Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  March 30, 2007

Talking Spanish basketball. Got to meet and hang out with regular commenter Xavier last night, who is in town from Barcelona on spring break. The guy knows his hoops — and he’s dedicated. How many games would you watch if the only one a day was at 4 a.m.? (Granted, in Barcelona some of us would just be getting home at 4 a.m.).

Comparing Waltons. Heard an interview with Bill Raftery, the long-time college and NBA television basketball analyst this morning. The conversation had drifted to Bill Walton and Raftery said something interesting (and I paraphrase here): “Luke’s game is just like his father’s but facing the basket. They both see the court and make passes the same way.”

Scouting The Rockets. I watched the streaking Rockets take on the Clippers the other night, and made a few notes on how they may attack the Lakers.

Two plays they run could be big trouble. The first is they bring Yao Ming out to the three-point line straight away, then run the pick-and-roll with him and McGrady. The other guys on the floor try to space out so that if McGrady kicks out Rafer Alston or Shane Battier can drain the three. Houston only ran it a handful of times against the Clips because it was defended pretty well, but history suggests the Lakers will not play it as well.

The other play they like to run is just posting up Yao on the low block. Because he is so hard to stop one-on-one the double usually comes, and when it does Yao shows he’s also a good passer out of the post. Cutters come to the basket and other players space out for the three. The Lakers need Kwame back for this tonight, his strength can root Yao out of the block a little (he shoots 55% right around the basket but force him five feet out and that falls to 47%).

Other plays include the “Afflalo play” where they run McGrady off a couple screens along the baseline, then he curls up to the wing and gets the ball, ideally with enough room created for him to have options, If the Lakers don’t make smart switches here, well, McGrady will have options and that’s not good.

The Rockets second unit will run the pick and roll as well, with Head and Howard, and they run it well. Also, when Yao goes out Battier took on more of the offense against the Clippers.

Then there’s the defense.
Rather than explain it myself, I’ll let the always-insightful Kevin from Clipperblog do so (from his post game thoughts on their loss to the Rockets):

All three members of Houston’s frontcourt — Battier, Hayes, and Yao — are probably among the 15-20 best defensive players in the league. Not surprisingly, their halfcourt defense is ferocious. You saw it all night, particularly in the latter half of the third quarter, when the Clippers could get absolutely nothing, scoring all of four points in the final 7:40 of the period.

Things To Look For: I think we’re going to see how the Lakers look against a team playing well (8-2 in the last 10) gearing up for the playoffs tonight. The question is whether the Jekyll or Hyde Lakers show up. I expect a big effort, but then I expected to beat Memphis. You never know what you’ll get from the Lakers night to night.

Say a little prayer that Steve Javie isn’t one of the refs tonight.

The Clippers had success going right at Yao to get him in foul trouble. They had Brand in a good spot and when Yao came over to help on the drive Brand went right into his chest to draw the foul. Maggette did the same thing. Kobe and Odom can do that, and less Yao is good. Of course, Dikembe did pretty well against the Lakers last meeting.

Houston is not scoring a lot — Yao is shooting just 47% in the last 10, McGrady just 43.2% (eFG%). The thing is, with their defense that is good enough. The Lakers need a big offensive night as a team — and to play defense as a team — to get the win tonight.