Tag Archives: James Harden

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

Top Ten Shooting Guards in the NBA

By: Jon

The shooting guard position is the worst position in the NBA. The shooting guard position has three players who are head and shoulders above everyone else, Harden, Bryant, and Wade. Besides for Harden, the shooting guard position is fairly old and most of the players are on the downside of their careers.

1. Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant

The future Hall of Famer and one of the best scorers of all-time is still one of the best players in the league at the age of 34. Although Kobe has played over 45,000 minutes in the NBA, he is a dynamic player who can score against any defender in the league. Although he is coming back from a torn Achilles, Bryant deserves to be the best player on the list because of his past history and success last year. Although Harden had a break out year, his stats were still worst than Kobe’s stats. Last year, Bryant averaged 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game while playing the second most minutes per game in the league. Bryant led SG in points, assists, rebounds, double doubles, and triple doubles. During his career, Kobe scored the fourth most points during his career while winning the MVP once and the scoring title twice. Along with having great individual statistics and accomplishments, he is considered one of the best players of all time because he is a winner and a true warrior. Bryant has been a major part of five championship winning teams, while winning two Finals MVP. Bryant is the fiercest competitor since Jordan. Kobe has showed that he is willing to play through any amount of pain in order to help his team win games.

2. James Harden – Houston Rockets

James Harden
James Harden

The 23 year old Rockets shooting guard has become one of best players in the league because of the opportunity he was given. As Harden continues to grow as a player and become a bigger star in the league the trade that sent him to Houston will look even worse. (Background: Harden was traded to the Rockets for J Lamb, Steven Adams, a first round pick, kevin martin who left via free agency. The OKC Thunder decided to save money so they signed Serge Ibaka instead of Harden last season to an extension. The Thunder could have won a championship however they now look like they cannot win without a third star.) Harden had a great breakout season for the Houston Rockets. Harden is an all around great player because he can score and assist his teammates. James averaged 26 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. James is an absolute stud, who knows how to close a game and win tight games. Harden has transformed the Rockets from a perennial loser to a team that has the chance to winning the championship.

3. Dwayne Wade – Miami Heat

Dwayne Wade
Dwayne Wade

Dwayne Wade is the last of the three great shooting guards in the NBA. When healthy, Wade is one of the best players in the league because he is one of the best slashers of all time. Wade relentlessly attacks the basket because he is extremely athletic and is great at finishing around the basket. However, Wade’s relentless will causes him to injure himself since he is not a big player. Although Dwayne is no longer a top five or ten player in the league, he still compiled great stats last season, 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. Wade will continue to be a great player in the league best he works extraordinarily hard to improve his game. If Wade can improve his jump shot, he will continue to be a 20+ point scorer for the next five years because he will not have to attack the basket and injure himself. Like Bryant, Wade is a warrior and a Finals MVP. Wade is one of the first players I would choose if I needed to play one game because he is fearless and always steps up to the challenge.

4. Andre Iguodala – Golden State Warriors

Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala

The veteran shooting guard is one of the most versatile players in the NBA. Iguodala is an extremely talented and athletic player that can play offense and defense at a high level. Although Iggy’s 13.4 points per game is not very impressive, he does not shoot very often because he is more focused on playing defense and helping his teammates. Along with his 13.4 points per game, Andre averaged 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Iguodala showed that he can score points during the postseason when his team needed him to score. During the postseason, Iggy averaged 18.0 points per game while maintaining his other statistics. Iguodala was able to turn his great talents into a massive deal with the Golden State Warriors. Although Iggy does not have the talent like a Wade, Harden, and Bryant, he is a top five shooting guard because he tries really hard and the shooting guard position is not very deep.

5. Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors

Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson

The 23 year old sharp shooter is one of the best shooters in the league. As one of the ‘Splash Bros’, Thompson shoots and converts threes at a ridiculous rate. Although Thompson shoots a lot of threes, he is not solely a three point shooter like other shooting guards in the NBA. Klay showed his diverse skill set during the postseason, which gave him confidence and improved his popularity. Klay has a lot of potential and will be a future star along with Curry and Iggy. Klay Thompson will take a big leap next season if he continues to play with confidence and shoot. If Thompson can take a big step forward this season, the Dubs will be a serious title contender because they have at least six solid players. Since Klay has the potential to be a star in the future, I put him ahead of other shooting guards that have similar skill and numbers.

6. JR Smith – New York Knicks

JR Smith
JR Smith

The 2013 NBA Sixth Man of the Year had a great season for the New York Knicks. JR Smith is one of the most skilled and exciting players in the whole NBA. However, he is not the most consistent player in the league, which significantly hurts his value as a player. One night Smith can score 30 points and look like a star. However, the next night he can look like an absolute scrub who shoots way too much and makes stupid mistakes. Still, Smith is a player that almost every team would love to come off of the bench and provide energy to the team. Last year, Smith averaged a career high in points, 18.1, rebounds, 5.3, and minutes, 33.5, per game during his breakout season. Along with having the ability to score a lot of points, Smith can play solid defense against many different players because he is strong and big. Smith can be a solid and useful piece to a championship team if he can stay focused and is used correctly off of the bench.

7. DeMar DeRozan – Toronto Raptors

DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan

The 23 year old shooting guard had a breakout year for the Toronto Raptors. Like other shooting guards, DeRozan is a good scorer, but is not great at other aspects of the game. Last season, DeRozan had a solid year averaging 18.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.0 steals per game. Although DeRozan has not played a lot on national television, he is a talented player who can score frequently against an defender. I expect DeMar to grow as a player because he will be given the ball a lot and will not be pressured to win because the Raptors are in rebuilding mode. The Raptors will let DeRozan grow as a player this season so that he can be a future star in the league. In the future, DeMar should be a consistent 20 point scorer in the league. DeRozan is one of the few young shooting guards who will be a borderline star in the future because he is a good scorer in the NBA.

8. Joe Johnson – Brooklyn Nets

Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson

The veteran shooting guard has been one of the best shooting guard in the league over the last decade. Although Joe has been one of the most consistent and dominant scorers over the last ten years, Joe is on the down side of his career. Last year, Johnson scored on 16.3 points per game while shooting 42.3% from the field, both stats are the worst since his second year in the league. Johnson had a horrible year because he was adjusting to a new offense and he was injured for most of the season with a nagging foot injury. Although Joe will never score like his days with Atlanta, Joe can be a top ten shooting guard because he can score and play defense. If Johnson becomes a more efficient scorer and can learn how to become more of a spot up shooter, Johnson can score close to 20 or 19 points again. Although he is old, he still posted a positive defensive win share because he is tall and an intelligent player. Even though Johnson may not have the endurance to be successful for a whole game, he showed that he can be clutch when the game is on the line and the Nets need a bucket to win or tie. Most of the shooting guards on this list do not have the pedigree or past success as Johnson.

9. Jimmy Butler – Chicago Bulls

Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler

The young, athletic shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls should have a long and successful career  for the Chicago Bulls. Although Jimmy Butler does not have the track record like other shooting guards, Butler might have the most potential among the young shooting guards besides for Harden. Jimmy has already distinguished himself as one of the best back court defenders in the league because he is strong, long, and quick. During the regular season last year, Butler did not have a good statistical year, 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. However, Butler exploded in the postseason because he was given more minutes and opportunities. During the postseason, Jimmy averaged 40.8 minutes, 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Butler was an absolute bull dog and warrior during his series against the Miami Heat. Besides for averaging 16 points, 6 rebounds, and chasing around the league’s best player, Lebron James, Jimmy Butler played the full 48 minutes three times during the 5 game series while only resting for a combined 19 minutes. Over the next 5-6 years, Butler has the chance to turn into one of the top five shooting guards in the league because of his talent and determination.

10. OJ Mayo – Milwaukee Bucks

OJ Mayo
OJ Mayo

The newest addition to the Bucks will have the chance to be the primary option on offense for the Bucks. During his lone year with the Dallas Mavericks, OJ showed that he could score a lot of points when given the opportunity to shoot and control the ball. Since coming out of USC five years ago, scouts have raved about his potential as a scorer because he is skilled and has good physical attributes. After posting two solid season during his first two years in the league, Mayo stats significantly dropped the following two years. However, last year Mayo saw an increase in points, FG percentage, 3 point percentage, rebounds, assists, and minutes. During the first quarter of the season, Mayo was averaging close to 20 points per game because he was the catalyst of the Maverick’s offense while Dirk was injured. However, his dropped when he was not the star of the offense and he finished at around 16 points per game. Next year, Mayo will be given the most shots on a bad Bucks team so I expect a lot of point and other statistical increases during his first year in Milwaukee.

 

pics and stats from espn.com and basketball reference.com