Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2015 NBA Playoffs – 11 Days In: Rockets Brickin’, Grizzlies Scufflin’

Day 11 of the 2015 NBA Playoffs saw the Houston Rockets become the fourth team to qualify for the conference semi-finals, and the San Antonio gain a leg-up in the battle to become their next foe by again snatching home-court advantage from and a 3-2 series edge over the LA Clippers.

Houston Rocket coach Kevin McHale had settled on a nine-man playing rotation for his squad’s opening-round clash with in-state rival Dallas. His choice of shooters, though, seemed to be inviting craft Maverick Head-man (and former teammate) Rick Carlisle to implement that increasingly nefarious strategy of benign but purposeful fouling – as opposed to the anything-but-benign variety practiced Sunday by the Cavs’ J. R. Smith.

Four guys in that rotation shot 61 percent or below from the “charity” stripe during the regular season: Dwight Howard (53), his back-up-du-jour Clint Capela (17), along with forwards Josh Smith (52) and Terrence Jones (61). Only six of the 13 active players topped 70 percent for the year.

As a team, Houston ranked No. 27 in foul shooting, one spot above the Clippers (whose fatal flaw may be costing them their opportunity to advance).

Ironically, the Mavs didn’t commit their first team foul until midway through the fourth quarter in the close-out fifth game. Tough to play the hack game if you’ve not gotten yourself into the Bonus.

Is this sort of “shooting most foul” an unintended (though perfectly logical) consequence of the aggressive eschewing of the mid-range jump shot?

As the Warriors Wait…

Despite the loss of their floor leader, budding star Mike Conley, the Grizzlies seemed poised to finish off their sweep of Portland Monday night when a 14-footer from Courtney Lee, the only Memphis starter on the floor, provided them a nine-point cushion 23 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Even after a 6-0 Blazer run five minutes later (spurred by the re-entry of Damian Lillard), the return of the starting frontcourt appeared to right the ship with a quick Marc Gasol hoop.

Alas, the tide had already turned.

Memphis had followed up Lee’s hoop with eight empty possession in their next nine tries. The starters were able to click on six of their final 13 offensive efforts, but could muster up only four defensive stops during that closing stretch.

Poor Mike Conley. He was already rehabbing a bad foot. Now he’s out indefinitely following facial surgery, already a scratch for Game 5.

Beno Udrih, who’d missed Game 3 with an ankle problem of his own, and Nick Calathes filled in with 25 points on 9-20 shooting and but three turnovers Monday. A reprise of that performance and some home cooking may be enough to send the Griz on to the second round.

And speaking of home cooking, did you see where second-year Blazer guard C. J. McCollum scored 44 points on 16-26 shooting in Games 3 & 4. He’d made just four of 21 field goal attempts in Tennessee.

Final Thought: The Rockets’ Red Glare

There are moments when the physical gifts of Dwight Howard are flabbergasting, even in subtle ways that don’t make it into the box score. He gathers in an uncontested defensive rebound. Without bringing down the ball or even “stepping into” it, he effortlessly throws a two-handed outlet pass to a teammate – at the opposite foul line.

Equally flabbergasting is Big Dwight’s post offense. There’s a certain rhythm (a wee bit of the Dream Shake?) when he turns over his right shoulder and shoots with his left hand. He looks smooth … But on his right-handed shots, he still looks a big-breed pup growing into its body.