Tag Archives: Houston Rockets

NBA Western Conference Playoff Preview: #4 Houston Rockets vs #5 Portland Trail Blazers

By: Prad

The high-powered offenses are set to face off for a seven game series beginning Sunday at the Toyota Center in Houston. The Rockets and Blazers matchup extraordinarily well with both teams featuring stellar front courts and perimeter shooting. This series is likely to be high-scoring with each offense boasting a superb efficiency rating on offense (Rockets and Blazers are 4th and 5th respectively in the league). Both teams won 54 games in the season and they faced off four times with Houston taking three of them by an average of six points. There is no doubt that this series could be one of the highlights of the entire playoffs.

NBA fans got a taste of this series with Houston narrowly taking the regular season series after an overtime thriller in March Courtesy of Zimbio
NBA fans got a taste of these two teams facing off with Houston narrowly taking the regular season series after an overtime thriller in March. What’s in store for an encore?
Courtesy of Zimbio

Houston Rockets

The Rockets are led by their two perennial All-Stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. After much controversy during his one season in Los Angeles, Howard has become a consistent option for the Rockets this season with averages of 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. He added to the front court that already consisted of Omer Asik and the young and talented Terrence Jones. With Howard in the lineup, Asik moved to the second unit only bolstering Houston’s depth. Howard can matchup with essentially any center in the league with his excellent defense at the rim and footwork on offense. Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez are decent rim protectors with Aldridge averaging 1 block a game and Lopez with 1.7. Howard is set to make his mark on the series. On the other hand, Terrence Jones is still a young power forward looking to learn. Jones had a drastic improvement this season from his rookie campaign. Jones cracked the starting unit with averages of 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He complements Howard in the front court nicely and this series should be no different. If he can average 12 and 9 in the series, he will provide a major boost to Houston’s offense.

James Harden is hoping the three ball will be falling for him throughout the series Courtesy of Fox Sports
James Harden is hoping the three ball will be falling for him throughout the series
Courtesy of Fox Sports

Yet, it is the back court that will have the advantage in this series. The tenacious guard Patrick Beverley will surely make a difference in this series. He has averaged 31.3 minutes, 10.2 points, 2.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game this season. Beverley, well known for his ability to pester opposing guards, must play harder against the Blazers’ Guard Damian Lillard to limit his production. The aforementioned Harden has truly transformed into an All-NBA caliber player during his time in Texas. His loaded stat line includes 25.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.7 rebounds a game. His statistics against Portland are even more impressive. His splits against the team include 30.3 points, 5.3 assists, and 7.3 rebounds in their four regular season meetings. The second unit includes PG Jeremy Lin who has averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists. Houston needs him to heat up from beyond the three point arc for the second unit to contribute with Harden off the floor. Perimeter shooting from Houston’s guards should be a difference maker in this series. The Rockets’ head coach, Kevin McHale is hoping that the Rockets will not have to live and die by the three ball. Still, that is what might occur as this series unfolds.

 

Portland Trail Blazers

Similar to Houston, the Trail Blazers boast an impressive front court highlighted by the veteran play of PF LaMarcus Aldridge. He had a spectacular season averaging 23.2 points and 11.1 boards per game, both career highs. Aldridge failed to bring his team to the postseason the last couple seasons, but he has nice career averages in the playoffs with 19.8 points and 7 rebounds. If this regular season serves as any indication, he will improve on these numbers. Despite Terrence Jones probably matching up against him the majority of the time, he will see a bit of Howard on the low block. This may force Aldridge to take more mid-range jumpers, which is one of his strong suits. LA has one of the best mid-range games for a power forward in the entire NBA. Besides him, Portland has C Robin Lopez in the front court. The seven-footer has only seen playoff action once before with the Suns in 2010, when they lost in six games in the first round. This season was among Lopez’s best though and he’ll provide valuable minutes for Portland in the opening series. He will likely fall into foul trouble when guarding Dwight in the post, but it should be effective as Howard is an atrocious free throw shooter.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will both face tough match ups  Courtesy of Bleacher Report
All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will both face tough matchups with their Houston counterparts
Courtesy of Bleacher Report

The Trail Blazers feature a young and talented back court with All-Star PG Damian Lillard and SG Wesley Matthews. Portland is hoping Damian Lillard’s debut in the playoffs will be similar to Derrick Rose’s debut which included 36 points and 11 assists. Lillard has had himself an impressive sophomore season averaging 20.8 points, 5.6 assists, and 3.6 rebounds. Perhaps, more of the same is in store for fans during the playoffs. His unbelievable three point shooting (218 this season) will be a major part of Houston’s defensive gameplan. If Lillard can shoot the three ball effectively, Portland will be a tough team to beat. Matthews will need to pick up his defensive game against superstar James Harden throughout the series. If Harden can be contained, which is not likely, then the Trail Blazers have a good shot of winning the series because the scoring burden falls on the shoulders of Dwight Howard. I do not believe that Portland Head coach Terry Stotts will employ the Hack-a-Howard throughout the series, but it is certainly a possibility. Howard will be unable to capitalize on his trips to the free throw line and then the advantage falls to the Trail Blazers if the Hack-a-Howard is used correctly.

 

Houston Will Advance In 6 Games

This is a stepping stone for a potential dynasty in Houston  Courtesy of ESPN
This is a stepping stone for a potential dynasty in Houston
Courtesy of ESPN

It would not be surprising to see at least a couple of the games in this series going into overtime. These teams are evenly matched with both sharing the same winning percentage (.659), offensive tendencies, and two All-Star players. Although all four All-Stars in this series play different positions, it is a very real possibility to see Howard matchup with Aldridge and Harden with Lillard. Houston wins in this series because of their greater depth and more consistent defense in the paint. Harden and Howard, the better of the four All-Stars, cannot afford anymore early playoff exits. They have already suffered their fair share and need to step up and prove to fans they can compete for an NBA title. They may not attain the elusive ring immediately. But this will be a start.

Western Conference Southwest Division Preview

By: Evan

The Southwest division will be one of the most intriguing divisions in the NBA with the potential for three different teams to win the division. The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies all have talented teams that made significant runs in the playoffs last season and will look to make even deeper runs this season. The most significant change for the Rockets is the addition of Dwight Howard, who signed a four year $88 million dollar deal with the potential opt-out after year two. With a core of James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons, the Rockets are looking to win a title.  But they need to best the Spurs and Grizzlies, two experienced teams with elite players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.  It should be an exciting season, now let’s look at some predictions. *Denotes playoff team

1.) *Houston Rockets

The Rockets have a formidable starting lineup, one that can shoot and score inside.                    Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com

Dwight Howard is a tremendous addition to an already talented Rockets starting lineup, providing a low post presence that will take some pressure off of James Harden and Chandler Parsons on the perimeter. The main issue for the Rockets will be establishing a pace as last year they averaged 106 points per game, good for second in the league, but D12 likes to body his defender in the post and slow the game down. If Kevin McHale can set the tone and find a balance, the Rockets will be tough to beat.  Another key will be Jeremy Lin’s growth from last season as the media world focused on him and his play regressed from his days in New York. If he can eliminate some turnovers and improve his 34% 3-PT shooting, the Rockets will have a scoring threat from almost every position. As Jon mentioned before, James Harden has seized the opportunity to lead a franchise as he posted a ridiculous stat line of 26 ppg 5.8 rpg and 4.9 apg, all career highs. Look for him to better his assist numbers as well as efficiency since Dwight Howard will draw some double-teams in the post. This team is dangerous and when they make the playoffs, they have a shot at knocking off the Heat.

2.) *San Antonio Spurs

Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich were one rebound away from a fifth NBA championship.                                                                                                               Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The only reason why the Spurs are not the top team in this division is their age.  Popovich likes to rest his older players during meaningless regular season games, which lowers their seeding.  After the disappointment of losing in the Finals last year, it will be tough for the Spurs to get back as so many other teams improved.  Last year might have been the last chance for this current Spurs’ core to win a championship, but that has been said for a few years now, and the Spurs have continued to excel.  This year the plan will be similar for Pop — give Kawhi Leonard more of Tim’s minutes and hope Tony and Manu stay healthy.   It will be interesting to see the growth of Kawhi Leonard, a player who was considered a role player, now being called on to take the reigns from one of the greatest big men of all-time, TIm Duncan.  Kawhi has emerged as a tremendous two way player with terrific athleticism, defensive intensity and an underrated 3-PT shot. The other player to watch is Tony Parker, who made a solid case for MVP last season, putting up 20.3 ppg 7.8 apg and shooting an insane 52% from the field. If he can replicate his play then Houston and San Antonio could switch spots come May. For Spurs’ fans, its all about the playoffs.  If the Spurs stay healthy, they might have another run left in them.

3.) *Memphis Grizzlies

Can Gasol and Z-Bo lead the Grizz to a title?                                                               Courtesy of Grantland.com

The Grizzlies are another interesting team that had a shot at the NBA finals last year when the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was injured.  The Grizzlies needed an elite 3PT shooter last year so they added Mike Miller, a stud shooter who is prone to injury and is also a liability defensively. I don’t think he is enough to make the Grizzlies true contenders to represent the West in the Finals.  But now let’s look at the positives, they have Z-Bo and Gasol, two elite post players who compliment each other’s game very well as both are good passers and can make a 15 foot jumpshot. They also have Tony Allen, probably the best perimeter defender in all of basketball, but he can’t score, making him a non-entity on the offensive side of the ball.  The other player worth noting is Mike Conley Jr, a solid point guard who played well last season, but was eventually overwhelmed by the elite point guard play of Tony Parker in the Western Conference Finals. This Memphis team might need to make a mid-season trade for a perimeter scorer if they have any hopes of making a long run in the West. The Grizzlies are good but not good enough to be a top four seed.

4.) *New Orleans Pelicans

This core of Pelicans should give the Big Easy something to be excited about.                                                                          Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com

The newly named Pelicans are young, and a sleeper team.  The team has a terrific young core with Jrue Holiday 23, Eric Gordon 24, Tyreke Evans 24, Ryan Anderson 25 and Anthony Davis 20.  New Orleans’ biggest move was trading away next year’s first round pick to Philly for Jrue Holiday, a surprising move for some as the first round pick in 2014 could be a star, but New Orleans opted for a proven All-Star in Jrue Holiday. NOLA also signed Tyreke Evans, who was in a dreadful situation in Sacramento and although he has regressed since his standout rookie season, with more shooters and playmakers, he should be able to find more ways to score. The key will be Eric Gordon, an oft injured shooting guard who has past history of being a 20 point scorer and could improve the Pelicans’ playoff hopes if he stays healthy. The other integral member of this squad is last year’s #1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who was the most efficient rookie last year with a PER of 21.86 good for 15th in the entire NBA. He is a menace on the defensive side and his offensive game has clearly improved since his Kentucky season and Davis could be an All-star. The main problem with this team is the lack of girth up front as Davis isn’t your ideal big man with size and strength.   Davis is more finesse and quickness than power.  If  NOLA  trades one of their shooters like Ryan Anderson for a defensive big man, the Pelicans would have a solid team at all positions. The Pelicans should improve greatly from last season, and develop nicely as these young, talented players mesh well.

5.) Dallas Mavericks

Should the Mavs trade Dirk? Courtesy of ESPN

The Dallas Mavericks have gone from NBA champions in 2011 to the edge of irrelevance in 2013-2014. Most of this is due to the missed opportunities in free agency including the Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Now the Mavericks have constructed a team with Dirk at the helm and Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis as secondary players, a team that will be lackluster defensively to say the least. Mark Cuban won’t settle for medicority and that is why I posed the question, should the Mavs trade Dirk? The team publicly has said they want Dirk to retire a Maverick but if a borderline-championship team offers valuable picks for an aging veteran, the Mavs would be unwise to pass on the opportunity.    Dallas is not a serious contender, and they are in a rebuilding mode whether they know or accept the fact.   If this is Dirk’s last season as a Maverick, he will probably land with a contender by Christmas, and Dallas will look to get some new talent in the stacked 2014 draft.

Stats from ESPN

Does the addition of Dwight Howard make Houston a championship contender?

By: Jon

After two years of the “Dwightmare”, sources are reporting that Howard has signed for th max with the Houston Rockets. Only a year ago, many NBA experts thought that the Rockets had almost no chance of landing the prized center. However, a year has gone by and everything has changed in the NBA. Many people believed that Howard’s roller coaster journey had ended three times, when ESPN reported he was traded to the Nets, when he opted in to stay with the Magic, and finally on August 10, 2012, when he was part of a four team deal that sent him to Los Angeles. However, we were all wrong; the roller coaster ride was just taking another curve. After a disastrous season, the Lakers fired their coach after 5 games, Howard was forced to play with back pain, Lakers faced crippling injuries, Kobe never accepted Howard’s playful demeanor, Kobe hurting his Achilles, and finally Howard’s ejection in Game Four of the first round of the NBA playoffs, many experts believed that Howard would not be returning to the Lakers. Although Kobe had the last word and the Lakers could offer $30 million more dollars than the Rockets, the tumultuous situation caused Howard to reevaluate his options and leave Tinseltown. Although Howard does deserve blame because of how he handled the situation, NBA fans should respect him for giving up $30 million dollars and a chance to live in LA because he felt more comfortable in Houston.

Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard

Although the Rockets will have a lot of expectations and talent, they will not be my favorite to win the Western Conference. When Howard is healthy, he is one of the most dominating players this game has to offer. However, his status is uncertain because back injuries do not just heal themselves, especially for big men. Howard was not the same player we saw in Orlando because of the back injury. Although Howard had a great season compared to other centers around the league, 17 ppg, 12 rpg, 2 blk, Howard did not have the same quickness or athleticism because of the back injury. Even if Howard returns to full strength, I do not believe that the Rockets will be the top team in the league or the West. Personally, I do not think Houston’s personal will be good enough to lead Howard to his first championship. Besides for James Harden, one of the league’s brightest stars, the Rockets are devoid of star power. Although many people feel that Chandler Parsons will be a star in the league, I do not share the same opinion. The Rockets will be forced to change their style of play, which will affect their supporting cast. The Rocket players were able to put up gaudy numbers because of their “run and gun” offense, which led to a lot of open transition threes and layups. However, the Rockets will no longer be able to play at such a speed because it does not fit Howard’s game. As seen with the Lakers, Dwight is completely ineffective in that style of play. Players, such as Parsons and Lin, will be a lot less effective in their new style of play. Although Parsons will be successful as a three point shooter, Parsons will be unable to put up the same points or assists numbers, which will denigrate his value as a player. Lin will not be the same player, when the Rockets change their style of play. As seen in New York, when the Knicks were forced to play slow, Lin was not as effective as a player because of his disability to go left and separate from defenders. Lin is not a good shooter, which is what the Rockets will need to spread the floor for Howard and Harden.

James Harden
James Harden

I still believe that the Rockets will be fighting for a top 4 position in the West. I would not be surprised if the Rockets finished 4th, however I would be surprised if they finished first ahead of OKC, Grizzlies, and Spurs. OKC beat the Rockets in 6 games, even though they did not have Russell Westbrook. I would choose Russell Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka over Howard, Harden, and Parsons. Houston will face tough battle with the Grizzlies, Clippers, and Spurs in the playoffs. The Rocket players have never won, which could be a major problem during playoff time. The Grizzlies and Spurs would have big men that could defend and neutralize Harden and Howard, Grizzlies: Allen and Gasol and Spurs: Leonard and Duncan. I would take the talent and experience of the Grizzlies and Spurs over the Rockets currently, but things can change.

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant

However, the Rockets will have a chance of bringing the title back to Houston if they can sign Josh Smith. After reports surfaced that Howard would be signing with the Rockets, Omar Asik stated that he would not play with Howard because they share similar positions. Atlanta does not want Smith back on their team, especially for the salary he is commanding. Atlanta and Rockets have expressed interest in a possible sign and trade. The addition of Smith would give the Rockets with one of the most athletic and dynamic rotation in the league. Although many of their players have never won and their bench would be non existent, there starting five should enable them to reach the NBA Finals. In order to overtake the throne, the Rockets must add veteran free agents, who can come off the bench and provide quality minutes. Especially if the Thunder or Spurs do not add another borderline All-Star, expect the Houston Rockets to come out of the West and face the Heat in an epic final.

Josh Smith
Josh Smith

Future Lineup:

Lin

Harden

Parsons

Smith

Howard

Stats and pics from ESPN.com