Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  March 11, 2009

Sports News - November 10, 2008

Records: Lakers 50-13 (1st in the West) Rockets 42-23 (3rd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.9 (1st in league) Rockets 108.3 (15th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (6th in league) Rockets 104.1 (5th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Josh Powell, Pau Gasol
Rockets Mel Brooks, Ron Artest, Moneyball Battier, Luis Scola, Yao Ming

FB&G March Madness pool: .We’re doing an NCAA Tournament Pool, winner gets a Forum Blue & Gold T-Shirt. We’ll remind everyone on Monday, but if you want to get signed up early, it’s on. Thanks to Goo for setting everything up. We are doing this through Yahoo!, standards scoring.

Just follow this link. Then:
Group Name: Forum Blue & Gold
Group ID#: 54708
Password: smushcalade

The Lakers coming in: No Lamar Odom tonight. LO doesn’t seem too happy about the suspension, but the way the league is enforcing that rule these days he was in the wrong.

I’ve pretty much moved on, as I think we all have, from the Trevor Ariza foul brouhaha. But the Andrew K. at the LA Times blog this morning had an interesting conversation with the NBA’s Tim Frank about the situation.

In talking yesterday with NBA Vice President of Communications Tim Frank about how Trevor Ariza’s situation with Rudy Fernandez (and others similar)Ariza might be evaluated, I learned of a common misconception among fans, players, coaches, and media (yours truly included). Whether someone makes a play on the ball isn’t the determining factor in assessing a flagrant foul. Or even “a” determining factor, really. Instead, it’s a matter of whether the contact itself was necessary and/or excessive.

In a case like Trevor’s, that can obviously get very dicey. On one hand, the league rightfully wants to protect its players, and Fernandez is essentially a sitting (or flying) duck while airborne. You don’t want to see him get hurt. On the other hand, where do you draw the line between contact acceptable vs. excessive? Ariza obviously made contact with Fernandez’s head, but he also came reasonably close to getting a block.

We all see these incidents through the glasses of our team and our emotions. Lakers fans think Ariza was going for the block. Blazers fans think he was going for decapitation. I guarantee if Fernandez had done that to Ariza and there was no suspension, at least half this board would have flipped out. That’s how things are, and while we need to be in the moment, some times we need try to step back and see a bigger picture. Even if we don’t like all of it.

On a lighter note, you can check out some of the lesser-known nicknames of the NBA.

The Rockets Coming In: I’ll be honest, when I first saw the Rafer Alston for Kyle Lowrey deal at the trade deadline, I thought “smart move for Orlando, Alston is no Nelson but he is a solid vet, an improvement.” Then I looked closely at the numbers and thought the Rockets may have been on to something.

Loyal FB&G reader/commenter and Rockets fan Stephen agrees and gave us his thoughts.

The Alston/Lowry trade has paid HUGE dividends for Houston.

Lowry has no three-point shot so he attacks the basket. On his drives he is either kicking out to open shooters or drawing fouls-something the team has been sorely lacking with McGrady out.

He pushes the ball, often continuing to the rim on one-man breaks and he is strong enough to finish thru incidental contact.

He doesn’t defer to Artest, keeping the ball moving and the other Rockets involved.
He has turned the second unit into a viable unit that has become very productive.

I have been steadfast in my belief trading for Ron was a mistake. His over-dribbling, ball-stopping, bad-shot taking, poor team defense had me yelling at the TV whenever he’d do one of his dribble, dribble, jack up a bad 3 and watch as the other team run the miss up the court. It culminated in the debacle in Chicago where the Rockets set a new team record for largest 4Q lead turned into a loss. Ron tried to take over the game, firing 3 after 3 and missing all but 1. Since then Artest has been a different player. He has become a complementary player, moving the ball, only taking open 3s-where he is very accurate-forgoing for the most part his head-down bullrush into the lane for low post play, where his step-back “jumper” is also very effective, and playing strong individual and team D.

This Ron Artest is probably what Phil thought he could get and what the Rockets were hoping for. When he plays as part of a team he’s superb, when he plays to prove he’s one of the League’s superstars he’s very bad.

Yao has started to get his groove back, but he still doesn’t get enough shots. When he is decisive and makes a quick move it’s very hard to stop him. Defenses that use quicker, smaller players that front him have been effective until quite recently.(Mainly because when the Rockets tried to reverse the ball Ron would stop the ball and jack up a wild 3 or make a horrible drive to the basket.) When Yao puts the ball on the floor, it’s there for the taking. A

Luis Scola has been on a rebounding tear of late and has been routinely getting double-doubles.

Carl Landry is getting back to the high-flying act of last yr. He’s also added a pretty nice 15-20′ jumper. He also will run and throw his body around on the offensive glass. He and Von Wafer are now the scoring punch off the bench w/Lowry being the conductor.
Von Wafer has been rather cold from outside recently, but he will still take it to the rim and finishes pretty well.

Battier’s shot has deserted him. He’s making an exaggerated bending motion before shooting, so I wonder if his heel injury is bothering him, it’s as if he has no legs. Brooks has been very inconsistent-which is to be expected from a second yr PG running the team. He can get by anybody, he just has problems finishing.

The Rockets are starting to lock in on defense and can shut you down for a while. They are still vulnerable to young athletic teams who run and jump, but they are not as vulnerable as they were.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers can get a lot of easy baskets by running tonight — particularly the first unit. I’m looking at you, Pau. Yao Ming does a ton of things well, but run the floor is not one of them. They need to run him all over the place, and use Gasol’s 18 footer to pull him away from the basket.

Some more thoughts from Stephen.

The starting unit of Brooks, Artest, Battier, Scola and Yao will go thru Yao and look to pass along perimeter to open 3pt shooters. They will try inside-out with Yao, but he still thinks before he passes and gets many passes picked off.

Without Bynum (and frankly even with him) the Lakers are not going to stop Yao if he gets deep position — so you can’t let him. You have to start fighting him for space at the free throw line and higher. Don’t let him get deep easy. DJ Mbenga will get some time on this, but Gasol needs to do it, too.

Stephen on Yao:

Any Laker defender at the top of the key should quickly drop down and go for the deflection/steal. When Gasol plays Yao he should use his long arms to poke away ball and when Yao lowers his shoulder do the big man shoulder bump, then flop on the second one. The refs will give a player 1, sometimes 2 bumps, but a third will get an offensive foul w/a good flop, and often the second will get one too. With that, if Yao stays out of foul trouble he should have a good game against the Lakers.

More Stephen:

The Lakers should be aware of Lowry pushing the tempo, attacking the rim and his willingness to pass to open teammates. Adelman has also started using Brooks and Lowry together so Farmar and Sasha better have their track shoes handy.

Keys to the game:
Who wins the battle of benches?
Can Lakers stop Yao?
Can Rockets stop Gasol?
Will Kobe get his efficiently, or have to fire up 30+ shots to get 30 points?
Can the Lakers get to the foul line? The Rockets allow very few FTs.
Will the Rockets be hot from the 3pt line?
Will young Rocket points burn the Laker points?

Where you can watch: 5:30 start on KCAL 9 here in LA.


Kurt

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