ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: Houston Rockets

26 Comments

Last season: There were high expectations with James Harden and Dwight Howard being paired in Houston, and the Rockets were good, but not great. Which felt like a first step or a disappointment, depending on your point of view. Make no mistake, the Rockets were a good team — 54 wins, which tied them for the four seed in the West — but the team never really seemed to form an identity. While statistically Harden and Howard were good together (+9.3 per 100 possessions when on the court together) they seemed more to play next to each other than with each other. This all came to a head when the Rockets lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Portland Trail Blazers in about the most painful way possible. Again, the Rockets had a good team and a good season, but they need to hope it’s a first step.

Signature highlight from last season: There were some James Harden game winners and great blocks by Dwight Howard, but was there any play more fun than Patrick Beverley dunking on Chris Bosh’s head?

Key player changes: It was almost a monster off-season for the Rockets, GM Daryl Morey was going to move them into contender status by grabbing Chris Bosh out of Miami to make his own big three. And he came thisclose. But then Bosh took the big payday to stay put and all the moves Morey had made to clear out cap space became holes.

Gone is some key depth: Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, as well as Omri Casspi and Jordan Hamilton.

In their place comes Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry, rookies Clint Capela and Nick Johnson, Ish Smith, Jeff Adrien, Joey Dorsey, and Kostas Papanikolaou.

Keys to the Rockets season:

Depth behind their stars. James Harden and Dwight Howard are elite players, but that alone doesn’t win you games, especially come the playoffs. The Rockets lost quality role players this summer and some lesser known guys are going to have to really step up for the Rockets to even match last season’s success. Trevor Ariza got paid after a big season in Washington, can he put up similar numbers again? Donatas Motiejunas has to take on a bigger front court role. Jason Terry needs to show he still has some game left. And so on down the line, the Rockets need to find depth and rotations that can work when Harden and Howard sit.

Can they improve defensively? The Rockets offense was top five in the league last season, they put up plenty of points (although Howard/Harden need to reduce their turnovers), but their defense was pedestrian. They were 12th in the NBA in points allowed per possession. Their defense didn’t really improve last season over the season before despite bringing in Howard to patrol the paint and glass. (Howard isn’t as explosive as he was back in Orlando but he’s still a very good rim protector.) They have Patrick Beverley out top, and Ariza should be a defensive upgrade over Parsons. Harden is Harden but says he’s going to work on being more focused on defense. This needs to be a team thing, not just one guy, and the scheme needs to fit the personnel. The bottom line is this is the end of the floor where improvement needs to happen.

Is Kevin McHale coaching for his job? This question circled around the Rockets during last season and this summer: Is Kevin McHale the right coach for this team? McHale is very well liked around the NBA and has done a good job as coach in Houston (they won 54 games last season, made the playoffs the year before when they probably shouldn’t have) but there are questions about his game planning and fit with this roster. Particularly the question is can he coach this team up defensively. Expectations are high and if this team doesn’t take a step forward this coming season there will be changes and coach is the most likely option (especially since this is the last year of McHale’s deal). Remember Howard can opt out in the summer of 2016 so the Rockets don’t want to take a step back, if they do they might give Howard a chance to have a say in picking a coach (something Howard didn’t feel he got in Los Angeles).

Why you should watch the Rockets: James Harden has taken a lot of criticism the past year, but the fact is he remains one of the best and most efficient scorers in the league. The man isn’t just a beard, he’s a legit No. 1 offensive option in this league and just fun to watch play.

Prediction: 50-32, which is still good but in the West nets you more like the 7 seed, which will net the Rockets another first round playoff exit. (That is unless Morey makes a big in season trade, however in season deals are a dying breed.) The expectations remain high around the Rockets and it’s hard to see how they meet them. Which means we could see far more changes next summer (and McHale back calling games for TNT).

Warriors first team to win five straight conference titles

1 Comment

Presenting the Western Conference-championship trophy in 2015, former Warriors coach Al Attles worried about dropping it. He told Stephen Curry to pick it up directly, avoiding a potentially troublesome lift and handoff. Curry raised the trophy to a jubilant Oakland crowd.

Golden State hasn’t lost control of the trophy since.

The Warriors won their fifth straight conference title – the longest streak of all-time – with a 119-117 Game 4 win over the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals Monday. Only the Boston Celtics, who won 10 straight division titles 1957-1966 before the NBA adopted conference in 1971, have gone to so many consecutive NBA Finals.

Here are the longest streaks of NBA Finals appearances:

image

Blazers start hot, again. Warriors come back, again, win in OT to eliminate Portland

Leave a comment

Monday night saw the third film in the Portland/Golden State movie franchise. We had seen this same plot in the last two games— Portland races out to an early lead thanks to unexpected hero, Golden State comes back and executes better down the stretch, then Golden State wins

Monday night was just more dramatic.

It was almost the Meyers Leonard game — he had a career-best 25 points before the half and finished with 30 points on 12-of-16 shooting.

Adding to the drama, the Warriors delayed their comeback to the fourth quarter, but comeback they did.

Stephen Curry — who had a triple-double on the night and had 37 points to lead all scorers — sparked the comeback but was almost remembered for traveling with an exaggerated Harden step back rather than taking a potential game-winning two (and his brother Seth Curry was all over the travel call).

In the end, none of that mattered.

It was Draymond Green — who also had a triple-double with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists — that hit a dagger three in OT off a Curry assist, and that proved to be too much for the Trail Blazers to overcome.

Golden State win 119-117 in a game of little defense, and with that takes the series 4-0.

The Warriors will now have nine days off to get Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins healthy — all three sat out this game — before taking on either the Bucks or Toronto in the Finals (which will start in the East city).

Portland is done for the season, but they should look back with pride on the growth this team has shown. They found a third star in Jusuf Nurkic, and then without him still made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. This season was a step forward for Portland, something to build on.

Portland just did not have the matchups or answers for Golden State.

Steve Kerr, without three guys who started Game 1 of the playoffs against the Clippers, threw out the kind of rotations usually seen on the second night of a back-to-back in January, but the Warriors depth came through. Kevon Looney had a strong game with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Shaun Livingston had eight points, Jordan Bell started and had 7.

More than depth, what separated the teams in this series was Golden State could crank up the defense when it needed it. The Warriors played with more defensive intensity in the fourth, holding the Trail Blazers to 6-of-23 shooting. In overtime, Portland shot 3-of-10.

The Warriors shot just 3-of-12 in the fourth, but had five offensive rebounds and Green’s dagger three, and that was enough. They won a tough game without their stars.

It’s a movie we have seen before.

Unstoppable Meyers Leonard drops 25 on Warriors in first half (VIDEO)

1 Comment

Stephen Curry had an I-don’t-want-to-play-Game-5 kind of first half for Golden State, scoring 25 points and hitting 5-of-7 from three.

However, he was the second best player on the court because Meyers Leonard held that crown.

Yes, Meyers Leonard.

He had 25 points of his own on 10-of-12 shooting.

Fans broke out a “Mey-ers Leon-ard” chant.

All that had Portland up 69-65 at the half in a defense-optional Game 4 where it is win-or-go-home for the Trail Blazers.

Knicks Frank Ntilikina reportedly wants to be traded, switches agents

Getty Images
1 Comment

When the Knicks acquired Emmanuel Mudiay last season — a player Denver just released outright — Mudiay instantly jumped past Frank Ntilikina on the point guard depth chart. Then, when the Knicks traded for Dennis Smith Jr. at the deadline (part of the Kristaps Porzingis deal), the future of Ntilikina in New York was thrown into uncertainty.

Ntilikina sees that, wants out, and is getting a new agent as well, reports Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina dropped CAA as his agency last season and planned to sign with French agent Bouna Ndiaye, the Daily News has learned.

Ntilikina, who was drafted eighth overall by Knicks in 2017, is on the trading block and desires a relocation, a source told the News. The Knicks declined offers to move Ntilikina at the trade deadline in February, acquired another point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., and Ntilikina quickly decided to change agents.

Ndiaye represents several French players in the NBA, including Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier.

The Knicks are expected to try to trade Ntilikina, either at the draft or next summer. Mostly other teams will view him as a way to save money — if teams do not pick up his 2020-21 option by Oct. 31 he comes off the books after this next season — but also Ntilikina played good defense and other teams may try to take a flier on him.