The Houston Rockets play at the fastest pace in the NBA 98.8 possessions per game (via Hoopdata). And while it’s not yet a mathematical lock, we can say the Rockets are going to the playoffs — they are the seven seed in the West, three full games up on the eight seed Lakers and 3.5 on the nine-seed Jazz.
One other thing we know — come the playoffs the pace of NBA games slows down. Teams are more cautious with how they use possessions.
“We want to impose ours on them,” coach Kevin McHale said of the Rockets’ style. “It’s really important that we do. If they impose theirs on us, that’s to their benefit. They’ll play better walking it up and throwing it inside than we would.
“It gets a little bit more (slow-down oriented). Teams get a little more conservative. They send one less guy to the offensive glass. But they can’t stop you from running. I can’t go up and grab you. You can run. You can’t grab people, so how can I stop you from running? They want to stop you from running. How? You just got to do it.”
Yes, but if teams are back on defense, if they harass the rebounder to slow the outlet pass, they can take away some of those running opportunities. And the easy buckets dry up.
I’m not a guy who believes you can’t win with a running style — you just have to have enough talent and enough role players who fit the system, same as any style. Go watch the Showtime Lakers. The Rockets problem right now is they don’t have quite enough talent — they are building a potentially very good team around James Harden, but they are not there yet.
By the way, I am rooting for the Rockets to pass Golden State and get the six seed (they are one game back) and for the Nuggets to surge up to the three seed. I want Denver and Houston to have a first-round track meet.
Report: Gordon Hayward’s earliest possible return is March
It’d be great for Hayward and the Celtics if he can return in March. That’d give him time to acclimate before the playoffs, which Boston could still make.
However, this report casts doubt whether the Celtics will receive a disabled-player exception for Hayward. The NBA grants the exception – worth $8,406,000 in this case – if a league-appointed physician rules Hayward is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15.
When he said Hayward would likely miss the season, did Bartelstein mean the regular season, Boston’s season or the entire postseason? Those could be quite different dates. How likely is a player with at least a chance of returning in March to remain out through June 15?
The NBA is fairly lenient on granting disabled-player exceptions. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Celtics got one.
But I also wouldn’t be surprised if they’re denied – which, in a way, would signal good news for them and Hayward.
Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo spoils Boston home opener
Every night in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, especially on this, the real opening night of the NBA with 22 teams in action. Every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Tonight, that includes a few historic numbers… good and bad.
1) Brad Stevens, Celtics have no answer on how to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo either. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re getting mentioned in the record books with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you’re doing something very right. Monday night, the Greek Freak was rolling to the rim and finishing alley-oops over defenders, hitting floaters and leaners in the lane, and generally using his length to get any shot he wanted against the Celtics on his way to a 37-point, 13 rebound night in Boston. The only other Buck to have an opening night of at least 35 and 10? Yup, one Mr. Abdul-Jabbar.
Put a smaller defender on Antetokounmpo and he shoots right over them. Put a bigger defender on him and he goes around them — or just over them too. Brad Stevens tried a lot of things on defense, and while Al Horford had a little first-half success slowing him nobody did all game as he shot 59.1 percent on his way to dropping 37.
Notice all those shots are close to the rim. Antetokounmpo was a ridiculous 10-of-12 at the rim and 12-of-18 in the paint overall, but just 1-of-4 outside the key. It’s easy to say “make him a jump shooter” but good luck finding anyone who can stay in front of him, or that he can’t just finish over. The man was dunking over Aron Baynes, how do you get anyone much bigger in front of him?
Boston was up four points entering the fourth quarter when the second night of a back-to-back seemed to hit them, they scored just 20 points on 8-of-25 shooting in the final frame, 4-of-21 outside the restricted area. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo went off for 16 in the fourth as he ramped up his aggressiveness and Brad Stevens and the Celtics had no answer. Marcus Smart was fiery and got into it withMatthew Dellavedova, that may have exemplified Boston’s spirit, but Celtics looked physically and emotionally worn down by the end. Hard to blame them.
Rough start to the season for Boston, who lost Gordon Hayward just minutes into the opener (he’s out for the season), they fell to the Celtics Tuesday night and now are off to an 0-2 start. They will bounce back, but just now how the team with all these new players thought things would start.
2) Jeremy Lin injures knee and there is “tremendous” concern it is serious. Midway through the fourth quarter against the Pacers, Jeremy Lin drove the lane and finished a layup at the rim that looked ordinary — except when he landed he went to the ground grabbing his knee and did not get back up.
This isn’t good. Neither were the reports during and after the play.
Jeremy Lin banging the floor: "I'm done, I'm done, I'm done." Looks like a knee injury.
Brooklyn was counting on Lin to help stabilize the point guard position and the backcourt with D'Angelo Russell (who had 30 on the night in a losing effort). If Lin is done for all or most of the season, it’s a huge setback for a team that, while bad, was expected to be a little better than in previous seasons. Remember, the Cavaliers have Brooklyn’s first-round pick this season unprotected (part of the Kyrie Irving trade from Boston).
3) Suns’ season opening performance wasn’t just bad, it was the worst ever. The record for worst opening night loss in NBA history belonged to the 1987 Los Angeles Clippers coached by Gene Shue, who were blown out by Denver by 46 points.
No more. That record now belongs to the Phoenix Suns, who fell at home to the Portland Trail Blazers 124-76 — a 48 point loss. The Suns shot 31.5 percent as a team — Devin Booker was 6-of-17 and didn’t hit a three, Eric Bledsoe was sloppy and reckless all night and finished 5-of-18 with five turnovers and three assists, while Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss combined to go 1-of-10 off the bench. The Phoenix offense was about as in synch as the left shark, and many possessions ended with a terrible shot being jacked up because, well, somebody had to shoot it.
I’d like to say this was a good omen for the Trail Blazers’ defense, but really it’s impossible to judge how good it was against this offense. It was still a win the Blazers will gladly take, Damian Lillard had 24 points while Pat Connaughton came off the bench for 22.
PBT Extra: Bobby Portis punch adds to challenges for Bulls this season
There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.
After surgery tonight, Boston's Gordon Hayward is unlikely to return this season, agent Mark Bartelstein told ESPN.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.
Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.
Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.
The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.