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Houston: We Have a Problem

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James Harden Houston Rockets We Have Problem NBA

Two years ago, the Rockets were a young team that had yet learned how to win. They shocked the basketball world when they finished the regular season with a 56-26 record, which was good enough for second place in the Western Conference. Houston looked like a team that would play a prominent role into who gets out of the Western Conference playoffs, but they arrived to the party a bit early, and could not handle success.

So, naturally, they got in their own way, and a year ago they prematurely fired their head coach Kevin McHale, 11 games into the season. Houston had an inglorious 4-7 record at the time. To make matters worse, they opened the campaign with three consecutive 20-point losses, and Houston’s four wins were a result of four outstanding offensive performances from Harden.

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The gifted scorer had outbursts of 37 versus Oklahoma City, 28 against Orlando, 43 at Sacramento, and 46 at the Los Angeles Clippers, and they barely escaped each of those games.

This was a team whom many experts and pundits picked to win the west, and some even, picked to win it all, and yet they could not buy themselves a win. The Rockets were sinking before their high expectations, and the front office needed a scapegoat, so McHale was fired.

McHale spoke honestly in an interview with TNT’s Inside the NBA, and his comments were tweeted out by Adam Wexler of KPRC-TV Sports.

Offense

The Rockets were in a scoring slump early in the season, but as the season progressed they got back to what they do best. In 2014-15, Houston had one of the most prolific offenses in the NBA. According to basketball-reference.com, Houston average 103.9 points per game, which ranked sixth in the NBA. They also had a Pace average of 96.5, which ranks second in the NBA.

Pace is basically the average of possessions per 48 minutes.

Houston’s offensive rating of 107.0 ranked 12th in the NBA in 2014-15.

Houston could score as a team, and when needed James Harden could go on a breathtaking solo act that simply had people in aw of his scoring prowess. Simply put, H-town was as lethal as anybody offensively, in 2014-15.

In 2015-16, Houston’s offense picked off right where it left off. They were scoring an average of 106.5 points per game, which ranked 4th in the NBA. Their Pace increased to 97.6, but it ranked only seventh in the league. And, their offensive rating went up to 108.3, seventh in the league.

And that was with Kevin McHale calling plays; can you imagine what Houston’s offense will be like with Mike D’Antoni on the bench? Look out below because here comes Houston. The Rockets should challenge Golden State for the title of best offense.

Houston will once again be amongst the most prolific offenses in pro basketball, but will their defense be able to keep up the pace? Which brings us to the big problem in H-town: defense.

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Defense

Although most fans see Houston as an offensive juggernaut, in 2014-15 they had one of the best defenses in the NBA. Once again, according to basketball-reference.com, Houston’s defensive rating was 103.4, which ranked eighth in the NBA as oppose to the below average rating of 108.1, in 2015-16, which ranked 21st in the league.

In a span of one year, Houston’s defensive rating went down 13th spot, while some of the blame falls on the shoulders of Kevin McHale, the players themselves can’t go blameless here.

The biggest problem here is that James Harden, Houston’s best player, simply does not play defense. In team sports, players look to the best player to galvanize the troops, and commit to the ‘dirty work’ in order for them to push themselves beyond their own limitations. Since Harden emphatically takes days off while Houston is on defense, opponents attack him directly or his side since they know he won’t be a factor in help defense.

In 2014-15, Harden’s play on defense was mediocre at best, but that was good enough to help Houston win 56 games. A year ago, his play decreased dramatically, and Houston finished with 41 wins.

In 2014-15, opponents averaged 100.5 points per game, which ranked 17th in the NBA, while in 2015-16, they averaged 106.4, which ranked 25th in the league. Houston could simply not keep anyone from scoring, cope that with a superstar who simply did not care about half of the game, and either you are on fire, or you will lose.

The results are pretty clear, Houston won 15 fewer games, and lucked into the playoffs because Utah lost a lot of games down the stretch otherwise Utah would have been in the playoffs.

To add to Houston’s obvious defensive problems, they traded their best rim protector (Dwight Howard) to the Atlanta Hawks, and simply did not find a way to replace his presence. At the moment, Houston does not have an average player playing the center position, and outside of Patrick Beverley, they don’t have an NBA-level defender on the roster.

To make matters worse, they hired Mike D’Antoni, a coach who fittingly does not care about defense. While coaching the Lakers, D’Antoni was asked if the Lakers had practiced defense, and he said, “Hell, yeah, we worked for a half-hour on it,” per USA Today.

This hire will either be great and Houston will be near invincible a la mid-2000s Phoenix Suns who were always in the top three to five in offensive rating. Houston will be up there this year, Harden’s numbers will be astronomical hence he should be in the MVP race.

Or, they will sink and by the start of the New Year, Houston will be fighting Los Angeles and Philadelphia for the first overall pick.

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NBA

The Warriors Came Out To Play This Series

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The Warriors Came Out To Play This Series
RIP Portland...

Even without the fantasy Basketball of Kevin Durant in this series, the Golden State Warriors still brought out the brooms like ‘Fantasia’.

And swept out of Game 4 like Thanos click finger dust, the Portland Trailblazers may have only lost by a bucket (119-117)…and in overtime at that. But with all the Splash they had to contend with this series from brothers Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they were left dealing with more leaks and holes in all of their own ones like Mickey Mouse in said Disney epic.

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This was meant to be the showdown between Dell Curry’s boys Steph and Seth which divided a household. And although the youngest gun stepped up to the plate, swung big in this carnival and knocked them down, big brother was always watching.

Steph Curry averaged over 36 points a game this series. Just read that again. 36 points. Right now we don’t need to talk about Kevin.

The Warriors are a dynasty for the ages even without their best player (although this writer thinks he wasn’t missing this entire series). The first team to make it to five straight finals since the Boston Celtics. The 1960’s Bill Russell Celtics. That’s King James crowning legendary. And Steph Curry with the shot and that facet of the game is just as iconic and dominant as a Bill block.

Give some credit to a blazing Portland side who never gave up despite the box score. They can hold their heads in the PDX. Even in their Moda Center home-stand City Of Roses end in RIP City. Their season eulogy should read as a celebration and commiseration, not a trolling condescension from critically entitled fans who have done nothing to determine the outcome of these games and could never make it this far in their wildest memes. They call themselves “influencers”? Well no one’s going to remember them in 50 years.

The NBA will remember one of their Top 100 greatest of all-time in a half century though. As after hitting the biggest buzzer beater in playoff history against Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, Damian Lillard played through the pain of separated ribs this series and still made the Basketball God’s look down from the hoop heavens with praise. Like New York singer St. Vincent tweeted, “Damian Lillard is my hero”. Even his backcourt brother of splash CJ McCollum in the only small man set up to rival Curry and Klay came out to play against the Warriors after midrange mining the Nuggets into submission in Denver just over a week ago.

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But Curry’s red hot triple double, starter, mains and dessert dish of 37, 13 and 11, to go along with a playing not crying, Draymond Green’s day of 18, 14 and 11 assists also was just too much in the clutch. As Stephen and Dray became the first teammates in NBA history to have a triple double in the same playoff game. Forget how much this team can unbelievably keep winning, how does this ball manage to get shared this much?

Well that just may be the secret of success?

The real test is dubbed next however in the Warriors last season in Golden State before they move across that Golden bridge to the Silicon Valley of a digital age in San Francisco. They will play the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks (probably…Giannis…MVP. Sorry Toronto but come on!) and Raptors series. But by then they should have some guy called Kevin back.

I mean come on. This has been getting crazy. This is just out of hand like said ball in Splash City.

Now Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics’ record of eight straight finals and wins doesn’t look far out of reach for Steph Curry and the player and team with the biggest range in the association over the gate of the Pacific.

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NBA

Welcome to the Toronto Raptors’ Jurassic Park

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Welcome To The Toronto Raptors' Jurassic Park
They The North...

“In Jurassic Park, Raptor fans wait until after dark. Even if the cold might eat them!”

Fans find a way.

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An ace serve or two away from being as legendary as Wimbledon’s ‘Murray Mound’ or ‘Henman Hill’ outside the Scotiabank Arena, the Toronto Raptors Maple Leaf Square’s “Jurassic Park” may just be the ticket for this sold out crowd.

Raptor Klaw, Kawhi Leonard ruled the earth last night. He and the T-Dot at the final tick beat the Sixers in The Six, as his shot bobbled like a beach ball on the surface of a swimming pool before making the biggest splash of these postseason playoffs. Taking longer to fall than Leonardo DiCaprio’s spinning top in ‘Inception’. But this was no dream.

And if you thought the Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto erupted last night, then outside in Maple Leaf Square it was like the volcanoes that killed the dinosaurs after that big ball dropped. An Armageddon even Bruce Willis couldn’t save like he wish he could his career.

Welcome to Jurassic World.

With all due respect to the Linsanity of Jeremy Lin, or pick your poison whoever is your flash card pick of the bench mob pack, but the Jurassic Park crowd fenced in outside of Scotia is the teams spiritual sixth man, spark plug. As electric as the paddock like perimeter fence surrounding them feels with this buzz over basketball (and national sport hockey come Leaf picking season), this crowd can’t be contained.

Forget rain or shine. You see the slickers. These faithful fans will pitch a spot waiting for game time like the ball to drop in Times Square for New Year in New York, sleeping bag lining up all day in their hordes huddled for warmth. These beautiful fans will brave the harshest, most frigid temperatures to be the coldest fans in the game in more ways than one. Part of the ‘We The North’ community in the 6 that the Basketball God’s look down on with pride, whilst other armchair fans watch this game for the throne from home. Or leave early like those suit and tie corporate seats trying to catch that last red eye Matt Bonner home.

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Can you imagine of they called game early before Kawhi last night?

I could imagine Drake taking in the CN Tower looking up views of the Jurassic though, like it was all the basketball God’s plan.

Well those in the park for recreation stayed until the beautiful end to a game Butler almost delivered bitter. And you could could phantom cam see every emotion in slow motion last night as Leonard’s buzzer beating ball toyed with the rim like three dots on messenger, or Damien Lillard even further downtown in Oklahoma City.

This is the spirit of the stadium and the soul of the squad, expanding the capacity arena and the Canadian ballclubs worldwide fanbase watching on their own Jumbotrons.

And the Toronto Raptors are going to need all the north they can get if they’re going to stop the Bucks in Milwaukee.

But this club has the claws to do it. And if you don’t think they can win in Wisconsin on their own road to being the first franchise outside of the United States to be NBA finalists and who knows what next against the Warriors(?), then just watch this Canadian cornerstone from the Jurassic era.

Extinct in six? Nah! Get ready to hear the North roar.

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