Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Rockets Step Up

Masked and Contained
Tonight in front of the national kind-of NBA TV audience, Houston held serve at home and took out the defending champion Miami Heat, with a 106-103 final. It was a rough night for the best of the East, as the Pacers also lost to the pretender Warriors, so the defeat probably won't bother the Heatles for very long... but it was how the Rockets did it that was intriguing.

The way that you beat the Heat, when it rarely happens, is to punish the hell out of their weak interior defense, limit the turnovers so they can't destroy you in transition, and defend the three-point line so that their bevy of experienced shooters don't work you raw. Dwight Howard's 22/16 line, compared to Chris Bosh's 5/5, would seem to be all she wrote here... but the Rockets needed more, because the Heat got a Clear and Present Game from intermittent shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who threw down 24/4/6 to effectively invalidate James Harden.

No, the reason why the Rockets won this game, despite some very weak end of game work by the Rockets, was with depth. Second-year power forward Terrence Jones, who has struggled for consistent minutes, came out hot and ended with 19/12/2. Defensive monster point guard Patrick Beverly hit his threes early and erased Mario Chalmers (3-4-2) all night, and the Rockets were able to overcome the out of the blue contribution of 24-4-2 from Michael Beasley.

The Heat's big man problem isn't going away, folks. It's tough to win when you get out rebounded by 13, because you've got to be spectacular on turnovers (they were +10 on that); They also aren't shooting their free throws as well as you'd hope. Chris Anderson lead them with 7 boards, Greg Oden DNP'd, Udonis Haslem isn't really an NBA player any more, and that's all there is.

Does any of this matter, when LeBron James might just decide to be a dominant big man for two playoff months and get his threepeat? Maybe not... but for a team trying to establish a place in history (and, well, you can't threepeat without getting one of those), it's kind of astonishing how a clear weakness hasn't only gone unaddressed, but has actually gotten worse over the years. I'm not sure how tall Chris Bosh is anymore, but I'm pretty sure he's shrinking for anything but three point shooting. The fact that they haven't picked up a big of more note than Anderson in all this time is kind of amazing, really; you'd think that some Samuel Dalembert-ish slug would have taken the minimum to get his ring, and that Pat Riley would have locked that down by now.

Instead, the champions with the least margin for error in my lifetime seem to be just opening it up wider. And Houston, if they can somehow find themselves in the Finals, just might be the Heat's worst matchup...

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