Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers

NBA Playoff Preview: Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers

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SEASON RECORDS

Houston Rockets: 54-28

Portland Trail Blazers: 54-28

KEY INJURIES

Houston Rockets: none

Portland Trail Blazers: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Houston Rockets: Offense 108.6 (4th in NBA), Defense 103.1 (12th in NBA)

Portland Trail Blazers: Offense 108.3 (5th in NBA), Defense 104.7 (16th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Will anyone stop anyone?

Cue the fireworks. This is the only first-round series featuring two top-five offenses.

Both teams have middling defenses, indicating both offenses will win the proverbial battles. Even when narrowing to playoff rotations, both teams perform worse defensively.

There is defensive talent on both sides, though. The Rockets have Patrick Beverley, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik. The Trail Blazers have Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Yet, neither team has put together a strong defense.

This might come down to whether James Harden or Damian Lillard, notoriously disinterested defenders, summons more defensive effort.

2) Will this just be a parade to the rim for the Rockets?

More specific to the general defensive concerns, Portland faces a particularly daunting challenge in keeping Houston away from the rim.

The Rockets take 39.8 percent of their shots at the rim, best among playoff teams. The Trail Blazers allow their opponents to take 34.0 percent of their shots at the rim, worst among playoff teams.

Portland must somehow cut off Harden’s attacks (by methods other than fouling and sending him to the line for easy points) and keep Howard from getting too deep (maybe fouling him, in certain situations, is OK). Even the Trail Blazers’ soft pick-and-roll coverage might not do the trick. The Rockets both drive and roll with reckless abandon.

The Trail Blazers need a new trick up their sleeves.

3) What happens between Damian Lillard and Patrick Beverley?

The starting point guards don’t exactly like each other.

Lillard is a small-college player trying to prove himself as an NBA superstar, and Beverley is an underdog scrapper himself. Because they’re so proud (and so similar), there’s frequently friction when they meet.

In this series, their matchup is key. Beverley will try to hound Lillard defensively, disrupting Portland’s offense by making its point guard miserable. Lillard is more skilled. Beverley is more physical.

Whichever wins out could swing the series.

PREDICTION

The Trail Blazers slipped from their perch atop the Western Conference after a 31-9 start, but they’ve bounced back. Portland won its last five and nine of ten, providing momentum entering the playoffs. But the Rockets won the season series, 3-1, so they have homecourt advantage.

Rockets in 7

Larry Bird: Kevin McHale won’t coach Pacers

Larry Bird
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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1. Kevin McHale withdrew from the Kings’ coaching search.

2. The Pacers fired Frank Vogel.

Will McHale reunite with former Celtics teammate Larry Bird in Indiana?

“I would not do that to Kevin, have him to work for me,”Bird said at a press conference today. “That’s just not fair. I respect the man too much, and we’ve been through too many battles together to bring him in here and be my coach. I would love for him to be my coach, but it ain’t going to happen, because our relationship.”

It would have been compelling to watch Bird and McHale work together, but I’m not convinced McHale is the best coach available – though that’s not the only concern.

After all, Bird just ousted someone who might be a better coach than any replacement.

Frank Vogel out as Pacers coach

Larry Bird, Frank Vogel
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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After leaving Frank Vogel hanging for a few days – something he explicitly said he hoped to avoid – Pacers president Larry Bird finally ousted the coach.

“It’s time for a new voice around here,” Bird said at a press conference today. “Sometimes my job really sucks, and this is one of the toughest things I’ve done.”

Bird clarified that Vogel wasn’t fired, that his contract had expired and wasn’t being renewed.

Will there be a search now to replace Vogel? Kevin McHale has already been mentioned as a candidate, and he’d make sense. He played on Bird’s Celtics and learned an up-tempo system with the Rockets.

Vogel is now free to interview with the Rockets, and I think he’d be a home-run hire. Vogel’s defensive skills are badly needed in Houston, and perhaps the the Rockets’ institutional knowledge could fine-tune his offense.

Report: Rockets talking to Jeff Hornacek, Sam Cassell, Stephen Silas, Chris Finch

Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek directs his players in the second half of an NBA exhibition basketball game against the Houston Rockets Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Houston. The Rockets won 95-92. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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There are the big names: Jeff Van Gundy, David Blatt, Mike D’Antoni and Frank Vogel.

There’s the catchy name: Kenny Smith.

And there’s the eliminated name: J.B. Bickerstaff.

Expect many more names in the Rockets’ coaching search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Houston owner Les Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey met with Bickerstaff on Monday, as well as Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell and Houston assistant Chris Finch, league sources said.

Conversations with potential candidates are expected to include several prominent college coaches, sources said.

Among the NBA candidates with whom the Rockets are working to set up interviews are former Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and Charlotte Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, league sources said. There could be 10-15 – perhaps even more – candidates interviewed in the process, league sources said.

Hornacek coached the Suns and looked pretty good doing so until this season, when he feuded with Markieff Morris, used too many strange lineups and saw the team quit on him. If he can explain this year’s troubles, he’d be a solid hire. But the Rockets have the best job available, so they can probably aim a little higher.

Cassell, like Smith, played for the Rockets. An intelligent player, Cassell has successfully transitioned to coaching, though I’m not sure he’s ready for a top job. He mentored John Wall with the Wizards before joining the Clippers. From afar, it’s just tough to judge his contributions to a loaded coaching staff in Los Angeles.

Stephen Silas broke into NBA coaching on his dad’s staffs with the Hornets (turned Pelicans) and Cavaliers. Paul Silas even let Stephen serve as head coach for games during the 2011-12 season. Between and after stints with his dad, Stephen has impressed at other stops around the league. Maybe someone who learned offense from Don Nelson and defense from Steve Clifford and gets along well with players would make a good head coach. The biggest question is how his rapport with players would translate to the head chair, but that’s a concern for any assistant.

Finch coached in Europe for more than a decade until the Rockets tabbed him to coach their D-League team. After a successful stint there, he moved to the bench in Houston. He’d be more of a daring hire at this point, but he could perhaps unite the Rockets’ front office and coaching staff better than anyone.

Reports: Kevin McHale withdraws from Kings coaching search, could join Pacers

Kevin McHale
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports wrote a few weeks ago about the Kings coaching search:

Kevin McHale is steadily gaining internal support, league sources told The Vertical. If Cousins truly is the future, the Kings have to hire a coach he will buy into, and McHale, a respected voice and one of the game’s all-time great post players, certainly seems like a good fit.

They won’t get him, of course

McHale indeed emerged as a candidate, and though it took him a little longer than other prominent former head coaches, McHale also came to the conclusion Mannix foresaw,

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This is part of the reason Sacramento talking to everybody. The Kings don’t know whom they can get.

An owner who has changed course too often in Vivek Ranadive, a general manager with too little experience in Vlade Divac, a top player who repeatedly feuds with coaches in DeMarcus Cousins – who’d want this job? Probably not someone who could get one of the NBA’s other 29 head-coaching gigs, and that might apply to McHale.

Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News:

Frank Vogel is still twisting in the wind, but it seems unlikely the Pacers keep him.

There’d definitely be something intriguing about former Celtics teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale teaming up in Indiana. McHale’s experience with the Rockets could help him install an up-tempo offense, too.