“It’s hard to post linebackers.”
When the Rockets go small, the natural instinct is to say “beat them by going big.” Just have a center set a pick out high to force a switch, send him to the low block, get him the rock and let him back down the smaller player, and it’s an easy two.
As Brad Stevens notes in the quote above, it’s not that simple.
The Rockets may be undersized, but the roster is stocked with long and strong players. Good luck backing down P.J. Tucker. Russell Westbrook is unquestionably strong. Robert Covington has a 7’2″ wingspan.
And then there’s James Harden, the guy often targeted (including during the All-Star Game). He has always been difficult to back down in the post of his lower body strength. Speaking to Tim MacMahon of ESPN, Harden almost dared teams to target him.
“Come try it,” Harden said, “and the s— won’t work.”
So far, it hasn’t. Teams have not been able to consistently exploit the Rockets’ size — Houston’s defensive net rating in its last 10 games (109.7) is almost identical to its season average (109.6). Scouts told MacMahon that just going inside to score is not enough against these Rockets.
“Teams think they have a mismatch by going inside,” a scout from an Eastern Conference team said, “and they don’t.”
“You can’t try to play matchup basketball,” a Western Conference head coach said. “That’s what they want. You have to beat them with [ball] movement.”
It’s the second part of that — which the Knicks had some success with during their win against Houston — that will be put to the test in the playoffs. It’s not like the Lakers are going to just post up Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard (and LeBron James), but they will find ways to get those guys the ball on the move. Then, with that little bit of space, they can get a clean shot off. Same with the Clippers and Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell. Same with Denver. And the list goes on.
Right now, however, everything is clicking for the Rockets, their defense has been solid.
If teams want to try and change that by targeting Harden, he is good with that.