The Rockets defensive turn-around this year has been pretty remarkable. Even in what was arguably Houston's toughest match-up (the loss to Golden State), you guy managed to hold a very good offense to under 100 points. Where did that come from? Has there been a shift in strategy around team defense? Or if it's just effort, do you have any sense of what inspired that? Was it James Harden's Foot Locker commercial?
James Harden has certainly increased his effort, and that's part of it. Dwight Howard is much, much healthier this year, and he's been among the best rim protectors and rebounders in the league again, which is a huge part of it as well. Likely the biggest difference is the addition of Trevor Ariza. Replacing Chandler Parsons -- who significantly regressed defensively since a competent rookie showing -- with one of the league's very best perimeter defenders has done wonders. Last year, Parsons and Harden combined to let wings roam free. This year, Harden can be placed on the least dangerous guy, and with Ariza, Beverley and Howard we have a top-three positional defender at three positions on the floor.
On the other end of the court, though, things do seem like they've been a little rocky. But you recently made a persuasive case that it's too early to panic about this. Can you tell our readers a little more about what hasn't been clicking and why you're optimistic that'll change?
The shooting has been crazy streaky, but that's too be expected when a team is on pace to shatter the three-point attempts records. What's hurt most are the injuries: Dwight Howard has missed a few games and looks like he'll be out against the Mavericks. Terrence Jones has been out with a nerve issue. Considering our big man depth was the team's biggest weakness, we knew injuries had the chance to slow the team down. That being said, the injuries aren't season-threatening, and Terrence Jones has the best plus-minus on the team. No one has even come close to beating the Rockets when they've been at full strength.
The Rockets' marquee players are already familiar to most basketball fans, and despite Harden having some trouble hitting threes, both he and Dwight Howard seem to be having very productive years so far. But y'all also have quite a few new faces getting decent minutes, including vets Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry and rookie Kostas Papanikolaou. Can you talk a little bit about how these guys are fitting in on the team and what you expect from them this year?
Terry has been doing what everyone's expected: streaky bench shooting and not much else, although he's been slightly better than I expected because he looked done last year. Ariza has been spectacular, although he's hit a cold shooting streak. He's the perfect guy for our small forward spot. Big Papa has been found money. He reminds a lot of young Hedo Turkoglu: he's a decent outside shooter, although that's looked better and better, he's a great bench ballhandler and creator and no one initiates the offense like him on the team outside of Harden. He's filled in adequately as a stretch 4 but needs to add strength if he's going to do that defensively in the playoffs.
Some Mavericks fans are a little worried (prematurely, I think) about Chandler Parsons' performance this year. Have you been watching him this season? What's your impression so far? Do you have an early #hottake on which team got the better deal, or do you think this will end up working out well for both teams?
Rockets fans early on were miffed at Parsons, but we feel strongly we lucked out. That contract was insane at the time, and it's still insane. He just never showed the ability to carry a team for any short stretches, let alone minutes at a time. At $15 million per season, you would hope for some propensity to do that. I haven't been watching that closely, admittedly, but he seemed to plateau for the Rockets last year. He is what he is: a league average three-point shooter with good size and athleticism who never uses it on defense and thinks he's better than he is. Plus he shoots most of his three-pointers from the wings, where he's statistically TERRIBLE from (look it up, it's bad).
This game certainly has a sort of unstoppable force/immoveable object feel to it, with the best offense in the league facing off against the top defense (though things will obviously be different if Dwight Howard sits this one out). Are there any match-ups in particular you're looking forward to?
I am not looking forward to watching Dirk and Tyson Chandler manhandle the Rockets bench big men. That will be ugly and will likely decide the game. What I am looking forward to is the Monta Ellis-Patrick Beverley matchup, if we get it. Monta is to offense what Bev is to defense: talented, scrappy, and an IDGAF attitude. That should be oodles of fun
Do you have an all-time favorite Harden pre-game outfit? Mine has to be this cowboy hat.
The sweater he wore in the last game was insane. Just... what is it? It's not a pregame outfit, but this picture is one of my favorite outfits anyone has worn in any situation. That the situation is basically the most baller shit ever only adds to it