COMMENTARY | As we inch closer to the beginning of the regular season, the playoffs are the least of the players' worries.
The Houston Rockets head into training camp with two starting spots up for grabs (although Jeremy Lin will likely start, I'd like to think Kevin McHale will at least give Beverley a shot), a logjam at nearly every bench position, a new half-court offense that needs to constructed and learned, and a lot of work on the defensive end.
Those are the behind-the-scenes concerns, but fans know that this team is headed to the playoffs, and they are excited to see them make a run at the Western Conference crown. In the next couple of weeks, I'll be exploring how the Rockets match up with all of their Western Conference foes.
Next up, the only team that will be worth watching in Los Angeles this season, the Clippers:
PG Chris Paul and PF Blake Griffin
Rotational Role Players
PG Darren Collison, PF/C Byron Mullens, SG Willie Green, SF Matt Barnes
Fringe Rotational Players and Bench Bodies
F Antawn Jamison, SG/SF Reggie Bullock, C Ryan Hollins, G Maalik Wayns, F Brandon Davies (yes, the guy who got shafted at BYU)
Last Season's Results
1/15/13: Crawford drops 30 Points, Clippers pull away in the third, win 117-109
2/13/13: Clippers score 46 in the first quarter, easily beat Harden-less Rockets
3/30/13: Harden-less Rockets hold Clippers to 81 points, win by 17
Houston's Defensive Strategy
- The Clippers are now loaded with shooters on the wings, which will make Paul as lethal as ever in the pick-and-roll and isolation game. The Clippers will score in bunches this season, similar to how Houston did last year, and limiting transition baskets will be key to beating the Clips for the entire league.
- Houston needs to play Griffin straight up in the post. Terrence Jones is the best option to defend the athletic big man, and he'll need to be at his best to shut down Griffin. Unlike last year's wings, Dudley and Redick don't miss many open catch-and-shoot jumpers, which means Jones will be defending on an island.
- When it comes to defending Paul, Houston might want to throw Doc Rivers a curve ball by putting Chandler Parsons on him, using length on CP3 to try to get him off his game. If Houston did that, Jeremy Lin could chase Redick around the 700 screens he runs off, James Harden could play Dudley (great matchup for Harden), Jones could take Griffin, and Dwight Howard could take Jordan. Maybe this is something Houston does for a possession here or a possession there to just give Los Angeles a different look, but, either way, it's worth trying.
- Beverley should be on the court every minute that Crawford is. This is a matchup where Beverley will prove his worth as a second-unit stopper (that is, once again, with the assumption that he will be playing in the second unit).
Houston's Offensive Strategy
- This is a matchup that Harden and Parsons need to take advantage of. Dudley and Redick are both decent defenders (although they were drafted as skilled offensive players with defensive question marks), but Harden should put up big numbers against them. When Harden goes by his initial defender and is met by the help defender, this year he'll be able to dump it off to Howard, instead of having to lightly loft it toward Asik (who probably couldn't finish it anyway).
- Howard needs to be conscious of Jordan's whereabouts in help defense. Jordan drifts toward the action on the help side in hopes of getting a block, but often times drags himself out of help position. When Jordan gets too high on the court or drifts too close to the ball side, Howard needs to aggressively pin him or slash to the hoop for a lob.
- This is not a team to mess around with in transition. It has athletic bigs who block shots and a handful of pesky defenders, which means that if Houston were to push the ball offensively, it'd be helping out the Clippers. Houston needs to be methodical in the half-court offense, identifying mismatches, exploiting them, and making defenders pay for being out of position.
Last season, Houston struggled in the half-court offense at times because Harden was relied upon too heavily. This year, the Rockets have both Harden and Howard, which should make their half-court offense more balanced.
Biggest Mismatch: Harden vs. Redick/Dudley/Barnes/Green
I've already touched on this, but if Harden can make Doc Rivers go to Barnes or Green in a defense-specific replacement, Houston will be at an advantage. Harden is an elite offensive player capable of exploiting defenders who can't match his strength (Redick), quickness (Dudley), or size (Collison/Paul).
Like I talked about with Tiago Splitter of the San Antonio Spurs against Terrence Jones, this is the same kind of situation, but this time the mismatch belongs to a top-10 offensive player. If you make the opposing coach tailor his lineups to better defend the opposing team, you always hurt its offense, and against a team like this, McHale has to do everything in his power to slow down its offense.
Jared Dudley is one of my favorite players in the league, and I always use him as an example of a great college player who seamlessly acclimated himself with the wing after being a 4 in college. But Harden should be able to beat him with his quickness.
Most Interesting Matchup(s): Howard vs. Jordan, Beverley vs. Crawford
As I wrote over the summer, Howard is still the best two-way center in basketball, and DeAndre Jordan is still a coach's nightmare. Howard may not be able to body Jordan in the post but away from the ball, his experience will pay dividends against the undisciplined Jordan. Howard needs to take advantage of Jordan's defensive positioning the weak side and in the pick-and-roll game. Look for a couple big-time lobs from Lin/Harden to Howard when Jordan gets a little too excited.
In the other matchup, McHale needs to make sure that Crawford is never matched up with anyone other than Beverley. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Beverley is a top-flight defender who is capable of shutting down the league's elite point guards, and although Crawford is a sixth man, he's one of the better scoring guards in the game. Crawford is capable of taking over games when he gets his crossover and pull-up jumper going, and if Houston can stop Crawford from making six- or eight-point runs with the second unit, it'll help its cause in a big way.
After looking at the matchup a little deeper, these teams have similar qualities, and it's going to come down to which stars dominate. Both teams have a lot of depth, a lot more than they can actually play all at once.
But during the 82-game grind, the depth will prove its value. Both teams have experienced coaches who are far from tacticians, but are great at managing egos. Rivers can probably get the most out of his young frontcourt, while McHale can probably get the most out of his mercurial center. With two rosters full of focused and content players who are ready to collectively fight for the ultimate goal, this matchup won't be won behind the scenes but instead on the court.
Two of the five best guards in the West in Paul and Harden will be running their respective offenses, while a hopefully improved Griffin will be key to the Clippers' interior offense and Howard will serve the same function for Houston. If these two teams see each other in playoffs, it's likely that we'd see a seven-game marathon filled with epic offensive performances by both team's stars. I'm picking the more experienced Clippers to finish first in the West and Houston to finish fourth, which would pin the two teams against each other in the second round.
2013-14 Regular Season Dates
Road: November 4 (NBATV), February 26 (ESPN)
Home: November 9, March 29 (NBATV)
More From This Contributor:
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and a general columnist on Hoopshabit.com. He has followed the Rockets from the championship days of Hakeem Olajuwon, to the years of Francis and Mobley, to the McGrady and Yao era, and will continue to follow them through Harden and Dwight's reign of destruction.
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