Jimmy Butler injury

How long can the T-Wolves survive without Jimmy Butler?

In Friday’s game against the Houston Rockets, Jimmy Butler suffered what the Timberwolves are calling a “meniscal injury” to his right knee.

With just over three minutes to go in the third quarter against the team with the league’s best record, Butler was fighting for a rebound in the post. Directly before he fired a pass to forward Taj Gibson, Butler took an awkward step and fell to the ground in pain, clutching his right knee.

Jimmy Butler injury

Rockets trainers and Chris Paul rush to see if Butler is okay, moments after injuring his right knee. (Photo by Michael Wyke/Associated Press)

While team doctors rushed onto the court, Butler was clearly in pain, judging by his contorted facial expression. He could not leave the floor under his own power, and it seemed as if one of Minnesota Timberwolves fans’ biggest nightmares had become a reality.

Due to the clutching of the knee, and the fact that he needed help off of the court, many thought the injury was surely an ACL tear. That would have been sure-fire season-ender for one of the best guards in the NBA.

Instead, the Timberwolves PR account released a statement Saturday at 3:45 ET that the injury was to his meniscus. They gave no timetable for his return.

Being that the injury isn’t necessarily a death sentence for Butler’s season, how effective can Minnesota be without him?

Possible return

Most meniscus injuries take four to six weeks to rehab, if it is not serious. That would put his return date somewhere between March 24 and April 7. If the injury is not severe, then Butler would be ready to play at least one week before the playoffs are slated to begin.

Let’s assume the worst for a moment, saying Butler cannot return until April 7. The Timberwolves will have two games before the playoffs’ start date on April 14. That gives him two “rehab” games to get reacclimated to the team before the important games start. Two games is far from ideal, but it is much better than simply tossing him into NBA playoff basketball without time to get a handle on the pace.

In the best-case scenario, Butler could return to the court during the March 26 game against the Memphis Grizzlies. That would be doubly useful. His first game could come against a subpar team, meaning the Wolves could win easily despite restricted minutes. Plus, he would have eight games to get into playoff shape.

We will know more about his return date soon, but for now all we know is that the Timberwolves certainly plan on having him return for their playoff run.

Expectations without Butler

Minnesota is currently the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Their surprisingly efficient offensive game plan has propelled them forward in a way that wasn’t supposed to come to fruition until next season. The problem is, however, much of that success was thanks to Jimmy Butler.

Jimmy Butler injury

Karl-Anthony Towns will likely become the focal point of the Wolves’ offense. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Before his injury, he was putting up 22.2 points per game, along with 5.0 assists and 5.4 rebounds. The biggest loss to the team, though, will be his minutes. Jimmy “Buckets” was averaging 37.1 minutes per game, which led all NBA players. Replacing someone who is on the court more than any other individual in the entire league will not be easy, regardless of their offensive output.

Tom Thibodeau likes to ride his starters hard. That has been his identity since he started coaching. But Minnesota’s relatively weak bench made it less of a strategy and more of a necessity. Considering Butler’s consistent offense and his admirable defense, he is a natural choice to eat up minutes for any coach.

But without him, it is likely that Jamal Crawford, Aaron Brooks, Shabazz Muhammad, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague will all have no choice but to help pick up the slack. Thibodeau is capable of creating lineups that will somewhat mask Butler’s absence, but players will have to shift positions often.

Karl-Anthony Towns is still having a terrific season, and the offense can shift its focus to him. Teague can play shooting guard, and Crawford can help stop the bleeding in the backcourt. With the talent on the team, it is probably unwise to bet the Timberwolves fall out of the playoffs completely.

Schedule

That being said, Minnesota has a rough stretch of games during the period they can count on Butler being out of the lineup.

If he returns on March 26, then nine of their 11 games without him will be against teams above .500. This includes a five game stretch in which they play the Celtics, Warriors, Wizards, Spurs and Rockets. These are not only playoff teams, but both favorite and dark horse contenders to reach the NBA Finals.

Jimmy Butler injury

Butler gets helped off the court by his teammates. (Photo by The Houston Chronicle)

There is a very real chance that Minnesota could drop all five of those games. Depending on what the rest of the teams below them in the standings do, that could just be enough to put them on the bubble. Being that the Timberwolves have less games to play than any other team in the league, this could dig them a hole that might be hard to get out of.

The good news is that after that stretch is done, the Wolves will play the Grizzlies twice, along with the Hawks, Mavericks and Lakers. These are all teams well below the .500 mark. Throw in a game with the Jazz and two games agains the Nuggets (which they will more than likely split) and that could give them life.

It’s not out of line to say their seed will go as Butler’s injury goes. If his knee is worse than the Wolves feared, they might be fighting for a spot. If it is routine, then Minnesota will probably end what is currently the longest playoff draught in basketball.

 

Featured image by Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

NBA’s biggest second half storylines

The All-Star break has finally come and gone. The second half of the NBA season starts Thursday evening.

This is the part of the regular season NBA fans look forward to. Some teams will be jockeying for seeding, and others will make the push to squeak in to the playoffs. These are the games that feel like they mean something, apart from potential playoff matchups.

So let’s dive right in to the NBA’s biggest second half storylines.

Games remaining

Okay, it’s misleading to call it the second “half.” This NBA season was heavily front-loaded in a way it hasn’t been in years. This could be the reason Jimmy Butler decided not to play a minute in the All-Star Game. That, plus the fact that he’s leading the league in minutes per game.

NBA Second Half

Jimmy Butler got the rest he asked for, but is catching flack for taking up an All-Star roster spot. (Photo by Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports)

Every NBA team’s remaining schedule averages out to feature 25.3 remaining games. So 56.7, or 69 percent, of this season’s games were played before the All-Star break. All research indicates players actually enjoy playing the majority of their games before the break. This gives them the opportunity to rest up for the playoff push.

This rest is absolutely more important to some teams than to others. Take into account injuries, fatigue and minutes played, that short break could make the difference between an eight seed and watching the playoffs from the couch.

Longest and shortest remaining schedules

The Philadelphia 76ers, currently the the seven seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs have the most games left to play at 27. The Minnesota Timberwolves only have 21 games. It’s interesting that these two teams would be the extremes, considering their structures.

The 76ers are not only young, but they are notoriously injury-prone. This is the first season that Embiid has been able to stay on the court, Ben Simmons has finally been able to play after missing all of last season, and it is still very much up in the air whether or not Markelle Fultz can make his debut this year. But if they stay healthy, that youth and lack of fatigue could propel them upward in the standings.

The Timberwolves play hard, and they play often. As previously stated, Butler leads the league, playing 37.3 minutes per game. Karl-Anthony Towns plays 35.1 minutes, Andrew Wiggins plays 36.1 minutes, and the 32-year-old Taj Gibson plays 33.6 minutes. This is due not only to lack of bench depth, but also Tom Thibodeau’s starter-reliant coaching style.

Depending on one’s point of view, this either gives NBA fans more or less to look forward to.

Dallas Mavericks troubles

Over the All-Star weekend Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said on Dr. J’s podcast, “losing is our best option.” At 18-40, it certainly seems as if they are embracing the “tanking” philosophy. For those who are unaware, “tanking” is the not-so-subtle art of losing to secure a better pick in the draft.

Adam Silver, NBA commissioner and outspoken enemy of tanking, doled out a huge penalty for the statement on Wednesday. Cuban was fined $600,000 for “conduct detrimental to the league,” supposedly for the comment and as a retroactive punishment for lack of effort on the season.

NBA Second Half

Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 on Wednesday. (Photo by Getty Images)

Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing for which the Mavericks and Cuban are under fire. News also broke Thursday night about a sexual harassment and misconduct scandal within the organization. There have been multiple reports of inappropriate behavior, along with Cuban admitting that he kept on a Mavericks reporter after “two separate incidents of domestic violence.”

The fallout from the misconduct allegations has yet to be seen, but it’s something to keep an eye on regarding the future of the franchise. It will also be interesting to see how many games Dallas wins after being exposed for exhibiting low effort.

Cavs-Warriors Part IV?

Cavaliers

The Cavaliers were re-energized by a huge roster shake-up at the NBA trade deadline. Going into the second half, they are on a four game win streak. One win came with the pre-deadline roster, one came with a short-handed roster before the newly-acquired players were eligible to play, and two came with the new look roster.

The team is slightly younger, more defensively-minded and much quicker than its previous iteration. Two games is hardly a sample size at all, however. Common sense says they should continue to trend upwards, but they only have 24 games to build playoff-level chemistry.

Their main competition on the road to the NBA Finals are the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. These teams have the number one and number two records in the East, respectively. Cleveland made short work of both of these teams in last year’s playoffs. Toronto, however has grown as a team, and Kyrie Irving went from playing against Boston, to playing for them.

NBA Second Half

Golden State’s Draymond Green coaches the Warriors during their game against the Suns. (Photo by AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Warriors

Golden State has been having some struggles of late. They are currently the number two seed in the West. They are second to the Houston Rockets, their main competition. The Warriors are 7-5 in their last 12 games; hardly what fans have come to expect from a team with this much talent.

As a method of engaging his team, Steve Kerr even let his players coach during a win against the cellar-dwelling Phoenix Suns. This decision garnered much criticism from NBA players and pundits alike. They lost their next game against the Portland Trailblazers, despite Kevin Durant’s 50 points.

It’s a safe bet to pencil these two teams in for an historic fourth straight finals matchup. However, they both have more to prove before switching that pencil in for a pen.

Major awards

The second half of the season is where the NBA awards races really start to take shape. These awards are hotly contested this season, and it might just come down to the wire before voters decide for whom they will cast their ballot.

MVP

James Harden is currently the front-runner for the NBA MVP award. Fitting, since he was second in voting last year, but had the misfortune of being up against Russell Westbrook’s historic season.

LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant are also in contention. The voting will come down to their teams’ records and, of course, each player’s individual contribution. To see a more in-depth breakdown of the race, see the dedicated article here.

Rookie of the Year

This award is essentially a two man race.

Donovan Mitchell is averaging 19.6 points per game for the surging Utah Jazz. They have won 11 in a row in a push for the Western Conference’s eighth seed. He’s playing heavy minutes and contributing 3.5 rebounds and assists per game. But, what’s got the attention of the NBA is his athleticism. Winning the dunk contest as a replacement will also probably sway voters. If he continues scoring in the second half and dish out more assists, this award might be his.

His main competition is the 76ers’ Ben Simmons. Simmons is good for 16.4 points, 7.3 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per night. The points are obviously lower than Mitchell’s but the assist and rebound numbers are impressive for a rookie. Those numbers can and should come with the territory of being a 6-foot-10 point guard, however.

The problem is, in a league so in love with the three-pointer, he never shoots the long-range shot. He has taken just 10 threes, and has made none of them. Another potential reason Mitchell could sneak ahead in the polls is that his assist numbers are so low because he has one of the league’s best passers, Ricky Rubio, playing point guard on his team.

Defensive Player of the Year

Kevin Durant is squarely in contention for Defensive Player of the Year honors. His stats aren’t massively impressive, but the effort that does not show up on the stat sheet are the real reason he is in the conversation. Durant averages 0.8 steals per game, and 1.9 blocks per game with the Warriors. Being on a premiere defensive team also helps his cause.

NBA Second Half

Paul George, contender for Defensive Player of the Year, guards Victor Oladipo. (Photo by Getty Images)

Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder is the biggest roadblock between Durant and Defensive Player honors. George leads the league in steals, which is arguably the most important defensive stat. Robbing teams of possessions is a major key to winning games, and George does it more than any other player. His blocks sit at just 0.5 per game, but consider that he does most of his defending around the three-point line. That doesn’t lend itself to racking up blocks.

Coach of the Year

The obvious candidates for this award are Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Houston’s Mike D’Antoni.

They both are the owners of the best records in their conference. This is significant because neither of their teams were expected to be the number one seed going into the second half of the season. The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors were supposed to have those honors. But neither coach need to own the one seed going into the playoffs to win the award.

D’Antoni’s Rockets have a prolific offense, and he has also managed to seamlessly integrate Chris Paul into the offense. The defense on his team is an afterthought, but it always has been on D’Antoni-coached teams. Casey’s Raptors own a top-10 defense and a top-10 offense. The roster has stayed intact through a tumultuous trade deadline, and the chemistry on the team shows from top to bottom.

Erik Spoelstra is also making his case for Coach of the Year. Miami currently sits at the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. With a less-than-stellar roster, if he can continue to manufacture wins through pure coaching, expect to hear his name when this award is mentioned.

Featured image by Winslow Townson/Associated Press

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Los Angeles Lakers tanking

To tank or not to tank?

The term “tanking” has become more and more prevalent as the NBA has progressed. When teams are in rebuild mode, they tend to tank and therefore lose games intentionally at the end of the season in order to get a higher pick for the following season’s draft. If you are the Lakers, is this something to consider, or do you keep playing and developing the young guns?

At least until Adam Silver’s new anti-tanking rule comes into play in 2019, there is no doubt that teams who have performed poorly this season will start to play more rookies, mix and match lineups and lose games more often as a result.

Teams like the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and others have countless young guys that they’d probably like to get a look at before this season comes to an end. With this tanking mindset, the minutes will be there.

What About the Lakers?

Los Angeles Lakers tanking

Photo from mavs.com

The Lakers are slightly different, however. They are currently 23-34 in a very competitive Western Conference, which puts them at the 11th seed. If the West weren’t so stacked and they weren’t eight games behind the eighth-place Pelicans, LA may have a chance to string together a few games and make a playoff push. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like such a situation is all too feasible.

The difference between the Lakers and a lot of other tanking teams is that the Lakers really don’t have a reason to lose games this season.  There are two main reasons for this.

First of all, the trade that sent Steve Nash to the Lakers in 2012 involved them giving up their 2018 first-round pick. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, all the Kobe-Nash-Dwight team did was lose four straight games in the first round of the playoffs to the Spurs. It was safe to say that was the end of that.

This pick that they gave up matters in a big way in the upcoming draft. Normally, having a worse record gives us a better chance of having a higher pick, but since that pick doesn’t belong to the Lakers anymore, there is absolutely no reason to purposefully lose games.

So LA doesn’t have any picks?

Los Angeles Lakers tanking

Photo from calisportsnews.com

Here’s where it gets just a little tricky. Rewind to before the trade deadline and the Lakers aren’t going to be having any high picks in the draft. But, as always, the trade deadline and all that happens in the 24 hours beforehand changes everything. Say goodbye to Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., but hello to Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a first-round pick.

And just like that, the Lakers have their first-round pick back. With Cleveland being somewhat successful this season, it is almost definite that this pick won’t be a lottery pick, but that shouldn’t be a problem for the Lakers at all.

Let’s go back to draft night 2017, when the Lakers selected Kyle Kuzma 27th overall. Many fans just said, “Kyle who?” and had no idea what to expect out of the rookie. With averages of 15.7 points and 5.9 boards on 45 percent shooting from the field, one thing is clear. Los Angeles has a stud on their hands. And one of the best parts about it? He was the 27th pick.

Conclusion

Luckily for Lakers fans, they don’t have to worry about them intentionally losing games this season. Their pick for the draft later this year does not lie in their control, so there is not a single reason why they shouldn’t continue to play the guys that they normally have been.

Many might be worried about the fact that the pick won’t be too high, but the Lakers have proven just this last year alone with Kuzma that they are capable of finding studs late in the first round.

Although a playoff push is unlikely, the Lakers can definitely win a handful of games late in the season as they continue to simultaneously fight and develop their youngsters.

 

Featured image from NBA.com

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Reignover joined CLG for 2018

Reignover’s journey from 2015 Worlds to the bottom of the NA LCS

When Fnatic announced Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin as their starting jungler for the 2015 Spring Split, the LCS community aired its skepticism and criticism:

“Korean imports again. Can only end well. -_-”

“haha, reignover really?”

“This roster is pretty underwhelming, considering the talent that was available…FNC looking like a bottom-half team atm.”

Several online news outlets voiced similar sentiments:

“While that should have been significant incentive for Fnatic to pull together the best talent they can, the results are somewhat mystifying. To wit: While picking up premier new midlane talent in Febiven is an undeniably good choice, every other decision on the roster seems questionable.”

Reignover joined Fnatic in 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

“Their Worlds placings; their endless top placings in LCS splits; the players who won those games and splits were no more. What was Fnatic’s response? They imported a Samsung Galaxy sub and his duo-que buddy, an ADC from the challenger scene, and the star mid-laner of H2K; Huni and Reignover, Steelback, and Febiven. A lot of people thought of these acquisitions as sub-optimal and disappointing.”

“It’d be a tough season, fans began to reason, but Fnatic had a tremendous eye for talent and would surely find the best possible players to replace their former stars. This general assumption resulted in a great and terrible gnashing of teeth when Fnatic’s signings to complete their new roster for Season 5 included two Korean players—Kim ‘ReignOver’ Yeu-jin, formerly of Incredible Miracle, and Heo ‘Huni’ Seung-hoon, a complete newcomer to competitive League of Legends.”

At the time, importing players from other regions was still uncommon in Europe, and Huni and Reignover were relatively unknown quantities in Korea. It was understandable that audiences would question Fnatic’s pick-ups, following the departure of several star players. Little did they know, these two players would be pivotal to Fnatic’s deep run at the World Championship that year.

Reignover’s Beginning: Spring and Summer Titles

Reignover had a spectacular year with Fnatic in 2015. Huni and he had instant synergy as a top-jungle duo, which allowed them to finish the spring regular season in second place with a 13-5 record. Reignover even earned weekly MVP of the EU LCS in week two for his Rengar and Olaf play.

Reignover and Fnatic won Spring and Summer Split 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fnatic went on to win a heated playoff bracket that spring. They beat H2K in the semifinals 3-2, despite losing two early games using a double-smite, Lee Sin top composition. With Unicorns of Love upsetting SK Gaming, Fnatic came into the finals as favorites. The series saw several different champions played, but Fnatic was able to pull out another 3-2 to take the Spring Split title. Reignover won MVP of the finals, Huni won the Outstanding Rookie award, and every Fnatic member represented the EU LCS first team All-Pro.

After bringing Europe home a fourth place finish at the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational (and taking SKT to fives games in the semifinals), Fnatic returned to the Summer Split with one new member–Rekkles. He turned out to be the key that unlocked Fnatic’s full potential. This roster finished the regular season undefeated, 18-0, solidifying Huni, Reignover, and the rest as some of the best Europe had ever seen. Reignover’s efficient jungle pathing with mostly Rek’Sai and Gragas provided Huni and Febiven with the upper hand in most match-ups.

The entire Fnatic line-up won first-team All-Pro honors again, and the summer playoffs went mostly as expected. Fnatic took down Unicorns of Love 3-0 in the semifinals. They met a formidable Origen squad in the finals, which went to five games. This match-up represented the narrative culmination of “old Fnatic” versus “new Fnatic”, with xPeke and Soaz facing off against Rekkles and Yellowstar. Huni and Reignover played large parts in allowing Fnatic to win the series 3-2, reinforcing the organization’s off-season roster decisions, and sending them to Worlds as Europe’s top seed.

Reignover’s Peak: Top Four at Worlds

Heading into the 2015 World Championship, western media outlets put Fnatic and Reignover under the microscope with statements like “To make it through their Group and beyond, Reignover needs to be successful in his ganks, specifically top side, to put Huni ahead,” “Reignover relies on high gold values to be effective in team fights, as he likes to play high damage picks like Elise, but with other high gold jungle monsters in this group, that’s less of an easy advantage,” “It’s easy to tag ReignOver as the weakest player on Fnatic based on his performances during the latter stages of the EU LCS,” and “Many have looked at Reignover’s champion pool as a target for Fnatic.”

Reignover and Fnatic went to Worlds in 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Invictus Gaming, Cloud9 and AHQ Esports Club joined Fnatic in Group B, pitting Reignover against Mountain, Hai and KaKAO. In the round robin, Fnatic lost to AHQ and Cloud9 once each, then won their other four games. The 4-2 record put Fnatic at the top of their group, pushing them into the bracket stage.

For quarterfinals, Fnatic faced EDward Gaming. The Chinese organization finished first in the LPL regular season that summer, but flopped in the playoffs to finally place fourth. They won the Regional Qualifiers, which allowed EDG to qualify into Worlds. During the group stage, EDG lost both games to SKT, but went 2-0 against H2K and Bangkok Titans. Clearlove was a primary factor in EDG’s success, which meant all eyes would be on Reignover.

Clearlove and Reignover went back and forth with Rek’Sai and Gragas picks, but Reignover proved to be the better jungle on the day. He finished with more gold and assists in every game of Fnatic’s 3-0 victory. The series win qualified Fnatic for the World semifinals, an achievement no western team had reached since season three (which was also Fnatic).

Unfortunately, KOO Tigers, a top Korean team, crushed Fnatic 3-0. They joined their European rivals, Origen, finishing third-fourth in the tournament. These placements reinstated the EU LCS as a top region behind the LCK, and Fnatic as an international threat.

Reignover’s Move: Immortals’ Domestic Dominance

Reignover and Huni joined Immortals in 2016

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Reignover’s off-season, following such an impressive year with Fnatic, brought opportunities unlike any other. Eventually, Immortals announced their entrance into the NA LCS, and their successful signing of Fnatic’s top-jungle duo–Huni and Reignover. The two were such a hit together that they became a package deal.

Expectations for Immortals’ top-side was through the roof. “Immortals will be relying on the touted top-jungle synergy of former Fnatic duo of breakout rookie top laner Heo ‘Huni’ Seunghoon and junger Kim ‘Reignover’ Yeujin to take them to the top of the standings,” “[Immortals’] starting five is headlined by Fnatic’s South Korean duo from last year, the explosive Heo ‘Huni’ Seung-hoon in the top lane and his partner Kim ‘Reignover’ Yeu-jin at the jungler position,” and “Yes, it was a fantastic move, especially if the Koreans can bring along some of Fnatic’s winning culture and approach, but Immortals really scored points for how they built their team around Huni and Reignover,” were all remarks by the media. It was clear that Reignover and Huni had risen from Korean nobodies to titans in the span of a year.

Spring Split proved these presuppositions to be warranted. Immortals tore through North America’s teams to finish with a 17-1 record, only dropping one series to Counter Logic Gaming in week seven. CLG was the next closest contender, with a 13-5 record, four wins behind. Huni and Reignover won first team All-Pro honors for the third split in a row, and Reignover was deemed North America’s MVP.

However, TSM was able to find Immortals’ achilles heel and vanquish them in the playoffs. Some questionable top lane picks for Huni, and lackluster decision-making from Immortals, resulted in an 0-3 loss, which they took out on Team Liquid for third place. This moment marked the first major domestic shutdown of Reignover and Huni since their start as professional players. 

Reignover and Immortals barely missed playoffs in Spring and Summer Split 2016

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The Immortals roster stayed together for Summer Split, which left many wondering if they could repeat their dominating spring performance. TSM proved to be the only contender, finishing the split with a 4-1 game record against Immortals, and the only team above them in the standings. Immortals 16-2 regular season record was still impressive, but not nearly as dominant as their prior first place finish. Reignover was the only Immortals member to be first team All-Pro, with TSM taking the other spots.

Playoffs seemed all but certain to end with TSM facing Immortals in the finals, but history decided to repeat itself. Immortals faced Cloud9 in the semifinals, and fell 3-2. For the second time in two splits, Immortals missed the NA LCS finals, due to uncharacteristic play in the semifinals. And again, they won the third place match. They took down CLG 3-2, which provided enough championship points for Immortals to get a direct seed to the regional finals for a spot at Worlds. Everyone’s anxieties came true, as Cloud9 defeated Immortals again, this time 3-1. All three losses were fairly one-sided, with most of Immortals’ players suffering negative KDAs and significant gold deficits.

It is hard to believe how disappointed each of Immortals’ members were once they realized they would not make it to the 2016 World Championship. Huni, Reignover and Pobelter had all competed in 2015, and regular-season-Immortals felt like they were set to go. This probably felt like a low point for Reignover, coming off of two years of solid performance. Playing with Immortals in North America had to feel like playing with Fnatic in Europe, except Immortals fell just short of glory–no trophies, no MSI, no Worlds. Reignover could not know that the following year would only get worse.

Reignover’s Fall: Team Liquid’s Mismanagement

Reignover joined Team Liquid in 2017

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Immortals rebuilt their roster around Pobelter in the off-season leading into 2017. Reignover and Huni were given opportunities to weigh other offers, and they ended up splitting for the first time in two years. Huni made the move to Korean powerhouse SKT, while Reignover signed with Team Liquid in North America. He joined Lourlo, Goldenglue, Link, Piglet and Matt.

The media was even higher on Reignover in this move than they had ever been before. Esports news outlets touted “Reignover is a master of being in the right place at the right time,” “Reignover was the best jungler in NA last year, and he’s a welcome, experienced addition to this team,” “If Team Liquid does as well as I’m projecting, it will be mostly due to their superstars, Kim ‘Reignover’ Yeu-jin and Piglet, both of whom are arguably the strongest players at their positions in North America,” and “Stars like Chae ‘Piglet’ Gwang-jin and Kim ‘Reignover’ Yeu-jin can be terrifying.”

This roster turned out to be a mess. They finished the Spring Split in ninth place with a 5-13 series record and a 36 percent game win rate. After announcing changes in the middle of the split, Liquid decided to move Piglet to the mid lane and bring in Youngbin as AD carry. After a couple of weeks with no improvement, Doublelift joined the team as a temporary sub out of his break, and Adrian later joined and started a few games. All of this turmoil and chaos completely overshadowed any positive gameplay out of Reignover.

Luckily, Team Liquid avoided relegation. The Promotion tournament was an extreme low point for the organization, and Reignover himself. No one had questioned his talent and consistency in over two years. Going into Summer Split, everyone was wondering what Liquid would do to rectify the situation. It turns out, they did not change anything. They picked up Inori and Slooshi as substitutes, but kept Lourlo, Reignover, Goldenglue, Piglet and Matt as starters.

Reignover and Team Liquid played both promotion tournaments in 2017

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Similar results ensued. TL finished Summer Split in ninth place again, with a 4-14 series record and a 30 percent game win rate. Just like spring, as the split went on, Liquid started Inori, Slooshi, and KonKwon. They brought back Dardoch, despite past troubles with the controversial jungler. They imported Mickey, a Korean mid laner from ROX Tigers. Liquid even swapped out David Lim for Cain as head coach. They went on to compete in the Promotion Tournament, and defended their spot, yet again.

This was truly the lowest point for Reignover. He was completely dropped from conversations of “the best jungler in the league,” in favor of LiRa, Xmithie and Contractz. Fnatic, Immortals, Huni, Rekkles and Pobelter had some of their best splits yet, and were heading to Worlds. Reignover was fighting in promotion tournaments, getting benched for Inori and Dardoch, and falling from grace.

Reignover’s Present: CLG’s Struggles

Enter CLG, an organization also in need of redemption. Darshan, Huhi and Stixxay carried over into 2018, while Reignover and Biofrost joined in the off-season. Although several sources predicted CLG to be a top three team in their preseason power rankings, few commented on Reignover in the same tone of awe as they had in the past.

Several weeks into the split, CLG sits tied for seventh with a 3-5 record. Many of their losses have chalked up to Stixxay’s shortcomings, but coordination and decisiveness in the late game are contributing, as well. Reignover needs this split to be a success. For his stock to rise, CLG needs to make playoffs and prove they can compete at the top level.

Huni and Reignover are playing in the NA LCS in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Reignover was patient with Team Liquid last year, but now it’s time for dividends. Huni is even back in North America, playing for a different team, and solidifying himself at the top of the standings. A bottom-three finish would be detrimental to Reignover and CLG. In fact, CLG looked best in their 2016 Spring Split victory and MSI performance. They have fallen slightly out of favor since then, narrowly missing a chance at Worlds last year. This organization and this player need each other for success. A high finish this split, and this year, could be an ultimate catharsis for such decorated League of Legends entities. Reignover’s journey has been treacherous thus far, but it is not over yet. 

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Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Quotes: Reddit, Esports Heaven, Concussion Gaming, Thorin’s Thoughts, Dot Esports, EU LCS Broadcast, LoL Esports, TheScore Esports, TheScore Esports, Esports HeavenYahoo Esports, TheScore Esports, TheScore Esports

Historical Data: Leaguepedia

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Greg Monroe Boston Celtics

What the Greg Monroe pickup means for Boston

The Boston Celtics and veteran center Greg Monroe agreed to a one-year contract on Feb. 2. This deal, while expected since the Suns waived him on Feb. 1, is potentially an Eastern Conference-shaking move.

On the surface, this trade fills a hole on the offensive end of the court and does not hamstring the Celtics whatsoever defensively. Dig a little bit deeper, however, and one has to question getting bigger is what will push Boston over the edge to win the East, or give them what they need to beat Golden State.

Here is a breakdown of how Monroe will be able to contribute to the East’s best team going forward.

Rebounds

Greg Monroe Boston Celtics

Greg Monroe attempts to swat away Wesley Johnson’s shot as a member of the Pistons. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

Monroe has been a pretty prolific rebounder since he entered the league during the 2010-11 season.

 

During his seven-year NBA career, Monroe has averaged 8.7 rebounds per game. His rebounds for the current season are down to 7.4, but considering he has only played 25 games, mostly with one of the worst teams in the league this season, that isn’t too surprising.

The Celtics are already in the top 10 in rebounds per game this season. If Monroe continues to contribute 7-8 per game, which all career consistency numbers indicate he will, it could easily propel Boston to top three in the league.

Minutes

The real question concerning Monroe’s role with the Celtics will be the number of minutes per game he ends up getting.

Boston is already a long team. With Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, playing time might be stretched a little thinner than the true center is used to.

In his career, Monroe has averaged a little less than 30 minutes per game. Considering both the young and established big-man talent on the Celtics’ roster, a bench role would make sense for him, being that the team has been successful up to this point.

During his 25 games this season, Monroe has averaged 21.8 minutes per game. That number should stay about where it is, if not dip a little, depending on his production on an already stacked team.

Offensive production

Greg Monroe Boston Celtics

Greg Monroe was waived by the Suns on Feb. 1, 2018. (Photo by Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press)

Surprisingly, Boston is 23rd in terms of points per game midway through the season. This obviously has not hurt them too much, considering they have the best record in the Eastern Conference. This has to do with the team’s commitment to defense.

 

But defense alone will not be enough to win in the playoffs. That’s where Monroe steps in.

In the 2017-18 campaign, Monroe has 10.4 points per game. Again, that is down from his 13.9 career points per game, but being on a more complete team will help that number rise quickly. His minutes and role on the Celtics are still in question, but expect that number to get better as he plays more.

His 2.2 offensive rebounds per game this season will also create more opportunities for points. If all goes according to plan, the Celtics should finish at least in the top 20 in terms of points per game after the pickup. When a team plays defense like Boston does, that will go a long way.

Defensive production

For a 6-foot-11 center, Monroe’s defense is not quite as solid as one might expect. His career 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks per game leaves a bit to be desired on that end of the court.

However, he has never played on a team like the Celtics, or under a coach as talented as Brad Stevens. If he buys into Stevens’ system and gets solid playing time, those numbers should climb.

The Celtics are fifth in defensive rebounds per game. Adding a rebounder like Monroe is only going to help rob opposing teams of possessions when he is on the court. That alone should be enough to justify the pickup, despite his defensive struggles.

Summary

Greg Monroe Boston Celtics

Greg Monroe goes up for a block during his time with the Milwaukee Bucks.
(Photo by Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports)

Being that Monroe’s contract is a one-year, $5 million deal, this is very much an experiment for Boston. A low-risk, high-reward experiment, but an experiment nonetheless.

 

If Boston can figure out how to use him off of the bench, this move only puts them in a better position to further its grasp on the East. A bench role could take some getting used to for the big man, but if he buys into the system, he can be a huge piece moving forward for an already talented team.

After the Suns waived Monroe, it was really a no-brainer for the Celtics to pick him up. And being able to play for a contender should only further his motivation, provided he finds his niche in the system. If he finds his stride and accepts his role, it could also go a long way in being able to re-sign him for relatively cheap after the season ends.

With his first game in green coming Sunday, NBA fans should know pretty soon after what kind of impact he can make on the Eastern Conference.

 

Featured image by Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

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Golden Guardians enter week three in last place in NA LCS Spring Split

According to history, LCS teams finishing 0-2 this week will miss Spring Split Playoffs

Following two weeks of European and North American LCS Spring Split, many fans and analysts will jump to conclusions. Some sites placed Echo Fox as a top 10 Worlds contender, G2 as the sixth best in Europe, or FlyQuest as ninth in NA. While anyone will say that the rest of the season will be unpredictable, LCS history can help temper expectations.

This split feels less predictable

Spring Split generally feels more chaotic at the start, because teams make more dramatic roster changes in the off-season after Worlds. This off-season, in particular, introduced several new organizations into the LCS and many keystone players changed rosters. With so many questions of synergy, cooperation and communication in the air, it is clear why analysts are left scratching their heads.

CLG enters week three tied for seventh in NA LCS Spring Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The best-of-one, single group format of EU and NA LCS this year is a large contributing factor to everyone’s perceived unpredictability of results. Placements have felt more stagnant over the past few splits, thanks to best-of-threes, best-of-twos and Europe’s two-group format. However, these leagues have not always used those formats. In fact, EU and NA used their current format in the 2015 and 2016 Spring Splits: best-of-ones, a single group, ten teams.

Revisiting past splits

Spring Split standings seemed unpredictable in 2015 and 2016, too. In 2015, NA and EU expanded from eight teams to ten. Huni and Reignover just joined Fnatic. Elements, one of the first super teams, entered the EU LCS. In NA, four new organizations stepped onto the scene. Imaqtpie left Dignitas.

Elements entered the LCS Spring Split 2015

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Origen, G2 and Splyce played their first Spring Splits in 2016. H2K picked up Jankos and Forg1ven. In 2016, NRG, Echo Fox and Immortals had their inaugural Spring Splits. Cloud9 got Jensen, and ZionSpartan changed his moniker to Darshan. These were times of massive change and adjustment, which left analysts with the difficult task of predicting team strengths.

Maybe reviewing the results of these previous splits can help predict the results of the 2018 Spring Split. The trajectories of different teams from week one to week 10 in 2015 and 2016 could reproduce themselves this year. Starting the season at the top may not have a history of panning out to success by the end of the split.

Emerging patterns

Some teams that started in the top six EU LCS Spring Split 2015 did not make playoffs

1. Image from Leaguepedia

Some teams that started in the top six EU LCS Spring Split 2016 did not make playoffs

2. Image from Leaguepedia

Some teams that started in the top six NA LCS Spring Split 2015 did not make playoffs

3. Image from Leaguepedia

Some teams that started in the top six NA LCS Spring Split 2016 did not make playoffs4. Image from Leaguepedia

Some patterns emerge when looking at the standings over time. In 2015, two out of six EU teams, and two out of seven NA teams, finished the second week as a playoff team, but dropped out by week 10. In 2016, one of the six EU teams, and two of the seven NA teams, fell under the same circumstances. Seven out of 26 teams across these years and regions failed to qualify for playoffs, despite starting the split in the top six. That amounts to a 27 percent rate of failure.

2015 saw Elements and Giants fall from third and fourth to seventh and ninth. 2016 Elements finished their second week tied for first, but dropped to seventh again. In 2015, Team 8 and Winterfox finished seventh and eighth, despite being tied for fourth in week two. In 2016, Team Dignitas and Team Impulse ended at the bottom of the standings, falling from their third place tie in week two.

The 2018 week two results do not quite match up with those of the past. North America has a three-way tie for second and a tie for fifth. Europe has a four-way tie for first and a three-way tie for fifth. However, broad trends have happened in the past that could repeat themselves this year.

For example, other than Elements in 2016, every team that started first or second in week two qualified for playoffs. That statistic bodes well for the European teams currently tied for first, Echo Fox and the North American teams tied for second. More importantly, 10 out of 12 teams, regardless of rank, that had a 0-2 week three did not make playoffs at the end of Spring. If that trend continues, then organizations that finish this week 0-2 have an 83 percent chance of missing playoffs.

Looking to the rest of the Spring Split

While these reviews of the past can help contextualize the present, history does not always repeat itself. There are exceptions to every rule. Notice how nothing mentioned above came out to 100 percent. Picking up trends can help predict certain parts of the future, but it can also become unsettling.

Analysts are left to predict the rest of Spring Split 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Will Huni help 2018 Echo Fox be 2016 Immortals reincarnated? Is TSM destined to replace Clutch Gaming or FlyQuest, like Cloud9 did Team 8 in 2015? If H2K goes 0-2 in week three, then are they blocked from playoffs? What are the odds that Team Vitality fall below sixth place?

These and many more questions remain unanswered by historical data alone. But it is interesting to watch each split unfold, while looking for the parallels. With the return of best-of-ones and single groups, the EU and NA LCS are returning to 2015 and 2016 form. The chaos of competition has most fans and analysts trying their best to make sense of everything. Looking to other Spring Splits, and studying the patterns, can help create expectations moving forward. The 2018 Spring Splits will either reinforce, or buck, the trend.

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Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Historical Data: Leaguepedia

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Doublelift – Liquid, Lucian and crazy proposals


Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng on the regular season – “Whether we win or lose, we will be the best in playoffs.”

 

Parqueso – How are you feeling about the new team?

Image provided by Riot Games

Doublelift – “I think our team has a really high ceiling, but we don’t often play to that ceiling. We all came from really different background – our team is an amalgamation of a lot of different players who had success in totally different ways. Like for me, I went from CLG in their prime and then I moved to TSM, and we were garbage and then we switched to having a rookie support and all of a sudden we were really good. In the end, we are just trying to figure out how to play with each other, because individually we usually win all the lanes. It actually really reminds me of playing on TSM, which is funny because I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect to play with three strong lanes and a jungler that… Well, I think the difference between Jake [“Xmithie”] and Dennis [“Svenskeren”], is Jake is a lot more cerebral about the game and he does everything really calculated, very efficiently, and communicates pretty much every possibility in the jungle. He is a really smart player and mechanically is also about the best if not THE best. No one actually will ever give him credit because I think he missed a Sejuani ult one time. *laughs* But honestly his mechanics are insane. But our team in general, we are trying to flesh out communication and trying to figure out how to play with each other because our strengths are different.”

P – So if you all play to the ceiling – and the team as a whole plays together to the ceiling – would you put yourselves first?

DL – “Yeah for sure, I would not have joined TL if I did not think we were going to be first! … Communication is the key to the good teams but sometimes you don’t need to communicate small things, and as soon as our instincts are clicking to look towards the same play or feel out the game in the same way then we’ll definitely be the best. I think we are the only team that can close out the game when we get ahead. Like, in NA and EU right now there are so many snooze fests, and it’s because the team that gets ahead doesn’t know how to win! They’re afraid of making plays and taking risks, and our team is definitely not. I’m a really aggressive player and I know how to snowball leads, and everyone on the team is really good at that too.”

 

P – I want to talk a little bit about Liquid. Obviously you were there last Spring, but how does it feel as an organization now compared to how it was back then?

Image provided by Riot Games

DL – “Back then I felt like I was just a mercenary that came in and the systems were already in place. The power dynamics between players, some players really vocal, some players said nothing – felt powerless – the way the coaches interacted with the players, it felt really unproductive. It just felt very bloated. People memed about how they had like 20 players, which is true, they had 15 or something. They had a lot of coaches, a lot of bloat, like too many cooks in the kitchen. I came in and I just tried to do my best – give advice here and there – I didn’t feel like I came in as a leader I feel like I came in to do a specific job. This new Liquid, when they picked me up, they wanted me to help create the culture of the team… I like to work hard and be very critical… I want Liquid to be a team that is really productive, so whether we win or lose, we will be the best in playoffs.”

P – Other than Targon’s what would you propose to change the meta away from these late game stall-outs?  

DL – “I’m not a game designer by any means, but I really like when the game changes drastically. Like, I think the Runes change was cool, I really liked the new runes! But I think they should maybe equalize the scaling of the game. I think gathering storm is really, really bad. It’s just so dumb that one rune can make the difference of having 200 AD if the game goes to 70, 80 minutes like in the SKT game. It’s just toxic, because it’s just “well I’m playing gathering storm hard scaling and try to end the game before it happens.” *sighs* I wish they would equalize scaling across the board so you don’t see where one team’s mentality is just “stall for late,” like as late as possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s 40 minutes or 80 minutes, that’s the goal – as late as possible. I think that’s a really annoying way to play and to watch someone play. So I propose crazy changes across the board. No more hard scalers, no more only early game champions – like pantheon. You’ll see a lot more diversity, you’ll see a lot more strategies. You won’t see a team just turtling for 30 minutes. It’ll just be more interesting play.”

 

P – If you could choose, what champion would you want to see back in the bot lane?

DL – “Lucian! I want high skill champions, not hard afk, farm-for-late champions to be the meta, which is funny because people think of me as this player who plays scaling, but I love playing Kalista and Ezreal and Lucian and playmaking – Old Corki! Old Graves! I love playing those champions because they are skillful and fun, and watching Caitlyn and Ashe is just boring and Tristana and Kog’Maw… It’s not for me.”

 

P – So were asking Riot right now!

DL – “Yeah, this is my plea! Please make skillful champions the meta, and the game will be more fun to watch and play!”


 

Image provided by Riot Games

 

Thanks for reading! Find Doublelift on on Twitter @TLDoublelift to send him some love. Stay tuned here for more interviews and content! If you’d like to contact me, go ahead and tweet @parkeso. For pictures and stories, follow my Insta @parqueso. If you’re not big into social media, email me at parkesotwo@gmail.com. =)

NBA Western Conference contenders

Ranking biggest threats to the Warriors in the West

It isn’t news that the Western Conference is absolutely stacked.

The Warriors are far and away the best team in the league, let alone the West. But as we saw in the 2016 NBA Finals, even the best team in NBA history can go down swinging. All it takes is four bad games in May or June and all the regular season success is a complete wash.

So let’s rank the biggest threats to Golden State’s dynasty before the All-Star weekend.

Honorable mention: New Orleans Pelicans

Until recently, the Pelicans could have ranked as high as No. 2 on the list of potential problems for the Warriors.

NBA Western Conference contenders

Cousins tore his achilles tendon Friday night against the Rockets. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

But with DeMarcus Cousins out for up to 10 months after his brutal achilles tear against the Rockets Friday night, those hopes are all but dashed. In fact, not many would be surprised if they miss the playoffs entirely.

 

Their strengths against Golden State were squarely rooted in Cousin’s and Anthony Davis’ ability to team up and take over the paint on both sides of the floor. A four-game series against those two could at least wear almost any team down, if not eliminate them. The Pelicans also have the second best shooting percentage in the league. That’s a potent combination.

Davis and open looks won’t be enough to take down the Warriors’ four All-Stars. Couple that with the team’s lack of playoff experience and fourth-worst turnover margin per game, and it’s a long shot at best.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are perhaps the best story in the Western Conference.

They have a gritty head coach who rose up through the ranks despite not playing a minute in the NBA. Jimmy Butler is a top-tier trash-talker and can back it up with his play. Karl-Anthony Towns continues to emerge as a premiere offensive weapon. Taj Gibson is finally stretching the floor, Andrew Wiggins has insane potential and Jamal Crawford is one of the best sixth men in the history of the game.

As exciting as all of that is, it’s probably only good enough to steal a game or two away from Golden State.

Towns being able to stretch the floor will give Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee fits, but the depth of the Warriors bench is nothing short of historic. Minnesota’s bench has potential, but it won’t be able to keep Golden State in check. This squad has potential, and they will definitely make the Western Conference playoffs. But it is most definitely a few years away from dethroning the champs.

3. San Antonio Spurs

Counting out the San Antonio Spurs is like counting out the New England Patriots. Anyone who has watched the NBA since 1999 will tell you that. The NBA’s version of Bill Belichick can outcoach anyone in the league, seemingly at will.

NBA Western Conference contenders

Leonard, Diaw and Popovich gameplan against the Warriors. (Photo by Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports)

The Spurs’ problems are obvious. First of all, losing Kawhi Leonard is a massive blow to any title aspirations. He might be the most balanced two-way player in the league. At 100 percent, he is easily one of the NBA’s top five players. There is no set timetable for his return, but it’s entirely possible that he comes back in time for the playoffs.

 

The other things standing in the way are age and pace of play. The Warriors like to speed up the pace offensively and get in transition quickly on defense. That should not at all inspire confidence, considering the Spurs slower, more deliberate style of play. This was entirely too obvious when they were swept by Golden State in the Western Conference Finals last year.

But the playoff experience on the team is hard to ignore. Manu Ginobili is still playing well off of the bench at age 40, and Tony Parker can still contribute at age 35. The younger talent is stepping up, and, as previously stated, Leonard is an absolute game changer if he can make it back in time for the playoffs.

Gregg Popovich isn’t done until he’s done.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

An underachieving Thunder team is still a possible issue for Golden State.

The biggest discrepancy between the two teams is the coaching. At 29-20, a lot of the blame for OKC not living up to its full potential is falling on third-year head coach Billy Donovan. Some of it is for his unwillingness to shake up the starting lineup, but also because of his inability to break Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony of their ball-hogging habits.

NBA Western Conference contenders

Oklahoma City’s big three. (Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)

We already know Steve Kerr can handle four All-Stars on one team, and has his team’s full support. Another thing he does exceptionally well is convince his players to move the ball. Golden State is first in the league in assists. The Thunder are 25th. That will undoubtedly swing the score in the Warriors’ direction.

 

However, Oklahoma City is first in steals, led by Westbrook and Paul George. Robbing Golden State of possessions is a massive key to beating them. Even though the “OK3” haven’t set the league on fire, it’s still hard to count out these players in any given game.

We all know Westbrook can take over a game at any given moment. George is shooting well and is a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Anthony can still score with the best of them, he just needs to be willing to play off the ball more.

The second half of the season will be the real litmus test for this team. Don’t get excited, but don’t leave them for dead, either. As long as they get a decent seed in the Western Conference, they have an outside chance to pull off an upset.

1. Houston Rockets

This was an obvious choice.

The Rockets are first in both 3-pointers attempted and 3-pointers made. They’re third in free throws attempted and second in free throws made. They boast the NBA’s third-highest assist per game average. They are also second in points per game to, you guessed it, the Warriors.

Simply speaking, they are an incredible offensive group. Houston is the epitome of what the NBA has become in the 2010s. Led by one of the NBA’s best offensive minds, this team is easily the Warriors’ biggest roadblock.

During its first game this season, they beat Golden State by one point. On Jan. 20, the Rockets beat the Warriors by eight points. They were quick to tout their confidence in being able to overtake them in the playoffs. This may have been just a tactic, but one can’t deny it’s certainly possible. They are, after all, the only team that can keep up with the amount of threes Golden State can hit.

Until Friday night, the Rockets were unbeaten when Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela all suit up. Now 19-1 with its best players on the court, Houston knows what it has to do to win, and what they can adjust when they’re being overtaken.

Golden State does have a couple things on Houston, however.

Houston has to play Golden State’s game, which usually ends up being a disaster for anyone who tries it. Although they can probably match the Warriors for most of the game, if the shots stop falling, that spells disaster for the Rockets.

They also can’t rely on defense like the Warriors can. Since Houston plays so quickly, defense is essentially an afterthought. They can outscore most teams, so that’s not usually a problem. Golden State, however, is a completely different animal. Especially considering its bench depth.

It will be difficult. If they do take down Golden State, it will almost definitely have to be in seven games, meaning Houston will have to play the winner-take-all game in Oakland. But it is much more likely for them than the other 15 teams in the Western Conference.

With no more regular season matchups to watch, we’ll all just have to wait and see.

 

Featured image by Nathaniel Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

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NBA Finals rematch

It’s time to stop hyping up Cavs-Warriors matchups

After the Golden State Warriors’ 118-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, it is officially time for the NBA to stop trying to make us care about regular season matchups between these two teams. Almost every NBA Finals rematch has simply not lived up to the hype the NBA has tried to stir up over the past three years.

This rivalry was forged in the fires of the NBA Finals. It wasn’t born of constant division clashes or bad blood between players. In fact, Cavs and Warriors players are almost always very nice to and complementary of each other and their play. Before the game on MLK Day, LeBron James literally hugged Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, the people he should hate the most on this Earth.

Since it was born on one of the biggest stages in sports, it’s hard to care about what these teams look like against each other until they’re back on that stage. The only exciting thing about these games the past three years has been the conversation about potential finals storylines. That’s a fine reason to watch a game during a random Wednesday in November, but it’s not good enough to justify the marquee matchups on the NBA’s most important days.

Recent history

Since Cleveland and Golden State first met up in the finals in 2015, the Cavs have won exactly one regular season game against them. It was an admittedly exciting and contentious one-point win on Christmas Day in 2016. But it is still only one game.

NBA Finals rematch

Kevin Durant dunks during Monday night’s game (Photo by David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

To find another Cleveland regular season win during the rivalry, you would have to go back to Feb. 26, 2015. Even counting this one is a stretch, because this was before they had met up in the finals. The NBA didn’t even know it was a rivalry yet.

 

For the sake of sample size, let’s count those two matchups in 2015 towards this exercise.

Including the finals matchups, the Warriors have won 17 of the 26 games these two teams have played. That’s a win percentage of .654 over three-plus years. Considering the teams are in different conferences, that’s complete dominance. It seems even more dominant when you look at it under the microscope that the NBA has forced upon the games.

Not counting playoffs, the Cavaliers are 2-6 in eight tries in the regular season since LeBron returned to Cleveland. That’s not exciting. It’s not something the NBA should plan its entire Christmas Day slate around.

Points

In the regular season matchups, the Warriors have beaten the Cavs by an average of 18.3 points. The Cavaliers have won their two matchups by just 6.0 points.

NBA Finals rematch

Durant guards James during a Christmas Day game. (Photo by Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Since Kevin Durant arrived on the West Coast, the Warriors wins are by an average of 15.3 points if the playoff matchups are included. The Cavaliers have won just twice (again, including playoffs), by an average of 11.0 points. However, that is a bit misleading, considering one of those wins was by 21 points in the finals game where Cleveland scored 49 points in the first quarter and had 86 at halftime.

What does this all mean? It means that when the Warriors win, which is most of the time, they’re almost always winning by over 10 points.

Sure, games can end up with a lopsided score during garbage time that makes them seem less competitive than they are. But with a sample size this large, these numbers don’t lend themselves to putting these games on days where fans are already watching the NBA (i.e. MLK Day and Christmas).

Solutions

No one can blame the NBA for wanting to use these games to boost viewership and sell ad time at a higher price. That’s business, and finals rematches are a proverbial cash grab in that respect. But people wanting to see these games isn’t the problem.

The thing that’s most glaring about forcing these finals rematches down our throats is that fans are going to watch these games. People who know and care about the NBA are compelled to tune in to see if they are going to be surprised by the outcome.

NBA Finals rematch

Curry and Durant celebrate during the NBA Finals. (Photo by Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports)

The real power that these games have are drawing in casual fans, and sometimes even non-fans. Those people are going to tune in on Christmas Day, regardless. So why not save your supposed “big guns” for late February or mid-March, when even hardcore fans might be yearning for something else to watch?

Another solution could be slating one of the matchups for very early in the season, October for instance, and then slating the other one for the spring. After the All-Star break and trade deadline, both teams will more than likely have the identity that they are going to carry into the playoffs. If the NBA is really concerned with giving the fans a playoff atmosphere, then let the Cavaliers, who like to build and fill in gaps through trades, finalize their roster.

Of course, all of this is predicated on the idea that these two teams will meet in the finals again, which is hardly a guarantee this season. Having the games before the trade deadline could be a good plan because the Cavs can see what holes they need to fill to be competitive with Golden State in June.

One of the teams will be there, but we’ll have to wait and see whether or not these marquee matchups were just the final blow to Cleveland’s confidence, or motivation to not get embarrassed on the national stage yet again.

 

Featured image by Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports

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Blow it up: Why the Clippers should embrace a rebuild

The Clippers are only one game back from the eighth seed in the West. Lou Williams is playing outside of his mind. Blake Griffin is back from concussion protocol and Patrick Beverley says he could potentially play again this year. Not to mention, they’re one of the most injured teams in the league, all around, and they still beat the Warriors on Wednesday.

So why blow it up? Why not keep getting healthier and make one last meaningful run at the title while everyone has written them off?

Easy answer to an easy question; They won’t win a title in the West. They can’t. Not with this roster in this conference with this level of competition.

The Clippers are already teetering on breaking their streak of six straight playoff appearances. So here’s why they should wave the white flag and lean into the disappointment.

Trade chips

Lou Williams’ value will simply never be higher than it is right now. He’s averaging 31.6 points per game off the bench in his last 10 contests. He’s a virtual lock for Sixth Man of the Year, although he’s pretty much playing starters’ minutes. And he dropped 50 points on Golden State on Wednesday night, which is significant because the name of the game for 29 teams in the Association is to beat the Warriors at all costs. That’s something to, at the very least, take into consideration while going over a shopping list.

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Lou Williams tries to score over Omri Casspi. (Photo by: Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

The Clippers also have two of the premiere offensive-minded rebounders in the league in Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan.

At 28 and 29-years-old respectively, are both in that sweet spot where the Clippers can trade them away without an iota of seller’s remorse. Historically, big players have started to have a downturn in their numbers around 30-years-old. So, the Clips can say that they held onto Griffin and Jordan in their prime, tried their very best to make it work and can sell very high to teams in need of their production.

Also, if they keep Beverley off the court this year and maintain an air of mystery around what he is capable of, then they can sell high on his defensive potential during the off-season.

Coaching

Doc Rivers is a prolific players’ coach, and puts more stock in talent than schemes. This isn’t a knock against him in any way, and, in fact, it is what won him a championship in Boston.

The problem is that without transcendent talent on the floor, coaching has to be about schemes and patterns. Now that Chris Paul is a Rocket, Blake Griffin can’t seem to stay on the court for an entire season, and defensive wizard Patrick Beverley is probably done for the year, Rivers is not the right fit for the team.

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Doc Rivers yells at an official while Deandre Jordan begins to hold him back (Photo by: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

Trading away talent for picks and placeholders is an easy way to phase out Rivers and begin again with a clean slate. His contract is up after next season, so if the team commits to the rebuild, then next year’s record should be pretty bad. That’s an excuse to let Rivers go find his next job and lets the Clippers pick a new direction.

The draft

The Clippers don’t have a wealth of draft picks this year. In fact, as of now they only have one pick. Obviously, if they trade away stars and want to rebuild, that will (or should) result in more picks.

The 2018 draft should be pretty balanced and should feature some franchise-altering talent in the first round. That leaves two ways Los Angeles can play this particular game.

They can stockpile picks and see what sticks and what doesn’t, a-la the Philadelphia 76ers. Or, they can bear hug the tanking philosophy after trading away Williams, Griffin and Jordan and aim for a high pick. Once that pick is secured, they can flip it for more chances at less-valued players, or go for broke and try to draft a star.

Either way is equally risky and equally viable, but it should all depend on what they can get for their on-court talent.

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Blake Griffin throws down a dunk. (Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images)

It’s not easy to say goodbye to Lob City. The Clippers were, genuinely, one of the most exciting teams in the NBA for a long period of time. They also successfully overshadowed a certain purple and gold clad team that shares their arena.

But with Chris Paul dropping dimes in Houston, an aging frontcourt and no real identity, it’s time to watch these players be great somewhere else. Steve Ballmer is, arguably, a top-10 owner in the league, so let’s all hope he won’t want to mortgage the future for another meaningless first round exit.

Two good teams in Los Angeles is good for the Association, and good for the fans. If this happens, however, there will be two pretty bad teams in Los Angeles, for what is probably the very first time. But this is a Band-Aid that needs to be ripped off. They still have the Dodgers, after all.

Featured image by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

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