Posts Tagged ‘Houston Rockets’

The Houston Rockets could reportedly be on the short list of suitors for Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George this offseason, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

With most of the conversation about George’s upcoming free agency focused on whether George will flee to the Los Angeles Lakers or return to the Thunder, Wojnarowski said he expects the Rockets to be “aggressive” in trying to find a way to sign him.

Wojnarowski also noted that George “fits right in” with the Philadelphia 76ers, though didn’t clarify the team’s level of interest.

The Thunder also remain a logical destination for George, who reportedly enjoyed his lone season in Oklahoma City next to Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams despite the early playoff exit.

A native of Los Angeles, George has been open about the appeal of signing with his hometown team; however, shortly after he was dealt to the Thunder, he described his interest in going to the Lakers as “overstated.”

The 28-year-old is a likely candidate for a maximum contract come July. The perennial All-Star just averaged 21-plus points for the fourth time in five seasons while shooting 40.1 percent from three.

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Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has witnessed plenty of talented players since first suiting up in the NBA 45 years ago and while coaching for the past two decades, but he says none were better offensively than the one who’s currently leading his team.

D’Antoni offered up high praise for James Harden following Tuesday’s 115-111 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, in which the superstar guard hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers and finished with 42 points and seven assists.

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” D’Antoni said of Harden, as quoted by USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick.

“They were running guys to him, and he just steps a little further back and hits a three. You know, the way he can pass and see the floor, get fouls, layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner, he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back threes, it’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

Harden’s performance was just the latest in a season that’s seen him all but lock up the Most Valuable Player award. He’s finished second in the voting twice before, but has yet to capture the honor.

D’Antoni is a firm believer that this is Harden’s year, as the Beard has propelled the Rockets to the best record in the NBA. He leads the league in 3-pointers, free throws, and points per game with 31.2. He also ranks first in win shares, usage, and PER, as well as third in assists (8.7).

“He’s got one flaw. He does get tired some. He’s mortal. And that’s it,” D’Antoni added.

Hours before the two longtime friends are set to square off in one of the most anticipated matchups of the regular season, Toronto Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan cast his MVP vote for Houston Rockets guard James Harden.

“He earned it,” DeRozan told reporters after shootaround Friday, according to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg. “The things he’s been doing all year is incredible. I think he’s locked for it. He deserves it.”

DeRozan also suggested Harden should have won the award last season, when his 29.1-point, 8.1-rebound, 11.2-assist campaign for the 55-win Rockets was outvoted by the Russell Westbrook triple-double machine. But both Harden and the Rockets have been better this year. Harden is leading the scoring race, averaging 30.9 points a game to go along with 8.9 assists and a 62.4-percent true shooting mark for the NBA’s top team. He is achieving the rare double feat of leading the league in both efficiency and usage rate, the latter having increased from last season despite the Rockets’ addition of Chris Paul.

Though his scoring rate has come down from a season ago, DeRozan is also in the midst of a career year, putting himself on the fringes of the race he’s already calling for Harden. DeRozan is averaging 24 points and a career-high 5.2 assists per game while spearheading a stylistic evolution for the overachieving Raptors.

The Rockets (51-13) and Raptors (47-17) come into Friday night’s game in Toronto sitting atop their respective conferences, carrying the NBA’s two best point differentials. The Rockets come in riding a 17-game winning streak, while the Raptors have won six straight and 13 of their last 14. The Rockets own the league’s best road record at 26-7, while the Raptors are the top home team at 27-5.

Before the blockbuster matchup, DeRozan reflected on the journey he and Harden – who both grew up playing together in Los Angeles – have taken to get to where they are now.

“I knew him when he didn’t have a lick of hair on his face,” DeRozan said of his now-bearded peer. “We’ve grown. We talk about it a lot. We never thought we’d be in the position we’re in today.”

NBA franchise valuations are rising into rarefied air, something evidenced by Tilman Fertitta’s record $2.2-billion purchase of the Houston Rockets in 2017.

Fertitta expects that value to keep on growing.

“I sure didn’t underpay,” the billionaire businessman and reality TV star told USA TODAY’s Sam Amick. “But you know what, if we look in five-to-10 years, and the team is worth $3 billion, which I think it will be, it would have been a great deal.”

In its annual list of NBA franchise valuations this month, Forbes estimated that all 30 of the league’s teams are now worth over $1 billion. Houston ranks as the fourth-largest city and eighth-largest TV market in the United States.

If you haven’t noticed yet, James Harden is cooking.

At 31.5 points per game, the barbate Houston Rockets guard is far and away the league’s leading scorer, sitting 3.3 points clear of Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (28.2) and 4.1 points ahead of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (27.4).

His team also currently owns the second-best winning percentage in the NBA at 72.7 percent, trailing only the Warriors (78.7). That deficit looked notably meager on Saturday, however, when Houston defeated Golden State 116-108, a win Rockets center Clint Capela believes sent the defending champs a sizable message.

Harden, meanwhile, not only shared Capela’s optimism but also revealed the new-look Rockets – with Chris Paul complementing him in the backcourt – have him playing at a level he’s never reached before.

“We’re for real, for real. We are for real as it can get,” Harden told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears. “I have never been this confident playing in my entire career. Not only by adding Chris, but the rest of our team.

“We have a team with depth that at any moment can impact the game. We just got to stay locked in the rest of the season.”

With Saturday’s win over the Warriors, the Rockets succeeded in winning the season series 2-1 over Golden State. Should the two teams finish with identical records, Houston would own the tiebreaker for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

“It was a big statement, because we definitely wanted to win the tiebreaker,” shooting guard Eric Gordon said. “We know we are only a couple games behind them and we’re going to start making a big run here.

“We can try to see if we can get that No. 1 seed. That’s what we really want.”

 

Chris Paul lost a game Wednesday night for the first time this season, and even then, it came with the caveat that he couldn’t finish the contest due to an adductor injury.

Paul is thriving in his first season in Houston, and the Rockets are thriving along with him, racking up a 14-1 record in games he’s suited up for. And, after spending 12 campaigns as the chief offensive orchestrator in New Orleans and Los Angeles, the eight-time All-NBA point guard doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that he’s had to adapt his style, move off the ball, become a secondary playmaker, and take a backseat to James Harden in the Rockets’ offense. On the contrary, Paul says he’s thrilled with the developments.

He expressed as much to Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni after D’Antoni apologized for taxing Paul with 34 minutes of playing time in Monday’s win over the Utah Jazz.

“Thirty-four here is like 25 in L.A.,” Paul told D’Antoni, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “Not having to dribble the ball up every time – this is a breeze.”

It’s not a novel concept for Paul. As he pondered leaving the Clippers as a free agent this past offseason, he said he was tired of needing to handle the ball so frequently. Choosing the Rockets appeared to signal his desire for change.

“It’s neither here nor there at this point, but I was asking for a while to get the ball out of my hands,” he told Lowe.

The Rockets’ offense is fast, free-flowing, and improvisational, and Paul insists he doesn’t miss the more methodical set plays he used to quarterback with the Clippers.

“How many times have we run floppy this season?” he asked reporters rhetorically after the Jazz game, according to Lowe. “Ze-ro. Zero. We don’t even have floppy in the playbook.”

In all, Paul’s touches per game have come down from 86.2 per game to 69.1, his average number of dribbles per touch from 4.92 to 4.68, and his average time of possession per game from 7.6 minutes to 6.1.

The upshot? He’s scoring 1.61 points per possession on spot-ups (good for the 99.4th percentile in the league), and the Rockets have posted a 119.3 offensive rating with him on the floor. It probably won’t always be this easy, but for now it seems like a breeze, indeed.

 
 

Daryl Morey knows all too well that the road to the NBA championship runs through the Golden State Warriors.

The Houston Rockets general manager reconstructed his club with that in mind, and thinks about the Western Conference rival often.

“It’s the only thing we think about,” he said on ESPN’s “The Ryen Russillo Show”on Thursday. “I think I’m not supposed to say that, but we’re basically obsessed with ‘how do we beat the Warriors?'”

He noted he’s also worried about the San Antonio Spurs, who eliminated the Rockets last season in the West semis, but he’s much more concerned about the defending champs, who sent Houston packing in the 2015 and 2016 playoffs.

“We calculated it – it’s like 90 percent if we’re gonna win a title, we’ve gotta obviously beat the Warriors at some point,” he explained. “So we’re extremely focused on that. A lot of our signings and what we do during the year is based on that. … I don’t know why you’d do anything else. Like, what is the point of this league except winning a title?”

Morey said after Golden State won the title in June – its second in three years – that he had something up his sleeve to counter the Dubs’ domination. The executive, who’s been at the forefront of the NBA’s advanced-analytics movement, ended up pairing James Harden with a fellow star backcourt mate in Chris Paul over the offseason, and surrounded them with 3-point shooters.

The number-crunching and bold dealings are paying off, with the club boasting the top record in the NBA (25-5) this year. The Rockets hoist 43.2 3-point attempts per game (nine more than the next closest team) and have the best offensive rating – 113.6 points per 100 possessions. Houston’s been no slouch at the other end, either, ranking seventh with a defensive rating of 103.

It’s all coming together for the Rockets, who look like they can give the Warriors a run for their money.