Tag Archives: James Harden

Lessons Learned From the West’s Round One Losers

Only eight teams remain in the NBA playoffs, and the teams that lost in the first round are left searching for answers, and wondering what might have been. Let’s take a look through the lessons we learned from their losses in Round 1.

Houston Rockets: Chemistry, You the Real MVP

This dysfunctional Rockets team had a promising season derailed by infighting, laziness, and a bad attitude overall. Last season, they were a top-ten team in DRtg, but this season their ranking has fallen all the way down to 21st.

During these playoffs, for the first time ever, the NBA is tracking hustle stats. In other words, it’s capturing the little things that players and teams do that don’t show up in the box score but are still valuable nonetheless.

Over their five playoff games (a sample that can’t be trusted due to its small size and the Rockets’ opponent being solely Golden State), the Rockets’ hustle stats were abysmal, showing up in the bottom quartile of playoff teams for over half of the statistics tracked.

Combining that overall lack of enthusiasm with the toxic locker room (rumors surfaced that Harden and Howard each tried to get the other traded away a couple of years ago), it’s no wonder that the Curry-less Warriors were able to dispatch these Rockets with ease.

Memphis Grizzlies: Don’t Start Jordan Farmar in the Playoffs (Or Ever)

Jordan Farmar was Memphis’ starting point guard during their four-game sweep at the hands of the Spurs. With Marc Gasol and Mike Conley injured, Jeff Green traded, and other absences, there’s nothing that the Grizz could have done to avoid their defeat against a historically great team. Let’s move on.

Dallas Mavericks: Get a Few Decent Teammates For Dirk 

Two of the guys who suited up alongside Dirk for the Mavs’ Game 5 loss to the Thunder were Justin Anderson and Raymond Felton. That’s not good.

Yeah, Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams were both out with injuries, but neither of them is likely to be back next season as each has a player option. Even worse, Dallas doesn’t have a first round pick this season thanks to last season’s disastrous trade for Rajon Rondo.

At this point, Mark Cuban has very few avenues through which to acquire talent to pair with Nowitzki. No wonder Dirk opted out of his contract next season. He says he doesn’t plan to leave, and it’d be a major surprise if he did, but he’s making a point to his franchise. Unfortunately for Nowitzki, Cuban won’t be able to learn this lesson from this season’s playoff defeat, even if he wanted to.

Los Angeles Clippers: Sacrifice More Cattle to the Injury Gods

Everyone thinks that injuries are part of the game, and that they’re often unavoidable. But really, it’s clear that the Clippers could have easily prevented the injuries their two stars sustained. They just didn’t sacrifice enough cattle to the Injury Gods.

You’d think that this kind of cheapness would have disappeared after notorious cheapskate Donald Sterling was removed as owner of the team. Steve Ballmer is the richest owner in the NBA–he shouldn’t have any problems with buying enough animals to give over the Injury Gods, but somehow, he did. It’s surprising that the obscenely wealthy Ballmer keeps on sustaining major injuries in the playoffs, while Sterling rarely had any playoff runs adversely affected by injures. Admittedly, the Clippers under Sterling almost never got to the playoffs, but still.

All jokes aside, just like Memphis, there’s little Los Angeles could have done. It’s not like Derrick Rose’s torn ACL, where Tom Thibodeau left him in the game, as the first seed in the playoffs, up by twelve points with ninety seconds left in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs. These injuries seem to keep on happening to the Clippers, but without any problem they can solve (past encasing Griffin and Paul in bubble wrap), they’ll just have to wait until next year and hope that no one gets injured.

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A Quick Word on the MVP Race

For the last few years, the MVP races have been somewhat dull. Since 2008 it’s been LeBron’s trophy to lose, and lose he rarely did. He captured four out of the six MVPs over the past six years. It’s taken either the whole basketball world collectively losing its mind over Derrick Rose, or Kevin Durant averaging a 32-7-5 on a 59-win team to wrest the award away from James. However, this year, with James missing a few games from nagging injuries and giving up shots and minutes to rest a little more, the race has suddenly been thrown wide open, and it’s anyone’s to win.

Before we can choose a winner, we have to decide what “most valuable” means, and that’s where the proposition gets murky. Everyone has their own opinion on what “most valuable” actually means. Here’s the brief rundown of each interpretation and the player it fits best.

The Best Player: The guy you would choose first in a draft to win a life-or-death pickup game.

Who? Who else but LeBron? When he goes all out, he’s unstoppable.

The Best Stats: Think Wilt. He averaged crazy stats back in the 60s but never led an elite team while he did so.

Who? Anthony Davis. A 24-10-2, with a steal and a half and three blocks a game on 53.7 percent shooting from the field and 80.2 percent from the line.

The Best Lines Night to Night: Huge triple-doubles, lots of blocks, etc.

Who? Russell Westbrook, obviously. That run of triple-doubles when Westbrook turned into Oscar Robertson for a few weeks (complete with the grumpy personality!) was jaw-dropping. He even turned in a few near quadruple-doubles when he turned the ball over seven or eight times.

The Best Player on the Best Team: This is usually the player who wins the award, as conventional logic concludes that the best team must have naturally had the best player.

Who? The Warriors are the best team and Steph Curry is their best player, so Curry would win.

The Most Valuable: This player carries his team nightly and succeeds despite little help.

Who? From night to night, James Harden has been the MVP. Curry can have a bad game and the Warriors can still win because he plays alongside an all-star (Klay Thompson), a rim-protecting big man (Andrew Bogut), and a DPOY candidate (Draymond Green). When Harden doesn’t show up to play, who’s going to pick up the slack? Trevor Ariza? Corey Brewer?

Of those different interpretations of MVP, who is most likely to win the award? James won’t win because he’s missed twelve games this year, and possibly because he stacks up poorly against past versions of himself. Davis won’t win because he’s also missed time, fourteen games, and his team wasn’t elite. Westbrook won’t win for the same reason, missing fifteen games, although he gets the edge over Davis in my opinion because of the insane lines he’s put up.

Harden and Curry, to me, are the clear frontrunners for the award. I think Harden deserves it because of his consistency, the extra load he’s shouldered (about 350 more minutes than Curry), and his irreplaceability to the Rockets.

However, Curry’s Warriors are going to win 67 games (assuming they beat the Nuggets at home tomorrow night), tied for the sixth-highest win total in NBA history, and a record on par with legendary teams such as the ’86 Celtics, the ’92 Bulls, and the ’00 Lakers (and the immortal ’07 Mavs who lost in the first round). With the historical clout that record provides, it’s Curry’s trophy to lose. Interestingly enough, the best player on each of those four 67-win teams (Bird, Jordan, Shaq, and Dirk) all won the MVP that year, providing precedent for a Curry victory.

Whatever happens, it should be an exciting cap to an exciting race. Onto the playoffs!