Harden brings his best to Game 4, WCF

Houston_RocketsHouston Rockets guard James Harden turned in the finest postseason performance of his still young NBA career in propelling his team to a 128-115 game 4 victory. He did so with his team facing elimination for the fourth time this postseason. His playoff career high 45-point effort in game four of the western conference finals ensured the Rockets would extend the series and their season for another game and kept alive their hopes of being the first team in NBA history to win a series after falling in a 3-0 hole. But let’s keep that off in the distance a bit, since that’s really where it is, way off in the distance, three wins away. Houston just grabbed their first win in eight games against the Warriors over the course of this season.

Now back to Harden, who has been an offensive force this entire season and on into the playoffs. The best news for Rockets fans, though, is that he has turned it up a notch in the western conference finals against an elite team and an elite defense. It’s also not the first time Harden had raised his offensive game in the conference finals. It’s his third trip to conference finals, first with Houston – and as the chart below depicts (click for larger view), this is his finest playoff performance to date.Remember the totals for his four game ride against Golden State includes his game 3 clunker, 3-of-16, 17 point performance. Here are Harden’s offensive numbers in each of his 13 career postseason series.

JamesSeries

The Warriors have thrown Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and others at Harden, and he’s continued his effective, efficient performance. Here’s his shot chart through four games.

HardenVsGSThru4

In his 45-point game 4 performance, Harden was getting it done against all comers. According to SportVu player tracking data, Harden scored 20 points on 10 isolation plays and another 15 points on 16 ball screens.

Houston won their pair of titles in 1994 and 1995 and then advanced in the playoffs each of the following two seasons. Since then they had advanced in the playoffs only one time. Just one playoff series victory since 1997, until this season. Twice they have advanced this postseasons and in doing so the Rockets, like their championship teams are showing incredible ability to stave off elimination. Since Harden arrived in Houston, the Rockets have won seven times when facing elimination, including their current four straight wins in that situation. They are 7-2 overall with Harden in elimination games, although if that record doesn’t rise to 10-2, the Rockets will have lost all but 1 of the series they faced elimination.

Then again if they stave off elimination and advance this time – they will have made NBA history.

Advertisements

Rockets couldn’t get two, so still need four

Houston_RocketsAfter a second consecutive fantastic effort at Golden State against the Warriors in the western conference finals, the Rockets are left wanting more. Technically, they are wanting just about the only thing they didn’t get – a win. The Rockets fell by a scant one point, 99-98, Thursday night to the Warriors when on their final possession – the final possession – of the game, they were unable to even launch a potential game-winning shot.

Trailing by one, after forcing a Harrison Barnes miss at the rim, James Harden grabbed the rebound and started heading downhill, looking for the win. He was met at the 3-point line by the Warriors star backcourt duo, Klay Thompson on Harden’s right, Steph Curry on his left.

Not liking what he saw, in terms of a driving lane, Harden stepped back and passed the ball to his right to Dwight Howard, who immediately tossed it back to Harden with just under three seconds remaining. Thompson and Curry remained glued to Harden and after he took one dribble, he lost control of the ball. A brief scramble ensued, very brief, and he final buzzer went off. All the Rockets needed was two points and they would have gotten out of Golden State with the win they had to have. By not getting two points, they still need four wins to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning the title in 1995.

Harden, who was named first team all-NBA for the second consecutive season earlier in the day, had been brilliant up to that point. The Rockets found themselves in position to get the must-have victory on the road because of his 38 point night. Harden finished one assist shy of a triple-double, just as he did in game one, and pushed the Rockets to the brink of victory with every play he made in the final minutes. Right up until the final play, which he didn’t make.

“(I) got the ball off the glass, and I’m thinking, just to try to get an easy one,” Harden said after the game about the final play gone wrong. “They did a good job of having two guys on me, so I couldn’t attack, and when I looked up I saw a red jersey and it was Dwight, so I tried to throw it back to him. At that time, I’m thinking five seconds on the clock, so I tried to get the ball back, and it was still two guys right there, and I watched the film, it’s just a tough, tough play.”

Heading off the court, Harden knocked over some temporary curtains back in the tunnel and described his frustration along with his teammates encouragement in the locker room.

“(It’s) frustrating to give the game away like that for myself, but my teammates and coaches were behind me, just saying that we’re going home to secure home now, go out there Game 3,” Harden said, explaining the support from his teammates. “Ten out of 10 times we’ll take that play. It gave me confidence, but it’s still frustrating when I know I could have at least got a shot up.”

“It’s just a little frustrated at that last play, but overall I feel good. We’re really confident about what we have going on,” Harden said. “We let two slip away, so now we go back to Houston and take care of business at home. Just because we’re going home doesn’t make it easy.”

With just under three minutes to go, Steph Curry, who had 33 points in the game, drained a long jumper with his foot on the 3-point line to put the Warriors up eight points – their largest lead of the second half. Harden immediately answered with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five, 94-89.

After assisted Andrew Bogut on a layup, Harden went to the free throw line and missed his only free throw of the game, but still closed the gap to six when he made his second attempt.

The Warriors then bled 41 seconds off the clock, thanks to a questionable offensive rebound by Harrison Barnes, when it looked like Terrence Jones was knocked to the floor by Draymond Green. Curry capped that possession with his final points of the game on a step-back jumper from 22 feet out and the Warriors again led by eight. Now only 1:39 remained on the clock.

Harden wasn’t done yet, again driving and drawing a foul. His free throws cut the lead to six and after Green made a one of two free throws, Harden drove again, this time finishing with his only dunk of the game. The deficit was five. A Barnes 3-point miss followed and Harden went driving again, got fouled, and drained two more free throws. The deficit dipped to three.

Following his second free throw, the Rockets sent both Corey Brewer and Jones at Steph Curry trying to bring the ball up court, his initial pass was nearly stolen by Brewer and it ultimately led to an eight-second violation on Golden State and a huge turnover for Houston.

No surprise what the Rockets did next. Harden drove right this time and despite both Thompson and Green draped all over him, he floated a perfect lob pass to Dwight Howard, who finished the alley-oop to make it a one-point game, 99-98, with 33 seconds remaining.

Harden had scored 12 of the Rockets last 15 points, with the only non-Harden basket coming on the alley-oop pass he made to Howard.

The Rockets then made their final big defensive stop of many down the stretch, followed by the shot that never came.

Game three is Saturday night in Houston. The last time a team feel behind two games to none on the road in the conference finals and come back to win the series was the Oklahoma City Thunder, who beat the San Antonio in four straight games after losing the first two in 2012. Harden, in his final season with the Thunder, averaged 18.5 points per game on 49% shooting from the floor and 61 percent on 3-pointers in that six-game series against the Spurs.

Similarly, Harden’s Thunder were the second seed facing the top seeded Spurs, just as his current Rockets are the two seed facing the top seeded Warriors.

Rockets Howard still unsure about game two

Houston_RocketsAs the Rockets prepare for game two of the western conference finals, the only thing that is certain is the Dwight Howard that took the floor to start the series will not be available for Thursday night’s game. That’s not to definitively rule him out of the contest after he suffered a left knee sprain in the first quarter of game one, but it was clear watching him try to labor through the pain in several short stints that followed, he will not be the same player, if he plays, this soon after the injury. On Wednesday’s day between games, Howard said the knee felt no better.

“The same. The same,” Howard said, when asked about how his knee felt the day after he suffered the injury. “You know, it was very sore.  It was throbbing during the game.  But just another test that I think I’ll be able to overcome.”

At Thursday’s gameday shootaround, Howard was wearing a brace on his left knee and coach Kevin McHale said he was trying to get comfortable with it, calling him a game-time decision.

Howard, who would certainly be limited if he should try to play through the injury, missed 41 games, mainly due to a right knee injury during the regular season. While it’s accurate to say they’ve successfully dealt with him being out or limited during the season previously, their means to cope with the absence are quite different.

When Howard missed his 41 regular season games, the Rockets turned to the same player 38 times to fill his void. Donatas Motiejunas, who finished eighth in most improved player voting this season, averaged just over 30 minutes a game in those games he played without Howard. He averaged 13.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, while shooting 51.1 percent  from the floor, while he took on the role of top low-post option and presence. But with the back injury and subsequent surgery he had late in the season, he is not available to fill-in this time.

Enter Clint Capela. The 21-year old rookie, played in just 12 regular season games for the Rockets, while spending the bulk of the season with the Rockets d-league franchise in the Rio Grande Valley. But he’s played in all 13 of the Rockets postseason games as Howard’s primary backup at center. He’s shooting 67 percent from the floor in the playoffs and has made his last ten shots. His per 36 minute averages are excellent at 18 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes. Among players with at least 100 minutes played this postseason, his rebounding ranks third, behind only teammate Howard (15.0) and the Clippers DeAndre Jordan (14.0).  Similarly his blocked shot numbers would place him second behind only the Cavaliers Timofey Mozgov (2.9).

While he has thrived since joining the rotation, he’s only played roughly eight minutes per game. Potentially he could be leaned on a whole lot more. “When you have different players, you have different strengths on the floor,” McHale said about dealing with injuries and different lineups. “So when you have different strengths on the floor, you’ve got to play to different things.  But 90 percent of it is‑‑ Clint (Capela) is not going to turn into Dwight Howard overnight.  He might, but I don’t know.  He’s got to hit the weight room.”

After some laughter, he continued, “You know, those are really impossible questions to answer because different players bring different things, like we’re a different team every time we make a substitution.  Your team changes a little bit.  We’ve just got to go out there and play.”

Capela played one minute and 12 seconds in the regular season against the Warriors, missing his only shot in a Rockets 12-point loss back in November. In Tuesday’s game one, Capela was very effective, making all four his shots, grabbing four rebounds and scoring nine points in just under 13 minutes.

“They’re a different ballclub, for sure,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Capela has been playing really well, and I’m sure he’ll probably fill in at the 5 for him. You see the growth of him over the course of the season.
You know, we’re going to prepare as if Dwight is playing, and if not, we’ll adjust the game plan a little bit.”

Terrence Jones had his own injuries during the season and also was not available for many of the games Howard missed during the regular season. Jones first 21 games back after his nerve injurywere all played without Howard and Jones averaged 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game during that strethc. He has not been nearly as consistent or productive in the playoffs, as he’s come off the bench in the last four games. He missed eight of his ten shots in game one.

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.