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Rockets, Elephants, and Earl Weaver.

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Or Houston Rockets holiday problems, non-problems and valid comparisons.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets Chris Paul walks off, elephant walks on.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Poll

Will Mike D’Antoni expand his rotations to cope with injuries?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Surely you jest.
    (149 votes)
  • 24%
    Don’t call me Shirley, he surely will.
    (61 votes)
  • 17%
    Mavs in four! Go Mavs!
    (44 votes)
254 votes total Vote Now

The Rockets streak came to an ignominious end at the hands of the talented, young, but inconsistent Lakers. The Rockets had been playing with fire for many of the past few games, starting flat, coming back late. With Luke Mbah a Moute, Clint Capela, and later Chris Paul out, the comeback magic just wasn’t there, despite the stellar brilliance of James Harden.

I am not here to talk about the streak, however annoyingly it ended, but rather the elephants that once littered the room, and their departure. No-National-Recognition, a pachyderm of advanced years, and surly temperament, has departed. So long, Elephant #1. Godspeed.

I will plead guilty to being one of those who complained that the national media was ignoring the brilliance of the Rockets, giving them shortest of shrifts. Burying fact under a fetid mulch of Hott Taekz. Officially, as of now, this is no longer true. We can drop it. The elephant has left the room. All it took was a 14 game winning streak, and 19 out of 20 wins, but nevertheless, the love drought was broken by an absolute deluge of favorable stories, podcasts and even TV discussions. (Which the Rockets promptly answered by dropping their trousers to the world last night.)

So let’s move onwards towards Christmas and see what we can see with the Rockets. It may be that a time of heightened national attention and recognition could go rather poorly for Houston given the lethal combination of injuries and short rotations.

Kevin Arnovitz, a writer I admire, in his recent podcast described Mike D’Antoni as the Earl Weaver of NBA coaches. I paraphrase and expand upon his remarks here. For those who don’t know who Earl Weaver was; he was a Baltimore Orioles manager who exemplified use of “Sabremetrics” or advanced stats, before such a thing existed. He made his statistically supportable decisions on the basis of what made sense to him. Bunting, for example, never did, because he thought your 27 outs were the most precious commodity in baseball. Never give one away, unless it wins you the game. Nobody showed him a chart proving this was true, he intuited it, he reasoned his way to it. He was right. Todays’ successful teams look much like an Earl Weaver Orioles team.

Mike D’Antoni is a similar figure. The NBA looks more and more like a Mike D’Antoni team of old. Three points are more than two. Defenses aren’t set early in the shot clock. Scoring at the rim, or FT line is better than midrange. Mike D’Antoni arrived before the advanced stats guys, and without them. He reasoned his way to his system, and like Earl Weaver, it appears he was right. But that makes D’Antoni more the prophet, or culture hero, of the church of advanced stats, rather than a congregate.

Here we find Elephant Number Two - Rotations, a stubborn beast. Mike D’Antoni, for all his advanced beliefs, is a sui generis figure. He believes certain things that the core of advanced NBA thinking now denies. D’Antoni likes a short rotation, he will only rely upon players he can trust. I suspect that knowing D’Antoni’s ways, Daryl Morey endeavored to find him ten such players. There’s one legitimate prospect on this Rockets team, Zhou Qi. The rest skews heavily veteran. Clint Capela has arrived, and will be paid accordingly.

What happens when the guys he trusts are hurt, and there are seven trusty and healthy Rockets players? We saw this movie in the playoffs. No Rockets fans liked the ending. Rotations the Elephant remains in the room, glaring at us all.