NBA 

Vine Session: Breaking Down the Houston Rockets late defensive stand against the Miami Heat

In an effort to try something new and something fun, instead of using YouTube for film sessions and going through the fun, yet tedious, process of screen recording, I thought we would try using one of the newest social mediums in Vine. 

Vine allows me to quickly and compactly put together short clips with good quality and efficiency. It’s something that I recently started using when watching games and something that I thought you all may think of as fun. So, let me know what you think. Leave your comments in the comment section or give me a shout on twitter @Mikey_NBA. 

The Houston Rockets are emerging as one of the best teams in the West. While there is much debate about where they rank among the top five teams in the conference, there is little doubt as to whether or not they belong in that top five.

The Rockets combination of James Harden and Dwight Howard started off sort of slow, but it has picked up speed and become one of the better combos in the NBA. Contrary to most opinions when they first joined forces, the defensive stature of the Rockets hasn’t suffered. Dwight has looked healthy and has been a legitimate anchor for this defense just as he was for those Orlando Magic teams for so long.

James Harden has taken a step back offensively just a bit because of Howard’s post touches, but it has been well worth it. It gives them some offensive versatility outside of high pick and rolls for Harden and brush screens for their shooters. Having a low post presence isn’t the most important thing in today’s NBA, but it does provide another offensive option that the defense has no choice but to guard.

Aside from their struggles on the road, the Rockets look like a legitimate championship contender. If they can stay healthy, they have the  potential to make some noise in the playoffs–but so do the other four top five seeds.

The Western conference is extremely deep this year. Not only are the Rockets contenders, but so are the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Only two teams can make the Conference Finals and two of these teams may potentially meet in the first round. They’ll definitely be meeting in the second round if they advance.

What separates the Rockets from the bunch, though, is their play on defense. It’s far improved from last season with a healthy Dwight Howard being an upgrade from Omer Asik, Terrence Jones coming in and providing a disruptive presence at the four spot and some starter work for Patrick Beverly in their rotation. Those are the biggest differences defensively from last year to this one.

But Kevin McHale has been impressive as well with his scheme. Jones is able to hedge out on ball handlers and recover quickly without fouling. Meanwhile, Howard sags back into the lane and lets the ball come to him. Shots are heavily contested and the rim isn’t an easy place to get to when playing the Rockets.

The Miami Heat found that out the hard way on Tuesday night as they tried to continue their efforts of catching the Indiana Pacers. The Heat were able to have a solid night in efficiency scoring 103 points on 80 shots. But they couldn’t get the final three points that they needed to send the game into overtime. That was because of a stellar situational defensive strategy put together by Kevin McHale and his staff.

With the Heat down by three points, the Rockets main goal here was to prevent the three point shot. The first thing that comes to mind is fouling–but there was about 13 seconds left on the clock. You risk giving the Heat two points and a chance to foul quickly and get a clean look to possibly tie or win the game if you foul. It’s best, in this situation, to play defense straight up.

The goals here for the Rockets are as follows:

  • Do not allow the Heat to get a clean three.
  • Do not foul. Especially not on a shot.
  • Do not allow a clean look at the rim.

The Rockets did an excellent job of doing all of those on this defensive stand. They played defense without fouling, worked for a contested three and didn’t allow LeBron James to find a clean driving lane to the rim. The result was pleasing for Rockets fans, but it’s what lead up to that result that was the most impressive. It all started with Chandler Parsons defense on the inbound.

Parsons forces James to make his catch at about 40 feet out. That was the most essential part to the play. The closer James is to the rim, the better. Since he was so far out, the action was disrupted for about a second and led James to pause to try to get the play back in rhythm. If James catches the ball close, Allen is able to zip right through the screen given to him by Dwyane Wade and get to the strongside corner. But since James is far out and Allen wants to time his sprint perfectly, he’s forced to wait.

Allen gets through the screen cleanly, but he finds himself well covered through the Wade screen after a Harden switch. Wade returns to the wing instead of rotating to the corner and making the floor flat. That disrupts spacing for James’ driving lane.

James is going to get a screen from Chris Bosh as secondary option, but he has to take the screen out high because of how far Parsons has forced him out. Parsons continues to pressure the ball and Bosh has to come to James in order to speed the play up.

By now, Wade has cut through the middle of the floor and mucked up the spacing of the play even more. Bosh pops to the right wing and Wade eventually fades to the corner. Parsons and Howard have switched assignments, so James doesn’t find that split second to crack the defense and get into the lane.

Instead, he’s faced with a one-on-one matchup. Allen, meanwhile, has cut across the middle of the floor. But Michael Beasley has stationed himself on the right wing. LeBron dribbles to the strong side of the floor and forces Beasely to rotate with the ball. But Allen is already stationed in the corner by now and the two collide. They stand in the same spot as James dribbles at the top.

The play was completely blown up and James had to take on Dwight Howard in an isolation. While isolations are nothing new or difficult for James in particular, Dwight Howard is no slouch in the closing moments of the game when you absolutely need a three point shot. He knows what’s coming and he’s going to defend against that.

But what really disrupted the play was the Rockets switching on everything. When combined with the on-ball pressure, the switching really confused the Heat. It looked like no one was synchronized and things really were watered down.

This was a really fun scheme the Rockets cooked up that we’ve seen before in the past. It was a situational call, but a totally necessary one. Instead of fouling while up three and risk giving the Heat a shot at the very last possible moment, they played defense straight up.

Some disagree with that strategy, but I think I trust it. Kevin McHale trusted it last night and it got him the win over the defending champs. Victory is sweet–especially when you gamble.

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