A few days ago, Xiane asked if the Rockets were exceeding our expectations to start the season. The answer from all of you was an overwhelming "yes" (as if we could expect any different). As a reminder of how great I am, however, I'd like to note that Houston just about matches up with my prediction of 48 wins. So there. Marvel at my predictive capacity (or, perhaps, my faith in Daryl Morey).
John Hollinger was one of those who predicted the Rockets would be on the fringes of the playoff hunt. But right now, his projections admit a new reality: the computers see the Rockets as a 50-win team, capturing the 5th-seed in the West and playing the Suns (goddammit) in the first round. They have a 90% chance of making the playoffs. Cool.
More interestingly (to me, at least), those projections give some odds on success in the playoffs. The Rockets have the third-best odds at making the NBA Finals, after only the Lakers and Nuggets. As of right now, the Lakers will probably win the first seed, but the strength of the top teams in the Eastern Conference reduce their chances of winning the championship significantly.
This brings up that classic debate over conference strength. At the very top, I think it's clear that the East has a collection of teams that are a little better than the best teams in the West. But the East is more stratified, and it's thus easier to make the playoffs as a bad team. If nothing else, Hollinger's projections demonstrate the odd way playoff structure affects playoff outcomes.
Other neat little tidbits: The Hornets have totally collapsed since May 2008. The Thunder have a decent shot at the playoffs. At least one of Hollinger's simulations saw the Nets failing to win any more games.
For the perspective of someone who does not have my marvelous precognitive vision, here's Rob Mahoney at HP:
I…I don’t know. Count me among the many that refused to acknowledge Houston’s potential. I didn’t see where the points were going to come from, even if Ariza is a young, talented player on a perfectly reasonable salary. Call me crazy, but I wasn’t sold on Aaron Brooks’ ability to score consistently, much less run an offense. And I saw some problems among their rotation of bigs, which had fallen to three productive if undersized power forwards in the absence of Yao Ming. Not only is none of that true, but we’ve seen virtually the opposite. Ariza may not be capable of producing shots at an elite level (as his .383), but his ability to get out in transition and connect on reasonable 3-point attempts has been crucial to Houston’s surprisingly competent offense. Aaron Brooks may not have the most efficient lines, but he’s proven that he has the speed to be a Tony Parker-esque penetrating and scoring point guard, albeit one with a much better touch from outside. And those Rocket bigs? The ones who were supposed to have problems against traditional centers and more physical lineups? They have Houston as the 7th best offensive rebounding team in the league, the 13th best defensive rebounding team, and provide an interesting amount of versatility with the defense of Chuck Hayes, the scoring of Carl Landry, and the savvy of Luis Scola.
John Gasaway at BPro rages against "rebounding margin:"
For the purposes of killing the term I actually looked up the national leaders in you-know-what. According to the NCAA’s official stats, Tulsa currently leads the nation in, uh, that thing. Fine. Know what? The Hurricane do indeed rebound the ball very well, thanks in large part to the contributions of seven-footer Jerome Jordan. Doug Wojcik’s team is particularly strong on the defensive glass, where so far this season they’ve hauled down no fewer than 77 percent of their opponents’ misses. That is an incredibly high number that is poised to climb even higher, with Tulsa slated to play Jackson State tonight. If this keeps up, which it probably won’t, you can put this team up there on the same beastly rebounding bleachers with Michigan State 2000.
There. That’s a reality-based account of the Hurricane’s excellent defensive rebounding, one that acknowledges that the world is round, grape juice stains things, and a breakfront is a piece of furniture that breaks in the front. But look at the completely non-rebounding factors that come into play when you calculate something as vaporous and ersatz as (aaiieee!) a "rebound margin." A huge factor in Tulsa’s sheer number of defensive rebounds (as opposed to their laudably large share of the available boards) is the fact that they never force turnovers. Ever. More than 85 percent of opponents’ possessions end in either a FG attempt or free throws. Lesson one: "Rebound margin" (shudder) penalizes defenses that are good at creating turnovers.
Then there’s the much larger issue entailed in any tallying of mere rebounds. I don’t want to freak anyone out here, but I have long been of the opinion that there is no such thing as "rebounds," per se. There are only offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds, and they are completely separate and qualitatively different animals.
In the context of the Rockets and NBA, this is particularly interesting. The Rockets create a lot of turnovers (they also give up a lot of turnovers, but that's another issue entirely), and they also grab a lot of offensive rebounds. Thus, simple "rebounding margin" doesn't describe the way the Rockets' defense works or the real contributions of "rebounders" like Landry and Hayes.
Maybe this is why Trevor didn't stink up the shooting percentage column (before you think I've suddenly turned on the guy - he's doing great things outside of shooting, but he needs to change up his strategy on offense):
With Trevor Ariza struggling from 3-point range, the Rockets have wanted him to continue to take open 3s but to look for them at different times in the possession.
"What he needs to do is look to get his 3s after penetration and a kickout," coach Rick Adelman said. "You have to take them then. Sometimes, he comes down the court and just fires it on the run. When he's not making them, that may not be a good shot. But you got to allow guys to take their shot, and they have to learn what's a good one and what's not."
It looks like the prospective Russian Nets owner is all but clear to buy the team.
I honestly think Gary Payton is high on something in this video. I realize that Payton is, at best, incomprehensible most of the time, but I would be stunned if it turned out that this was anything but the result of a variety of narcotics.
Carl Landry will almost certainly not be playing tonight:
Landry ... will see an oral surgeon today to determine the extent of the damage [from his collision with Nowitzki].
Dave Berri looks at the Boston / LA "debate:"
Okay, here is what we know. Right now, the season numbers favor the Celtics. But there is evidence that the Lakers are better right now and could finish with better season numbers.
And all of this ignores the other teams in the NBA. I still believe it’s possible that the Cleveland Cavaliers can come back (although I recognize the distinct possibility that won’t happen). And the Atlanta Hawks and Josh Smith continue to be amazing (9.0 efficiency differential).
In sum, it’s still early (have I said this?). But if you are looking at the Celtics and Lakers, we can clearly see that the Celtics are better. Or is it the Lakers? Or… how ‘bout that Pau Gasol?
Sadly, the RGV Vipers' five-game win streak ended last night in a loss to Tulsa, but Joey Dorsey is averaging 13 points and 13 rebounds so far. Does that qualify as "dominating?" Anyways, here's more.
Last, Mike Fratello and Steve Smith talk about Chris Paul's brilliance: