Houston Rockets

Dallas Mavericks v Houston Rockets

PBT Extra: Houston, Dallas simply do not like each other

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Houston and Dallas both went after Dwight Howard. Chandler Parsons bolted Houston for Dallas, then called downtown Houston dirty. Mark Cuban and Daryl Morey snipe at each other through the media.

This is a rivalry, and it makes for an entertaining 2/7 series between the Rockets and Mavericks. On the court, there are questions about how much Rajon Rondo and James Harden can give. But the secret may be if Dallas can control their defensive boards.

Jenna Corrado and I talk about a Western Conference series that will be more interesting than these seeds normally put together. I’ll take Houston, but it will not be easy.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: ‘There’s no more predictable team than the Rockets’

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2014 - Day 1
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As the Mavericks and the Rockets get set to face each other in round one of the NBA playoffs, it’s worth reminding that these are two teams that simply don’t like each other.

While Mark Cuban is at the ownership level and Daryl Morey is merely a general manager, the competitive pair have traded plenty of barbs in the past.

Cuban continued to stoke the flames of the rivalry recently, telling Grantland that the Rockets are, in his opinion, too predictable and simply not that good.

From Greg Rajan of the Houston Chronicle:

In the playoffs, teams with limited game plans get exposed. Conveniently, Cuban believes that Houston, his team’s first-round opponent in this season’s playoffs, is one of the most one-dimensional teams in the playoffs.

“[The biggest difference is] practice time. There’s no more predictable team than the Rockets. You know exactly what they’re gonna do,” he says. “But James Harden is so good. That’s what analytics have begot. Right? Predictability. If you know what the percentages are, in the playoffs, you have time to counter them. Whether you’re good enough to do it is another question. Because they are very talented, and James Harden, I think, is the MVP. Because that’s not a very good team over there.”

Before we get to the obvious shade that was thrown, it’s worth pointing out that Cuban isn’t wrong.

The Rockets play the numbers from a basketball standpoint, and offensively, they look exclusively to create shots in the paint, behind the three-point line, or at the charity stripe — and essentially, nowhere else.

But as Cuban mentions, and as it is in other spots like the NFL where it’s easy for defenses to predict what’s coming, the question becomes whether or not you’re good enough to stop it.

My guess is that Dallas isn’t well-equipped to deal with what Houston does, but it could very well be a long series nonetheless. Cuban’s comments are good for the game’s entertainment value, and that will be even more true if he ends up goading Morey into issuing a public response.

PBT Awards: All-NBA

NBA All-Star Game 2015
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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

First team

  • G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
  • F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
  • C: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Second team

  • G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
  • G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
  • C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Third team

  • G: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
  • F: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
  • C: Al Horford, Hawks

There are just so many good forwards, you can’t mention them all. Apologies to DeAndre Jordan, who easily could have been that third center.

Brett Pollakoff

First team

  • G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
  • G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
  • C: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Second team

  • G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
  • C: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

Third team

  • G: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • G: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
  • F: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
  • C: Al Horford, Hawks

Sean Highkin

First team

  • G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
  • F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
  • C: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

Second team

  • G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
  • G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
  • C: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Third team

  • G: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • G: John Wall, Washington Wizards
  • F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
  • C: Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls

The first team is self-explanatory. The positional logjam forces Paul and Westbrook onto the second team — it’s a little ridiculous that they can’t be on the first team, but there are only two guard spots and it would be hard to justify not giving them to the top two MVP candidates. Aldridge carried the Blazers through several injuries and even put off thumb surgery until the summer, without falling off at all. The Gasol brothers were great for different reasons. Marc has a legit case for First Team honors, and Pau was the Bulls’ most consistent player while Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler missed time with injuries.

Dan Feldman

First team

  • G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
  • F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
  • F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • C: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Second team

  • G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
  • G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
  • C: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

Third team

  • G: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
  • F: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
  • C: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

I could easily flip Horford and Jordan between the second and third teams, and DeMarcus Cousins isn’t far behind.

Putting Butler at forward might be cheating a bit, but he guarded small forwards often enough to qualify in my book. Apologies to Blake Griffin, who would have taken that spot if I hadn’t fudged Butler’s position.

John Wall was the toughest omission otherwise followed by Paul Millsap, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Love (who regressed from last season, disappointed relative to expectations, didn’t play as well as he’s capable, was misused – and still had a pretty good year).

PBT Awards: MVP

Serbia v USA - 2014 FIBA World Basketball Championship
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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

I flip-flopped on this up to the end, but in my mind, people underestimate Curry’s value to the Warriors (+15.7 per 100 possessions when he’s on the court) because he doesn’t do it in a traditional way. His gravity opens the Warriors’ offense for Klay Thompson and everyone else. The Warriors are the best team in the league, and they are not near where they are without Curry.

Brett Pollakoff

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

This is an impossible choice, and there is no argument to be made against Curry winning it. He’s been the best player on what’s been the league’s best team all season long, and he’s been the most entertaining player to watch.

But Harden has been just as incredible. He led the Rockets to the two-seed in the West, despite the team losing two starters for the season due to injury (Patrick Beverley and Donatas Montiejunas), and with Dwight Howard missing 40 games, as well.

Harden leads the league in 40-plus point performances, and with no other real offensive threat on that team, he’s the focus of opposing defenses every single night. Curry will probably win it, and he’s equally deserving. But what Harden did for a Rockets team that desperately needed him to be consistently great is, in my opinion, more worthy of being recognized.

Sean Highkin

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

The real choice here is only between the top two guys. Curry is the best player on the best team and Harden is the one that managed to drag a flawed team to the second seed in the West despite a slew of injuries. They’re basically 1 and 1a and there’s no wrong answer. Insert any number of other ways to hedge this choice.

But I’m going with Curry. He has better teammates than Harden, but just his being on the floor completely changes the way teams approach everything defensively. He’s improved on that end, too. It’s an impossible choice. It really is.

Dan Feldman

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets

3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

I hate having to leave Russell Westbrook off the ballot. He has a case for No. 1. But in this deep pool, he’s my No. 6. His lack of minutes – insert “availability is the most important ability” cliché – keeps him (and Davis and LeBron) outside the top three, and his lackluster defense drops him below the other two.

Curry has played with better teammates, but he took the Warriors from a little above average to historically great. That’s not a lesser accomplishment than Harden taking the Rockets from bad to very good. It’s a close call between those, but I think Curry played just a little better this season.

PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks

Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler
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SEASON RECORDS

Rockets: 56-26 (second place in Western Conference)
Mavericks: 50-32 (seventh place in Western Conference)
Houston won the regular season series 3-1.

KEY INJURIES

Rockets: Patrick Beverley (wrist) hopes to return from surgery during this series, but that is far from a lock. Donatas Motiejunas is out for the playoffs (spinal surgery). K.J. McDaniels injured his wrist in the final game of the season, there is speculation it is broken and he will be out for the postseason.

Mavericks: Chandler Parsons is recovering from a knee injury, has been playing one-on-one and could return this series. You can be sure he wants to play his former team.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS

Mavericks: 107.2 points scored per 100 possessions (5th in NBA); 103.7 points allowed per 100 possessions (18th in NBA).
Rockets: 104.2 points scored per 100 possessions (12th in NBA); 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions (6th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Can James Harden be an efficient scorer in the playoffs? Harden is an MVP candidate because not only does he put up points — 27.4 points per game, second best in the NBA — but he did it with a true shooting percentage of .605. He shoots 37.5 percent from three; he is gifted at pressuring defenders and drawing fouls, then hitting his free throws. However, that efficiency has gone away come the playoffs the past couple seasons when defenses really focused on him in Houston — his true shooting percentage last season was .519 in the playoffs, below the league average that season. Will that happen again? Dallas did a relatively good job containing him in their meetings this season, the problem for the Mavericks is they couldn’t then slow the other Rockets.

2) Does the Rajon Rondo trade finally start to pay off for Dallas? This trade has not worked out for Dallas, or Rondo, like either side had hoped. When Rondo is on the court, the Mavs defense is marginally better than when he sits, but the offense drops five points per 100 possessions. His lack of shooting has killed the Mavs spacing. Plus, since coming to Dallas Rondo has turned the ball over on 22.6 percent of the possessions he uses — better than one in five trips down the court. That said, “Playoff Rondo” is a thing, he thrives on the bigger stage. The Mavs are going to need that Rondo in this series.

3) Can Dallas keep Houston’s big men off the offensive glass? This quietly could be a key to the series. Dallas grabs 72.2 percent of their defensive rebound opportunities, an unimpressive 29th in the league. Houston, on the other hand, grabs 26.8 percent of their missed shots as an offensive rebound, seventh best in the NBA. It’s not hard to envision how this plays out: Harden barrels down the lane and draws Tyson Chandler and pretty much every other Mavs defender, Harden misses his shot under that pressure but nobody is left to box out Dwight Howard or Terrence Jones, who get the putback dunk. If Dallas can’t keep Houston from getting second chance opportunities this is going to be a very difficult series for them.

PREDICTION

This is the best rivalry in the first round — these teams don’t like each other and don’t hide it. It’s Dwight Howard choosing Houston over Dallas as a free agent and Mark Cuban calling it a mistake in judgment. It’s Chandler Parsons leaving Houston to sign with Dallas and the world finds out on Instagram. It’s Parsons calling downtown Houston “dirty.” It’s Mark Cuban and Daryl Morey taking shots at each other through the media. This is going to be fun.

This was the matchup Dallas most wanted, they match up better against Houston than they did San Antonio or the LA Clippers. Slowing Dirk Nowitzki is a nightmare for everyone and Houston is no exception. Monta Ellis is going to get his (at least in a couple games). And yet, it will not be enough — this is going to be a hard-fought, competitive series, but I’ll take the Rockets in seven.