So, it’s official. The Rockets have clinched the playoffs. Of course, this comes as no surprise to me, as I wrote in a post back on October 29th that the Rockets are a LOCK to make the playoffs. I said this back when most analysts predicted that Rockets wouldn’t win more than 29 games. So ridiculous. The reason is because this Rockets team is full of Jeremy Lins and, as a result, analysts highly underrated their abilities at the time. I guess it was understandable that analysts would underrate this team, because many of the starters hadn’t started before and they are the youngest team in the NBA this season. Still, I was sure they’d make the playoffs, because I saw the talent in the guys. I also saw them as a bunch of players with really high basketball IQs, strong work ethic, great character and I knew they’d be able to mesh on the floor. I was also very optimistic of the Linharden synergy. I’m hoping that will get better next season as McHale learns to play Lin the way Lin is supposed to be played. We still haven’t seen the Linharden synergy in full effect.
Here’s a great write up on Rockets making the playoffs, by Jason Friedman from Rockets.com: http://www.nba.com/rockets/news/unexpected-journey
Tonight’s game was somewhat lackluster. Rockets played down to their competition somewhat and didn’t play much defense. The good thing that came out of it is that Smith and TJones are showing that they may be the answer to the Rockets Power Forward void just in time for the playoffs. Smith ended with 12 points, 5 rebounds and TJones finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds. These were two players I was very high on early in the season. Asik also finished tying his career high 22 rebounds.
McHale didn’t do a very good job with the rotation tonight–especially when it comes to Harden. Once again, he played Harden to death by not giving him any rest in the second half. Yep, Harden played the ENTIRE second half. I kept waiting to see when McHale would give him some rest and then with the 8 minute mark rolled around in the fourth quarter I just shook my head, because I knew that McHale was going to stick with Harden the entire second half. I guess McHale really wanted to clinch the playoffs, so I can understand where he’s coming from. But I think it’s a mistake in thinking on his part, because I actually think it hurts the Rockets to not give Harden ANY rest–especially with Rockets high tempo of basketball. I thought McHale should have rested Harden in the beginning of the fourth for like three minutes or so, because I think Harden got sloppy in part due to fatigue. Harden almost had a double double with NINE turnovers. Yep, you read that correctly. This is what happens when you play a guy to death and don’t give him any rest. McHale better not pull this stunt in the playoffs, although, I’m sure he will. He just can’t seem to trust anyone but Harden in that position so McHale is going to play Harden to the ground in the playoffs. It’s just another one of McHale’s crazy fixations. I wish he understood the concept that you need fresh bodies to run and keep the pace up and also keep the ball moving and players moving, which is what Rockets basketball is all about. When players are tired, no matter how good they are, they stop moving the ball and they stop running. They also try and force shots, because they’re too tired to make good decisions and play optimally. And Harden is even more prone to that than most, because Harden tends to go into Hero Ball mode and this gets even more magnified when he’s fatigued.
Lin’s shooting was off tonight. I hope that’s an aberration, because he’s been shooting well for a while now. I noticed that he didn’t wear his arm guard. I wonder if that was a factor. Maybe he should start wearing his arm guard, although he had been shooting pretty well before that. But I think he shot even better with his arm guard–not just percentage wise, but the release and trajectory of the ball looked especially good in the games that he has been wearing his arm guard. Beverly played well tonight and I thought McHale was going to bench Lin in the fourth, because of how well Beverly was playing. And I have to say that I think that would have been fine with that decision tonight. Not that Lin was playing terribly, but Lin didn’t really have it tonight and I thought Beverly brought a lot of energy. What I would have preferred is for Harden to get some rest and for McHale to play Lin and Beverly together for some of the fourth to give Harden some rest. Anyway, I was surprised McHale went back with Lin. It ended up being a good decision, because Lin did tie the game up and Harden finished with a horrible shot that wouldn’t have made it, but Rockets caught a lucky break on a goal tending call against the Suns. That ball had no chance of going in. What a heart breaker for Suns fans, although I doubt they care too much about their season. But still. You hate to lose that way. In the playoffs, McHale has to come up with some better plays than to just iso Harden every time. He has to mix it up.I’ve said this before. I actually think Rockets are more dangerous with the ball STARTING OUT in Lin’s hands during clutch time, than Harden’s because when Harden has the ball–especially during clutch time, all four Rockets players end up just standing around ball-watching. So Rockets essentially become a one-man weapon. When it’s in Lin’s hands, players continue to move around, because they don’t expect Lin to just go iso. Also, Lin is a better floor general than Harden and is better at finding the optimal play. When the ball starts out in Lin’s hands, it tends to end up in someone else’s hands, so Rockets have five weapons when the ball starts out in Lin’s hands. Now, I’m not saying that Lin should have the ball EVERY time down the stretch. What I am saying is that McHale needs to mix it up. This is especially important in the playoffs when you’re facing the same team multiple times and they start to learn your tendencies. Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. I’m glad Rockets made it official today and clinched the playoffs, proving all analysts, coach McHale and nearly every Rockets fans wrong. Like I said, this Rockets club is full of Jeremy Lins. And what Jeremy Lin does best is to prove doubters wrong.