Seven Stats or Less: Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets are one of the best teams in the league. Mike D’Antoni, a viable coach of the year candidate, has reinvented the offense and helped the team bounce back from a down year last season. Additionally, the front office made subtle moves that turned into fruitful returns for the team. General Manager Daryl Morey added Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson to run with James Harden in an offensive juggernaut. That should not go unnoticed when discussing executive of the year. Harden is third in the league in scoring, first in assists and has a legitimate case for MVP. Third in the Western Conference with a record of 35-16, Houston has the potential to return to the Conference Finals and challenge the Golden State Warriors.

  1. The Houston Rockets are number one in the league in catch and shoot three-point attempts. They make them at an efficient 38 percent. The way the shots come in the scheme of their offense is close to unguardable as they have a top-two offensive rating, second only to the Golden State Warriors. Teams are going to have to be able to get out and contest these shots if they want a chance at slowing them down.
  2. The Rockets are adverse to the mid-range shot. They rank last in the league in those types of shots with 7.6 attempts. For perspective, the second ranked team in the Western Conference takes a league leading 25 mid-range shots a game. The lack of those shots are clearly a by-product of the Mike D’antoni offense.
  3. In the last six games, Houston has a 108.2 defensive rating.  They’ve allowed over 120 or more points in four of those games. 125 in a loss to Golden State, 127 in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, 120 in a loss to the Boston Celtics and 120 in yet another loss to the Indiana Pacers. In the last six games Houston’s opponents are averaging 53 points in the paint and 15 fast break points — both higher than their season average. The defense might come back to hold them back in terms of postseason success if they don’t shore up some deficiencies.
  4. The Rockets have drawn the second most charges in the league at 1.04 per game. Patrick Beverly is third among guards in charges drawn. Montrezl Harrell is seventh among forwards. Charges are one of the best ways to stop the flow of an opponent’s momentum and also gain extra possessions.
  5.  James Harden isolates the fourth most of any player in the league. His 6.1 points from isolation leads the NBA. Harden averages 29.1 points a game, which is third most in the NBA. He’s one of the premier scorers in the league. His skills with the basketball coupled with his strength allows him to take his man either to the hoop or shoot over him.
  6. James Harden and Russell Westbrook are two of the only players to possess an assist percentage of at least 51 percent this season with a minimum of 45 games. Both players have a legitimate case for MVP, based on the historical context of their respective seasons.
  7. James Harden has two of the only three 50-point triple doubles in the league. Westbrook has the other one.

 

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Haus Specials: NBA Game Winners

New York Knicks v Milwaukee Bucks

With the Knicks up by 14 at the start of the fourth quarter, it looked as if New York would come away with the win. Giannis Antetokounmpo had other plans. He scored 12 points in the final quarter, making three of his six shots. This insane step-back jumper sealed the deal. Greek. Freak.

Philadelphia 76er vs New York Knicks

Trust the Process. The Philadelphia 76ers have awed fans this season with their feisty, rejuvenated play. They’ve been competitive and fun. They played that same way against the Knicks. It was a four-point game in the Knickerbockers’ favor. Carmelo Anthony’s scoreless fourth quarter didn’t help and set the stage for a backbreaking game winner.

Utah Jazz vs OKC Thunder

Division Rivals. Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert. Russell Westbrook triple double. This game had it all. A seesaw affair with 16 lead changes made for an entertaining game. However, it was clunky at some points. Westbrook missed all of his shots in the third quarter. The last frame saw big shot after big shot though. Russ had the biggest one, hitting a mid-range jumper to put the Thunder up for good with 1.7 seconds left.

Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors

Waiters Island is now open for vacation purposes. Dion Waiters scored over 30 points for a second consecutive game. This one tied his career high with 33 points. He may have hit the biggest shot of his career, holding off the Warriors and ending their seven-game win streak. Happy Birthday Dion.

 

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Brandon Ingram: Slowly Finding His Star

Brandon Ingram, the second overall pick in the draft, somehow has the privilege of being able to work through his rookie struggles quietly without the pressure of the “Right Now” conundrum. Coming into this season, many were comparing his game to that of Kevin Durant. His wiry frame, and scoring prowess led the comparisons. The two seasons couldn’t be any more different. Durant usage rate was much greater than that of Ingram. Additionally, the then Seattle SuperSonics drafted Durant to function as the franchise cornerstone.

via USA Today Sport Images

While unfair, the assumptions of what is game would be at 19 felt just in attribution. Why wouldn’t the player who averaged 17 points and shot 41% from three in his lone year at Duke be expected to have a Rookie of the Year campaign in the NBA? There was no reticence when discussing where Ingram would be taken in the draft – 2nd overall. It was what very intelligent individuals call a “no-brainer”.  Ingram showed all of the potential to become not only a great scorer, but a star.

The Los Angeles Lakers, after the departure of Kobe Bryant, were in prime position to capitalize on the budding promise of their youth movement. Hiring Luke Walton from the Golden State Warriors spearheaded that initiative. Bringing his repertoire, the front office made a heady move by hiring the former Laker. Walton wanted to play with pace and have the floor spread, something that an isolation scorer such as Ingram would thrive in.

Walton however, had different plans for the Duke product. By bringing him on slowly, namely off the bench, Walton has decreased the pressure of “Right Now”. Through the first 20 games of the season, Ingram started only three games – all three of which D’Angelo Russell sat out due to injury.

But even without being a part of the starting lineup, Walton made sure he integrated Ingram into the game-plan. In the month of November, Ingram averaged 27 minutes, second most on the team. Ingram did not produce on the court initially. In that same month he shot 34% from the floor per game, 30% from three, and only attempted a bit over two free throws a game ( a slight indicator of his level of aggressiveness on the court – or lack thereof).

Via USA Today Sports Images

Steadily though, the staff has increased his minutes. In turn so has is production, if only slightly. 30 minutes a game so far in January has pushed his overall minute average to 28 a game – most by any rookie in the league. 40% from behind the arc on three point attempts a game as his true shooting percentage has jumped from 45% in November to 53% in January. His free throw attempts have also increased – four attempts a game.  Getting to the line at a slightly greater pace has dropped his percentage. Which is probably nothing to worry about with a shooter of his potential.

Bringing the rookie along slowly and allowing him to find his place on the team has helped him tremendously. Not receiving the attention many thought he would, Ingram has progressively improved under the lights of Tinsel Town.

Eventually, he will break out and come onto the scene as the scorer and All-Star his college game foreshadowed. Until then, just watch him work.

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Report: Minnesota looking to move Ricky Rubio to Detroit

Per ESPN’s Marc Stein, the front offices of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Detroit Pistons are discussing a trade that would essentially be a point guard swap. Stein reports that Ricky Rubio of the Timberwolves and the Piston’s Reggie Jackson are the focal points of the talks, along with a few auxiliary pieces.

For young teams like Minnesota, chemistry is very important – Reggie Jackson has a history of not being a conduit for great chemistry. As for the on-court repercussions, Reggie is averaging right around his career high in usage – 28.6 for the year. Rubio has a 13% usage rate, very conducive for a team a lots of young talent who need the opportunity to develop. The immediate development of Kris Dunn would be the natural order of things if Minnesota were to move on from Rubio, adding Jackson would be the antithesis of that.

Via USA Today Sports Images

As for the Piston’s, they predicate their offense on having four shooters surround the paint presence of Andre Drummond. Rubio is not what one would call a shooter – shooting a putrid 24% from three this season. Although, the auxiliary pieces reported in the trade would presumably be that of players with a shooting touch. Stein details the deal,

The Wolves have been openly trying to move Rubio for some time and reportedly are willing to attach swingman Shabazz Muhammad to offers featuring the veteran Spanish point guard.

Although he’s in just the second year of a five-year, $80 million contract, Jackson is widely believed to be available via trade in the wake of Detroit’s recent 9-14 struggles. ‎The Pistons went 11-10 to start the season while Jackson was out with a left knee injury.

Rubio has two seasons left on his contract after this season — valued ‎at $29.2 million — compared to Jackson’s three remaining seasons.

However the deal unfolds, if at all, there will be a major period of adjustment as both teams would be inheriting players with veritable flaws. The fit for either player is questionable. In the NBA, teams leverage their assets in the form of trades to get better, this seems like two teams aiming to rid themselves of players that have outstayed their welcome.

 

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Seven Stats or Less: Atlanta Hawks

This 2016-2017 season for the Atlanta Hawks has been a bit of a roller coaster. After the events of the offseason, there has been some expected trauma. Now in the middle of an 8-1 stretch in their last nine games, things have seemed to settle down for the team that sits fourth in the jumbled Eastern Conference. Today, we’ll go over some Atlanta Hawks stats that help illustrate the team’s structure.

The team is sure to be a major player at the trade deadline, or then again maybe not. That’s how it has gone for the Hawks this year, a hard team to grasp a handle on, but very entertaining to follow. On to the stats.

  1. This season for the Atlanta Hawks sees them 21st in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency. Losing Al Horford and Jeff Teague undoubtedly hurt the offense, but the defense has remained steady. Trading Kyle Korver a couple of weeks ago will have its effects. However, Mike Dunleavy has showed he should be able to contribute the team in his two showings for the Hawks. Coach Mike Budenholzer and his staff are making sure that even if the team isn’t scoring, the opponent isn’t either. The team also adept at forcing turnovers and creating offense out of the oppositions’ mistakes – 17 points off of turnovers.
    Atlanta Hawks Stats

    Via USA Today Sports Images

  2. Atlanta is long and rangy on the defensive end and they know it. When the team is engaged, they use that length and energy to become a terror on that end. Top ten in deflections and recovered loose balls, getting in the passing lanes and or poking balls away is and easy way to disrupt what teams are doing on offense. Out-hustling the other five guys on the court for loose balls is a great to build momentum and keep possessions alive.
  3. Before the home loss to the Boston Celtics, the Hawks were on a seven-game winning streak and playing well. Someone who went a tad bit under the radar was Dwight Howard, specifically his rebounding. During the win-streak, Howard posted 2 games of 20+ rebounds. Over the last five games he’s averaging 14 rebounds. Grabbing boards at such a rate is still excellent to see from the 31 year-old big man.
  4. The lineup of Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, and Thabo Sefolosha per 100 possessions has a 27.6 net rating. The offensive rating of 120 is an elite showing. Although the lineup has seen limited floor time, this is clearly a five man deployment that has shown prodigious results for Coach Bud.
  5. Dennis Schroder is third in the league in drives to basket, ahead of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, albeit only by a few percentage points. Peculiarly, Schroder is only attempting a little over a free throw per game in such instances. For context Jimmy Butler attempts four free throws.
    Atlanta Hawks Stats

    Via USA Today Sports Images

  6. The endowment of the starting point guard responsibilities has given a jump to the touches of Schroder. With 71 touches a game, Dennis has 12 more touches than the next player. Schroder has played well enough in his new role, knowing that there would be an adjustment period for the third year guard from Germany.This significant of a jump in load has shown the ups and downs of Dennis, but hopefully in the years to come as he becomes more comfortable his game will catch up to his role.

 

 

 

 

 

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Run or Stay DMC: Should DeMarcus Cousins remain in Sacramento?

 

For Sacramento Kings fans, their saving grace from years of relative turmoil has been DeMarcus Cousins. The 26 year old All-Star center has had his qualms with the media, and has even had conversations with past greats in an effort to help Cousins either gain or maintain focus. Whatever rift has formed between the old guard of players and Cousins or between he and the media, one question has emerged – is DeMarcus Cousins destined to languish in Sacramento?

Since Cousins was drafted out of the University of Kentucky in 2010 after only one season, there hasn’t been much to cheer about in Sactown. The team has won 34% of it’s games since then. With questionable draft picks – six of the teams’ first round picks are no longer with the team, and offseason moves that have the left the team bereft of any real players that can push the team into contention, fans are restless and rightfully so.

The Kings Organization

via USA Today Sports Images

The front office has made safe moves that ultimately seem shortsighted and hardly ever bear any fruit. The heavily dissected relationships between Cousins and his head coaches are one example of the barren moves. The Kings management hired Mike Malone in 2013, shortly after Vivek Ranadive purchased the team.

There was clear evidence that, at last, Cousins had found someone whom he could let his guard down for. Malone thought the he was the guy that could help Cousins channel his supreme talents and help make his teammates better.

Per Blake Ellington of SB Nation’s SacTown Royalty:

I’m myself. Be true to yourself and I was real. In a weird way, DeMarcus and I are very, very similar – both highly competitive, can be a little emotional at times and as I told him many times, I never wanted to change DeMarcus, I just wanted him to

via USA Today Sports

harness all that competitive fire and use it in a positive way… 

The front office fired Malone 24 games into the 2014-2015 season after having reported “philosophical differences.”

Management then decided to hire George Karl. At the time, the league saw Karl as a respected NBA coach. However, his very public discord with Cousins was very hard to ignore.

In the 2015-2016 offseason, the Sacramento Kings signed Rajon Rondo to a 1 year 9.5 million dollar contract just one season removed from his disastrous stint with the Dallas Mavericks. The move in a vacuum wasn’t detrimental to the season for the team – they only won 33 games that year. The motivation behind it, is what confusing. To trade away an asset in Ray McCallum for a second round pick, that essentially turned into a non-rotational piece, when Darren Collison is still on the team seemed disjointed. Not to mention the matter of trading away Isaiah Thomas so Collison could start a couple of seasons earlier.

DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins

With all that has gone wrong the team, DeMarcus Cousins has still managed to make two All-Star games and is an excellent community activist in the city. And that’s the thing, DeMarcus still maintains that’s he loves the city and the fans and would love to remain in town. The fans adore him and understand exactly what they have is arguably the best center in the game. Among centers that qualify Cousins is second in scoring, fifth in steals and assists and second in 3 point attempts while hitting them at a respectable 38%.

Via USA Today Sports

Only three players have posted 55+ 10+ rebound games since 1985. Cousins has one of them. He is however, the only one of those players to shoot 5-8 from three in the game. I’m also sure that he’s the only one of those players to get ejected and then un-ejected in such a game.

That’s the type of player Cousins is —  supremely talented but equally as visceral. The same intensity that fans attribute to Draymond Green and players alike is what makes them go, it’s what drives them to burn a few extra gallons of fuel that few around the league possess. That extra fuel sometimes gets Boogie into trouble as leads the league in technical fouls with 12.

Once again, is the tumult and disarray of the front office the perfect accompaniment for Cousins’ overt, harried temperament? The front office thinks so as they are reportedly planning to offer Cousins the new “MegaMax” extension worth a reported $200 million per ESPN. From Marc Stein’s column:

The Kings, as you surely know by now, are openly desperate to bring their 10-season playoff drought to a halt. Those who know Sacramento best continue to say that, as long as the West’s No. 8 seed remains within the Kings’ sights, they’ll be increasingly reluctant to part with their All-Star ‎center.

But sources also say that the Kings, at season’s end, want to pitch Cousins on a long-term partnership in the summertime, knowing he’s going to be eligible in July for a Designated Player Extension that ‎could make him one of a handful of $200 million players league wide.

The latest signals suggest it would take a monster offer to get the Kings to tweak those plans.

CSN California reports that the front office  has reason to believe that he would accept the extension.

Via USA Today Sports

There is no way to determine how Demarcus feels about the team this summer, or if he declines the extension, how he’ll feel in 2018. If he decided to leave the team in free agency or inquire the front office about a trade, there’s a good chance he ends up with a contending squad or a team that’s on the verge of contention and possess competent management.

Would that be the best outcome, to have his gifts on a world stage where all is out for the world to see. Or is the quaintness of his current situation just destiny? His flaws and valor accepted alike, hoping that one day the chips will fall and the success will come.

 

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Isaiah Thomas: The Superstar We Nearly Overlooked

Isaiah Jamar Thomas. The  60th pick in the 2011 NBA draft is having a season that no NBA fan would call irrelevant. The 5’9” guard is showing the world why executives who drafted players such as Kyle Singler, Jon Leur and Shelvin Mack before him were erroneous picks.

Isaiah Thomas

The Boston Celtic hasn’t had the easiest road to where he is now – among the league’s elite. Traded twice in his now five-year career, it seemed as though Thomas would never be valued as an elite talent.

The Sacramento Kings reportedly wanted Darren Collison to possess the starting role over Thomas, and Thomas was averaging 20.3 points and 6.3 assists at the time of the trade. Isaiah was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Alex Oriakhi and a 7.3 million dollar trade exception in a sign-and-trade deal. For context, Oriakhi has never played a game in the Association, and now has a career in the Euro League.

Isaiah Thomas

Why would any team trade a player like Thomas? Clearly he had the potential to be something special. That is a question many would ask again at the 2014-2015 trade deadline.

Shortly after signing a four-year, 27 million dollar contract in the desert, the diminutive guard was on the move again, this time to the Boston Celtics. Amidst reports of derision among the crowded backcourt in Phoenix, the Suns front office sent Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat in a separate deadline deal.

Finally, Thomas landed on a team that appreciated his services and reaped the benefits of that trust. This relationship has propelled the Celtics to be a force, not only in the Eastern Conference, but the entire league.

During that 14-15 season, Boston won 40 games and squeaked into the postseason as the seventh seed. Isaiah finished second in Sixth Man voting that year. In his first playoff series, Thomas led the team in scoring with 17.5 points and assists with seven per game. He didn’t start a game that series. The team however, lost in four to the eventual conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

In his first full season with the team, Thomas had 24.8 points almost seven assists per 36 minutes, while shooting 46% from the field and 35% percent from three. He went on to start a career-high 79 games. The team won 48 games, and secured a fifth seed in a log-jammed conference. Thomas, deservedly so, played in his first All-star Game.

This season has seen the point guard take his game to even higher heights. He’s fourth in scoring at 28 points per game, and one of only seven players to score 50+ points this season. Elite players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry have yet to record a 50-point game this season. He is also in the top ten in free throw attempts at nearly nine a game. Additionally, he’s hitting them at a career high 90% rate.

Isaiah Thomas

It’s not all about individual success either. With the addition of Al Horford in the offseason and the emergence of Avery Bradley, this Celtics team currently sits third in the East and is on pace for a 50-win season.

Isaiah saw 59 other players taken before him that talent loaded 2011 draft. Of players drafted in 2011, Thomas ranks fourth in minutes played this season and leads that draft in scoring. He’s well on his way to his second All-Star appearance as he is leading his team to a great season.

For Isaiah, he relishes the opportunity he has and thoroughly enjoys it per Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

…I’m like, man, I play for the Boston Celtics. I’m the franchise player for the Boston Celtics. Like, it doesn’t make sense.”

Isaiah may not have been appreciated for what he was early on, but now we see him for what he is — the superstar we don’t deserve, but are as grateful as anyone to have.

 

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NBA New Year’s Resolutions: Eastern Conference

The NBA season is inching closer and closer to the All-star break, meaning the painting of the 2016-2017 season is almost complete.

Teams now have to look at their respective seasons and determine if the direction they’re heading in is the one they planned for prior to the season starting. There have been surprises and disappointments throughout this still early part of the season.

However, the NBA season is a long one. For prospering teams, success is fleeting. It’s not a wise choice to rest on early accomplishments; always continue to grow. Conversely, a bad season can turn with one hot streak putting a team directly in the thick of the playoff race.

With the new year beginning, some teams may want to make resolutions in the new year as the competition begins to heat up. There’s no time like the present to shore up some deficiencies that can be exploited in the playoffs. When the game slows down, coaches and their staffs have time to game plan, and the will to win escalates.

Let’s take a look at three Eastern Conference resolutions.

Boston Celtics- Get physical on the glass

The Boston Celtics are sitting pretty at third in the conference, but almost every game played seems to be a close one. The Celtics are a plus 19.5 net rating in the clutch this season in 24 such games. Isaiah Thomas is in the top five in scoring with almost 28 points per game and should be a lock for an All-Star spot in the East. Avery Bradley is having a career year across the board, along with the rest of the team contributing in positive ways.

Rebounding happens to not be one of those things that Boston is needing help in. They are bottom three in the league, grabbing 41 rebounds per 100 possessions.

In December, the Celtics were outrebounded in 13 of their 14 games, going 7-6 in those games. Opponents grab 11 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions, which is the fifth most in the league. Additionally, the leading rebounder on the team is Bradley at seven per game. This squad has played in a lot of close games, and has performed well. Gaining a rebounding advantage against opponents can be the difference in wins and losses.

Toronto Raptors- Shoot more from behind the arc

With a 113 offensive rating, the Raptors are only percentage points behind the Golden State Warriors who have a team made up of hyper-efficient players. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are leading this team every night. Lowry is another Eastern Conference All-Star lock and having an incredibly efficient offensive season. His defense has also been up to the task. The Raptors are in the top five in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and three-point percentage.

This is team that does everything in its power to get the ball in the hoop. Even with a stellar three-point rate, the team north of the border doesn’t take many.  Only 28% of the team’s total points come from three-point land. Cleveland and Golden State sit at 39% and 35% respectively. What’s even more perplexing is that Toronto has six players that shoot 36% or above from distance – only one of those players average more than five attempts – Lowry at 7.6 attempts per game.

Charlotte Hornets- Limit opponent open threes

Steve Clifford’s team is one of the rising teams in teams in the East. The Hornets do a lot of things very well, particularly on defense. They are seventh in defensive efficiency, have an incredible defensive rebound percentage, and their opponent free throw rate that ranks 1st in the league.

Charlotte allows 30 three point attempts a game. The Hornets allow 12 open threes a game. Opponents aren’t hitting their open shots, startlingly. Teams are only shooting 33 percent on the open threes that Charlotte provides. This could be based on the teams that they’re up against, or less likely, luck. Either way, this is one of those regular season trends that could come back to haunt them in the postseason.

After giving up a rare offensive rebound, Charlotte failed to recover to the open Nikola Mirotic — waiting for the pass. No one fully commits on the closeout and Mirotic drains an open three in important time in the game.

 

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NBA New Year’s Resolutions: Western Conference

The NBA season is to the end of another calendar year. The All-Star break is closing in as well.

Teams now have to look at their respective seasons and determine if the direction they’re headed in is the one they planned for prior to the start of the season. There have been surprises and disappointments throughout this early part of the season. However, the NBA season is a long one. For prospering teams, success is fleeting. It’s not a wise choice to rest on early accomplishments; always continue to grow. Conversely, a bad season can turn with one hot streak putting a team directly in the thick of the playoff race.

With the new year rolling around, some teams may want to make a new year’s resolution as the competition begins to heat up. There’s no time like the present to shore up some deficiencies that can be exploited in the playoffs when the game slows down. Coaches and their staffs have time to gameplan and the will to win escalates.

Let’s take a look at five Western Conference new year’s resolutions

Houston Rockets- Stop The Leak

The Rockets are currently sitting right in the thick of the Western Conference seeding and do so with an efficient offense. James Harden, a major favorite for this year’s MVP award, is leading this ship behind Mike D’antoni’s principles of the game. Houston attempts a league leading 39 three-point attempts a game and hits them at a prodigious 38 percent. This team also generates open shots behind the arc better than any team in the league at 16 per game. However, if there is an achilles heel for the highly lethal Houston attack, it’s turnovers.

The problem isn’t the amount of turnovers. Turnovers in general aren’t beneficial to any offense. The problem is the opponent’s points off turnovers. Opponents create a whopping 18 points off of Houston’s giveaways, which is fifth most in the league. I’m undoubtedly sure the team is aware of this and will be looking to patch the leak.

A turnover is costly when your team is within six points with under four minutes left in the game. After great half-court defense, the Rockets go to the pick and roll game with the shot clock running down. The defense surrounds and collapses on Harden, who then throws a wayward left-handed pass across his body. It’s then stolen by the opponent. The defense was slow getting back, giving up three points on the other end after the and-one. Those kinds of mistakes can derail a playoff run when the margin for errors is minuscule.

 

Memphis Grizzlies- Limit Fouls

The Grit-n-Grind connoisseurs are tops in the league in defensive efficiency and are one of the most successful teams in the clutch. Even with injuries to Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons and a roster many thought would lead them to the path of irrelevancy, the Grizzlies continue to impress day in and day out. The team allows the least amount of shots in the paint and are top five in steals and blocks in the league per game.

The defensive wizards, however, have a foul problem. This team allows the third most free throw attempts. Teams playing against them shoot almost 28 per game, which is five attempts over the league average. Teams at the moment aren’t making the Grizzlies pay for their fouling. Opponents are shooting 72 percent at the line. If they keep treading this dangerous line, things could get out of hand.

Oklahoma City Thunder- Become Better Free Throw Artists

The Thunder are one of the most intriguing teams in the league. With Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double, Steven Adams becoming a top flight center in the NBA, and second-year head coach Billy Donovan guiding this team to over-achievement, there’s a lot to extract from the franchise that’s still early in existence. The main worry for the Thunder, outside of being relatively devoid of shooting, is its free-throw shooting. The Thunder attempt the fourth most foul shots in the league, thanks mostly to Westbrook’s NBA-leading ten attempts per game.

The flip-side to that is the Thunder only make a near-bottom 72 percent of their attempts. Three of the Thunder’s five starters attempt less than 3 attempts per game. No player not wearing number 0 attempts more than five. The Thunder have to get to the line more frequently, and make the attempts. Free points are paramount for a team that struggles to score in the half-court.

Golden state Warriors- Limit opponent fast-break points

It would behoove NBA fans to err on the side of caution when looking for flaws in the Western Conference champion Warriors. You won’t find many. However, the Dubs do have a tendency to leave awareness to the wind and give the opponent chances to score easy points. The Warriors are bottom in the league in opponent fast break points. Part of it could be a byproduct of the offense. Playing at a high pace and getting up shots relatively quickly tends to allow room for slippage. Even after made baskets, if there is any loss of attention easy buckets on the break can slip through.

Utah Jazz- Force more turnovers

This Jazz team is one that is finally beginning to realize its potential. The identity of the Jazz has always been one of defense. Trite as that may sound, defensive aptitude is a strong suit for this team. They are top three in defensive efficiency, allow the third fewest points in the paint, and are the best team in the league at dissuading teams from firing behind the arc. Utah rarely turns the ball over, and Jazz opponents return the favor. Jazz opponents turn the ball over fewer times than any team in the league.

No turnovers also mean no points off the other team’s carelessness. They are bottom five in the league at 14 points off of turnovers per game. Those added bonuses could really come in handy in the playoffs if this team is still in the lower part of the league in points per game.

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NBA Game Preview: Lakers vs. Clippers

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers are set to deck halls this Christmas.

The 11-22 Lakers are playing the 22-9 Clippers for the second year in a row on this vaunted holiday event. Last year, the Clippers triumphed over the Lakers 94-84 in a relatively ho-hum game. This year, however, should present watchers with a more palatable contest.

Haus-Specialty: The team that’s being highlighted in today’s Matchup

Lakers vs. Clippers

Luke Walton (Photo courtesy: landoflakers.com)

In Luke Walton’s first year as head coach the Lakers have gotten better as far as on court product, are still a ways away from true playoff spot contention. However, they are a team that is beginning to find the joy in basketball again, something seemingly missing under Byron Scott.

The Lakers have had a tumultuous December, going 1-12, the only win coming against the Philadelphia Seventy-sixers who – let’s just say are not the class of the NBA. The young talent on the team is going to have to be given time to find their niche and what they can be good at as a squad. It should probably start with defense. This team is in the bottom two of the league in defensive efficiency. They allow 110 points per 100 possessions. That is going to get you beaten every night – as it has the last four of their games. The Lakers’ opponents the last four games have, on average, scored 115 points per game.

Even worse, this is a team bereft of rim protection averaging only 3.6 blocks per game. A number good for 26th in the league. Fortunately for the Lakers, the Clippers are surprisingly near the bottom of the league in points in the paint.

Nick Young (Photo courtesy: Dailymail)

Nick Young (Photo courtesy: Dailymail)

What the Lakers can hang their hat on is that Lou Williams and Nick Young seem to be having career years as far as the numbers are concerned. Lou Williams is shooting a career high percentage from beyond the arc per game on the 2nd highest attempts in his career. Nick Young is also having a career year from deep, shooting 41% on almost 7 attempts per game. The “Kids” also have some things to be proud of. Julius Randle is averaging a healthy 12 points, 3 assists and 8 rebounds per game. D’Angelo Russell is second among sophomore players is assists per game and top five in scoring. Jordan Clarkson also pitches in 1.3 steals per game, second on the team.

The Lakers have a lot of developing to do to get to the level of their Christmas Day opponent. The front office has made sound moves and seem to have found a formula has a few years of making questionable moves.

Haus-Work: Things the Lakers and Clippers must address if they want a chance to leave with a win.

Lakers

  • Get stops. Play in the open court. The Lakers are 8th in the league in transition points. The NBA game is about playing to your strengths – transition play is a strength of theirs.
  • Keep the Clippers out of the paint. This is a task easier said than done with the Lakers being 29th in the league in opponent points in the paint, allowing 48 points per game.
  • Start the game well. The Lakers are 22nd in the league in first quarter scoring. If they can match the Clippers’ almost 29 points in the first quarter that should bode well for team morale the rest of the way.

Clippers

  • Get to the free throw line. With Blake Griffin out, and Chris Paul a game time decision, the number one free throw attempting team in the league may be without two of its top three free throw shooters. Against Dallas, the Clippers shot a total of 11 free throws –four coming from Jordan
  • On the same note of Chris Paul’s health, Raymond Felton is likely to start. This means the team will have to adapt to. Felton isn’t the playmaker Paul is – obviously as he only had two assists last game. Sharing the ball and playing with a team concept will be ideal.
  • Respect the game. The Lakers may seem inept at the moment, but this league does not guarantee wins. Never play down to your opponent.

* All stats are current based on Stats.nba.com and basketball-reference.

Notable Injuries

Lakers

Tarik Black (ankle) Gametime Decision

Jose Calderon (Hamstring) Game Time Decision

Clippers

Blake Griffin (Knee) Out

Chris Paul (Hamstring) Game Time Decision

 

 

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