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NBA Sideline Chirps: Houston Rockets Struggle, West Regress & Green vs. Curry

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Welcome back to the second installment of NBA Sideline Chirps featuring a back and forth question and answer exchange between Editor Tamberlyn Richardson and Senior Writer Anthony Nguyen.

It’s been a crazy week for the Houston Rockets as the team struggles to find their footing and joins many teams in the West who’ve not lived up to expectations. Despite the Eastern Conference rise to level the playing field in the Association the West still boast 3 premiere teams and we’d be remiss not to address the absolute brilliance of the unbeaten Golden State Warriors who set a record this week for best start ever in the Association.

To that end, this week we received 3 great reader/NBA Fan questions and we’ve decided to include them all given their timeliness to what’s occurring in Clutch City and around the Association.

With that we give you this installment of NBA Sideline Chirps:

Fan Questions

Fan Question 1: This comes to us courtesy of  @SWHTown30 who asks what is wrong with the Rockets?

@TTOTambz @polierburrr @Slotter @ca_rockets @rocketsmanjoel What Is Wrong With The Houston Rockets? https://t.co/36qh7KuGcS

— Curtlow!!! (@SWHTown30) November 26, 2015

Tamberlyn:  Wow Kurt, that is such a loaded question. My initial instinct is to say what’s NOT wrong with the Houston Rockets, but that’s a cop out.  With three questions still to answer I’ll elect to stick with the 3 main issues. First and foremost is the defense and the regression of the team over last season. A comparison of last year versus this year showcases how much the Rockets have dropped off over last season.

Considering Dwight Howard missed half the regular season, Terrence Jones was out 49 games, Clint Capela played in just 12 regular season games  and just when Jones and Howard returned Donatas Motiejunas exited for the final 11 regular season games. That points to how active the team was as a unit defensively, specifically on the glass.

As you can see the Rockets are drastically different defensively this year which is affecting them on both ends. It’s too simple to say their shots aren’t falling, because they aren’t falling for a reason. They aren’t getting as many open looks, aren’t in a natural rhythm and all of that is generated off their defense. While most people believe pace is generated on offense it generally begins at the defensive end.

While the Rockets continue to rank among the top half of teams in some offensive categories, the above chart demonstrates they are also regressing on their favorite end of the court. Most notably they haven’t improved in any one offensive category. 

As for the third point I’ll call it chemistry. I’ll expand upon that in question 2 since it addresses both questions.

Anthony: Call me crazy but what’s hindering this team’s performance is James Harden. Yes I know he’s been averaging 36 points per game over the last 5 but for me it’s beyond the numbers. I just get the feeling his teammates just don’t like him. You watch the Warriors play and granted they’re the Warriors but when Curry hits the ground hard, the whole bench plus who ever is on the court rushes over to help him up.

You don’t see that with the Rockets. Yea his efforts on defense have gotten a little better but we’ve yet to see him play a full game fully tuned in as a defender. Plus, how would you feel if your offense revolved around having the ball in the guy’s hand who plays the least amount of defense while the rest of your team is busting tail on that end? These little things add up in the locker room which lead to a lack of effort on the floor, something we’ve been seeing all season with these guys.

James Harden's defense is … not good. http://t.co/PIsEYjv2Tp https://t.co/WWZUNZ6YgT

— SB Nation (@SBNation) September 11, 2014

Fan Question 2Ashley Finley from The Rockets Nation Facebook page: Do you still think it was Kevin McHale’s fault for the Rockets losing so much?

Tamberlyn: I personally never felt firing coach Kevin McHale was going to fix the issues the Rockets were dealing with. Generally firing a coach mid season doesn’t result in the team improving. Initially the team may respond, but let’s not forget Bickerstaff was McHale’s guy. And, while it certainly appeared McHale had lost the players’ ears we’re still seeing major issues with the team under Bickerstaff.

The main changes under the new coach have primarily been role based with Lawson coming off the bench (a move McHale had already stated would occur in his next game prior to being fired), Beverley returned to the starting line-up and as of the Philly game starting both centers. The other changes are strategy based with less 3 point shot attempts and an overall renewed commitment to defense. Still, as much as there has been improvement the team isn’t making huge strides forward for one simple reason CHEMISTRY.

Since I’m of exactly the same mind as Anthony on this issue (Harden) and I’ve written an entire post on the matter I’ll simply refer you to that instead of using up all the space here saying the same thing.

Anthony: To be fair, it wasn’t completely McHale’s fault for the bad start. I believe he was so much of a player’s coach that the players started taking advantage of his laid back personality. It started to become a former player to player relationship instead of a coach to player one.

I was never really a huge fan of Mchale, thought he was terrible with the x and o’s, never made any in game adjustments and didn’t utilize the depth of the bench. As for the players, it’s tough to have early season success when you come into training camp out of shape.

This team came into the season happy with reaching the Western Conference Finals last year and it showed. Harden didn’t make any improvements on his game after finishing second in MVP voting but instead built his brand. Again, it goes back to the teammates, when your leader doesn’t come in focused it reflects amongst the whole team.

Fan Question 3: Vincent Geeves via message directly to Tamberlyn’s Tip Off Facebook Page:  I’m honored to consider myself one of the BBoyz who get to watch games with you and witness your passion for basketball. But, I’m a little lost as you seem to feel Draymond Green is more vital to Golden State’s success than Stephen Curry. My question is can you explain that and Anthony do you agree with Tamberlyn?

A3: Ah, Vincent… flattery will get you everywhere, and you know I can revoke your BBoyz membership right? (I joke).  First, I’ll clarify that I didn’t say Draymond Green was more vital, rather I said he was “just as important to the Warriors success as Stephen Curry is“.

Since, I know my guy Anthony will likely take the Steph side of this argument (and it’s kind of an obvious choice) I’ll play devil’s advocate and explain why I was raving to the BBoyz about Draymond’s game.

What makes Draymond Green potentially the most dangerous player on the Warriors team isn’t necessarily measured on a stat sheet. Like Curry he’s somewhat of a unicorn in that there is no other player in the NBA like him. Again, like Curry he improved his game this off season:

The above chart reflects the significant improvements in Green’s production, though it doesn’t speak to how much improved he is on the defensive end. He continues to bring two things franchises are hard pressed to find. First he’s an under sized big, but has the strength, lateral quickness and most importantly the intelligence to guard every position.

Other than his Swiss army knife offensive and defensive skill set there are areas of his game you won’t find on a stat sheet. Perhaps the most under rated factor is how Green allows Steph space which can’t be stressed or said enough.  Sure he provides another ball distributor and play maker, but what truly makes him special is the intangibles he offers that you can’t teach or learn, rather it’s an inherent trait….

How long can you lob? @money23green answers on @csnauthentic! #SlateNight https://t.co/XbgjRypPHo

— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) November 29, 2015

To best explain it let’s look back to the game versus the Clippers. The Warriors were trailing by 23 points based on a cold start and 2 quick fouls to Curry and Green in the first 3 minutes of the game.  GSW could easily have packed it in given the run they’ve had without anyone thinking less of them. At 6:43 of the fourth quarter the Warriors called a time-out trailing by 9 points and then Green took over the huddle.  I searched high and low for the quote, but couldn’t find the exact wording. In essence he rallied the Warriors saying “let’s go play Warriors defense and if we lose I’ll live with it, but let’s do this as a team and give it our best defensive shot”. The Warriors went on a 28 to 12 run following that time out!

Shocker, I’m not the only one who feels Green is essential to the Warriors success. Recently “The Logo” – – Jerry West said they have 2 top ten players on the Warriors and yes it was Green not Klay Thompson he was speaking of.  Bleacher Report’s Daniel Kramer highlighted West’s comments recently:

“I think honestly we have two of the top 10 players in the league—Draymond Green is the second one. He’s the most underrated player in the NBA, period. There are very few players, I think, anyone in our organization would trade for him. He’s just a remarkable player. Watch him handle the ball, watch him make passes, defensively he’s everywhere. If he’s not a top-10 player in this league, I don’t know who is.” –  Jerry West

Unlike some of the ridiculous speeches we sometimes hear from the games bigger stars, who seem to be playing to the camera more than the real emotion of the moment  For example LeBron James pregame speech prior to the home opener in Cleveland last season:

“Don’t take this moment for granted. This is going to be one of the — this is one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the history of sports. And we’re a part of it. And it has a lot to do with me. I understand that. But I wouldn’t wan’t to do it with no other guys besides you all.”  – James

And how the players responded:

LBJ pregame "1 of the biggest sporting spectacles IN HISTORY OF SPORTS!" Umm Dion & Tristan aren't sold! #NBA #RTZ pic.twitter.com/L6RIQgJaUe

— Tamberlyn's Tip-Off (@TTOTambz) October 31, 2014

In contrast, Green is genuine and sincere and leads by example. He offers that rare quality seldom seen in sports: he’s a natural born leader who refuses to lose, but has the talent to go along with it. And in my books, I’d rather have a player who’ll always put team first and will die trying to get that win any day.

Anthony: I hate this question. Curry’s great.. okay not great more like unbelievable. I love Draymond. He’s everything you’d want in a player. They compliment each other so well within the system it’s nearly impossible to say who’s more vital to the team. I’ll break it down this way.

What makes the Warriors so dangerous? Defensively they’re so versatile and disciplined they can matchup with any lineup you throw at them and a huge part of that is Green. In their “Death Lineup” (Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Iggy, Draymond) he defends all positions at the point of switch and does it efficiently. He can bang with the bigs in the post or move his feet along the perimeter against any guard he’s matched up with. Would Curry be able to hold his own in the post amongst the trees? Highly doubt it.

What makes the Warriors so lethal?  To compliment their stout defense, they’re a sure bet to put up 100+ on the scoreboard on any given night. Curry is a threat from anywhere inside the gym and because of that, Draymond will usually find himself in a 4 on 3 situation off the screen action. Green has become so excellent at making the right play in 4 on 3 situations and is a huge part of what makes the Warriors so well rounded. But if Curry wasn’t as amazing as he is, teams wouldn’t feel the need to blitz him off the pick which wouldn’t create ideal advantages for Green.

Draymond keeps the defense solid while Curry jumpstarts the offense. Take your pick.

Since we had 3 solid fan questions from NBA/Houston Rockets fans this week, we’ll just ask each other one question to keep the limit to 5:

Tamberlyn asks Anthony:

Turn around is fair play (giggle). Last week you noted the overall improvement of the Eastern Conference and specific growth of certain teams. Notably after Friday’s (November 27th) games the separation between  the two conferences is growing with 10 East teams .500 or better and 2 others within one game of .500.

In contrast, while the top 3 West teams are rolling and 8 teams are .500 or better  just one team is within 2 games of .500 and the other six teams are 4 games or more under .500.

Will the West turn things around? How do you see the Western Conference post season picture playing out and most importantly will my dark horse Minnesota Timberwolves earn a post season birth?

Anthony: It really wouldn’t surprise me if the current top 8 ends up being the same come season’s end. Golden State is the newest addition to the now 8 Wonders of the World. For as long as Popovich is alive, the Spurs will always be among the top 3. Although it’s a shame that it’s highly possible we see the RussellKD era end without a ring, you can never count the Thunder out of title contention.

Rick Carlisle is one of the only 5 good coaches in this league. Memphis has proven that their constant grit and grind style is a sure buy into the post season for the last decade now. You’re not going to score a whole bunch on Utah nor will they score a bunch on you but the closing line up of  Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert has found a way to close games against some of the NBA’s finest.

As much as this roster is a cluster-f–k of emotions and egos, Chris Paul is still the top all around point guard in today’s game and will find a way to get it done. Andrew Wiggins has emerged into must watch TV and Karl-Anthony Towns is an absolute stud. The veteran leadership of Professor Miller and Garnett has gotten this team to nail it down defensively while the improved play of Ricky Rubio has kept this team competitive.

I had Phoenix as my dark horse entering the season because I loved the acquisition of Tyson Chandler and the drafting of Devin Booker but I am officially hopping off the band wagon. I don’t think there is a more frustrating team to watch at the moment, offensively they’re out of sorts, defensively it’s a mess and I don’t see Hornacek keeping his job come season’s end.

The Rockets will make the post season. Why? Because the return of Donatas Motiejunas is more important than you think it is. D-Mo brings offensive versatility more so than any of Houston’s front court guys do. He’s a great passer off the catch, reliable post option, can stretch the floor at a respectable rate and is an exceptional rim defender. As bad as Houston has played, they’re also a team who has been dealing with many key injuries plus Dwight Howard not being able to play on back to backs for most nights. Once this roster gets healthy and they build continuity through the month of December, watch out. Winter Is Coming.

The 8th seed will come down to either Utah or Minnesota and honestly this sucks. Both teams are about dead even in terms of stats outside of defensive efficiency but Rubio’s history with injuries is what sways me towards picking the Jazz. Nothing makes me want to rip my hair out more than watching Zach LaVine play point guard. He’s Austin Rivers 2.0 when placed in that position.

Anthony asks Tamberlyn:

Q: The Warriors can’t go 82-0 can they? Who do you think will hand the Boys From The Bay their first loss of the season? And what does it take to beat them?

Tamberlyn:

Monday the Warriors begin a 7-game road trip primarily to the East Coast which includes two sets of back to backs, though the Dubs luck out with the easier opponent in each case scheduled on the second night. This is the longest road trip the Dubs will undertake this season.  That said, logically the road should offer an opportunity for a team to catch the Warriors on a cold shooting night or potentially the home crowd could serve as a 6th man to push the opposition over the top. Each team offers a specific  benefit the Warriors will have to contend with:

Utah Jazz  started the season playing 9 of their first 12 games on the road, so their  7th ranked defense is somewhat diminished given most teams generally perform better at home. The problem as you (Anthony) pointed out above is the Jazz don’t score a lot (100.5 which is a full 8 points less than the Warriors 113.5 per game).

Charlotte Hornets retooled to add an offensive identity where they currently rank 5th. Though they started the season slowly on defense this past week they’ve risen 6 spots to rank 11th as of this morning (November 29). Granted their past 7 games featured the Blazers, Knicks, Nets, 76ers,  Kings, Wizards and Cavaliers, so the rank may be suspect.

Toronto Raptors are one of 2 teams on this list who currently rank in the top 10 of the 3 main categories of Defense, Offense and Net Differential. (Indiana is the other). What makes this accomplishment even more impressive is they’ve played the most road games in the Association to date (12) and have yet to play 2 games in a row at home and won’t until December.  Factor in the zebras formal apologies for two game costing calls versus the Knicks and Kings and these Raptors are definitely vying for that spot behind the Cavaliers.

I’ve watched all the Raptor games this season and most of the Warriors games. To wit, a suspect phantom call on Cory Joseph at 2:03 of the fourth quarter in Golden State erased his game tying bucket allowing the Warriors to pull ahead to squeeze out the win. That game was arguably the closest a team has come to beating Golden State (the Nets OT game not withstanding). I sure wish the Raptors were lucking into the Sunday game instead of the Nets, especially given they’ll face the Warriors on their third game in 4 nights while Golden State will be off 2 full days prior.  That said, I feel the Raptors have the best shot of the 7 teams in handing the Warriors their first loss.

Brooklyn Nets – I mean I guess stranger things have happened, but I doubt the Warriors take the Nets for granted twice in a row.

Indiana Pacers – If not the Raptors the Pacers could hand the Warriors that first loss given they play well on both ends of the floor. BUT… as I pointed out in my power ranking last week I’m still not sold on the Pacers given their ease of schedule. Their win column consists of teams who either rank low defensively or don’t combine offense and defense. The one plus helping the Warriors is Indiana go on their first Western road trip of 4 games and will face Golden State in the first game back. Historically analysts call the first game back from the opposite coast one of the 3 most difficult to win every season (the game prior and just after the All-Star break being the other two).

The Pacers currently are the 7th best at defending the perimeter, but again let’s see where they rank once they return from their West coast trip.

Boston Celtics  have been impressive this season especially defensively, but as much as they could keep it close I doubt they’ll be able to overcome the Dubs perimeter shooting and depth.

Milwaukee Bucks – Could this be the game that awakes the Bucks from their sleep induced defensive coma? They’ve risen to challenges this season beating the Cavaliers, but the Warriors can offset their length with their own or opt to play small ball to throw off the Bucks.

Ultimately, I’d say the team with the best shot to hand the Warriors their first loss any time soon will be the Toronto Raptors. If not the next time a team with a real shot of beating them won’t occur until Christmas Day when they play the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time. Of note, the Warriors have now set their sights on going 33-0 and the closer they get to that target the more the zebras will help them on that path. So, if they reach Christmas Day unbeaten they’ll be sporting a 28-0 record and need just 5 wins to reach that record.

As for what it takes to beat them, I think I’d be coaching in the NBA if I had the definitive answer to that question.  Still in preparing for the Warriors there are some specific elements the opposition must game plan for:

  • A full 48 minute effort: nothing short of that will do as the Dubs can capitalize on an opponent scoring drought and go up 20 before you can blink.
  • Transition defense is critical, you can’t stop Curry but you can’t let him run where he wants either.
  • Following up on the above point, Curry needs to be picked up full court so the Dubs can’t get set offensively or allow Curry one of his typical pull-up threes
  • Rebounding is critical given the Warriors rank 6th and utilize their defensive rebounding to spearhead quick outlet passes
  • Intangibles – Golden State rank high in all the miscellaneous categories, case in point:
    • 5th in points off opponent turnovers (i.e. protect the ball)
    • 6th in second chance scoring with 14.0 per game (again this means crashing the boards)
    • 1st in fast break scoring with 22.1 per game (transition defense and keeping turnovers down)
    • 7th in points in the paint scoring with 43.7 per game (don’t allow them to penetrate via solid transition defense, proper spacing and rebounding)
  • That doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of the game the Warriors opponents can capitalize on:
    • The Dubs allow the 6th most points off turnovers with 18.3
    • Pushing pace can also pay dividends as the Warriors allow the 4th most fast break points (15.9)
    • Their worst ranking is on points in the paint where they rank 29th allowing 44.9 points per game

Nothing comes easy against the Warriors and they are on a major roll. Ultimately, it feels like the team that will beat the Golden State Warriors will in fact be the Golden State Warriors. They’ll have an off shooting night eventually or an untimely minor injury to one of Curry or Green will which will lead to a loss.

How YOU can be a part of this weekly series

More from Space City Scoop

Clutch City has some of the best fans in the world, so we are inviting you to participate. Each segment will feature what’s most topical about your Rockets and around the NBA . And just like this week you the reader can be a part of this series.

Want to have your question become one of the Sideline Chirps? It’s simple, send us your question on Twitter @spacecity_scoop and use the hashtag #SidelineChirps or message us at our facebook page Space City Scoop again with the hashtag #SidelineChirps. We’ll pick the best (or funniest) question each week to feature.

That brings to a conclusion this weeks installment of NBA Sideline Chirps. Are you in agreement? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section on whether you agree, disagree or have a completely different take. Again, make sure to tweet your questions for next week using the hashtag #SidelineChirps for an opportunity to be the featured fan question.

Next: NBA Sideline Chirps First Installment

As always, make Space City Scoop your number one stop to get all your Houston Rockets game and player news as well as interact with the writers on analytics and opinions on the team.

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