Defense tops the to-do list for Aaron Brooks

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The Houston Rockets have been one of the most entertaining teams this season, mostly due to their status as the NBA’s resident hustle junkies. Tracy McGrady barely played and Yao Ming barely practiced, but an outmatched group of confident role players took to the court with excellent effort and great team chemistry.

The only problem is that in the NBA, effort isn’t good enough. You need talent, and lots of it. The Rockets have had some, but at the end of the day they’re still leaning very heavily on Trevor Ariza and Chuck Hayes, and that’s a problem.

As a result, the Rox, despite the blue-collar approach and playing the Adelman version of the “right way,” ranked just 17th in the league in defensive efficiency. That’s despite having Kyle Lowry, Shane Battier, and Trevor Ariza, some of the more impressive perimeter defenders in the league, and the aforementioned Hayes, a technical master of post defense despite his relatively diminutive stature.

Incorporating Kevin Martin isn’t likely to help, because for all of Martin’s strengths as an offensive player (and he has many), he’s a bit of a defensive sieve. His defensive instincts just don’t light a candle to his scoring ones, and while it’s hard to complain about incorporating a terrific scorer at minimal cost, it doesn’t change the fact that Houston’s defense will need to improve around him if they’re going to excel on that end of the court next season.

Yao Ming’s return should help, supposing he’s ready to roll, but a huge part of team defense is stopping point guard penetration on the perimeter. It saves the entire defense from having to shift and rotate to compensate, and allows the entire crew of strong individual defenders to do what they do best. Rick Adelman has pinpointed the defense of his starting point guard, Aaron Brooks, as a critical threshold for Houston’s improvement. From Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:  

A matchup against 6-8 Washington point guard Shaun Livingston put a priority on Aaron Brooks to be more disruptive defensively, an improvement Brooks and Rockets coach Rick Adelman said he needs to make next season. “(Brooks) cannot be put in that position where there are bigger players playing and it puts us at a real disadvantage defensively,” Adelman said. “He’s got to find ways to be effective, whether it is fronting, being more active, picking up full court. “That’s a stage he has to go through if we’re going to become better as a team. And I think he’ll do that.”

I’m not sure Shaun Livingston is the best example of an offensive threat to Brooks, and he finished the game in question with two points on 16.7% shooting and two assists with two turnovers to match. It doesn’t change the importance of Brooks’ defense though, and right now it’s one of the weaker facets of his otherwise solid game.

2017 NBA playoffs have been historically uncompetitive

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
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The NBA Finals so many wanted to see – Cavaliers-Warriors III – is here.

At least it will be.

Today is the first of six off days before the 2017, which begin June 1 in Oakland.

The lengthy delay is the product of an underwhelming postseason featuring few competitive series and numerous blowouts.

Golden State swept its way through the West, and Cleveland dropped only one game (to the Celtics in the conference finals) while winning the East. There have been only two Game 7s, but considering the magnitude, neither felt that compelling. Blake Griffin‘s injury undercut the Clippers against the Jazz, and Celtics over Wizards felt inevitable with home teams winning each game of the series. Between, there have been several lackluster games and series.

There have been just 74 playoff games this year – the fewest before the Finals since since the NBA instituted a best-of-seven first round in 2003:

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That’s 74 of a possible 98 games – 76%, the lowest since 1999 and seventh-lowest ever.

Even if the Finals go seven games, it will be the fewest games in a postseason since 2007. If the Finals go five or fewer games, it’ll be the shortest postseason in this playoff format.

And it hasn’t just been quantity. The quality of games has been lacking, too.

Though there were more blowouts last year by nearly any measure, the 2017 postseason’s average margin in pre-Finals games (13.5) is fifth-highest all-time and second-highest since 1959 (behind 2016, 14.2).

Combine the two factors, and these are the drabbest playoffs in nearly 50 years. Here’s each postseason plotted by average margin in pre-Finals games and percentage of possible games pre-Finals:

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This probably just confirms what you’ve seen: The 2017 playoffs have been in a rut.

We’re all counting on the Cavaliers and Warriors to salvage this postseason, but considering how deep the hole is, anything less than an epic Finals probably won’t cut it.

Kyrie Irving crosses over Avery Bradley, hits 3-pointer (video)

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Avery Bradley got around one screen then, thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s excellent ball-handling, lunged at another that wasn’t coming as Irving hit a 3-pointer.

LeBron James beautifully pass-fakes, makes layup in transition (video)

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LeBron James is a treasure.

Shaquille O’Neal’s big toe is seriously jacked up (PHOTO)

shaq o'neal
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Remember how we we all freaked out when we saw pictures of LeBron James‘ feet back in 2013?

You probably didn’t want to be reminded that it existed, but it does. Still. And apparently jacked up feet is the consequence of a lifetime of playing professional basketball. Once can only assume it has something to do with tight shoes and constant, hard changes of direction in said tight shoes.

We got yet another vision of what basketball shoes can do to feet on Thursday when TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal showed off his, er, little piggies.

Much to the horror of the Internet in general, it was Shaq’s right big toe that took social media by storm. Mostly because it’s not even close to pointing in the right direction.

I’m going to show you what it looks like. Be forewarned, it might just be NSFL.

Via Twitter:

Oh. Oh … why?

Social media reacted appropriately and proportionately:

Shaq did have issues with that toe during the course of his career, and at one point it was so bad that he had to have surgery to remove bone spurs from the toe in 2002.

That still doesn’t explain why it’s all over your TV and the Internet, but here we are. I am sorry.