Texas Two Step

james harden kawhi leonard look on

Harden v. Westbrook was a thud. Houston was flat out a better team. San Antonio had a bit of adversity but pulled through on the back of their own superstar.

Here’s to hoping Kawhi v. Harden will be everything the first round match up wasn’t.

With out further delay, lets get on with the basketball Short Shots:

Houston

Not since the 1994-1995 Western Conference Finals have these two I-10 rivals matched up in the playoffs. Back then, Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets famously “bamboozled” David Robinson in route to their second consecutive title (no asterisks required). Since then, the Spurs have ruled the world, winning not one, not two…but FIVE championships, standing alone at the top as the best organization in the NBA over the past 20+ years.

In an era of “super teams,” the Spurs are, quietly, exactly that. They have the same old jerks (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and the ghost of Tim Duncan still hovering around the basket a la the 6th Man – see film with Dwayne Wayne from A Different World), and some newer jerks, Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge, and a still capable Pau Gasol. The Rockets on the other hand, are a throwback with one super stud and his cavalry of compatriots.

This season, these two squads have played each other extremely close, with three games going down to the final possession and being decided by only two points. Two of those three games it was the Spurs that made the final play. That is what they do, they execute excellently, and that is why I am afraid my boys will fall in 6 games. The Rockets, as punchy as they are, just do not play enough clean ball to take the Spurs out in a 7 game series.

If I can get one play where James Harden spins Kawhi Leonard around like a top as an homage to the Dream, I’ll gladly take it.

-Alan

hakeem

A rematch 22 years in the making!

At least that is what you’ll be sold. The previous MVP battle of Dream vs Robinson now replaced with the Beard and Leonard. To be fair, the current MVP candidates will probably see very little of each other head to head. This should be an interesting series between a bruising defensive team vs. the new age “7 seconds or less” squad. Make no mistake, while this is a 3 vs 2 matchup, this is a David (Rockets) vs Goliath (Spurs) battle. The Spurs have the best coach, the best two-way player, and a roster filled with playoff experience. Manu took a dump the other day that had more playoff experience (and chorizo) than half the Rockets roster. It will be an uphill battle for the Rockets from tip-off, but that doesn’t mean it is a done deal. Lets get into a couple things I find interesting about this series.

The Rockets shoot a lot of threes. They attempted and made the most in NBA history this year. The Spurs are good at taking that way. Against the Thunder, the Rockets played a team that, like the Spurs, focused in on taking away the 3 point shot. This led to some anti-Morey-ball mid range shots being taken. Against the Spurs, it is imperative that the Rockets hold true to there identity while exploiting what the defense gives them. The Rockets beat the Thunder while shooting poorly from 3 point range. That won’t cut it against the Spurs.

The unique thing about the Rockets is that in the regular season, not only did they attempt a lot of 3’s, they attempted them from far away. More 3 point shots behind 25 feet than the rest of the league combined. Against the Spurs the Rockets will have to continue the trend. Shots that have a normal rebounding trajectory will most assuredly be had by the Spurs. Their line-up is huge and filled with solid rebounders. Taking shots that take those rebounds and turns them into 50/50 scrambles gives the Rockets a chance to get some second chance opportunities. It also further spreads the floor, forcing the Spurs to choose their personnel wisely. The Rockets will go small, but can the Rockets have enough success to force the Spurs to go small as well? That will be key. If the Rockets can force the Spurs to play their game with the match ups and cross matches, the Rockets have a shot.

The Spurs offense this year works as it does every year. Move the ball around, lots of motion off ball, keep attacking until something on the defense relents. This may come as a surprise, but the Rockets are not exactly the best defensive team. Against the Thunder they turned it up, but the Spurs offense is much more nuanced. Here’s hoping the look isn’t too different for the Rockets. Against the Grizzlies, there was a lot of Kawhi hero-ball. The Rockets are used to that having just played Westbrook. The difference is, against Westbrook you encourage him to shoot, against Kawhi I believe the Rockets should force him to pass. Kawhi operates on a machine level of efficiency. His scoring has become unstoppable. His passing however is merely above average. Play the hand that you are dealt. I’m sure Morey and the team are looking over the numbers, but this novice number cruncher noticed a drop in efficiency when Kawhi is forced left. It is not easy to make Kawhi do anything, but making his life as difficult as possible again gives the Rockets a chance.

In some ways the Spurs are the Thunder on steroids. Their offense is focused on an all world talent along with some offensively gifted but defensively challenged bigs. The Spurs shoot better, pass better, and have more depth. An enormous and welcoming challenge for the Rockets. On the flip side, the Rockets are nothing like the Grizzlies. No old school post up players, and tons of shooters. This will not be an easy series for the Rockets. It might be one for the Spurs if the Rockets aren’t confident in their shot and lazy on defense. If the Rockets can hit their shots and force the Spurs to play small, the Rockets have chance at pulling off the upset.

-Viet

james-harden-vs-kawhi-leonard

San Antonio

Manu Ginobili has played in a lot of playoff games – 203 to be exact.  And in all of those playoff games there are only two Western Conference teams that he has never faced in the post-season.

Houston is one of those teams.

Despite not having faced each other after game 82 for the last 22 years, these two teams are very familiar with each other.  After all, they still play four times a year, and play their home games a mere 193 miles from each other.

So what am I worried about this series?  Stopping James Harden.  Duh.

Mike Conley looked like a MVP candidate against the Spurs in Round 1 and ate the San Antonio defense alive on pick and rolls with Gasol.  Granted, Houston doesn’t have a big like Gasol, but Harden > Conley.

But also, Kawhi > Harden.

-David

Houston Rockets v San Antonio Spurs

Dallas

Well, as the a pure spectator I am filled with genuine intrigue as the two intrastate rivals pick up where David and Hakeem left off. Maybe we’ll get lucky and be treated to Kawhi Leonard being named MVP only to have James Harden go HAM on him and torch the Spurs and rest of the league for doubting him.

In my opinion the best player in this series suits up for San Antonio, but I don’t know what else the man from Houston can do to change my mind. It may just be a case of “I don’t like the guy.” That being said I definitely respect his production and leadership on the court even if I don’t like his game.

Give me the Spurs in 6. Dirk Forever.

-Bryan

dirk2


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