Friday, April 20, 2012

20/4 - Rockets at Hornets

After a number of snoozers, I had a surprised treat with the Hornets-Rockets game going into OT, which extended the Hornets' home season just a little longer.

Both teams were hungry from the start, with the Hornets wanting to end their home campaign with a win, and the Rockets fighting for their playoff lives. The first half was up and down, the Rockets got into a groove from deep, hitting a number of long bombs, whilst Camby was inexplicably hitting seemingly every midrange shot he took. For the Hornets, Aminu had a number of nice moves in the first, hitting a step back J with that beautiful rainbow arc, attacking the rim and being generally aggressive looking for his shot. Eric Gordon went to work early, going right at Courtney Lee from the get-go with a couple of impressive drives to the rim. Sylvester Stallone's body double got hot in the second quarter, but remains a streaky shooter who is lacklustre defensively. Much loved rookie Chandler Parsons was quiet for the most part, but had one noteworthy play, stealing a pass to Xavier Henry and throwing it off his head as he was falling out of bounds with such force that it had to be collected on the other side of the court. Jason Smith displayed some great hops with a ridiculous block on an attempted jumper by Courtney Lee (if memory serves). The Rockets were up about 10 for the majority of the first half, but the Hornets never stopped battling.

In the second half, Carl Landry played well, as did Luis Scola, the former teammates were a steadying presence for their young teammates. Eric Gordon stayed aggressive, but I did notice he was very passive off the ball, I'll put it down to his poor conditioning after missing so much time, but he was energetic in spurts for the most part. The latter part of the fourth quarter was huge, Gordon made a great bucket to regain the lead, Landry had a nice putback after a miss by Gravy, Dragic had a nice drive and score, hit some FTs, and Courtney Lee had a nice 3 late in regulation. It came down to the scores being tied with 14 seconds left, and Gordon executed a filthy crossover to get separation from Courtney Lee, but just missed the jumper at the buzzer to seal the win. The OT period started off slow, until Gustavo Ayon happened. Playing with 5 fouls, Ayon made three brilliant passes in overtime to give the Hornets a comfortable lead before fouling out. When I say they were brilliant passes, I really mean it, he showed the sort of vision you'd expect from your PG, not a rookie C. Aminu was the recipient of one of those passes, hitting another of his rainbow jumpers after a quick dribble to the side, whereas Carl Landry was the finisher on the other two inside. Gordon came up with a great steal as part of the run in OT, reading the passing lane and finishing with a dunk on the other end. After that it was pretty much game over, and the Rockets have to be seriously concerned that their season will end with a trip to the lottery.

In general, the Hornets are a lot closer to bouncing back than people realise, they still need a real PG for the future, as Gravy is more of a combo and you'd want a better playmaker in crunch time. Lillard, Marshall or even Teague make sense if they want to use Minnesota's pick. Aminu is looking like a keeper with his great length and increased confidence offensively. They have great role players in Ayon, Belinelli, Gravy, Henry and Jason Smith. A veteran PF/C in Okafor, a great low-post scorer in Kaman if they want to keep him around, and a top 5 draft pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. If the Hornets miss out on Anthony Davis, they should take either Thomas Robinson or Andre Drummond to pair with Okafor/Kaman in the future. That said, if they miss out on Drummond, Davis and Robinson, taking Sullinger or Perry Jones III with their second lottery pick makes sense. Sullinger would provide low post scoring and is team-first, PJ3 wouldn't have huge expectations out of the gate, wouldn't be required to score a whole lot with Gordon around, and Monty Williams is the sort of coach who could get Jones to play hard with his no-nonsense approach and youth. With these moves made and a healthy roster, the Hornets can emulate the Jazz, Denver and a number of other successful teams lacking a legitimate superstar and get by on hustle, teamwork and great coaching.

The Rockets have done a lot better than many fans expected this season, which is a credit to Kevin McHale, who has done a masterful job of matching the success of Adelman in Houston by keeping the Rockets above .500. Even if they do make the playoffs, the Rockets need to make some decisions with personnel. Dragic is going to be hotly pursued after a strong finish to the season and with Lowry also playing great before contracting a nasty virus, they can't afford to overpay for a backup PG, so one of them will have to go. Lee has shown he can start for a playoff team (Orlando), but Kevin Martin will be back next season, so he's likely to be relegated to the bench. If he isn't given the opportunity to start before his deal expires, you can't help but feel Lee is going to sign somewhere that will. Luis Scola has been solid as a rock, and Patterson is a great player to have off the bench, but Camby isn't going to be around for long, Dalembert isn't a long-term solution and they have Motiejunas coming over soon. Of all the players Houston has in the fold, Motie (as I like to call him) has the highest ceiling as a difference maker, he's a legitimate 7-footer, has a great skill-set, is solidly put together, and was a steal in the late first round. The biggest area that needs to be addressed is SF though. Parsons is nice, but they can certainly do with a guy who is better at creating his own shot, and Marcus Morris is looking like a bust. Budinger is athletic, but far too inconsistent to be relied upon.  In the off-season, I think Houston should target Michael Beasley from Minnesota, he's got a sky-high ceiling, is still young, and would be affordable after his inconsistent play this season. While Houston's future is blurry, I trust Morey to make the right moves this off-season, and hopefully build a winner.

Tomorrow it's another matchup between the Thunder and Kings, hopefully it's a bit more competitive.

Also, I just had to link you guys to this, cracks me up:

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