Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  January 5, 2010

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Records: Lakers 27-6 (1st in West) Rockets 20-14 (7th in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 109 (10th in league), Rockets 107.1 (14th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.1 (2nd in league) Rockets 105.4 (12th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Rockets: Aaron Brooks, Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes

Does Odom play? He is listed as questionable for tonight with a flu bug (his wife tweeted she was sick in bed on New Year’s Eve, so it’s going around). I have listed him as a starter but if he can’t go then look for Brown/Sasha to get the start, Artest to play the four and Kobe the three. But there goes the Lakers size advantage.

Does Kobe start hanging out in the post again? Great stats in an article (insider) up at ESPN. Tom Haberstroh is also a writer for and using that site he basically confirmed what we had all seen with our eyes — when Pau Gasol came back from his injury Kobe Bryant moved from playing more in the post to more on the perimeter.

Bryant took 2.4 more shots at the rim with Pau out and 2.4 fewer from beyond the arc every 40 minutes. It’s a coincidence that the difference is precisely 2.4, but the general tradeoff is undeniable — Kobe is much more perimeter-oriented when Gasol is in the lineup. Interestingly, teammates set up Kobe on all of his buckets from downtown in the 13 games Gasol missed, but less than two-thirds of them with Gasol was active, as evidenced by the assisted percentage. It looks as though Kobe generates more baskets off the dribble from 3-point land when Pau is on the floor, possibly off of the perimeter pick-and-roll. Clearly though, Kobe picks his spots differently depending on the active status of his All-Star counterpart.

The question becomes, what happens tonight and until Gasol returns (right now we still have no idea how long, but don’t expect him to play this weekend if you are smart, Gasol knows his body and after setbacks last time will be cautious). It will depend a bit on matchups game to game, but we may see this.

Also, Bynum’s play will be something to watch — by his own admission he is more focused with Gasol out. Tonight he has the size mismatch but has struggled to really assert himself against the hustling front line of the Rockets. Can he tonight?

The Rockets Coming In: The hardest part of putting together a title-contending team is the one thing beyond a general manager’s control — landing a superstar. The Rockets have a lot of hard-working, great role players on that team, but when it comes tome to get a shot at the end of the game, for someone to create their own luck, Houston struggles.

GM Daryl Morey has a bit of a cult status because he is comes from a statistics background, but he came in with two max deals as his stars: Tracy McGrady — who you can have now, no reasonable offer refused! Then there is Yao Ming, arguably the best center on the planet, when he is healthy and can play. Which is not this season. So what is left is the scrappy little team that hustles its way to an above .500 record and a playoff spot (if they started today). That is a credit to Morey, who put this squad together.

What he really needs now is a big star, Him and about 25 other GMs.

Keys to game: Look aback at the meeting from Nov. 15, when the Rockets beat the Lakers, and two things stand out.

One is that Aaron Brooks torched the Lakers with penetration. As we detailed at the time, this was more than just the Lakers guards not being able to stay in front of the speedster, it was a team failure. If that is to change it has to start with Fisher and Farmar doing a better job shading Brooks to help (nobody is going to just shut him down) and trying to get him to shoot midrange shots as opposed the penetration into the paint that killed the Lakers last game (Brooks is not a bad midrange shooter, he hits 38.6% from 10-15 feet, but that is less than at the rim). The other part of this is that the Laker bigs need to show out on the pick-and-roll and not just let Brooks turn the corner and get up a head of steam. Help rotations need to be crisp.

Another thing that fueled Brooks and the Rockets last game was Lakers turnovers — bad post entry passes led to fast break points the other way, and there is no Laker that is going to be able to keep up with Brooks in the open court.

The final thing is rebounding — the Lakers have a size advantage but got killed on the boards last meeting. The Lakers need to establish themselves as the dominant inside team, by pounding the ball into Bynum early then for him and Odom and Artest to dominate the glass. If they don’t, the Rockets will be off and running and the Lakers struggle to contain them in transition.

Where you can watch: 7:30 p.m. start on Fox Sports here in Los Angeles, and of course ESPN 710 radio.



80 responses to Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

  1. WhiteLightnin’ January 5, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    For Warren.

    “If karma takes hold, we’ll be rooting for the Knicks in a few years.” -Kurt

    Well said.

  2. Yeah that quote struck home. Terrifying thought.

    The Lakers haven’t playeed Houston with Pau this year have they? That’s interesting an interesting tidbit. Even with only Bynum though, we’d still have some size advantage,

  3. it’s also on nba tv. (i don’t get why espn doesn’t list them any more)

  4. Since the interpreation of stats came up again in this post, thought I’d repost my thoughts on the responsible interpretation of stats:

    Most basketball analysts out there are aided by statistics and formulas, others are ruled by them.

    To their detriment, both Wayne Winston and Kelly Dwyer tend to slip into the latter category on more than the rare occasion. The result is often making incorrect or irresponsible inferences due to being blinded to what the numbers are actually telling you.

    For Wayne Winston, his “Kevin Durant’s +/- sucks and I wouldn’t sign him for free” blunder has been well documented and to his credit he made a post on his blog rewording the conclusion he should have drawn from Durant’s +/-.

    Kelly Dwyer’s Behind the Boxscore columns reveal his talent for observing and reporting on basketball activity. When it comes to making rankings or lists however, I find that he drinks from the well of PER all too regularly.

    The most recent example, Tim Duncan over Kobe in today’s MVP column. Note that the top 5 candidates he mentions are, in exact order, the top 5 in PER. Chris Paul he knocks off for missing too many games and Bosh’s defense takes him out of contention.

    But Dwyer then sticks to PER and ranks Duncan’s value ahead of Kobe, not in spite of Duncan playing 6-7 fewer minutes per game, but BECAUSE of it. PER suggests Duncan is more efficient than Kobe, not more valuable or productive overall. So if Duncan is roughly 7% more efficient than Kobe according to PER, but Kobe works for 20% longer per night then who is actually adding more value to his team?

    He also makes a case that there is a huge distinction in defensive impact but doesn’t make a case to support it. If the individual defensive rating on Basketball-Reference is any indication the difference is minimal (Duncan’s 100.1 rating compared to Kobe’s 100.7). Either way, any difference in defensive impact would also need to be significant enough to overcome the value Kobe is adding to his team by playing so many more minutes.

    And don’t get me started on his comment about the slow pace of LeBron’s team meaning his stats suffer. I do not buy for a second the “woe is he”/ pace as a linear constraint interpretation. Pace is an efficiency modifier, employed by coaches to accentuate the strengths of their team and the star player is the biggest beneficiary. This includes fast pace teams like the Suns maximising the talent, efficiency and production of Nash or slower teams like Cleveland,Portland and New Orleans (moreso in previous years) slowing possessions and having players like LeBron,Roy and Chris Paul benefit statistically from being the primary offensive focus and having a centralisation of decision making.

  5. Someone asked an interesting question on the last thread – does Morrison have a future as a role player in this league?

    Comedic value aside, I’m leaning overwhemingly towards no. Will he be rostered in the future? Quite possibly. But I can’t see him playing a role on even a .500 team, the way he’s playing now.

    J.J. Reddick remade himself into a solid defensive player, the change is clear in his body and approach to the game. Morrison is gangly and slow, but he hasn’t added the strength to get up into opponents like Reddick does. He doesn’t have the foot or handspeed to be a pest like Sasha. He hasn’t shown any ability to carve out a niche, even though a shooter off the bench is desperately needed. Unless he remakes himself athletically, I can’t see him doing well.

    The only possible future he has is as a shooter, in a system where shooting is valued but defense is optional. But his confidence is so shot now, I don’t know if he’ll ever regain his shooting touch.

  6. Morrison: Why hasn’t he? With all the off-time he has had and the NBA facilities, if he really wanted to stay in the league he would look like Ron Ron by now. I won’t cry when he is traded/bought out/let go.

  7. themojojedi – Excellent post. I’m not going to lie, I’m quite a fan of Behind the Box Score, but there’s no doubt Dwyer is a strong, sometimes blindingly so, advocate of PER. Every writer has their own opinions and weaknesses, I suppose, but that post (#4) brought up some interesting points for discussion.

  8. The flaw with stats and adjusted stats starts with the data. Points, assists, blocks, rebounds, steals… all of those things, since basketball is a team sport, is usually a result of team activity, whether it is team offense or team defense.

    If we can have raw data that can calculate how much in each of those stats are created by the player being awarded, then we could listen to stats folks who do not watch the game and simply crunch numbers on their formula.

    But since we don’t, stats can only be used to back up what we see in person, unlike some folks who think their numbers see more accurately.

  9. Snoopy – great post about Morrison. I think what anyone who has watched has realized is that he’s simply not an NBA Calibur player.

    Great comparison with Reddick – Reddick adjusted his personal expectations and reinvented himself as a role-player – he’s added muscle and made himself into a better defender, and he’s a solid spot shooter (44% from 3pt land).

    Ammo literally looks like he just woke up every time he wanders onto the court. There’s no intensity. In freaking garbage time he shoots an absurdly low 23% from 3pt land. That’s right 23%!!!

    On a team that desperately needs a shooter, I would think he would be in the gym all hours honing his spot shooting ability, but the desire is just not there.

    By the by, the Lakers could do worse than JJ Reddick at point guard (and currently, THEY ARE).

  10. Brought over from the last thread:

    Regarding the Winston/Abbott article: didn’t anyone here notice that Winston mentioned that Kobe isn’t one of the top MVP candidates? He said Dirk is the unquestioned MVP of the league so far, with Luol Deng mentioned as one of the top runner-ups! Luol Deng, people. I couldn’t resist commenting about that one with my “concern troll/sarcastic dude” persona. Naturally, I assume that Henry agrees with Winston here, since he usually posts his own thoughts when he disagrees with his interviewee and he didn’t mention Kobe/Deng. Anyway, my comment is below:
    “Have to agree with Winston and Henry here. In no way, shape, or form, is Kobe Bryant an MVP candidate, while Luol Deng unquestionably is a top candidate. Adjusted plus/minus is the only metric that should be used here. Whether or not your team wins games should NEVER be considered. Can’t you people see that? I would have to nominate another candidate not currently mentioned by Henry or Winston because of the small sample size (but who is surely a more valuable player than Kobe Bryant), and his name is Yi Jianlian. Look how much better the Nets have played since Yi returned! I’m fully confident that Henry and Winston will be pointing this out after a few more games are under Yi’s belt. Remember, winning doesn’t matter when it comes to discussing MVP voting. It’s adjusted plus/minus that matters, and this is also why the 2009 NBA Finals MVP should have been awarded to the most effective player on the Orlando Magic in that series, measured by plus/minus, and that’s Dwight Howard. Sure, he missed two FTs that would have clinched Game 4, but plus/minus doesn’t penalize him for that, and winning games doesn’t matter, either.”
    It’s hard to take anything Winston says seriously when he makes the argument that Luol Deng is a legitimate MVP candidate and Kobe Bryant isn’t. However, the best argument favoring less playing time for Fish is that our backups haven’t been given a chance to play with our full or nearly full complement of starters. We’ve all noticed that Phil has been giving Jordan many more minutes with the rest of the starters over the past few games. I believe that this trend will continue, but it’s highly doubtful that a healthy Fish will lose his starting job this season. I still see Jordan finishing a lot more games with the starters in the future, though.

  11. Patrick O’Neal just said on Lakers Live that Pau hurt himself warming up before the Dallas game. No additional details were mentioned by Patrick. Also, Ron-Ron is a go, Luke’s target date to return in a game is 1/15 at the latest, and LO “doesn’t look good” but will start anyway.

  12. I read a quote from Phil that said Pau was injured in something not related to working out…and that he would let Pau explain more. Anyone have more on the “how”? Seems to be a curious topic.

  13. #5 and 9, Snoopy and Burgundy, that was me. Here’s what I actually said.

    “Forget salary, forget his draft status, let’s just look at today and going forward. Is there any way AMMO can be a solid role player? I ask because I’ve been shocked at how JJ Redick has managed to climb out of purgatory and become a solid role player.

    Just like AMMO, JJ had the same athletic weaknesses. Same strength as a good shooter. In last year’s playoffs, I thought JJ did a creditable job on D even against Kobe. He’s never going to be a stopper but he’s not a complete liability either. Now you through in that stroke and he’s a solid NBA player. How many Laker fans would kill to have him coming off the bench. Decent D and killer stroke. Basically a better version of The Machine circa 2007, D and shot.

    JJ worked hard, improved his body and learned how to play good D. Does Ammo have that potential? How much did that knee injury rob him? Can his stroke be lethal enough? Is he smart enough to play good Team D using his length at the SF position? ”

    Of course not the way he’s playing now. But let’s not forget he had a major knee injury. JJ sat for two years straight so he did rebuild his body. You wonder if after this contract is done and Ammo has a fully healthy year again, if he’ll start building his body up. He might have to be a journeyman for a while but shooters are always valuable. I think he’s shown solid IQ when on the floor, seems to make the right decisions.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he’s going to work out for the Lakers in the short term. But was just wondering about his long term career in light of JJ’s development and how their careers have been tied together for a while now.

  14. I’m thinking Bynum is going to play like he was doing the first few games without Pau. As Bynum stated he’s more “focused” when Pau is out. I don’t necessarily agree with that mentality but in my opinion Kobe & Pau play at a level that Bynum has yet to reach which is why he’s not really playing well when he’s in the lineup with Pau.

    Vs. the Rockets Bynum is averaging 19 & 14 boards so here’s hoping that trend continues tonight, go Lakers!

  15. #4) +1

    I do think it is unfair to compare Morrison to JJ, considering he suffered a very severe injury, when he blew out his knee in his rookie season. It’s true he should defiantly be hitting the gym hard, but when he blew out his knee, what little athleticism he had died that day.

  16. Taylor, the injury happened during the game. Phil said it happened “in an interesting way” but he never explained that, leaving it for Pau. So we don’t know how exactly yet (maybe he talks after the game). But it’s not like he went snowboarding or something.

  17. Great article, as usual. Particularly liked the part about Defense, esp. our big men needing to show out to help on Brooks and the quicker Rocket guards when they blow by ours.

  18. so who is playing today, artest? Odom? Gasol?

  19. Kurt,

    This is where I grabbed the quote. I didn’t get it right, so I apologize for the misquote above, but to me, Phil’s comment said more than a game-related injury. You know better than I do, though.

    Here was the exact quote:
    “It happened before the game, in a very unusual way, and I’ll let Pau explain that to you when you see him,” Jackson said.

    I think your call about Pau knowing more than anyone as to his status is dead on. It’ll be nice to have our starting 5 back, but its only January and health for June is much more important that getting him back on the court too soon.

    But, yes, no more space cadets! ; )

  20. like the emphasis on getting it down low

  21. artest taking some crazy shots

  22. nice job keeping the Rockets to 15pts. But the Rockets don’t go away, we need to stay focused.

  23. For someone with the stomach flu, LO sure is hitting the glass like a beast.

  24. this mbenga – brown – powell – artest – farmar lineup is potentially big trouble…

  25. I don’t know how these athletes do it. I don’t think they lie about being sick but when the word flu and myself end up in the same sentence I’m either stuck in the bathroom all day or going through tissues like MC Hammer went through money. If I were LO I would have had to call time out and rush to the bathroom already… that’s all I’m saying.

  26. powell should never ever dribble the ball

  27. When Artest came down with that rebound around the 7:19 mark, he looked just like Foxy. I had a moment; remembering Rick’s time with the Lake Show instead of his mediocre acting skills.

  28. 27. Sometimes sick NBA players get easier access to intravenous fluids than we do. That plus seasoned toughness will do the trick a lot of times.

  29. I think Drew is either in PJ’s doghouse at the moment, or PJ is limiting his first-half minutes in order to give him more burn in the second half.

  30. Jordan should have been awarded with a trip to the line on his last made layup. Aaannnd…we are playing great free-throw defense tonight.

  31. Phil is getting really vocal with Drew when he’s walking to the bench at the beginning of these timeouts. He let Landry outwork him for that putback layup. No excuse for that.

    Edit: is there an echo in here?

  32. Any streaming links? athde just went down.

    Actually back up now, but lagging. Still any links would help…

  33. Arrgggh…LO was wide open under the basket, Drew saw him and didn’t pass it. And…our great FT defense continues.

  34. artest sure looking rusty

  35. Despite all the reported futility on this thread, we are leading by 8 🙂

  36. i can’t tell if we’re playing good D or they’re just missing shots (from the field and the line). In the first quarter i think it was more the former, in the second quarter it was the latter

  37. The Lakers are contesting shots inside, but the Rockets are missing out on the wings.

  38. Given the number of our turnovers, I’m baffled as to how we’re leading.

  39. We’re winning because we are playing tough defense, and HOU is missing most of their jumpers. Also, this is one of those games where the refs are “letting them play,” making it an ugly game to watch.

  40. Kobe really wants to get back to his career FG%, I guess. Hard to judge from the gamecast, but hope those are shots that he has to take.

    And I’m absolutely certain now that Lamar isn’t “feeling well” or is “sick.” Healthy Lamar can’t have 18 rebounds already.

  41. rockets just seem to take us out of our offense

  42. Artest sure is killing us offensively tonight…

  43. Awful play Sasha.

  44. anyone have a link?

  45. Sasha has also made some good hustle plays tonight. I wish he played like this every night.

  46. Wow, I might as well have watched this game via one of the links, the game is choppy enough to survive bandwidth problems…

    It seems that each team may end up with nearly a fifth of their points coming from the FT line, despite the horrendous FT shooting by Houston…

    And not sure if it’s our defense, but this game will make it two in a row where the opposing team just couldn’t score. Too bad this time we can’t either.

  47. Chibi with a great comment: Carl Landry’s game reminds him of Adrian Dantley.

  48. WTB Big Man. Show us how it’s done young AB!

  49. They really need to fix this League Pass vs NBATV thing. If the Lakers are going to get voted in for Fan Night every week, it’s tough to justify buying LP.

  50. Glad PJ made the switch to Fish. Farm struggled on both ends.

    Are the Lakes just letting Scola shoot the 20 footers?

  51. Yes, pound it inside during crunch time.

  52. Win or lose, I don’t think enough can be said of how active LO has been tonight. For a man who has “flu like” symptoms he’s playing in top form.

    AB is taking full advantage of his height against the shorter Houston Rockets, good to see him stepping up tonight. Here’s hoping we can close out these last few minutes and seal the W.

  53. Farmar can make such horrible entry passes to the post sometimes. I don’t get that. He normally can be so smart.

  54. Somewhere Smush Parker is smiling. Houston fouled 95 feet from their own basket.


  56. Well, Bynum is approaching Shaq’s level really fast… at the FT line, at least.

    ps- scary thought: we’re due another Kobe game winner…

    pps – BillK, we had about 8 when we had 63 pts…

  57. 50, we only have 6 FTs…

  58. It’s in the refrigerator…

    Damn I miss Chick.

  59. Aw man, I was really hoping LO would get an assist right there for that triple double! But going to the line isn’t too bad either.

  60. for all of Lamar’s faults this year, he is an absolute warrior for the way he’s played tonight.

  61. This is when T-Mac could be needed; 5 seconds less, but also not as many points needed.

    wow, houston just fouled our best FT shooter.

  62. Darn one more assist for LO!

  63. fisher + 20 and only took 3 shots, cant help but think those two things are corelated

  64. Good win tonight, unbelievable effort by LO. Wasn’t exactly what I’d call a pretty win but I’ll take it, plus anytime we play Houston it may not be the most beautiful basketball but it’s always a tough hard fought game.

    Other then the 20 turnovers I believe which a lot of those were mental errors on some bad passing, it was a good game. One thing I hate though is seeing Ariza with his former team at the end of the game, man I miss that guy.

  65. LO had a really good game tonight, huh? We are better with him on our team than not, in my opinion, you may get the ups and downs games with his play, but I’ll live with that.

  66. PJ: “bench had a so-so game”

    I think that’s a plus any day of the week. All the reserves seem to have gotten good burn tonight. Powell got extended minutes, and until Jordan started making poor decisions he had his. Sasha had a good energy game, two plays on the same possession he kept the ball alive.

    Low-scoring was foreseeable, but the turnovers and style was ugly. A good win though, considering the Rockets are a hard-nose tough playing team. Not to mention one of our six Ls of the year. Not pretty, but without our #2 and a foggy-looking Artest and Kobe slightly off, definitely a good victory.

  67. #53, NBA TV did not show the game for me. It showed the ORL-IND game, then it went black.

    We all know what LO is capable of with extended minutes, so it was no surprise. Contrary to some of the comments, I never actually felt that there was a possibility we would lose the game.

    I’ll say this again: Bynum should be performing regardless of whether Gasol is healthy and playing. I don’t like how Bynum always equates more playing time without Pau to success, consistency, and aggressive effort. I could be wrong, but I feel as if when Pau is playing, Bynum figures he wouldn’t have as many opportunities to score so he slacks off on both ends (especially the boards). That, to me, is almost a prima donna attitude that Shaq has been known to adopt.

    Don’t get me wrong, because I understand that it’s easier for Bynum to play as the sole dominant, scoring big man than to play alongside Pau. However, the difference in stats at the end of games, I can understand and accept, but not the drastic difference in his effort (or lack thereof).

  68. the other Stephen January 6, 2010 at 12:05 am

    if i had the stomach flu, i would have hurled all over the court after a couple rebounds.

  69. The victories against Houston and Dallas, reversing previous losses, reminded me how much I like this Laker team–for their imperfections as individuals yet complementary performances as teammates against diverse matchup challenges. Under Mitch’s careful nurturing and pruning, this team is more than the individuals who make it up.

    During much of the season so far, the Lakers have relied on tight rotations, with little performance from the bench.

    However, with Walton, Artest, and Gasol all injured, they blew out the Mavs, and a somewhat woozy Ron Ron returned to play against former Houston teammates with a clampdown defense that had eluded the Lakers for some time.

    Lamar can “disappear” for weeks, but emerged as a step up clutch hero when others went down. Jordan responded to the challenge of the Mavs with a career high total points, but was rescued when his flamboyance was risky in a close game. More and more ShanWOW and Farmar find ways to complement each other when playing together. Josh Powell suddenly appeared for credible real minutes and did fine–even Sasha seemed to have his “machine” back from the repair shop. In cameo appearances, Mbenga was more than prepared to bang with the best of them as needed.

    Kobe showed an ability not to take over a game against Houston and feed Andrew–who was more than happy to make an exceptional double double contribution in Pau’s absence.

    Sure, Kobe can be “bad Kobe,” Ron Ron still doesn’t know his place in the Laker offense, Lamar is Lamar, Walton isn’t even playing, Gasol can be a “wimp” and whines too much, Andrew needs to better complement Pau, Derek Fisher is fighting for his starting position (for the 14th year in his career), Farmar can be out of synch with the team, ShanWOW really isn’t a PG, Sasha needs to find his way out of the doghouse, Powell needs to better assert himself, Mbenga needs to do more than bang, and Morrison needs more PT to prove he belongs in the NBA–but I love them all as a team–and they love each other. And, despite all of their apparent shortcomings, they somehow have managed to so far win more games than any other team in the NBA.

    I’m enjoying the journey.

  70. wtf
    Was Earl really fouled on that last play?

  71. for those who know

    i have a question for the next game…

    I heard that home team lockers are different than visitor lockers in terms of amenities, and “luxury” items

    with the clips being designated as a road game, Do the Lakers switch locker rooms and play in the visitor’s area?

  72. The Clippers and Lakers each have their own home lockers

  73. just to be clear, does that mean that the visitor’s locker room will be vacant for this game?

  74. I have another (hopefully) non-contentious question.. do the Lakers have anyone in the D-league who might be a call-up at some point this season?

  75. Thanks Vincent 🙂