Notes, notes and more notes on Rockets – Warriors

– As you know by now the Rockets became the ninth team in NBA history to fight back from a 3-games-to-1 series deficit to advance when they toppled the Clippers in game seven on Sunday. In the first four games of the series, the Clippers scored 109 or more points in every game and averaged 119.5 points per game. In the final three games of the series, the Clippers averaged 103.3 points per game.

– James Harden in final three games of series vs. the Clippers: 26.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 7apg, while shooting 35 percent FG & 24 percent FT. Houston won all three games.

– Josh Smith in series vs. Clippers as a reserve in games 1-4: 9-33 FG (27%), 1-9 3ptFG (11%), 6.3 ppg.
Josh Smith in series vs. Clippers as a starter in games 5-7: 15-26 FG (58%), 7-14 3ptFG (50%), 14.3 ppg.

– Dwight Howard continues to be the playoff leader in rebounding at 13.8 rebounds per game.

– Through injuries and roster changes, the Rockets personnel likely to be used against Golden State is quite different than the group that faced them in the four regular season meetings, all won by the Warriors. The chart below shows the regular season games, minutes and points in the four regular season games.

RoxvsGSW

– The only two Rockets to score 40 total points against the Warriors this season were James Harden (101) and Donatas Motiejunas (52). Note Terrence Jones played in zero games against Golden State this season.

– To help illustrate who actually saw time against the Warriors in the regular season for Houston, take a look at the Rockets offensive rebound leaders vs Warriors this season:
Motiejunas 14
Dorsey 8
Papanikolaou 7
Black 5
Howard 5

– Josh Smith posted a career high 12 assists against the Warriors this season. But he did that while still with the Detroit Pistons. He nearly posted a triple-double with 14 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists, though he shot just 6-of-18 and the Pistons lost 104-93. He would play in 11 more games with Detroit, before being waived and signing with the Rockets. He and Corey Brewer played for Houston in just two of the four games against the Warriors in the regular season, with both meetings coming within a month of them joining the team.

– There have only been 10 teams in NBA history to win 67 or more games in a season. The last 67-15 team suffered a major upset in playoffs and three of the current Rockets team/staff played in that series. Golden State beat the 67-15 Dallas Mevericks in the 2007 playoffs. Guard Jason Terry was on that Mavericks team, along with assistant coach Greg Buckner, while player development coach Josh Powell was with the Warriors.

– The Warriors starting five when healthy is Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut. They went 50-7 during the regular season, which is the second-best winning percentage in NBA history (min. 40 games started), behind only the 1995-95 Bulls that went 72-10 and won the title that season. Current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was a reserve guard on that team.

– That group has started all 10 games in the playoffs and the Warriors are 8-2. So they have nine losses in 67 games as the starting five and Houston is tasked with beating them four times within seven games.

– Only once in NBA history before this season had a team made over 867 3-pointers in a season. Both the Rockets, who set the new all-time single-season record with 933 3-pointers and the Warriors with 883 3-pointers eclipsed that total this season.

What they’re writing:

SportVU stats & player tracking from Rockets game 7 victory

Dwight Howard Comes Up Big – Sports On Earth

Rockets need more consistency – SI.com

The collapse – Grantland.com

The uncertainty and vindication from an epic NBA collapse – NY Post

Daryl Morey didn’t make the rules, he just knows how to win with them – Grantland.com

Number preview: Rockets vs. Warriors – nba.com

Warriors-Rockets is about Curry vs Harden … and much more – nba.com

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Rockets Harden finishes 2nd in MVP voting

The news broke Sunday that Rockets guard James Harden would not win the MVP award and the official announcement came on Monday morning, just hours before the Rockets begin their western conference semifinals series against the Los Angeles Clippers, that Harden, indeed was the runner-up the Golden State’s Steph Curry. Vote totals were as follows:

2015MVP

This series of tweets offers some analysis of voting breakdowns.

Full voting results by voter can be found here.

Three-pointers on Game 5 & Rockets series victory

The Rockets handled the Mavericks in the postseason, similarly to how they handled them in he regular season. After beating Dallas three times in four meetings during the regular season, they accomplished the same through the first four games of their first round playoff series. Their game five 103-94 victory, propelled them into the second round for just the second time since 1997.

1. The Rockets needed another fast start, like they’d had in each of the first four games. They got it. Houston carried a nine-point lead into the second quarter, thanks to another hot shooting first quarter. Houston made 13-of-24 shots in the first quarter, including 5-of-10 3-pointers. In the playoffs, Houston is the only team shooting above 50 percent in the first quarter of their games and Houston is way up there at 55.4 percent.

Any hopes the Mavericks had of carrying momentum from their game four win into Houston was squashed almost immediately as they managed just 22 points in the first quarter and fell right back into their familiar shooting woes from their first two games in Houston to begin the playoffs. Dallas shot well over fifty-percent in their two games in Dallas, but they shot below 45 percent in all three games in Houston, including just 38 percent in game five.

2. Rick Carlisle certainly thought he found something with the insertion of Al-Farouq Aminu and J.J. Barea into the starting lineup for game four. Their starting five outscored Houston by 21 points in their 18 minutes on the court together and Barea dropped 13 assists, while scoring 17 points. Barea could not duplicate that performance. While he did have nine assists in game five, he was unable to create offense in the half court as he did in previous games.  He shot just 3-of-12 and Houston did a much better job of limiting his penetration off of pick and rolls. The Mavericks were (+22) with Barea on the court in game four, but a (-19) with him on the floor in game five.

Aminu was just as good, if not better, in game five as he was in game four. As noted below, his defense on Harden was strong in the fact that he made Harden work to get what he got. His contributions defensively overall and then additionally on offense were immense. He had 14 points on eight shots, mainly because he made his free throws (7-8). He grabbed nine rebounds and had a game high five steals and also had two ferocious fast break dunks during one of several Dallas’ outbursts in game five. For the series, Aminu shot 55 percent from the floor, 64 percent behind the 3-point line and 79 percent at the free throw line. All were way up from his regular season percentages of 41 percent (FG), 27.4 percent (3ptFG) and 71.2 percent (FT).

3. Kevin McHale said after the series clincher that Houston would not have gotten by Dallas in five games if not for Josh Smith’s play. That’s for sure. Smith was the Rockets second leading scorer in game five, just as he was for the entire series. He dropped 20 points in 22:27 of playing time, made 7-of-12 shots and grabbed eight rebounds in game five. He still made careless plays with the ball, committing four turnovers, but his overall contributions easily outweighed his mistakes in game five and over the course of the series. He electrified the crowd constantly with his creative and constant alley-oop passes to Dwight Howard and saved his best for last with some outstanding play in the fourth quarters of the series. He shot 69 percent in the fourth quarters and led the Rockets with nine 4th quarter assists – nearly all of them the aforementioned rim-rattlers he offered up to Howard.

In the five game series, he averaged 17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds while playing less than 26 minutes per game. (His per 36 minute scoring numbers were 24.5 points, again, second best on the team to Harden.) He actually outshot Harden from behind the 3-point line, 39.1 percent to 38.7 percent and made 51.5 percent of his shots from the floor. He was, however, consistently the Rockets worst performer at the free throw line, shooting 50 percent or worse in all five games and just 43.5 percent for the series.

Moving forward

After Houston’s game four loss, Trevor Ariza said, “I take a lot of responsibility because I didn’t play particularly well. I played with low energy. That won’t happen again.” He certainly played with better energy in game five, grabbing 11 rebounds for the second time in the series. Interestingly, he’s now had 11 or more rebounds in four of his last nine playoff games after accomplishing that only twice in the first 48 playoff games of his career. He was the Rockets second leading rebounder at 6.6 per game and in this series it was of great importance for him to contribute in that way because he was atrocious shooting the ball.

Ariza made only 13 shots in the five game series, while missing 32 times. He was just 5-of-22 on his 3-pointers as well. The Rockets were nearly unbeatable when Ariza hit at least 40 percent of his 3-point attempts during the season, going 24-3, until a pair of losses in the final week of the season to San Antonio, who obviously could be their next opponent. Advancing to the western conference finals likely isn’t happening unless Ariza starts making his 3-pointers. Because he means so much to their defense, he will be on the court regardless, but they’ll need something from him offensively.

– Harden had an MVP caliber regular season and could find out this week if he wins the award. And still, his numbers went up in the first round against the Mavericks. He also played fewer minutes per game. While it is completely accurate to say that Al-Farouq Aminu did a good job of defending Harden, it’s also accurate to say Harden still got his. He scored at least 24 points in all five games and took fewer than 20 shots in all but one game. That one game was game three, when he took 24 shots and made 15 of them on his way to a career playoff high 42 points. Clearly in game five, Harden had too many turnovers (6), but even his turnovers were down from the regular season (3.9 per game to 3.8).

HardenRegPost

Also Harden’s usage rate actually went down in the postseason from 31.3 to 29.3. It was a huge bounce back series for Harden, who struggled in both of his previous playoff appearances with Houston, shooting a combined 38.3 percent from the field in his first 12 playoff games with Houston. The contributions from his teammates were also evident compared to last season’s short playoff trip. He averaged two more assists per game compared to last postseason, while playing nearly eight fewer minutes. After playing 40 minutes or more in all six games against Portland last season, Harden played 39 minutes or less in all five games of this series.

– To no one’s surprise, Howard clearly and handily won his matchup in last year’s post season against Portland’s Robin Lopez. Well, he did the same thing against Dallas’ Tyson Chandler.

Howard14and15playoffs

Matching up against DeAndre Jordan will be tough, but it will be the first time to see that matchup in awhile since Howard missed all four games against the Clippers. Howard was outstanding against the Spurs this season averaging 21 points, 14.5 rebounds per game and shot 71.7 percent from the field in four games.

Game one of the Rockets western conference semifinals series will begin on Monday, May 4 at Toyota Center, with Houston holding home court advantage over either the Clippers or the Spurs and hosting games one, two and if necessary games five and seven.

Three-pointers from Game 4; Rockets lose 121-109

1. The biggest adjustment in the series was finally made and it was actually two adjustments, both made by Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle. While many are looking at the insertion of J.J. Barea and Al-Farouq Aminu into the starting lineup for game four as a result of injuries to Rajon Rondo, Raymond Felton, Chandler Parsons and Richard Jefferson, only one of those injuries really impacted the decision of Carlisle. Parsons would clearly still be starting and playing the bulk of the minutes at small forward had he been able to avoid surgery on his right knee. But Jefferson and Felton, the game three starters, were both healthy enough to play and it seems safe to say that Rondo is too, he’s just not wanted in Dallas anymore, since the team is clearly more effective when he’s not playing.

No, the change was performance based, the two most effective Mavericks in this series have been Barea and Aminu. So starting them and playing both of them more than 35 minutes was the obvious play in game four and it clearly was successful. Dallas shot an astounding 68.4 percent from the floor when Barea and Aminu were on the floor together in game four.

The chart below shows the Mavericks two best players in Net Rating (team net points +/- per 100 possessions) over the course of the first four games, along with the Rockets two best players, along with Harden.

BareaAminu

2. The Rockets defense was tortured in the two games in Dallas, allowing 249 points in the two games. Dallas shot 53.3 percent overall in their two home games and you’ll see from the chart below, that essentially came from an enormous jump in their shooting percentage inside the 3-point line, especially in game four.

DallasFG

3. As it relates to wins and losses in this series, nothing of great consequence is gleaned from the comparison of fast break points or points in the paint for the teams in the first four games of the series. Through the first three games of the series, Houston was averaging four more second chance points per game than the Mavs (19.3 – 15.3 points per game). Also, neither team had more than a five rebound advantage in any of the first three games. But in game four, the Rockets were manhandled on the boards and it helped created a monstrous advantage in second chance points. Dallas has grabbed 13 more offensive rebounds in the series and most of the advantage came in game four when they nabbed 16 offensive rebounds and allowed Houston just seven.

OtherStats

After the game four loss, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale acknowledged he probably should have played Terrence Jones more, which might have helped the Rockets rebounding. Jones had 13 points and six rebounds in just under 18 minutes. After playing the first 3:35 of the third quarter, he checked out and was never called upon again.

The Rockets point guard duo of Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni are not going to all of a sudden be able to slow down Barea, who has been pushing the pace brilliantly against them in this series. But they can put the ball in the basket, which was a huge reason why the Rockets had three wins, but also their inability to do so contributed mightily to the one loss. Through the first three games, Terry and Prigioni combined to make 9-of-18 3-pointers. In game four, they combined to make just 1-of-8 3-pointers. What’s worse is according the NBA’s SportVU player tracking data, only one of those eight 3-point attempts was contested.

Obviously, they were not the only culprits with poor shooting as the team made only 7-of-31 3-pointers in game four and if Dwight Howard didn’t have the worst free-throw shooting performance of his post-season career, that could have helped. Additionally Trevor Ariza is struggling to make any shots in this series, now shooting under 30 percent both overall (11-37, 29.7 percent) and from behind the 3-point line (4-15, 26.7 percent).

Houston will try again to close out the series and advance to the western conference semifinals for just the second time since 1997 on Tuesday night at Toyota Center.

Three pointers on Rockets-Mavericks Game 1

1. Houston re-shaped their roster pretty significantly around their two stars since they left the floor in Portland following their crushing game six ouster. Three newcomers that played a prominent role in the Rockets game 1 victory each had one very significant thing in common. They’re NBA champions. Jason Terry, Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer each brought championship experience to a team that had none and it showed in the 10-point victory in Game 1. Three minutes into the game, Ariza had assisted on two of the Rockets first three buckets, had a rebound and a steal on his way to arguably the most complete game of his 53-game postseason career. He finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, three steals and just one turnover in just under 38 minutes. It was Ariza’s 767th career game, playoffs and regular season combined, and it was the first time he’d ever amassed at least 12 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three steals in a game.

Jason Terry was instrumental in the Rockets getting off to a fast start, he nearly pulled off his first postseason since 2011, when he made a steal in the game’s opening minutes and rose to the rim – and dropped it in. He made 4-of-7 3-pointers and scored 16 points. He also had two steals to offset his two turnovers. Brewer was his usual self, it just took a while to get there. He scored his first bucket less than a minute after he checked in during the first quarter. Off a steal, he took a pass 80 feet from the basket, turned on the jets and drove past four Mavericks and rose to the rim for the transition basket. But when the fourth quarter started, that was all he had to show on his entire stat sheet. One basket and zeroes across the board everywhere else. Then he exploded in the fourth quarter.

While his teammates managed just three makes on 13 shots, he knocked down four of eight, including three 3-pointers. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and made sure Dallas never got close enough to make a game of it at the end.

2. The idea that Harden didn’t have a strong game is pretty silly. He scored only 24 points, so the Mavericks executed their game plan of taking Harden out of the game and made other guys beat them, right? He took 11 shots and scored 24 points. He had a playoff career high 11 assists. Those 11 assists led to 27 points. so five of his assists led to five-pointers. That’s half of the 10 3-pointers the Rockets made in the game. It also brings Harden’s total of points he was directly responsible for to 51. He also had only two turnovers.  I can’t imagine that’s what Dallas was aiming for.

3. The rotation change behind Dwight Howard is a done deal. Rookie Clint Capela is the backup center and is in the team’s nine-man playoff rotation. He has a lot to learn about defending withou fouling and compensating for the obvious lack of respect he’ll get from officials. But that is no different than the multi-time all-star that he backs up. His impact on the defensive end was noticeable. Howard and Capela played no minutes together and the team played roughly 15 minutes with neither on the floor. Dallas shot 10-31 (32 percent) with Howard in the game. They shot 15-34 (44 percent) from the floor with Capela in the game. With both centers on the bench, Dallas was 19-34 (55 percent). If either or both can stay out of foul trouble, the Rockets interior defense is markedly more stingy. The duo also combined for seven blocked shots.

Rockets-Mavericks: Let’s go to the numbers

Houston_RocketsTeam
– Since the opening round went to best-of-seven, number two seeds hold a 23-1 series record. The only loss by a two seed in either conference in that time was Dallas losing in six games to seven seed San Antonio.

– The Rockets and Mavericks have met twice before in the playoffs, with the Mavericks winning both series. In 1988, Dallas topped the Houston in the first round, 3-1. The only game the Rockets won in that series was game 2, when both Hakeem Olajuwon (41) and Sleepy Floyd (42) topped the 40-point mark. That was only the second time in NBA playoff history with two teammates scoring 40 points or more. The previous occurrence was in 1962, when Elgin Baylor (45) and Jerry West (41) did it with Los Angeles at Detroit (3/19/62) in Game Four of the Western Semifinals (Pistons won, 118-117). It has happened twice since Floyd and Olajuwon did it in 1988. Olajuwon was involved once again as Clyde Drexler (41) and Olajuwon (40) did it vs. Utah in Game Four in the first round with Houston winning 123-106 (5/5/95).  Pacers’ teammates Reggie Miller (40) and Jalen Rose (40) did it in Game One of the eastern conference semifinals in 2000 (Pacers won 108-91).

Dallas beat Houston again in 2005, 4-3, including a 40-point win in game seven in Dallas, 116-76. Both Mavericks series victories came as the better seed. In 1988, Dallas was the 3 seed and in 2005, Dallas was the 4 seed.

– Since 2010-11, home teams in the first round have seen their winning percentage drop each season.
’10-11: 46-19 (.708)
’11-12: 57-27 (.679)
’12-13: 54-31 (.635)
’13-14: 52-37 (.584)

– Only two of the 16 playoff teams went undefeated in overtime games this regular season. Dallas was 6-0 and their first round opponent, Houston, went 5-0.

– Houston was second in the league in fast break points per game (18.73), while the Mavericks allowed the second most fast break points per game (15.87).

Houston may not be able to exploit that advantage since they allowed 15.28 fast break points per game, which was third most in the league and the Mavericks offense was just a couple of spots back of Houston, scoring 15.97 fast break points per game, good for fifth in the league.

– Craziest of crazy stats: Rockets allowed opponents to shoot better than 44.7 percent from the floor in exactly half their games. Houston was 16-25 in those games. So when opponent shot 44.7 percent or less, Houston was an astounding 40-1. The one loss? Yep, the Lakers. Los Angeles beat Houston, 98-92 on November 19, despite shooting just 40.7 percent. Houston won their last 36 games when holding their opponents to 44.7 percent shooting or worse.

Houston held Dallas to 44.7 shooting or worse three times – they won all three games. Dallas shot above 44.7 percent once against Houston and won that game.

– Dallas was 26-20 (.565) in games they played with Rondo and 24-12 (.667) in games he missed or were played prior to his arrival.  Boston was 8-14 (.348) in games Rondo played, then 32-28 (.533) in games he missed and after he was traded. So when Rondo played his team won exactly half their games (34-34), but when he didn’t play, they were 56-40 (.583).

Individual
– When Mavericks forward Charlie Villanueva checks into a game in this series, he’ll take his name of the top of the list of active players with most games played without playing in a aplayoff game. He’s in in 594 games without a playoff appearance, which was fourth most on the all-time list. Jason Thompson (Sac) with now top the list with 541 games played with no playoff appearances. Teammate Al-Farouq Aminu was eighth on the list with 377 games played.

– Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler are the two most accurate field goal shooters in the playoffs among active players. Howard is number one at 59.4 percent, while Chandler is next at 55.8 percent. Chandler’s teammate Amar’e Stoudemire is seventh on the list at 51.4 percent.

Stoudemire is also fifth among players in this year’s postseason in points per game at 21.8. His teammate Dirk Nowitzki is second at 25.6 points, trailing only LeBron James (28.0). (minimum 25 games or 625 points)

– In his playoff career, Trevor Ariza boasts a 44.2 percent shooting mark  (73-165) behind the 3-point line. That’s second-best among active players (Danny Green, 44.8 percent). Ariza was 25-of-56 (.446) on 3-pointers last season in 11 playoff games with Washington and posted a 62.6 true shooting percentage, the best of any of his five trips to the postseason.

NBA Replay Center figures for Year 1

The NBA sent out some figures regarding the use of the NBA Replay Center. While it was created to enhance the performance of NBA referees, reduced the average time of reviews by more than 50 percent compared to the previous season. Over 51 percent of the plays looked at by the Replay Center were the combination of two-point/three-point made field goals and end-of-period made field goals. Those two types of plays also required the two shortest average replay times.

Final statistics for the regular season included:

  • 1,596 replays were upheld or overturned. 80.8 percent of these calls were upheld (1,289) while 19.2 percent were overturned (307).
  • NBA Replay Center monitored a total of 1,225 games, averaging approximately 1.76 reviews per game.
  • The top two triggers the NBA Replay Center reviewed this season were the two-point/three-point made field goal (623 instances) and end-of-period made field goal (482 instances).
  • 858 live look-ins to the NBA Replay Center from across the country were conducted by the NBA’s national television partners and regional sports networks

NBAreplays

More notes on Rockets-Mavericks, plus predictions

RocketsRing

(graphic via nba.com)

Last season’s Rockets team had some playoff experience led by Dwight Howard and James Harden as both had reached the NBA finals previously in their careers. This season’s team has a lot more postseason experience and it has little to do with the six games added from last year’s postseason trip. So how does it compare to the Mavericks roster, which boasts ten players with at least 10 years of NBA experience?

 

While Dallas has a lot more experience overall, both teams have three titles. Five of which were won in 2011 with the Mavericks.

RoxPlayoffExp

The oddest note about playoff experience? Trevor Ariza is the only player in this series that won a playoff series last year. He did so with the Wizards.

– In 73 games last season, James Harden attempted 28 shots or more in a game only one time. That came in March against Portland, he also scored 41 points and made 7-of-12 3’s in that game the Rockets won by five points. In the first round playoff series against Portland, he attempted 28 shots or more twice in six games, including his forgettable 13-35 performance in game 3, a game the Rockets won. He shot under 43 percent in all but one game and 33 percent or worse in half the games.

It wasn’t until games five and six, that Harden finally found he and his team’s comfort zone. He attempted 15 shots in each game, matching his lowest total for the series and scored 51 points on those 30 shots (1.7 points per shot) That came after scoring just 110 points on 103 shots 1.07 points per shot).

Harden’s shooting success has dipped significantly in the postseason in both of his first two seasons with Houston as you can see in the chart below.

HardenShooting

What’s worse is that with his shooting percentage on a serious decline, his shot attempts have skyrocketed, especially last season. Last season, after attempting more than 22 field goals in a game just six times the entire regular season, he averaged more than 22 field goal attempts per game against the Blazers in the first round defeat. His 3-point attempts also rose significantly, with very poor results. If not for his 4-of-6 performance behind the 3-point line in game six, the numbers would have been even uglier. Through five games, he made just 12-of-48 3-pointers (25 percent on 9.6 attempts per game). Clearly, the Rockets would like to see a bit better success rate in this series. Numbers closer in step with what he produced against Dallas in their four meetings this regular season.

HardenVsDallas

Remember, all but the game on April 2 were played without Dwight Howard, while three of the four were played with both Pat Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas in the starting lineup. Both are now out for the season. Those two are joined by rookie K.J. McDaniels who was apparently hurt in the final game of the season and is now listed out with nondisplaced right elbow fracture. He was not expected to used in the postseason.

(graphic via nba.com)

(graphic via nba.com)

– The Rockets have seen their fair share of the intentionally fouling, especially during the final week of the season. The shoe might be on the other foot, or rather the brick might be in the other hand in this series. As mentioned here, Rondo had a historically bad season at the free throw line. But no team intentionally fouled him repeatedly to get him to the free throw line all season. He shot more than four free throws in a game just once, going 2-10. But that was with Boston in the first month and none of the free throws were shot after an intentional foul.

Poor free-throw shooting and intentionally fouling poor free throw shooters is evidently on the rise, since four others players matched Rondo’s feat (under 40 percent free-throw shooting, with a minimum of 75 attemps) this season alone. DeAndre Jordan did it for the fourth time in his career. Andre Drummond has now done it twice in his three year career, while two other bigs joined the club. One was Ian Mahinmi, who turned in the second-worst season in NBA history at 30.4 percent.  The other will be playing in this very same playoff series, or at least sitting on the bench in his Rockets uniform, and he is the record-holder, Joey Dorsey. Dorsey became the first player in league history to attempt at least 75 free throws and make less than 30 percent. He settled in at 28.9 percent, which, despite his sparkling 3-of-4 finish at the free throw line over the final four games was still record-setting.

Series Previews/Predictions:
– Harden looks for success vs. Texas rivals (nba.com/Fran Blinebury)
– ESPN predictions
– ESPN Forecast
– SI.com
– Hardwood Paroxysm
– Parsons prepared to be Public Enemy No. 1 in Houston (espn.com/Tim MacMahon)
– Cuban on Rockets, Officiating and his 15 years as Mavericks owner (Grantland) – Mark Cuban gives his take on Harden and the Rockets in this article saying, “…James Harden, I think, is the MVP. Because that’s not a very good team over there.”

Barkley says Rockets-Mavs series a toss-up

Houston_RocketsThe Rockets finished the regular season as southwest division champs. They finished a game better than Memphis and San Antonio, six games better than Dallas and 11 games better than New Orleans. They split their four games with Memphis and New Orleans, while losing three of four games with San Antonio. The only team in the division that they won their season series with was Dallas, whom they beat three times in four games.

Yet, NBA on TNT analyst Charles Barkley called the Rockets-Mavericks series a toss-up, along with two other western conference series.

“There are some magnificent first round series in the West that are toss-ups for me; Clippers/Spurs, Dallas/Houston and Portland/Memphis, depending on health.” Barkley said on a Thursday conference call.

The Clippers and Spurs split their regular season series and were only separated by one game in the standings, the Clippers won their most recent meeting, 119-115. That looks just like Barkley described – a toss-up in which the Clippers have homecourt advantage.

Memphis won all four of their regular season games against Portland, including a double digit victory in both team’s home arena. While both teams have significant injury concerns, this would not look like a toss-up.

The Rockets – Mavericks series seemingly fits somewhere in the middle as each of the three series matchups are indicative of a highly competitive conference.

“I have no idea who’s going to win the championship,” Barkley said. “I’ve been in the NBA for over 30 years and I’ve never seen a year where there’s no clear cut two or three teams. This year, there’s probably seven teams that can win the championship and I wouldn’t be surprised they won it.”

Just doing the math, it would seem he’d likely consider only Atlanta and Cleveland as title contenders from the east. That would leave five from the west to be considered the same. Obviously Golden State is one. Then is it the defending champion Spurs? Maybe the list includes the Clippers, who finished the season winning 14 of 16 games? What about the Rockets? Or the Grizzlies or Blazers? I just named six west teams, which would already push the total to eight. And I didn’t mention the Mavericks, who were just 14-13 after the all-star break. (As he has said throughout the season, Barkley once again indicated the Rockets were not one of the teams he considered a championship contender, as noted in this Houston Chronicle article.)

So what makes the Mavericks a tough matchup for the Rockets?

“Their (Dallas’) best player is Monta Ellis, followed by (power forward) Dirk (Nowitzki) and (point guard Rajon) Rondo,” Barkley said.  “They will be a better playoff team because (head coach) Rick Carlisle will make adjustments from game-to-game. He won’t let (James) Harden beat them four times in seven games.”

Somewhat interesting that he’d consider Rondo the Mavericks third best player and not Chandler Parsons. Parsons was supposed to be the key offseason addition for the Mavericks, hailed by many in Dallas, as the player set to receive the Mavericks torch from Nowitzki. The small forward finished third on the team in scoring at 15.7 points per game. He finished fourth among the starters in PER at 16.4, behind Tyson Chandler and Nowitzki, but well-ahead of Rondo. Parsons missed the final six games of the regular season with a knee injury, but is trending towards being available for game one Saturday, according the Carlisle, though how effective he will be remains to be seen.

Rondo posted a 12.4 PER (player efficiency rating) in 46 games with Dallas. That would be the lowest PER of any season in his nine-year career. While the 35.2 percent shooting on 3-pointers with Dallas was easily the top mark in his career, he attempted only 54 of them in 46 games. Rondo also produced the 33rd season in NBA history of a player making less than 40 percent of his free throws, while attempting at least 75 free throws. Though when you pare the list down to just guards, the list shrinks by quite a bit. To one. Just Rondo. He’s the only player ever, under 6-6 in this very exclusive club. (The only other player under 6-8 on the list is Jerome Lane, who even at 6-6, clearly was a power forward as evidenced by his famous play as collegiate force at Pittsburgh.)

Now the Mavericks, despite losing three of four games, were only outscored by Houston by four points overall. But as the Mavericks defense became less stout over the course of the season, that was mirrored by Houston’s scoring against them in the four games. Houston scored, in succession, 95, 99, 100 and then 108 points in the four games with the Mavericks.

While both teams made significant changes throughout the season with player acquisitions, it’s as if the Rockets will be making one more for this very series. Dwight Howard missed all but one meeting with Dallas, and played just 18 minutes in that game. But that game also was Houston’s seven point victory earlier this month – their largest margin of victory in their three wins against Dallas.

Barkley also shared his thoughts on the MVP award. He conceded what many others acknowledged over the last month – he believes it’s a two-horse race.

“I have said that if Houston ends up a top-three seed in the West, I have no problem if he (Harden) wins MVP,” Barkley said.  “It has to be him or Steph Curry. You can have other guys three-four-five, but if you don’t vote for Steph or Harden, you need to check yourself.”

That would seem to be what the vast majority of the 130 voters were thinking as their ballots were due into the league offices on Thursday. A small number in that group have publicly disclosed who they gave their MVP to, and just one voter thus far, a Cavaliers beat writer, acknowledged that his first place MVP vote was going to LeBron James. So clearly not all voters feel as Barkley does, but when the award is given out in May, it would be completely shocking if Harden and Curry did not earn the top two spots.

It’s Rockets-Mavericks in round one

Houston_RocketsFor the first time ever the Houston Rockets are southwest division champions. They finished the regular season at 56-26, the third best record in the league, bettered only by Golden State and Atlanta, who ironically are the only two teams the Rockets did not beat this season. The 56 wins are the third most in franchise history, but the franchise has made it out of the first round just one time in the last 17 seasons.

Here is the schedule for the Rockets and Mavericks first round playoff series.

First time listed is central time

First time listed is central time

Some early notes to get the blood pumping for the Rockets-Mavericks first round series.

– Houston is 1-9 in their last ten playoff series and has just one series victory in the last 17 seasons.

– Rockets last ten playoff series:
’13-14: 4 seed, lost 4-2 to (5) Blazers
’12-13: 8 seed, lost 4-2 to (1) Thunder
’08-09: 5 seed, won 4-2 vs (4) Blazers; lost 4-3 to (1) Lakers
’07-08: 5 seed, lost 4-2 to (4) Jazz (HOU had homecourt adv)
’06-07: 5 seed, lost 4-3 to (4) Jazz (HOU had homecourt adv)
’04-05: 5 seed, lost 4-3 to (4) Mavs
’03-04: 7 seed, lost 4-1 to (2) Lakers
’98-99: 5 seed, lost 3-1 to (4) Lakers (50-gm reg. season)
’97-98: 8 seed, lost 3-2 to (1) Jazz

The last time these teams met in the playoffs was 2004-2005 and Jeff Van Gundy was the Rockets head coach. No confirmation from ESPN yet, but he’ll surely be one of the color analysts for at least a few games in this series on ESPN/ABC. Three players from that series are still around to play in this series. DIrk Nowitzki and Devin Harris are still with the Mavericks, while the Rockets Jason Terry was with Dallas in that series.

Season series: Houston won 3-1

roxmavs

Source: espn.com

 

 

Notes –
Since it was brought up several times throughout the season, I’ll address it here. All 4 times the Mavericks faced the Rockets this season, Dallas was playing the second night of a back-to-back. Although the first games of those back-to-backs were:
11/21 in Dallas, 140-106 win against the Los Angeles Lakers
1/27 in Dallas, 109-90 loss against Memphis
2/19 in Oklahoma City, 104-89 loss (also was first game after 7 days off for all-star break)
4/1 in Oklahoma City, 135-131 win
It’s a 40 minute flight to Houston from Dallas. It’s a 60 minute flight to Houston from Oklahoma City.
Before the 1st meeting, Houston had two days off and no travel.
Before the 2nd meeting, Houston had two days off after returning from Los Angeles.
The 3rd meeting was Houston’s first game out of the all-star break.
Before the 4th meeting, Houston played at home the night before travelling to Dallas.

– Former Rockets and current Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons has not played since he left the game against Houston on April 2 with knee discomfort, missing the final six games of the season. He left that game with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Mavericks were up six points at the time. Houston would outscore Dallas, 42-29 the rest of the way for the come-from-behind victory. Parsons also was unable to finish the previous meeting between the two teams, in that instance with a sprained ankle. The Mavericks got their only win against Houston in that game, but that injury cost Parsons the next seven games. (Dallas was 7-5 in those 12 games he missed).

His first season in Dallas was fairly similar to his three seasons in Houston. He shot 46 percent from the floor after shooting 47 percent with the Rockets. He made 38 percent of his 3-pointers with Dallas, after making 37 percent of his 3-point attempts as a Rocket. His numbers against Houston were a notch down from how he performed against the rest of the league. He averaged 15.9 points per game and 4.9 rebounds in his 62 games against the rest of the league. His numbers against Houston in four games are shown in the chart below.

cpvshou

 

– Dirk Nowitzki was an all-star for the 13th time in his career, but for the first time since 2000, he did not lead the Mavericks in scoring. But overall, it was really just his minutes that were down significantly. He averaged less than 30 minutes a game for the first time since 1998-99, his rookie season. But against Houston, he just simply was not good, averaging 14.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg on 39.6 % FG, 25 % on 3’s. While Nowitzki is clearly no longer the focus of the Mavericks offense, it’s unlikely Dallas will get past Houston unless he gives the Mavericks a little more than this

dirkvshou

 

– Monta Eliis shot under 40% FG in three of the four games against Houston and made only 2-of-19 3-pointers in the four meetings.

– Rajon Rondo averaged seven points, five assists and 4.5 turnovers in three games against Houston as a Maverick. In the game on January 28, Rondo played 34:23 without scoring a single point. That’s the most minutes he’s ever played in a game without scoring. He’s played in 573 games in his nine year NBA career.

– Al-Farouq Aminu was one of the few bright spots for the Mavericks in their season series against the Rockets. He was a menace in the final three meetings. Houston just simply could not get a body on Aminu to keep him off the glass and he was a great rim-protector. His high-energy could be a huge boost for Dallas. Definitely an x-factor candidate for this series.
1st game vs Houston: 1 field goal, 1 rebound, 0 blocks, 2 points (in 19 minutes)
Last 3 games vs Houston: 11.3 ppg, 9 rpg, 4 bpg. (in 28.4 minutes per game)

Just one early note on the Rockets regarding the return of their big man in the middle.

– Dwight Howard missed all but one of the four games against the Mavericks. He scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds in 18 minutes of play. However, it was the only game in the nine he played since his return from injury in which he made fewer than half of his field goals (3-7 FG). played in nine games after returning from his knee injury. He played in 32 games prior to the injury timeoff. His per 36 minutes averages before and after the knee injury were dramatically different in a good way for the Rockets, who appear to finally have a healthy Howard.

howardper36

Something else to look at regarding Howard’s return from injury is looking at his shot charts and shooting percentage. He’s attempted 72 shots since returning from the injury – all but one from right at the rim basically.

HowardShotCollage

The shot charts on the left are before his injury absence and the charts on the right are after his return.

 

Much more coming throughout the days leading up to Saturday’s game one.