TrueHoop: Houston Rockets

Do the Rockets and Celtics have a chance?

May, 2, 2013
5/02/13
1:51
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Could the Houston Rockets and/or Boston Celtics pull off the impossible?

No team in NBA postseason history has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series, but the Rockets and Celtics have both forced a Game 6 at home. Prior to those teams, only 10 teams in history forced a Game 6 after trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Rockets and Celtics will both be at home in Game 6. According to history, there’s a 50-50 chance each team forces a Game 7. Six of those 10 teams to force a Game 6 were at home, and three of them forced a Game 7 -– the only three teams to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0.

How did the Rockets get it done?

Kevin Durant was the primary ball handler on 14 of his 19 fourth-quarter touches in Game 5 but failed to score in the fourth quarter. Durant’s extra usage since Russell Westbrook’s injury includes 24 more touches per game, mostly in the backcourt as the team’s ball handler.

Durant was scoreless in the fourth quarter for the first time in his playoff career when playing at least 10 minutes in the fourth quarter.

The Rockets shot well from beyond the arc. They made 14 3-pointers in a playoff game for the first time since 1997 against the same franchise, when they were in Seattle as the SuperSonics.

James Harden made a playoff career-high seven 3-pointers (he made his first seven attempts).

The Thunder employed a “Hack-Asik” strategy in the fourth quarter but Omer Asik was 11-for-16 on free throws in the 4th quarter (1.38 points per possession). The Rockets scored nine points on 17 fourth-quarter possessions that didn't end in Asik free throws (0.53 points per possession).

How did the Celtics get it done?

Carmelo Anthony was in isolation on 52 percent of his offensive plays in Game 5, shooting 3-of-12 from the field on those plays. Anthony has shot 30 percent from the field in isolation for the series (46 percent on all other plays).

The Knicks used isolation on 16 percent of their offensive plays in the regular season, the highest rate in the NBA (league average: 10 percent). In the postseason, though, the Knicks have upped that rate to 27 percent.

Despite the high usage in the regular season, the Knicks were the fifth-most efficient team in isolation, averaging 0.87 points per play. In the postseason, the Knicks’ 0.71 points per play in isolation is second-worst among playoff teams.

The Celtics shot 50 percent on 3-point attempts in Game 5 after shooting 30 percent in the first four games of the series. The Knicks are shooting 23 percent on 3-pointers in their past two games after 38 percent in the first three games.

Team effort leads Thunder in the clutch

April, 24, 2013
4/24/13
11:23
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsKevin Durant scored 21 of his 29 points in the first half to lead the Thunder.
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s quest to repeat as Western Conference champions nearly hit a bump in the road on Wednesday night as they held off a late rally by the Houston Rockets to win 105-102.

This is the fourth time in the Durant/Westbrook era (since 2008-09 season) that the Thunder have taken a 2-0 series lead in the playoffs. History tells us Houston’s chances at this point are slim.

In each of its three previous 2-0 leads, Oklahoma City went on to win the series in five games or fewer.

Clutch Thunder
Houston erased a 15-point deficit with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter to take the lead with 4:30 remaining, but it was the Thunder who controlled the game down the stretch.

Oklahoma City scored 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting in "clutch time" (last five minutes, score within five points), getting buckets from five different Thunder players.

During the regular season, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined to score nearly 80 percent of Oklahoma City's points in "clutch time."

But on Wednesday night versus the Rockets, it was jumpers from Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka that put the game away as Westbrook and Durant were outscored by their teammates 8-6 in “clutch time.”

Durant Chasing History
Durant scored 21 of his 29 points in the first half, not wasting any time in extending his streak of playoff games with 21-plus points to 28.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Michael Jordan have had longer streaks in the playoffs in the past 40 seasons.

Durant scored or assisted on 29 of the Thunder's 57 points in the first half, contributing to those points on just 30 touches.

He was silent for much of the second half, but hit a 3-pointer with 2:28 remaining to give the Thunder a 98-97 lead that they would not relinquish.

Harden not enough
James Harden almost single-handedly led the Rockets to the upset win over his former team, scoring 36 points to go with six assists and 11 rebounds.

The only other Rockets player to reach those totals in a playoff game in the past 25 seasons was Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994.

Harden has struggled with his long-range shooting in the playoffs, making just 2-of-18 shots at least 15 feet from the basket in this series. During the regular season against the Thunder, Harden made 13 of 24 shot attempts from that distance, including 11-of-20 on 3-pointers.

What the win means
Only 15 times has a team rallied from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series in the NBA playoffs. However, both of these teams have a strong connection to those 15 comebacks.

Oklahoma City was the last team to come back from 2-0 series deficit, beating the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals last year. The Rockets have come back from a 2-0 series deficit twice in franchise history, in the Western Conference semifinals in 1994 and 1995.

What's on the line Wednesday night

April, 17, 2013
4/17/13
11:51
AM ET
By Gregg Found, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
The Lakers have a chance to move as high as the 7 seed, or miss the playoffs completely.

Wednesday is the final day of the NBA regular season, and there’s no shortage of reasons to tune in. There are still playoff spots to be clinched, seeds to be determined and individual honors to be claimed.

Wild West Playoff Picture
Here’s how much we know for sure in the Western Conference entering Wednesday. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the 1 seed, and the San Antonio Spurs are No. 2. That’s it.

The Denver Nuggets have the inside track for the 3 seed. They’ll lock it down with a home win over the Phoenix Suns, or if the Los Angeles Clippers lose what could be the Kings’ final game in Sacramento. If Denver loses and the Clippers win, the Clippers take the third slot.

The worst the Nuggets or Clippers could do is the 4 seed and a First Round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, but who hosts the first game of that series is still to be decided.

If Memphis, currently with the same record as the Clippers, ends with a better record, it will have home-court advantage of the series, despite being seeded lower.

From six on down, it gets even more convoluted. If the Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 ET, ESPN) and the Golden State Warriors lose to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets knock the Warriors out of the 6 seed.

The Warriors can’t fall any lower than seventh, but Houston could potentially fall as low as eighth. If the Lakers beat the Rockets, the Lakers take the 7 seed, knocking Houston to eighth.

If the Lakers lose to the Rockets, it opens the window for the Utah Jazz to get the final playoff spot with a win over the Grizzlies (8 ET, ESPN).


East is Much Simpler
If the Western Conference scenarios were too confusing, you might like the Eastern Conference much better.

Six of the eight playoff seeds are already locked in. The Chicago Bulls hold the 5 seed, and will hold onto it with either a home win over the Washington Wizards, or an Atlanta Hawks road loss to the New York Knicks.

Of course, with the 5 seed comes a potential Conference Semifinals matchup with the Miami Heat.

Individual Honors on the Line
The biggest head-to-head battle Wednesday night seemed to be Kevin Durant chasing Carmelo Anthony for the scoring title, but news that Durant will not play means that Anthony becomes the second Knicks player to win a scoring title, joining Bernard King.

Stephen Curry
Curry
But there is still history to be made. Golden State’s Stephen Curry enters Wednesday one 3-pointer behind Ray Allen’s NBA record of 269 in a single season, set in 2005-06.

Curry is averaging 3.5 3-pointers this season, meaning the odds are in his favor to break the record.

With Durant not playing, it also means Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard will likely lead the NBA in total minutes. He’d be just the third rookie in NBA history to lead the league in minutes played. The other two are Wilt Chamberlain (in 1959-60) and Elvin Hayes (1968-69).

Lakers feel impact of no Howard and Gasol

January, 9, 2013
1/09/13
1:41
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
James Harden and the Rockets had no problems scoring on the Lakers, sending the Lakers to their fourth straight loss on Tuesday night.

The Los Angeles Lakers were without half of their four marquee players on Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets, and it showed, especially on the defensive end, as they lost, 125-112.

The 125 points is one off the most the Lakers have allowed all season long. Rookie Robert Sacre got the start at center for the Lakers, as both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol were out with injuries. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Lakers haven’t won with a rookie center starting since April 1990, when Vlade Divac started in the middle.

The Rockets shot 55.2 percent from the field in Tuesday’s game, the highest field goal percentage the Lakers have allowed in a game this season.

The Lakers were especially unable to defend inside, as Houston made 25 field goals inside five feet and scored 60 points in the paint. The 60 points in the paint are tied for the second-most the Lakers have allowed in a game this season.

Especially effective inside the paint was James Harden. Harden went 9-for-12 for 18 points in the paint. The nine field goals inside the paint are tied for the most he’s had in a game this season. He went just 2-for-7 outside of the paint in the game.

In his first two games against the Lakers this season, Harden went 4-for-14 in the paint.

The Rockets were also effective in transition, scoring 29 points against 15 for the Lakers. Houston got out in transition on 20 percent of its overall plays, up from 14 percent in their first two games against the Lakers this season.

In fact, the Rockets made more transition field goals (11) than the Lakers even attempted (10) in the game.

The Lakers were struggling even before losing Howard and Gasol, as Tuesday’s loss was their fourth in a row, tied for their longest streak of the season.

Los Angeles dropped to 15-19 on the season, their worst 34-game start to a season since the 2002-03 season, when they started 14-20. The good news for Lakers fans is in that season, the Lakers went 36-12 over their last 48 games and made the playoffs.

Bryant on verge of youngest to 30,000 Pts

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
3:46
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireKobe Bryant needs 52 points to reach 30,000 for his career.
The Los Angeles Lakers visit the Houston Rockets tonight with Kobe Bryant just 52 points shy of 30,000 for his career. Only four players in NBA history have reached the 30,000-point milestone (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain).

Thanks to an NBA career that began at age 18, Bryant (age 34) is poised to become the youngest player to reach the mark. There is an outside chance he could eclipse 30,000 points tonight, as he has scored at least 52 points in a game 14 times in his career. What's more, three of those games have come against the Rockets, which is tied for his most against any opponent.

While Bryant will be the youngest to reach 30,000 career points, he is also getting there with more mileage. He has over 7,000 more career minutes played (including playoffs) than Jordan had when he reached 30,000, which is approximately two and a half 82-game seasons averaging 35 minutes per game.

What is the rough equivalent of reaching 30,000 points in the NBA? Based on how rarely it is attained, it is similar to several other elite milestone across pro sports. Only four players have 50,000 passing yards in the NFL, while only five players have reached 3,500 hits in MLB.

Looking ahead, when will Bryant potentially move up the scoring ladder? Assuming he averages 25 points per game and does not miss another game this season, he would match Chamberlain by the end of this season.

As for catching all-time leader Abdul-Jabbar, if Bryant keeps up his 25.0 points per game pace, which is roughly his career average, he could track him down in the 2016-17 season.

Heat Look to Capitalize on Epic Mismatch

Elsewhere, the Miami Heat (12-3) travel to play the Washington Wizards (1-13) tonight in a notable mismatch (more than a 700-point difference in winning percentages). According to Elias, over the last 20 seasons visiting teams with that large of an advantage in winning percentage this late in a season (with both teams having played 14 games) are 26-7.

In addition, the Wizards are running into a very hot Miami squad, as the Heat are riding a season-high six-game win streak and are looking to start 13-3 for the first time in franchise history.

Washington is likely going to have a tough time defending Miami, which ranks top five in the league in points per 100 possessions, effective field goal percentage and turnover percentage. The Wizards, on the other hand, rank last in both points per 100 possessions and effective field goal percentage.

Adding to the Wizards’ woes is their poor three-point shooting. They have attempted 305 three-pointers, their most in franchise history through 14 games according to Elias, but have connected on just 30.2 percent. That's their second-lowest percentage in the three-point era (minimum 200 attempts) over that span.

Lin, Howard would be nice pick-and-roll duo

July, 18, 2012
7/18/12
3:02
PM ET
By Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith Jeremy Lin now officially a member of the Rockets, is Dwight Howard next?
It’s official: Jeremy Lin is a Houston Rocket... but that doesn’t mean Rockets GM Daryl Morey is done wheeling and dealing. With Lin in the fold, how might he fit in a potential partnership with Houston’s other target, Dwight Howard?

THE PICK-AND-ROLL GAME

In addition to being a defensive force, Howard is the best pick-and-roll finisher in the NBA. He averaged 1.38 points per play as the roll man on pick-and-rolls last season, best in the league among players with at least 35 plays.

On the surface, it might not appear Lin would be the ideal pick-and-roll point guard to pair with Howard. On all of his passes out of the pick-and-roll, Lin ranked in just the 40th percentile in points per play.

However, when going exclusively to the roll man, Lin ranked in the 72nd percentile (fifth of 35 point guards with 100 plays). That compares favorably to both Howard’s current and preferred point guards.

Orlando’s Jameer Nelson ranked 15th among that group of 35 point guards while the Nets’ Deron Williams came in at just 29th on points per play generated on passes to the roll man.

PLAYING OFF THE BALL

What about Lin playing off of Howard?
Dwight Howard
Howard
Despite missing 12 games, Howard still led the NBA with 181 passes to spot-up shooters last season and commanded a hard double-team 5.8 percent of the time he posted up.

Only Andrew Bynum and LaMarcus Aldridge were doubled more frequently so the ability to spot up, spread the floor and punish teams for doubling Howard is important when playing alongside the big fella. Unfortunately, this is not an area in which Lin excels.

Lin shot just 32.0 percent from the 3-point line and ranked in the 55th percentile in spot-up situations (0.94 points per play) last season. He ranked in the 43rd percentile in catch-and-shoot situations (0.86 points per play).

AS A BALL-DOMINANT GUARD

One of the keys to Lin’s success with the Knicks last season was his freedom to make plays. Of the 148 guards with at least 500 minutes last season, Lin’s usage rate of 27.4 ranked 10th. Some players he outranked? Chris Paul, Brandon Jennings and John Wall.

For comparison’s sake, Nelson’s usage rate has been under 23.0 in each of the past six seasons and Lin’s usage rate last season (27.4) would be the second-highest ever among Howard’s backcourt teammates.

The highest rate posted by any guard teammate of Howard’s was 28.4 by Steve Francis during Howard’s rookie campaign in 2004-05.

Despite all the success, plenty of mistakes came along with the freedom Lin enjoyed in New York. Lin averaged 4.7 turnovers per game as a starter, last among the 39 players who made at least 20 starts at the point last season.

Bobcats fighting odds in Lottery

May, 28, 2012
5/28/12
10:19
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Wednesday's NBA Draft Lottery (ESPN, 8 ET) sees the Charlotte Bobcats with the best odds at acquiring the top selection (25.0 percent) after finishing 7-59 on the season. But the worst record hardly secures the top pick, as just last year the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Draft Lottery with only a 2.8 percent chance.

In addition, since the lottery moved to its present format in 1994, the team with (or tied for) the best odds has won just three of the 18 lotteries: Philadelphia 76ers in 1996 (Allen Iverson), Cavaliers in 2003 (LeBron James) and Orlando Magic in 2004 (Dwight Howard). By comparison, the teams with the third and fifth-best odds have won four times.

It is new territory for the Bobcats franchise. Since joining the NBA in 2004, Charlotte has never held the No. 1 overall pick, and the Bobcats highest selection was in 2004 when they picked Emeka Okafor No. 2 overall (the Bobcats originally had the No. 4 pick, but traded with the Los Angeles Clippers).

Ten current franchises have never made the No. 1 overall pick in an NBA draft since 1966 (start of common draft). Along with the Bobcats, the Phoenix Suns (0.6 percent chance) are the only other team in the 2012 lottery.

The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, have a 0.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, the third straight year they have held the worst odds. In addition, this is the fifth time in the last 12 years the Rockets have missed the playoffs despite having a winning record.

Looking ahead, since the start of the lottery in 1985, 13 of the 27 No. 1 overall picks have gone on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, including 2011 No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving. In addition, since 1990, four overall No. 1 picks went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and make the postseason (Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber and David Robinson).

Outscoring opponents in the clutch

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
11:57
AM ET
By Henry Abbott, Trevor Ebaugh, Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Mike Brown
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The last four years he has coached, Mike Brown's teams have led the league.

Basketball geekery has delved into crunch time in various ways.
  • First there was individual field goal percentage. That's where we learned that the players we thought owned crunch time (for instance Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups) actually miss a lot.
  • A year ago, we added something new, looking at team offenses. That's a more important measure, assuming you value wins more than highlights. Who cares who gets the bucket, so long as they're on your team? That's where we learned that most teams were about the same, with some exceptions, including Chris Paul's Hornets, which were amazing.

But all that is only part of the picture. Because as much as we love clutch buckets, clutch wins also have a ton to do with defense. If you're going to point to any team as elite in the clutch, that must be included, and now it is.

As John Hollinger has explained, a lot of what teams do in crunch time is likely random. Looking at tiny parts of games creates some wacky results without a lot of predictive value ... anyone who says they know a team will do well in crunch time is likely fibbing. All teams do both well and poorly at different times. But defense may be a bit of an exception. Teams do seem to play defense with a certain consistency late in games.

Using NBA.com data from the last five years (current as of today), from games within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Trevor Ebaugh of ESPN Stats & Info. dug in and created this pretty Tableau table:



Some of what we noticed:
  • The Cavaliers of LeBron James and Mike Brown were unreal in crunch time, leading the league by a hefty margin for three straight years, with the best performances of any teams in the record. It's easy to see that LeBron James matters here -- once he left for Miami the Cavaliers’ plus/minus plummeted. The Cavs averaged plus-113 with James during those three seasons, and plus one in the two seasons since. Meanwhile, before James, the Heat weren't good in crunch time, but have since become very solid.
  • Mike Brown emerges as an interesting character in crunch time. With James in Cleveland three straight years, and now in Los Angeles after a year off, his teams led the league by this metric every year he has coached in the last half-decade. In this period, neither team has been as good with other coaches, either.
  • The Lakers have by far the best crunch time plus/minus this season (plus-79, the Pacers are second at plus-65). Pau Gasol (plus-78) has been their biggest individual star, followed closely by Andrew Bynum (plus-74). Kobe Bryant ranks third at plus-58. The Lakers achieved this number with the NBA's second-best clutch offense (behind the Magic) and the eighth-best defense.
  • Three teams have shone for five straight years: The Lakers, Celtics and Magic. The Nuggets are flirting with joining that club, too.
  • Superstars matter. Or, at least some do. LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul almost always end the season positive in this regard -- the only exceptions are Paul and Nowitzki this year, which could still change. Other big names, like Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade have had more mixed results.
  • Good teams in general do well in crunch time. The top six teams in crunch time plus/minus this season have already locked up playoff spots, for instance (Lakers, Pacers, Hawks, Magic, Spurs and Bulls). But it's hardly a perfect correlation. In fact, surely a lot of what we're seeing in this chart appears to be simple randomness. The Pacers, terrible for a long time, are suddenly leaders. The Kings are excellent crunch time defenders this season. The Hawks are a solid team that is way better than solid late in games. And plenty of good teams -- the Sixers, the Knicks -- are pretty bad with the game on the line.
  • Over the past half-decade, just two teams, the Knicks and Timberwolves, haven't had a single season in positive territory.
  • The top ten late-game offensive teams this season are the Magic, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Hawks, Pacers, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Knicks.
  • The Pacers are by far this season's best defensive team late in close games. They are followed by the Hawks, Kings (!), Spurs, Heat, Magic, Bulls, Lakers, Thunder and Clippers.
  • The Dallas Mavericks have been very good for the last five years, but also have had the biggest drop-off in crunch time performance, from a league-leading plus-117 last season to an anemic minus-16 this season.
  • The Hawks have been good in crunch time for four straight years.
  • The Spurs and Thunder have been up and down.
  • The Houston Rockets (plus-31) and Memphis Grizzlies (plus-28) are the best crunch time teams this season that have yet to lock up a playoff spot. The Los Angeles Clippers (minus-9) are the only playoff team with a negative clutch plus/minus.

Mostly, this feels like it's the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more to learn about all this, and one of the big questions on the horizon is something Bill James has wrestled with in baseball for quite some time: Is there such a thing as clutch time performers? Are there really players or teams who do better with the game on the line?

That's still not something we know. What we do know is that a lot of what we thought we knew was wrong.

Rubio starting to give T-Wolves success

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
2:15
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Since Ricky Rubio entered the starting lineup, the Timberwolves are 7-4 compared to just 3-7 with Rubio coming off the bench. Much of the Timberwolves' success lately is due to Rubio's superb play down the stretch of games.

Rubio was nearly flawless in the second half of the win over the Rockets on Monday, totaling seven assists and just one turnover while shooting 4-of-6 from the field. For the game, Rubio had 18 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and three turnovers while shooting 6-of-10 from the field and 2-of-3 from 3-point range. It was perhaps Rubio's most complete game of the season.

In the second half of the last three games, Rubio has 18 assists and just one turnover. In those three games, the Timberwolves are +26 in the second half, including +14 in the second half of Monday's win.

In fact, it's the fourth time that Rubio has totaled at least seven rebounds and eight assists in a game, and the Timberwolves are now 4-0 in those games. Rubio has 10 double-digit assist games this season, which leads the NBA.

But the fourth quarter has been where Rubio has been at his best.

Rubio leads the NBA in fourth-quarter assists with 46. By comparison, the next-highest is Derrick Rose with 36. Over his last three games, Rubio has seven assists and zero turnovers in the fourth quarter. The Timberwolves are 2-1 in those games with a five-point loss to the Lakers sandwiched in between two wins.

During a three-game winning streak from January 16-20, Rubio had seven assists and two turnovers while the Timberwolves were a combined +33 in those fourth quarters. Rubio had 12 assists and five turnovers while his team was +45 in the second halves of those games.

Rubio is +38 in the fourth quarter this season, which ranks third in the NBA among point guards behind Derrick Rose and Jrue Holiday.

Rubio's shooting has drastically improved in the fourth quarter as compared to the first three quarters. He's shooting 42.0 percent from the field and 46.7 percent on 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter, but is shooting just 36.3 percent from the field and 30.3 percent on 3-point attempts in the first three quarters.

With Rubio's improved play since entering the starting lineup, especially late in games, the Timberwolves have exploded offensively. They've scored more than 100 points in four of their last seven games and are averaging 100.6 points in those seven games after scoring more than 100 only once in their previous nine games.

Dwight Howard: Superman, Darwin finch

December, 27, 2011
12/27/11
3:19
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Five minutes into last night’s Rockets-Magic game.

Dwight Howard caught the pass, jabbed left, dribbled right, spun right, ended up right in Samuel Dalembert’s teeth. The bastard child of a dunk and layup split the net above staggering Samuel’s head. Houston tried to immediately counter with a mad dash down the floor. Kevin Martin might have seen Dwight coming because he hoisted the layup so high above the rim. Howard viciously punched the offering as it hovered parallel to the top of the backboard square. He did this while in a 45 degree lean, looking something like a zooming Superman indeed.

In that moment, “Superman” made so much more sense as Dwight’s moniker than it ever did as Shaq’s. Superman is brawny, but also ubiquitously mobile. When I think, “Faster than a speeding bullet,” Shaquille O’Neal does not come to mind. But Dwight Howard moves as though asked by gun powder.

I especially enjoyed this loud end-to-end sequence because Howard can seem like a hidden superstar. People are naturally keyed on watching the ball, and Dwight gets rid of it in the time it takes a fuzzy camera shot to focus crisply. He sometimes shoots instantly upon catching an entry pass. Occasionally, he takes a dribble or two, but it is a true event to see Dwight exceed three floor thumps. This man can easily burn more clock doing his post-rebound elbow shimmy than he might on traditional post-ups.

Despite his ball brevity, he is the best center. And it isn’t even close. Howard’s nearest challenger may be Andrew Bynum, whom the Lakers would gladly swap for Dwight in a trade your fantasy commissioner (or real commissioner?) would veto. If you consider Tim Duncan a center, then Timmy provides nearly half of Dwight’s estimated wins. If you consider Al Horford a center, then he trails Howard 26.13 to 20.79 in last year’s PER rankings, while blocking only one shot per game. And if you consider Brook Lopez, your consideration is another overworked party in this compressed NBA season.

Howard obliterated would-be peers while standing only 6’ 9’’ in socks. Since he hails from the Shaq-Robinson-Chamberlain cannon of big man dominance, it is often forgotten that Dwight is average center height. Howard is the same height as Kevin Durant, and a full inch shorter than LaMarcus Aldridge. But D12 carries shoulder pads under his skin -- he’s a three-headed monster when I take my glasses off. Dwight’s imposing physique helps fuel a “dominance” aura, but quick-twitch athleticism does more to fuel his actual dominance. Faster than a speeding bullet.

While it is difficult to envision most NBA big men sprinting -- at least in scenarios where torch-bearing villagers aren’t chasing them -- Howard runs fluidly. While his predecessors would camp out and own a large swath of space, Dwight Howard rents timeshares all over the court. Though his ancestor is Shaquille O’Neal, Howard’s defensive game is just as close to Josh Smith’s.

The Magic center is superior, but few seem impressed. To some, Dwight Howard's success signifies how far the center position has fallen. DH lacks touch from anywhere he can't dunk from and he plays with mine-shaft court vision. It is easy to glance at Howard’s still rough offensive game and dismiss him as Wilt, the Stilted.

There is truth to the notion that big men aren't what they used to be. Compared to '90s centers, Howard is less visibly involved in his team’s offense. Below, I’ve listed some career-best usage percentage (percentage of a team's plays used by one player) years from notable bigs:

Patrick Ewing: 31.5, 95-96
David Robinson: 32.0, 93-94
Shaquille O’Neal: 32.9, 97-98
Hakeem Olajuwon: 31.9, 95-96
Rik Smits: 29.2, 97-98
Dwight Howard: 27.2, 10-11

So the best center of this generation, the one teams are ready to gut their rosters for, is less involved offensively than a healthy Rik Smits was. I think some would look at this and lament how we’ve lost our centers, how we’ve stopped making them like we stopped making quality cars, football stadiums, and every other pride signifier in this handbasket-to-hell nation.

I’ll disagree -- respectfully. We never stopped producing quality centers -- we just changed their environment. Back in the '90s, illegal defense rules allowed big men to work with some freedom. Re-appropriating from a piece I wrote on illegal defense’s impact:

These days, it’s commonly said that defenders should be connected “on a string,” their movements inextricably linked. A little over one decade ago, this wasn’t the case. Perimeter defenders were bound to whomever they guarded, and guard-defender units would orbit a dribbling post player like single electrons an atom’s periphery. If there was a “string,” then it connected man to marker.

Occasionally, the defender could break off to double-team this dribbling post player, but, that defensive player could only return to his original mark. Picture Reggie Miller racing over to harmlessly flail at a posting Patrick Ewing, then sprinting back to the three point line so as to cover an open John Starks. The lack of team-defense rotation made it relatively easy for post players to spot an open man (Hint: He’s from whence the double team came).

The allowance of zones shrunk a center’s offensive work space while expanding his defensive work space. Rules that “opened up the game” for current perimeter players, closed it for scoring bigs.

In these new environs, Dwight Howard represents the adaptability of Darwin's island finches. Offense Island made it dangerous for big men to get their points from plodding post play. So Dwight moves swiftly and treats the ball like a hand grenade. Defense Island implored big men to move on a string, mirroring the choreography of smaller, quicker players. So Dwight does this with aplomb while maintaining integrity as a shot blocker and rebounder.

Would it be nice if Dwight Howard added a feathery jumper or intricate post game? Sure, but those skills are ancillary to what makes him great in this particular environment. In the past, big men were defined by skills Dwight lacks. In the past, teams would have far rather had someone like Brook Lopez than someone like Joakim Noah or Tyson Chandler. If centers aren't what they used to be, it's because they're being what they need to be.

In today's NBA: If you're faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound...who cares if your fadeaway reeks?

Blake Show gets record ratings

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
3:13
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Blake Griffin posted his first career triple-double in the Los Angeles Clippers 127-119 double-overtime win over the Washington Wizards. He had a career-high 10 assists, was one shy of a career high with 17 rebounds, and his 33 points were the fourth-most of his career. He also fouled out, making him the first player to foul out with a triple-double since Lamar Odom in April 2007.
Blake Griffin
Griffin


With the Clippers winning at home in double overtime a day after the Los Angeles Lakers won at the Staples Center in triple overtime, the Elias Sports Bureau reports that the last time there were back-to-back multi-overtime games in the same arena was March 1984, at the HemisFair Arena in San Antonio. The San Antonio Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks in two overtimes on March 13 and then beat the Hawks in three overtimes seven days later.

Overshadowed in defeat, John Wall set a career high with 32 points, topping his previous best of 29, against the Philadelphia 76ers in November.

In other triple-double news, Chuck Hayes and Kyle Lowry are evoking memories of Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but Hayes' triple-double on Wednesday (13 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists) makes him the second Rocket with a triple-double in as many games, joining Lowry, who did it Sunday against Utah. The last time Houston had multiple players with a triple-double in the same season was 1996-97, by Drexler (2), Barkley and Olajuwon.

Perhaps more impressively, Elias says that the last team to have triple-doubles from different players in consecutive games was the New Jersey Nets in March 1996, by the vastly dissimilar Shawn Bradley and Chris Childs.

Speaking of New Jersey, Kris Humphries had 18 points and 23 rebounds in the Nets overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. The last Nets player with at least 23 rebounds was Michigan State alum Jamie Feick, who had 25 boards on Jan. 20, 2000 vs Detroit.

Although the Boston Celtics lost to the Memphis Grizzlies at home, Kevin Garnett made a bit of history. With his 10 points, Garnett passed Adrian Dantley for 20th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Next on the list is former Celtic great Robert Parish. At his current pace of 15.0 points per game this season, and assuming he plays every game, Garnett would pass Parish in the season's penultimate game, against Washington on April 11.

Boozer bullish in pick-and-roll Friday

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
10:33
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The one area that had not been a positive for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer entering Friday's game against the Nets was his play in the pick-and-roll.
Carlos Boozer
Boozer


Many expected that when partnered with point guard Derrick Rose, Boozer would be a force rolling to the basket. But entering Friday, Boozer was shooting just 45.9 percent from the field as the roll man in the pick-and-roll (according to video tracking by Synergy Sports Technology). That was bad enough for his second-worst shooting percentage in any play type this season (he rated worse in isolation plays).

Friday in a 90-81 win over the Nets, Boozer enjoyed one of his most successful games in the pick-and-roll. In four plays as the roll man, Boozer contributed three field goals and six of his 20 total points. That included a baseline dunk over Travis Outlaw in the third quarter.

Boozer is one of the more efficient post scorers in the halfcourt. Of all players with at least 50 shot attempts, he ranks fifth in the NBA in points-per-shot in the post.

But as Friday’s performance in the pick-and-roll shows, Boozer is still growing with his new teammates.

Even as he's growing, the Bulls are 12-2 since a loss to the Boston Celtics, posting the third-best record in the NBA during that time. Only the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have been better. Boozer has regained his All-Star form and been one of the more dominating players in the NBA. In those 14 games, Boozer is averaging 22.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and is shooting 56 percent from the field. He has nine double-doubles, including seven games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The other statistically-interesting story from the NBA's early New Year's Eve games was DeMar DeRozan's monstrous second half in a 114-105 loss to the Houston Rockets. DeRozan had 29 points in the last two quarters, tied for the fourth-most by any player in any half this season. Kevin Martin's 32-point first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 11 tops the list.

Chase Budinger
Budinger
DeRozan finished with 37 points, but the Raptors were outscored by 14 points when he was on the floor. The more valuable effort came from Houston's Chase Budinger, who scored 22 points, and was plus-27 in 24 minutes off the bench.

Budinger has had two straight strong efforts, this one surpassing the last one against the Heat, when he registered 11 points in 16 minutes, and a plus-12.

Lakers ground Rockets with strong 2nd half

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
5:13
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
After trailing 62-51 at halftime, the Lakers kicked it up a notch in the second half to pull out a 112-110 win over the Rockets on Tuesday.

It was the Lakers' third straight season-opening win and their eighth win in their last nine games vs Houston. The Rockets have defeated L.A. just twice since their win over the Lakers on opening night of the 2007-08 season.

The Lakers are now 41-22 all-time in season openers, and 14-4 when opening the regular season at home since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.

Tuesday's win leaves Phil Jackson one win away from joining Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan as the only NBA coaches with at least 1,100 wins.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Pau Gasol had 29 points and 11 rebounds in the Lakers’ win over the Rockets. Since 1970-71 - the post-Wilt era for the Lakers - only three other players had that many points and that many rebounds on opening night: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1976), Shaquille O’Neal (three times: 1999, 2000 and 2001) and Lamar Odom (2006).

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: With their win, the Lakers are now 9-2 on opening day as defending NBA Champions since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles following the 1959-60 season. The Lakers only opening day losses as defending NBA Champs over that span came in 1982 against the Warriors and 2002 against the Spurs.

Chris Bosh, Cyber Hero

October, 14, 2009
10/14/09
11:01
AM ET

Some jerk beat Chris Bosh to registering the domain www.chrisbosh.com. So Bosh went after the cybersquatter. All sorts of legal wrangling later, Bosh has won damages, his domain ... and a zillion other domains the same guy had been squatting.

There are nearly 800 names in the list, and Bosh and his internet consultant, Hadi Teherany of Max Deal, say they'll return them all to their rightful owners for free.

Which means a good chunk of the basketball world will be owing Bosh a favor. The list is thick with basketball players in the NBA, overseas, college and high school. There are also some football players, political sites, Britney Spears' child, singers, a site or two that sound raunchy, and the Mexican wrestler "El Octagon."

Just a few of the many NBA names on the list:

  • SamCassell.com
  • SteveNash.com
  • AmareStoudemire.com
  • AndreIguodala.com
  • JJRedick.com
  • EddyCurry.com
  • CarmeloAnthony.com
  • BrandonJennings.com
  • DelonteWest.com 
  • LuolDeng.com
  • KobeStopper.com
  • CaronButler.com
  • DeronWilliams.com
  • DariusMiles.com
  • BryanColangelo.com

(Also on the list is AaronAfflalo.com, even though that Denver player spells his first name "Arron.") The vast list of names also includes instructions for athletes and celebrities to get their names back from Bosh, if they wish. Paging El Octagon ...

A shocking bit of insight from the legendary big man Dikembe Mutombo, who is still rehabbing from his career-ending ruptured tendon in April. (By the way, Mutombo was called for a foul on the play.)

Can only wish that classiest of NBA players the best of luck in achieving a full recovery as quickly as possible.

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