News And Notes
Rockets look to head into All-Star break on winning note
HOUSTON - Since they already boast one of the top-10 offenses in the NBA, one probably wouldn’t assume that putting even more points on the scoreboard would be a primary point of emphasis for the Houston Rockets.
The fact of the matter, however, is that there remains plenty of room for improvement on that side of the ball. And with the team’s defensive deficiencies being what they are, the more potent the Rockets can make their offense, the more margin for error Houston will have as it attempts to make its playoff push over the season’s final two months.
With that in mind, Head Coach Rick Adelman has been pushing his club to expand its offensive horizons by fully exploring the depth each offensive set has to offer. He wants his charges to look beyond the primary option if need be, assessing the defense in order to determine the best place to attack.
“We’ve been getting in the habit when we run our stuff that we look for the very first option and then we just stop,” said Adelman, immediately following his club’s 121-102 dismantling of Denver Monday night. “The ball stops, everybody starts looking at the ball and then all we have is just pick and roll. We talked about how we have to take it one more step: you cannot stop moving – you come off a flare pick, you have to keep moving.
“And a lot of the stuff we did (Monday night) was just on the run, with no calls and no plays, they were just playing basketball. That’s when we’re at our best. We’re at our worst when we stand around and stare at one guy and think we can go one-on-one. We’re not that type of team.”
Part of that comes down to personnel but so, too, does experience. Similar to how every young quarterback needs ample time adjusting to new teammates, coaches and schemes, several Rockets rotation players are still in the relatively nascent stages of playing together, a reality that undoubtedly plays a role in the inconsistency which has plagued the Rockets at times this season – especially come crunch time of close games.
“You look at the teams in this league who have been together – San Antonio, Dallas, Boston – that’s where chemistry plays a really huge role,” explains Shane Battier. “You understand the importance of going to a third and fourth option and not just getting fixated on the first. When you understand that concept, you’re less likely to get caught in the droughts that younger teams get caught in.
“You have to be able to check down and exploit where the defense has holes. Every defense has holes; it’s just a matter of finding them.”
To that end, Adelman has also recently experimented with a small-ball unit that places Battier at the power forward spot – a move that paid huge dividends against Denver as Battier frequently found himself wide open, allowing him to knock down all seven of his shots from the floor, including three 3-pointers, on his way to scoring 17 points.
“I’m trying to increase my value in the offseason, that’s what I’m trying to do,” quipped the ninth-year pro. “It’s just like any other business: the more you put on your resume, the more valuable you are.
“It gives us a little bit more flexibility. We can’t do it against every team, I think it depends on the team we’re playing and the matchups, but I’ve always been a fan of playing small because it does put the defense in some tough situations rotation-wise. And if you have players who understand how to get the most out of that lineup, they can become pretty effective.
“The fours don’t want to chase 3-point shooters all over the floor and the perimeter guys are a little more savvy and they stay at home a lot more. I like playing the four for that reason; you get a lot more open looks than when playing the three.”
But such a strategy is about much more than simply getting more open looks for Battier. The Duke product’s ability to space the floor, coupled with his intricate knowledge of Adelman’s system also allows him to open things up for his younger, faster teammates who then frequently find themselves free to feast upon the delectable scoring opportunities that come their way.
“It opens the floor,” says Courtney Lee, who certainly made the most of his scoring chances Monday night while erupting for 22 points. “When Shane sets a pick and roll, they have to respect his shooting ability, so they rotate to him and it gets a lot of guys out of position, and once we move the ball and find the open man it’s just target practice then.”
As Battier mentioned, Houston’s small-ball lineup that places him at the power forward spot isn’t something the Rockets can employ every game, but it’s a good bet the club will re-visit the strategy Wednesday when the Philadelphia 76ers pay a visit to Toyota Center. The Sixers have enjoyed success when going small, too, with their best lineup this season showcasing Thaddeus Young at the four and Elton Brand at the five, according to 82games.com.
“It depends who they have there, too,” said Adelman, when asked if he’s likely to go small against the Sixers. “We really like [Battier] on Iguodala, so we’ll just have to see how that goes. Philadelphia’s been playing really well. Lately, they’ve been one of the best teams so it’s going to be a real challenge for us, but I’m not going to hesitate to play Shane at the three of the four.
“When he’s at the four spot, he’s probably one of our best guys at boxing out and that’s what you want: you want him to not let his guy get [the ball] but then the other perimeter people have to come back and rebound the ball. It’s five guys and gang rebounding and we’re that type of team… We need everyone to rebound when we’re playing small.”