James Anderson already on board, the wing is now solidified for the boys in red.
When it comes to point guard, though, the team still has some work to do. With Howard, Harden and Parsons serving as the only untouchables on the roster going forward, Morey will be feverishly working the phone lines in hope of scoring a more adequate backcourt partner for Harden.
Jeremy Lin started at the one-spot for Houston last season, while Patrick Beverley served as the team’s backup after being signed in January. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Lin had a successful first year as the Rockets’ starting point guard, and the confusion stems from the ripple effect of Linsanity and the somewhat serviceable numbers that Lin put up last season; the former will undo itself given time, and the ladder needs to be taken with an anthill of salt.
Last year, Lin averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game, numbers that were almost identical to the ones he put up for the Knicks a year earlier. Among the 14 prospective Western Conference starting point guards for next season (not counting Utah due to rookie Trey Burke being the likely starter), Lin ranked 11th in scoring and 13th in assists last season. Only the aging and injury-riddled Steve Nash, the pass-first distributor Jose Calderon (who presumably will be starting for the disaster that has become the Dallas Mavericks next season) and Ricky Rubio averaged less points per game than Lin. Meanwhile, only Memphis’ Mike Conley averaged less assists a game than Lin, and he played on a team that was 27th in scoring and first in defense.
Last season, the Rockets led the NBA in possessions per game, while finishing second in the league in scoring, trailing the Denver Nuggets by one tenth of a point per game. Lin played in a system where he was allowed to push the ball every chance he got, and fire at away every time he had enough room to raise his arms; a system that looked like it was going to cater to his needs and help hide his deficiencies. As if that weren’t enough, Lin also Houston was played next to an unselfish star in Harden, who possesses a knack for spot-up shooting and finding the open man. If you put together Harden’s offensive superstardom, Asik’s defensive rebounding prowess, Parsons’ ability to shoot the three with accuracy, and the perimeter oriented skills of the rest of rotation, that should spell a monster statistical season for Lin, right?
The fact that Lin ranked so low in both assists and scoring among the competition, in what was arguably the best system for statistical stardom, is a gigantic red flag. If you couple that with Lin’s propensity for turning the ball over (2.9 turnovers per game) and his inability to shoot from distance with anything that resembled consistency (less than 34% last season), it’s pretty obvious that this guy’s game is flawed to the bone.
If Lin’s lack of statistical prowess in a system that afforded such capabilities wasn’t enough for you, Lin failing the eye test over and over again might (although that’s not something so easily put into words). In the beginning of last season, Lin was abused twice by rookie Damian Lillard, and both games resulted in overtime losses. In an early-season win against Memphis, McHale decided to go to Harden at point because Lin couldn’t get the ball past the three-point line without Jerryd Bayless taking it from him. In Houston’s first three meeting with the lowly New Orleans Hornets, Lin was outscored by Greivis Vasquez 56 to 22, and out-assisted 34 to 16, in what were three close (and really hard to watch) contests. In the playoffs, a suddenly-gimpy Lin was outplayed by Patrick Beverley, as Lin tallied only 16 points, eight assists and eight turnovers in 21 minutes per game. Not so surprisingly, Lin also posted DNPs in both of the team’s playoff victories against Oklahoma City; games in which Patrick Beverly displayed his quirky skill-set and frantic defensive abilities to a national audience. Examples like these were on display all year long, but as the Harden-led Rockets continued to win games, Lin’s play was no longer the storyline.
The bottom line is this: Lin’s a streaky, volume shooter, who gets beat off the dribble repeatedly, is a turnover machine and lacks the kind of handle that the league’s best point guards possess. His best asset is his ability to get into the lane, but he did that so sporadically last year that he can’t be depended on to consistently score or create points for others. If Houston keeps Lin as their floor general, it won’t take too long the media to start making a stir. If Howard was dissatisfied with Orlando’s gritty leader Jameer Nelson, he’s going to really throw a fit when him getting doubled leads to Lin missing most of his spot-up threes. With Howard in town, Lin’s inability to defend on the perimeter, shoot the spot-up three and weave in and out of the lanes with the ball still bouncing, are going to be amplified. On the flip side, Beverley’s biggest strength—his pesky on-ball pressure— will be even more effective with Howard defending the lane.
Luckily, there’s a silver lining in all of this: Lin still has some value. He would be a great backup, especially for a team that is lacking a slasher off the bench. He’d also be a great way for a team like Orlando to get fans in the stands to watch their subpar crew of youngsters (that was the kindest way to put it), while they rebuild their franchise and seek out a long-term solution.
It is also a very distinct possibility that Houston looks to bring in a more established starting power forward, while packaging one or two of their big men (not named Howard) along with Lin and future draft picks to get him. Omer Asik certainly holds a lot of value after having a very successful first season in Houston, especially for an Eastern Conference squad lacking size. Terrance Jones and Donatas Montiejunas both have loads of potential, so a team that’s high on one of them and isn’t currently in contention can look into bringing one of the young bigs to town. Abled passing frontcourt players like the suddenly-expendable Greg Monroe and the most underrated player in basketball, David Lee, would fit perfectly next to Howard inside, while both teams could use a backup point guard.
When it comes to upgrading at point guard, Houston could elect to bring in a veteran, but if they decide to move one of the young bigs, they’ll likely deal for a point guard that can serve as a long-term solution. Enigmatic but talented restricted free-agent Brandon Jennings might be worth taking a shot on, while fellow restricted free agent Jeff Teague is an interesting option as well (especially since Atlanta just drafted two point guards in the first round). Even a guy like John Wall, who has yet to sign an extension in Washington, could be a possibility, although it appears the Wizards are willing to do everything possible to keep him around.
If there’s one sure thing that you can expect from Daryl Morey’s roster moves, it’s the unexpected. In a matter of two years, Houston has transformed a roster that was filled with run-in-the-mill NBA talent, to a team that possesses three foundational players (Harden, Howard, Parsons), assets who could be held onto or traded any day (Smith, Motiejunas, Jones, Asik) and low-cost rotational guys who can contribute to a winning team (Beverley, Anderson, Garcia). In the coming season, we’ll see the Rockets shift from a guard-heavy squad, who used a frenetic pace to cover up their lack of size, to a more well-rounded team that can rebound, protect the paint, score in the half-court and shoot the lights out.
Fortune has turned Houston’s way, but don’t expect Morey to sit still while he counts his stars. The wheels will continue to spin and guys will keep coming in and out of town as Morey and company scrounge the earth for the crew of guys that bring another ring to Houston.
After one round of games, I’m in last place:
1. (9)The Big Bamboo- On the heels of the Bulls upset, the veteran and lone senior citizen on the panel takes the lead.
2. (11) Tay Tay- Solid selections and only one bad beat have the lone minority on the panel in striking distance after one round.
3. (12) Bones and Purple Hayes- Bones’ pick of the Warriors has paid off well, and Hayes has picked extremely well despite picking up 5 points in the Denver series.
4. (14) D-Money- The biggest loser on the panel sits at the bottom of the pack, but vows for a strong 2nd round.
1. Oklahoma City vs. 5. Memphis
The Big Bamboo: OKC in 6
Tay Tay: Memphis in 5
Bones: Memphis in 6
Hayes: Memphis in 6
D-Money: Memphis in 6
2. San Antonio vs. 6. Golden State
The Big Bamboo : 6
Tay Tay: Spurs in 6
Bones: Spurs in 6
Hayes: Spurs in 6
D-Money: Spurs in 5
1. Miami vs. 5. Chicago
The Big Bamboo: Miami in 6
Tay Tay: Miami in 5
Bones: Miami in 4
Hayes: Miami in 5
D-Money: Miami in 5
2. New York vs. Indiana
The Big Bamboo: Indiana in 7
Tay Tay: Knicks in 7
Bones: Knicks in 7
Hayes: Knicks in 6
D-Money: Indiana in 7
Throughout the season, I’ve talked about what a great job Daryl Morey has done in Houston. He brought over Harden, Asik, Beverly, Delfino and a bunch of youngsters, and what once seemed like a grim future, now looks bright. However, I haven’t talked about any other GM’s who has been able to construct title-contending teams, so I would like to right now. The Grizzlies finished the season with a 56-26 record, with a core of Mike Conley Jr., Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. A few years ago, if you would have said those three guys would be leading a title-contender in 2013, the idea would have been laughed out. Now, the once heavily criticized Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace is getting the last laugh.
Mike Conley was best known for playing next to Greg Oden in Ohio State, and was taken 4th overall by the Grizzlies in 2007. Conley didn’t set the world on fire in his first few years, and there were questions whether or not he had the skill-set to lead to a championship-level team. In the same year, the Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol, who had been their heart and soul since they traded for him on draft-day in 2001, and received only Gasol’s brother Marc, Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie and picks. At the time, the trade was called a “steal” and the Grizzlies were criticized heavily for getting so little back in return. At that time, Marc Gasol was still playing in Spain, and was thought to be a fringe NBA player- a virtual throw-in.
Fast-forward to July 2009, when the Grizzlies traded Quentin Richardson for Zach Randolph. The trade was dismissed as irrelevant- just another blurb along ESPN’s bottom line- but Chris Wallace looked at the deal as a well-calculated risk. Randolph had underachieved in New York and in LA (as a Clipper), and although he showed promise early in his career in Portland, he was labeled a selfish player who was unworthy of the 6-year, 84 million dollar contract he had signed with the Blazers in 2004.
Fast-forward to the beginning of this current season. The Grizzlies are coming off a great season, but were unable to make it out of the first round, after falling to the Clippers in 7 games. The roster looks very similar, with the additions of veteran underachiever/ former lottery pick Jerryd Bayless, shooting guard Wayne Ellington, and rookie Tony Wroten, as well as getting backup big Darrell Arthur back from injury. In the middle of the year, Wallace decided to rock the boat, and made two deals that looked like head-scratchers, but have turned out to be great moves. First, he traded Ellington, backup big Mareese Speights, seldom-used guard Josh Shelby and a future first round pick to Cleveland for Jon Leuer. The move was an obvious salary dump and was thought to be a ploy by Wallace to get under the luxury-tax threshold.
A few weeks later, the Grizzlies pulled the trigger on a trade that changed everything. The Grizz shipped out their leading scorer Rudy Gay- who was making max-money- in part of a three-team trade, in exchange for forwards Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye. Again, the move was received as a salary dump, and it looked as though the Grizzlies were giving up on this season. Then, a funny thing happened- they got better. The starting five of Conley, elite perimeter defender Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol teamed up to become the stingiest defense in the NBA and started to play a throwback style of inside-out basketball. Their bench of Jerryd Bayless, Ed Davis, Darrell Arthur and Quincy Pondexter looked like an above average crew, fitting in perfectly with the rest of the hard-nosed squad.
Tonight, the Grizzlies play a game 6, at home, up 3-2, against a Clipper team with more talent, in a what has become the most wide open Western Conference in years (albeit due to Westbrook’s injury). A team that revolves around their offensive and defensive interior strength has found their way into the NBA Finals conversation without a perimeter scorer averaging more than 15 points a game. The beauty of the league, the beauty of the game, and the beauty of the playoffs, are all epitomized by this team. Zach Randolph was left for dead- traded for f*cking Quentin Richardson a few years ago- and now he’s the most dominant inside scorer in the playoffs. Marc Gasol- who was just “Pau’s little brother” for a long time- has been named the NBA Defensive Player of the year, despite not leading the game in blocks (which is an oddity these days for DPOY), and is the NBA’s best passing big man since… well, since his brother was in his prime. Mike Conley has become a great defender, and a court general, capable of lifting a sometimes stagnant offense. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince lock down opposing wings on a nightly basis. Bayless, Davis, Pondexter and Arthur bring fire and toughness while the starters are off the floor, playing the same style of hard-nosed ball the first stringers do.
In the new landscape of the league, it seemed like this Grizzlies team couldn’t survive, because they didn’t adapt. Instead of building around Rudy Gay, they decided to beef up their defense and their interior depth, and they’ve become a better team because of it. GM Chris Wallace didn’t go with the new-school Oklahoma City Thunder style of rebuilding, by being bad for a while and drafting well, and he didn’t take the 2008 Celtics blueprint of acquiring talent and flipping it for superstars via trade. Instead, Wallace carved out one of the most solid 9-man rotations in the league, amongst all the criticism, by making the moves that no one else would make. Maybe the Grizz don’t make it to the Finals- they PROBABLY won’t- but you have to love a GM that has the balls to pull the trigger on tough moves. Most importantly, you have to love a team that defies all modern-day NBA logic, and sticks to their guns. A team that was constructed by good draft picks, great signings, and savvy trades. That’s what the league is all about. That’s the beauty of the game.
- Jeff Green needs to carry a HEAVY offensive load. Pierce doesn’t score in bunches like he used to, Garnett shoots jumpers and once in a while gets a bucket in the post, while Rondo is sitting on the sidelines.
- The Celtics team defense will serve two functions. One function, will be to make the Knicks frustrated for the first 3.5 quarters. The second function, will be to shut down Camelo late in games. If the game is close in the final minutes, Doc Rivers will make sure Melo doesn’t beat them, and he’ll put Bradley on J.R Smith- who Bradley should be able to shut down because he’s the best defender you never heard of. It looks like it’s going to come to down to what the Knicks can get offensively down the stretch from guys like Kidd, Felton, Chandler, Martin and Shumpert.
- The Knicks will likely shorten their rotation in the postseason, but can Woodson find the right rotations quickly? It seems like the outside of the Knicks rotation- their 8-12 guys- have been shuffled throughout the year. Can Woodson find the right combination of 8 or 9 guys that works in the series? He’s probably going to have to.
- Down the stretch of fames, it’ll be interesting to see what the Knicks do. If they play Felton, Smith, Shumpert, Melo, and Chandler, do they have enough offense? Do they need to replace Shumpert with a veteran like Kidd, who is better equipped to handle late game situations mentally? Do they throw Martin in at the 5 instead of Chandler, because Garnett takes Chandler away from the basket, basically neutralizing his top-tier interior defense?
- At this point in their careers, Melo is far better than Pierce. However, in the last couple minutes of games, will Melo still be far better than the history clutch Pierce? We’ll see.
- Veterans like Terry and Kidd will be interesting to see. Can they turn back the clock and lead their second unit squads to success? Will they be in the game down the stretch?
- Melo has the superstar IT factor- the Celtics don’t have anyone like that at this point in their careers. Melo’s can control entire quarters at a time, and he’ll need to do that when the Knicks struggle with their half-court offense, finding good shots for his teammates and making contested shots.
To get into the playoff spirit, myself and my five expert panelists, have picked the winner of each series and how many games it takes. The way the picks will be scored is like this:
Say the series was Pistons and Raptors:
I pick: Pistons in 6
Big Bamboo picks: Raptors in 7
Bones Picks: Pistons in 5
If those were the three picks, and the series ended with the PISTONS WINNING IN 5, then:
Bones would receive 0 point- points are bad- lowest total after the Finals wins
I would receive 1 point, for being 1 game off, but picking the correct winner
HERE’S WHERE IT GETS A LITTLE CONFUSING, BUT I THINK IS STILL LOGICAL:
The Big Bamboo would receive 4 points in this situation:
If he would have picked Pistons in 7, he would receive 2 points, but since he picked the wrong winner, but was only one game off, he received an extra point for picking the wrong winner?
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
(And let the speculation begin: who is the BIG BAMBOO?)
1. Miami Heat vs. 8. Milwaukee Bucks:
Heat too much for the Monta-Ellis-driven Bucks to handle- for even one game. Miami’s swarming defense will cause Milwaukee’s bigs to get out of their games, and Miami’s perimeter defender are good enough and long enough to shut down Ellis. Watch for Larry Sanders to do a good job at patrolling the paint, but don’t forget that the Heat shoot threes very well and that two is better than three last time I checked.
Mike “D$” De Moor: Heat in 4
Jesse “Bones” Dulhagen: Heat in 4
The Big Bamboo: Heat in 4
Tay Tay: Heat in 4
The Body: Heat in 4
Purple Hayes: Heat in 4
2. New York Knicks vs. 7. Boston Celtics:
The Celtics have flipped a switch every postseason since getting KG and Allen to form the first new-school big three. Although Allen and Rondo are out of the picture, I think the guile and experience of Pierce, Garnett and Terry will lead the C’s to a 7th game. However, I feel the new, downright dominant Carmelo Anthony will be able to lead his team out of the first round. REMEMBER WHILE YOU’RE WATCHING THAT YOU CAN’T COUNT OUT KG, PIERCE AND TERRY, SO LOOK FOR SOME LATE-GAME HEROICS BY THE HUNGRY VETERANS. Also, Jeff Green’s performance is key- if he can make Melo play D (if they’re matched up together) it will change the dynamic of the matchup.
Mike “D$’ De Moor: Knicks in 7
Jesse “Bones” Dulhagen: Knicks in 6
The Big Bamboo: Knicks in 6
Tay Tay: Knicks in 7
The Body: Knicks in 6
Purple Hayes: Knicks in 6
3. Indiana Pacers vs. 6. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have been far from competitive against any tough opponents in the postseason of late, so I don’t expect them to stir the pot here. David West, Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansborough are well-equipped to fight off Atlanta’s inside game of Josh Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, which pushes the onus on the other three positions. Atlanta is short a wing defender these days, so look for Paul George to play very well each game. If Atlanta has any shot, they’ll need to get Indiana’s bigs in foul trouble, score a bunch inside, and get heavy offensive contributions from Teague and Korver. Watch to see if Paul George can take over games- that will indicate a lot for the potential second round matchup versus (probably) Melo.
Mike “D$” De Moor: Pacers in 5
Jesse “Bones” Dulhagen: Pacers in 5
The Big Bamboo: Pacers in 5
Tay Tay: Pacers in 5
The Body: Pacers in 5
Purple Hayes: Pacers in 6
4. Brooklyn Nets vs. 5. Chicago Bulls
This is one of the most interesting match-ups in the first round. First of all, it’s time for Lopez to put up, or shut up. If the Nets don’t get to the second round, and Joakim Noah outplays Lopez, then I will pat myself on the back for hating Lopez all year. Deron Williams will force Chicago to play Hinrich more than Nate, but Thibodeau will still find the crazy little guy some minutes. Joe Johnson’s contributions will be key for the Nets, due to his likely matchup with Luol Deng. I definitely don’t count the Bulls out here, but I think in the end, the Nets have too much firepower to lose the series.
Mike “D$” De Moor: Nets in 7
Jesse “Bones” Dulhagen: Nets in 6
The Big Bamboo: Bulls in 7
Tay Tay: Nets in 7
The Body: Nets in 7
Purple Hayes: Nets in 6
1. Oklahoma Tity Thunder vs. 8. Houston Rockets
OKC should take this series with some ease, but James Harden is the wild-card. Harden was traded away from OKC right before the season started, which showed OKC chose big-man Serge Ibaka over Harden. Now, it’s time for Harden to stick it to them. Chandler Parsons’ could be the difference maker for Houston on both ends of the court. If Parsons can play really good defense on Durant, the Rockets have a shot. On the same note, Houston’s going to need Lin or Beverly to step up against Westbrook, who can put up 35 points every game against them. I think Harden will be able to pull out a game, and Houston’s three point shooting will pull out another, but I don’t think the Rockets can win four.
Mike “D$” De Moor: Thunder in 6
Jesse “Bones” Dulhagen: Thunder in 5
The Big Bamboo: Thunder in 5
Tay Tay: Thunder in 6
The Body: Thunder in 6
Purple Hayes: Thunder in 5
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 7. Los Angeles Lakers
Despite the Spurs being dinged up and (still) old, I don’t think the Lakers will make the series all that close. San Antonio matches up well with the Lakers inside, and LA has no one who can stop Parker. Parker’s health is still suspect, but even at 50% he can lead the Spurs passed the thin, injury-plagued Lakers. If LA has any chance to win, they’ll need significant offensive contributions from Nash, Howard and Gasol- and when I say significant, I mean they need to put up 60-70 per game. Steve Blake has shot the ball well of late, so look for coach D’Antoni to go with a lot of two point guard lineups.
Mike “D$” De Moor: Spurs in 6
Jesse “Bones” Dulhagen: Spurs in 6
The Big Bamboo: Spurs in 6
Tay Tay: Spurs in 6
The Body: Spurs in 4
Purple Hayes: Spurs in 6
3. Denver Nuggets vs. 6. Golden State Warriors
Simply put, the Warriors just don’t matchup well with Denver. Curry and Thompson will be seeing long, quick defenders, and Lee will be seeing a lot of the Manimal, Kenneth Faried. Denver can play at Golden State’s preferred frenetic pace, and they do it better than the Warriors do. If Golden State wants to have a shot, they’ll need big offensive performances by Bogut and Harrison Barnes- something they haven’t consistently had all year. Look for Denver quicker, bench lineups to give Golden State’s bigs fits, and look for Mark Jackson to counter with Lee at the five, Jack, Curry, Thompson and Barnes. Also, Denver is probably the only team in the league with as good of a backup PG as Golden State, so look for some good late-first-quarter and late-third-quarter battles by Andre Miller and Jarret Jack.
Mike “D$” De Moor: Nuggets in 5
Jesse “Bones” Dulhagen: Warriors in 7
The Big Bamboo: Nuggets in 6
Tay Tay: Nuggets in 6
The Body: Nuggets in 5
Purple Hayes: Nuggets in 5
4. Los Angeles Clippers vs. 5. Memphis Grizzlies
In a rematch of last year’s first round matchup, the Clippers still look like the better team. Memphis has had a great season, and you have to love the way they play inside out with Z-Bo and Gasol facilitating as much as their scoring offensively. Chris Paul is still the best PG in the league not named after a flower, so he’s still going to make the difference. If Conley can go tit-for-tat with Paul, then you can expect the dynamic of the series to change- I don’t see that happening though. The Clippers and Grizzlies are two of the best 4 and 5 seeds I remember, so this series should be the most entertaining to watch, because both teams will give OKC a run for their money.
Mike “D” De Moor: Clippers in 7
Jesse “Bones” Dulhagen: Clippers in 6
The Big Bamboo: Clippers in 6
Tay Tay: Grizzlies in 7
The Body: Clippers in 7
Purple Hayes: Grizzlies in 7
I must have had this all wrong all year. I thought the Lakers were being followed around all year because they were playing like complete failures when they should have been world-beaters. I thought the story went like this:
Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest NBA players of all time to many (and the famous second wheel to Shaq in the first three championships and the famous leading man on the second two championships to me…. plus one of the greatest NBA players of all time- I just had to say the other part first) needed some changes. After losing in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs each of the last two years, with neither of the series’ going more than 5 games, changes needed to be made to the second greatest franchise in professional basketball (behind the Hous….. just kidding, the Celtics). So, on July 11th, the Lakers trade for 2-time MVP Steve Nash. The move for Nash seemed to push the Lakers into the championship conversation immediately, but it doesn’t end there.
Two weeks later, the Lakers signed veteran forward Antawn Jamison. Another two weeks later, the Lakers land Dwight Howard in a four-team-trade, while picking up small piece, former lottery pick, Earl Clark and microscopic piece Chris “I Can’t Believe Anyone Still Pays Me” Duhon. In the trade, the Lakers gave up Andrew Bynum, Josh McRoberts, and Christian Eyenga (only one of them has played a minute this year). A few days later, the Lakers added the floor-stretching Jodie Meeks to the equation. Another weeks passed before the Lakers signed former Memphis Wildcat Chris Douglas-Roberts (one of my favorite college players of all time). Another three weeks passed before the Lakers released Chris Douglas-Roberts (good, he’ll be a Rocket in a few years after honing his game in Thailand’s illustrious summer league). So now, the Lakers go into the season with a depth chart looking like this:
PG Steve Nash
SG Kobe Bryant
SF Metta World Piss
PF Pau Gasol
C Dwight Howard
Bench: PG Steve Blake, F Antawn Jamison, SF Devin Ebanks, PF/C Jordan Hill, F Earl Clark, SG Jody Meeks, G Darius Morris
So, the season begins with all the dumb-ass computers and all the extremely smart writers predicting that the Lakers will contend for the Western Conference title. Then, they start 1-4. Then, they fire their coach. Then, it seems like they could have gotten Phil Jackson, but they chose Nash’s former offensive coordinator Mike D’Antoni instead. From then on, it was chaos. They win two in a row, they lose a couple. Nash is out for a while. All three bigs- Hill, Howard and Gasol- all get hurt on the same night, and things look worse and worse.
Around mid-season, when the Lakers were about 5 or 6 under .500, I sat and listened to Magic Johnson, that guy with the lisp who likes the Clippers, and Mike WIlbon (who’s the man) all say that the planets needs to align for the Lakers to make the playoffs. Fast forward to last week. The Lakers are close to getting in, but still fighting off the pesky Jazz, when Kobe ruptures his Achilles. That should be end of story right? Kobe goes down, so the Lakers are just done. Goodbye failure of a season where Steve Nash played the worst ball of his career. Goodbye to season that showed a lack of communication between LA’s stars, who were unable to telepathically fit with each other on the court. Goodbye to Pau Gasol’s injury plagued, odd man out, groundhog year season. Goodbye to Dwight Howard having to play second fiddle with the media-which eats him up inside because he used to wear that stupid cape and make fun of his coach and he was the center of attention then and Kobe took that away from him but now he has it back and he loves it because he likes attention more than Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton combined.
And all of this leads up to more questions: why are we still hearing so much about the Lakers? Why is there such enthusiasm in LA? Do people really think it matters if the Lakers make the playoffs or not? My answer is simple: if the Lakers make the playoffs, and stir the pot at all, doesn’t that make Kobe Bryant look bad? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Steve Nash, who has been reduced to a shadow of himself on offense this season, come out and run-and-gun like it’s ‘06? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Gasol could do something wrong and not have Kobe roll his eyes at him? Maybe Gasol would play better then! Maybe he wouldn’t seem like such an absolute head-case?
It all comes down to tonight. The Rockets travel to LA to play the Lakers. Hopefully, the Jazz can beat the Grizzlies, which gives the Rockets a chance to knock the Lakers out of the playoffs: this excites me more than Eva Mendes. Hopefully Harden and Company can ruin the Lakers playoff dreams by knocking them out of the playoffs. If Utah loses, hopefully the Rockets can force the Lakers to play OKC, whom the Lakers match-up so poorly with because:
1. Nash on Westbrook. According to my statisticians, Westbrook has no trouble abusing white point guards this year.
2. OKC has interior bigs to match up with Dwight and Gasol on defense- You’d be hard-pressed to find a frontline, that doesn’t play in Memphis, that matches up with the Lakers front-court better than these guys. Perkins does two things- sets illegal screens, and plays good on-ball, back-to-the-basket defense. Ibaka, a better overall player, can shoot the ball, moving Gasol away from the bucket, and can play above average on-ball and help defense.
3. Artest on Durant- The defenders that give Durant problems are usually longer than Artest. Durant’s not going to beat you up inside (not with his girth anyway- he uses his length to get shots up quickly) and he’s not going to back down because someone’s stronger than him.
4. Kevin Martin over Sefolosha- If Kobe was playing, OKC would have Thabo in more than Martin, but without Kobe, OKC can put another scorer on the floor at all times. Martin can put the ball in the basket, but plays about as good of defense as Steve Kerr used to- which is fine in this case because Jodie Meeks just shoots threes anyway.
If the Lakers were to win, I’d love to see the real Steve Nash stand up. I’d love to see the Kobe-less Lakers show real cohesion and stun the Spurs in the first round. Yes, I would feel bad for the Spurs- especially if T-Mac sneaks into the rotation (doubt it). However, that’s the price you pay to stick it in Kobe’s face. Five times in my 15 year NBA-watching prime I’ve watched Kobe win titles, and now, I want to see him suffer. I am pleading for the NBA writers to PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE not give Kobe props for leadership if the Lakers pull, or almost pull, a first round upset. Instead, I want them to pose the question- does Kobe have trouble fitting in with other stars? Can Kobe fit in any strong personality without the Zen Master on the bench?
P.S- Rockets- win one for The Beard Buzz. Lord knows only 6 or 7 of my friends and family members look at it anyway. And on top of that, wouldn’t we rather play the Spurs? We know how well Westbrook does against white point guards.
The Rockets have finally clinched a playoff spot, and they’re currently fighting for the 6th seed out West. I know I can’t be the only one saying this, and I know it’s wrong to say, but don’t we want to dodge the Nuggets? Houston has made some changes to their rotation of late, with Greg Smith’s insertion into the starting lineup and Francisco Garcia and Terrance Jones’ increase in playing time, but we just can’t stop the Nuggets. The Rockets gave up over 130 points to the Nuggets in their most recent game, and have lost all four meeting against them this season.
Before I make a case on why we shouldn’t play the Nuggets, I need to do a little backtracking. First of all, I don’t think the Rockets will beat anyone in the playoffs. Maybe they can put a little scare into someone, and maybe they can stretch a series to seven, but I don’t see them taking the cake against the Western Conference’s elite. Houston has beaten OKC, SA, Memphis and LAC all one time each this year, and that alone is not evidence that backs up my wanting not to play the Nuggets.
When it comes to San Antonio, I think they’re hurting a little right now. Parker hasn’t come back all the way, and Ginobili is out probably for the first round. They just said goodbye to Stephen Jackson, which means he really must have pissed them off for them to cut him in April. Maybe the Rockets would stretch them to 6 games if Harden can have a big fourth quarter one game, and Lin has a game where he plays like Tony Parker (which happens about once every 18 games according to my calculations… and just so happened to take place against SA in Houston’s Harden-less OT loss where Lin put up 38 points). Maybe Houston’s new big-boy lineup of Asik and Smith matches up better with SA’s bigs inside and maybe, the Rockets can get the old vets of SA thinking that they don’t have what it takes to compete for a title anymore. Maybe the Rockets end the current Parker-Ginobili- Duncan era. Probably not.
When it comes to Memphis, the contrasting offensive approaches of both teams could work in the Rockets’ favor. Memphis likes the half-court, and likes to pound the ball inside, while Houston likes to get out and run-and-gun. Maybe Houston can dictate pace more often than they can’t and maybe that shifts the hourglass over to the Rockets. Houston also has the advantage late in games against Memphis for two reasons. One is because they can put two bigs (Asik and Smith) in to match-up with Z-Bo and Gasol, while putting Patrick Beverly in to guard Mike Conley, who often times ends up taking late game shots for the one-wing-short Grizz. The second reason is the Rockets have this guy with a beard who they know they know wants the ball right before the backboard is outlined in red. So maybe Houston can speed the game up to get the Grizz out of their comfort zone, and maybe they steal a couple games late. Maybe they can make the Grizz rethink their decision to let Rudy Gay go (which they shouldn’t do because Rudy Gay is about as valuable as Chandler Parsons for 20 times as much money). Maybe, but probably not.
When it comes to the Clippers… maybe Chris Paul can break his leg in the first game. But if Chris Paul doesn’t break his leg, maybe Patrick Beverly can change the game with his on-ball defense on Paul. Maybe Houston can use the perfect combination of Asik, Smith, Jones and Montiejunas to defend well on the inside, but still put up points. Maybe Houston provides a match-up problem for Crawford on the defensive end, and maybe the Clippers can’t play him down the stretch, leading to a lack of offense late in games. Maybe, but probably not.
When it comes to OKC, you have to ask yourself: just what kind of player is James Harden? Is he one of those NBA greats that can will his team to victory strictly as an act of revenge? Is he like NBA legend Jerry West, who used to walk on the court waiting for someone to piss him off so he could embarrass them? Is he looking to get back at OKC? I doubt he’s even mad he was moved to Houston because of his increased role and because of the talent around him, but he has to still want to stick it to them, right? If Houston were to have any chance against OKC, they would need a monster performance by Jeremy Lin, who could easily get embarrassed by Russell Westbrook in every game. Again, I wouldn’t take the Rockets in the series, but as a fan, wouldn’t you want to see what the Beard can do when he’s angry? Maybe you won’t like him when he’s angry.
Finally, we’re back to the Nuggets. Simply put, the Nuggets play a similar style of ball as the Rockets, but they’re just better at it. They have more guys that fit the system, and they have more guys who can beat you in more ways. If Houston stuck with the Smith/Asik combo for most of the games, we’d be seeing a lot more Faried. If Houston went small, we’d see a lot more smaller lineups with stretch 4’s like Chandler and Brewer. At point guard, Denver will tear us apart with their combination of Lawson and Miller, and we all know by now that Lin’s not much of a defender. Also, Denver has a guy named Iggy who plays amazing defense, and will give Harden a hard time every time he touches the ball. Add all of those things in, and then add in that Denver has lost 3 games at home all year playing up in the land of the nosebleeds, and you’re looking at a recipe for disappointment.
I’m still looking forward to seeing the Rockets play a few late April and early May games, but I’m not getting my hopes up. I’ve done my best all year to keep grounded with this team, and I’m not stopping now. By Wednesday, we’ll know who we’re playing, and we’ll start to carve out a game-plan: that’s all we can do. Let’s just hope we don’t have to play Denver.