The Adjustment Bureau

Rockets pinpointing areas of improvement while putting together new plan of attack
by Jason Friedman Writer/Reporter

HOUSTON - Part of the beauty of playoff basketball lies in the adjustments teams must make from game to game. Coaches spend countless hours poring over film and numbers in an effort to find out what worked and what didn’t, all in an effort to discover that one tweak or data point that might be enough to tilt the matchups more in their favor, even if merely by a percentage point or two. Players do the same to hone in on tendencies and tells they hope to exploit.

With only one opponent to prepare for and multiple days between games, the amount of strategic detail that can be devoured dwarfs anything experienced during the regular season. The roots of weaknesses that might lie hidden in the winter reach full bloom come springtime in the NBA. It’s a process that can be both beautiful and brutal to witness while it plays out.

Houston’s players and coaches have been immersed in that process for the past 48 hours as they attempt to figure out the best way to bounce back from the Game 1 beatdown they received at the hands of Oklahoma City. And while the Rockets are, quite naturally, being tightlipped about the adjustments they have in store for Wednesday’ rematch, there’s little in the way of secrets regarding the areas that require the most attention.

“We have to be able to attack them and all the switching that they’re doing,” said Houston head coach Kevin McHale. “Defensively we have to get back to packing the paint. They hurt us with Westbrook’s straight-line drives. And we have to take care of the ball and make simple plays on offense; we can’t feed their offense with our offense by turning the ball over.

“They took it to us hard that first game – how much of it was us and how much of it was them? A lot of it I saw while watching film was very correctable. We fed them. They’re plenty good without us feeding them.”

As has been the case all year when it comes to decision making and taking care of the ball, the heaviest burden figures to fall upon Houston’s backcourt of James Harden and Jeremy Lin. Both struggled mightily in that regard during Game 1 when they combined to shoot 7-26 from the field with six turnovers. Each, however, has also demonstrated an ability to bounce back from poor performances in a big way. Both, in fact, have already done so this season against Oklahoma City. Neither Harden nor Lin had much to write home about in the aftermath of Houston’s first two meetings with the Thunder. But the third time proved to be a charm for both players as they combined to pile up 75 points during the Rockets 122-119 win over OKC on February 20.  

“Sometimes I do a little bit too much and that causes some of my turnovers,” said Harden, “but I just have to do a better job of not turning the ball over and knowing when to take a good shot and (when to take) a great shot.

“You saw what happened in the Brooklyn-Chicago series. Brooklyn dominated Game 1, but Chicago came back in Game 2 and got a win so it’s just a matter of us fixing things, watching film and going out there and executing.”

Which is exactly what McHale expects his team to do Wednesday night, beginning with his starting point guard.

“After spending the year with (Jeremy Lin), I feel his best attribute is his toughness. He’s going to bounce back and play hard tomorrow. I’m not worried about that at all. It’s the first game, a lot of stuff happened. He’ll play better and we’ll all play better.

“He’s a tough kid who’s bounced back many times this year. Everybody has bad games. He’ll bounce back and play better.”

And that, far more than any strategic wrinkle the Rockets expect to implement, figures to be the most important adjustment of all.