The Concern Behind Luc Mbah a Moute's Shoulder

By Matthew Cardenas on May 18, 2018
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Luc Mbah a Moute was one of the prized offseason acquisitions for the Rockets last summer. The fact that Daryl Morey and the Rockets were able to sign him for the veteran minimum is incredible. Many in the NBA feel his value is far beyond that when you look at players like Andre Roberson, who makes $10 million a year. Both players are known for the defensive abilities and the case could be made for Mbah a Moute having a more polished offensive game. His play has been a factor in the Rockets finishing the regular season with the 6th best defensive rating (106.1).

Mbah a Moute has dealt with a dislocated shoulder twice this season. The most recent occurred during the 81st game of the regular season against the Lakers after a high flying finish at the rim. A second dislocation would force him to miss the entirety of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Fortunately, he was not needed as the Rockets were able to eliminate the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games. He would make his return in the second round of the playoffs, with the Rockets eliminating the Utah Jazz in five games. His value for the Rockets was expected to be shown right now as they are facing off against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The ability of Mbah a Moute to guard multiple positions on the wing had many feeling the Rockets could knock off the defending champions.

If one thing is clear right now, it is that Mbah a Moute does not have full confidence in his shoulder. He has openly discussed that nervousness to attack at the rim as well. Mbah a Moute is going to defend and look to make life difficult for the Warriors top players. His contributions on the offensive end could be a difference maker in the outcome of this series, though. We have seen Mbah a Moute miss finishes at the rim throughout the Conference Finals that would have been different if he were at full health.

This is a basic PnR between Paul and Mbah a Moute that should have a resulted in an easy two points. Even with Shaun Livingston helping and looking to alter the shot, Mbah a Moute likely finishes the bucket if the shoulder was at full strength and he had the confidence.

Mbah a Moute gets past Draymond Green with the shot fake, resulting in Klay Thompson and David West both sliding over to contest. He is actually able to get a clean look at the end but is still unable to finish at the rim. Mbah a Moute usually has success driving on the baseline.

He would finish Game One 0-6 from the field and only played six minutes in Game 2. Gerald Green got the nod for more playing time as Mike D'Antoni is starting to realize Mbah a Moute's shoulder is not at 100 percent. Even with the defensive game there, it is hard to leave him on the court if he is a liability on the offensive end.

Luckily for the Rockets, Mbah a Moute's offense was not needed in Game 2. Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker and Trevor Ariza combined for 68 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. The majority know that this offensive performance from all three will likely not be replicated at this high of a level, though.

It will be interesting to see what route D'Antoni takes for the remainder of the Western Conference Finals. Game 2 was played on Wednesday and Game 3 is not until Sunday. This could be a valuable time for Mbah a Moute to rest the shoulder and hopefully gain more confidence. If that is not the case, it is possible he ends up riding the bench while Green takes the minutes.

Rockets 127, Warriors 105 - Return to Form

By Forrest Walker on May 16, 2018

The Houston Rockets have evened up the series with the Golden State Warriors, 1-1. In a dominant performance from start to finish, the Rockets responded to the pressure and looked like the Houston team we've seen for six months. The ramshackle assortment of spare parts being dragged by James Harden transformed overnight into a sharp, hungry squad, while the Golden State Warriors melted into Kevin Durant and friends. In this game Houston finds not just a necessary respite from the onslaught of the Warriors, but a reason for hope and a blueprint for future success.

Rockets Must Fix Defensive Miscommunication Going Into Game 2

By Matthew Cardenas on May 15, 2018
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Game 1 of the highly-anticipated Rockets/Warriors has passed and the Warriors used monstrous nights from Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to steal homecourt advantage from the Rockets. James Harden was the only Rocket able to be in a rhythm during Game 1, finishing the night with 41 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds on 14-24 shooting. He was arguably the best player on the court Monday night with five other all-stars sharing the court.

The Rockets stuck to their isolation ball from Harden and Paul to initiate the offense. It does not matter what the TNT crew or others think of the style. This style led to 65 wins in the regular season and has them in the Western Conference Finals. Multiple boneheaded mistakes on the offensive end started to glare in crunch time. Luc Mbah a Moute had three misses at the rim as the shoulder issue could still be there. Eric Gordon had an easy bucket late in the second quarter, but fumbled the ball driving to the rim. Little mistakes like those become large when playing what many have labeled as the greatest team ever assembled.

Mistakes on the offensive end are something you expect to be fixed for Game 2. Mbah a Moute, PJ Tucker, Gerald Green and Trevor Ariza combined to shoot 5-22 in Game 1. One would hope that shooting night will not be replicated.

Attention needs to be on the defensive end right now for the Rockets. There were too many occasions where a Warrior would be wide open on the perimeter, particularly Klay Thompson. Leaving one of the greatest shooters of all time open is a recipe for disaster, especially with the rhythm he was in for Game 1.

Once Harden gets beat by Steph Curry, Paul anticipates the drive and comes over to help in order to prevent Curry from getting the layup. The mistake here is leaving Thompson wide open in the corner. Tucker attempts to go over to the corner but knows leaving Durant open is just as fatal. Paul could have stayed in the corner with Capela behind him and also anticipating Curry's drive.

On this play, Tucker is on Durant as Curry is pushing the pace. Tucker notices Curry coming and calls for a body to tag him. Gordon and Mbah a Moute are both near Kevon Looney for who knows what. Gordon and Mbah a Moute both point at Steph, but do not react quick enough to tag him. Tucker is forced to switch as Green tries to come over to close out on an open three for Durant.

A miscommunication here takes place between Harden and Paul. We can see Paul around the free throw line trying to be a safety. Once Nick Young sets the screen for Thompson, Harden takes too long to alert Paul. This is a mistake on both parties as Paul should have tagged a body sooner.

Another miscommunication here between Paul and Harden. After Young sets the screen, Paul correctly goes over the screen. Harden deciding to stay and trap Curry leaves Young open on the pop. Gordon recognizes it and wants to help, but knows leaving Thompson will be a mistake.

This was right after the Rockets were furious with the missed call on the backcourt violation. Tucker tells Capela to switch with him, but Capela reacts too late and Tucker is forced to come help on the cut from Draymond Green. Once again, Thompson is left open and you can tell Tucker is not afraid to show his dissatisfaction. An open three for Thompson is a layup.

Mistakes shown in the clips have to be fixed in Game 2. Defensive errors are what the Warriors feed on and they will exploit it every time. Sure, it can be difficult to always have a body on a team with a plethora of shooters and talent. Little mistakes are what will cost the Rockets a trip to the NBA Finals if they are not fixed, though.

Rockets 106, Warriors 119 - Annihilation

By Forrest Walker on May 14, 2018

This series isn't over. Even with the Houston Rockets falling to the Golden State Warriors in game one, there's a lot of basketball to be played in the Western Conference Finals, and it's important not to overreact to a single game. The Rockets may have lost, and with it lost the home court advantage they worked to hard to gain, but they will have a chance to respond in game two on Wednesday and try to sort out their issues. And, no pressure or anything, but the only thing riding on their next game is just the fate of the NBA. This series is a test, and the Rockets are teetering dangerously close to annihilation.

Ep. 78: Recapping UTA/HOU + HOU/GSW Preview

Salman Ali (@RedNationHoops), Forrest Walker (@DUNOTS), and Taylor Pate (@taylorlpate) discuss the following:

-Closing thoughts on Jazz/Rockets series
-Deep dive preview into Rockets/Warriors

Listen to The Red Nation Hoops Podcast on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

Ep. 77: Rockets/Warriors Preview with Jared Dudley

Salman Ali (@RedNationHoops) previews the 2018 NBA Western Conference Finals with Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619).

Listen to The Red Nation Hoops Podcast on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.

2018 Western Conference Finals Preview and Predictions

By Salman Ali on April 10, 2018

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The series we've been waiting for since Chris Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets back in June of 2017 is finally here. Ever since Daryl Morey proclaimed that the Warriors weren't completely invincible, everyone marked their calendars for this matchup and we're finally going to get it.

Time to make some painful predictions that we might come to regret later.

(1) Rockets Vs. (2) Warriors


Explain your pick.

Salman Ali: This series has the ceiling of being an all-timer. Unfortunately, the Warriors have built up so much trust equity with media (and myself) to make it damn near impossible to pick against them. This series should be closer than most people think, home court advantage will favor the Rockets, but it's still tough to pick against the team that's made the last 3 NBA Finals.

Forrest WalkerThis is, most likely, the correct pick. The Dubs are probably the greatest team of all time, and the Rockets are like the 7th best, TOPS. Teams don’t win game 7’s on the road, so: Warriors in 6. And as a totally unrelated aside, even if I thought the Rockets would win, this is still what I would pick.

Paul Michie-Derrick: The Rockets are a great team but the Warriors will ultimately have too much firepower.

Kyle Chilek: The Rockets are such a great team. It may not matter though because they're up against arguably the best team ever. The warriors just have an insane amount of talent all over the floor. 

Matthew Cardenas: I am legit torn on who comes out on top. These teams were on a collision course all season and their postseason numbers have been nearly identical.

Jorge Flores: It hurts to say, but the Warriors are still a superior team and it's hard to deny the talent Golden State has. I don't expect the Rockets to lose this series out of any sort of collapse from Mike D'Antoni, James Harden, or Chris Paul. I just think the Warriors are still better than a first-year iteration of this Rockets team.

That said, the Rockets winning this series would not shock me at all.

Taylor Pate: This is a complete "shoot your shot" gif, but I'll say this; the Rockets built their team to contend with the Warriors. The Rockets have the length on perimeter needed to defend Kevin Durant that the Pelicans just could not produce. The Rockets, despite having what seemed like offensive woes, are first in offensive rating and net rating in the playoffs. There's a chance.

Who or what is the biggest 'X-Factor' in this series?
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Salman Ali: Whatever counter the Rockets throw out as a counter to the Warriors 'Hamptons Five' death lineup will be the what makes or breaks this series. The Rockets could stick to what they've been doing all postseason and play Clint Capela or do what they did in the regular season to counter small ball units and play P.J. Tucker at center. To me, it's the most fascinating part of this whole series.

Forrest WalkerThis series is going to hinge on how good Clint Capela is at staying on the court. The Warriors are going to run out their privileged kids lineup to go small and try to beat Capela on switches. If Clint can play good enough perimeter defense, his ability to rebound and push around that small lineup will be a difference maker. If not, Houston is playing an inferior version with their own “Tuckwagon” crew.

Paul Michie-Derrick: Steph Curry will make or break the series. If Steph is healthy and playing well, the Rockets have no shot.

Kyle Chilek: How close Steph is to 100%. If he's all the way back, Capela will get roasted on switches, but if he isn't, the warriors will have no way to play Capela off the floor, which is huge for the Rockets given how well he's played this post season. If he's not all the way back the Rockets will have an easier time switching and forcing the warriors to play one on one. 

Matthew Cardenas:  Eric Gordon’s play needs to be on par or better than Klay Thompson’s. Both are big x factors in this series and can honestly win a game for their respective team. We know Thompson’s the better defender, but Gordon will need to be producing on the offensive end in order to have the offense at an even higher level. 

Jorge Flores: The third quarter each game is going to make or break this series. Over the last few years Golden State has dominated the third quarter, creating seemingly insurmountable separation. The Rockets need to keep this game close throughout and stymie any big run the Warriors might be poised to make.

Taylor Pate: The Rockets' defense will likely determine whether or not the series will go a long way. Limiting the huge runs that Golden State is capable of going on will be key. Long defenders like Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza getting their hands in the passing lanes could make for some extra possessions for the Rockets and those are the types of easy points you need to beat a team like the Warriors.

What would you consider the most important statistic in this series and why?
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Salman Ali: Turnovers. The Warriors are the best transition team in the league. The Rockets have to continue to take over the ball as they have all postseason to limit these fast break opportunities for Golden State.

Forrest WalkerIt’s three point percentage. I’ve been banging this drum forever, and I’m going to keep on banging it. They have to hit at very least 33% of their threes, probably closer to 35% to have a crack at this series. They’ve been back and forth all playoffs, and now they need to get consistent.

Paul Michie-Derrick: The most important stat is OREB%. The Rockets absolutely need to kill the Warriors on the glass if they want any chance of winning.

Kyle Chilek: Transition points added. The Warriors are one of the best transition offenses in the league, while the Rockets are one of the worst transition defenses. If the Rockets are able to slow the warriors transition game, they will have a much easier time defending them. 

Matthew Cardenas: PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute both scored in double figures in two of the three regular season matchups against the Warriors. Their value on the defensive end in this series goes without question. Houston is best equipped to defend the Warriors because of the Tucker and Mbah a Moute’s signings. Their ability to switch and constantly have either on Kevin Durant will be important. Those two adding a scoring punch makes makes the Rockets that much harder to beat. Tucker has shot the three ball extremely well these playoffs. 

Jorge Flores: The most important statistic in this series to me is turnovers. Neither Houston nor Golden State can afford to pile up turnovers and let the other team score in bunches.

Taylor Pate: Three point shooting, three point shooting, three point shooting. The Rockets have got to hit their damn shots and I cannot stress that enough. You can't go cold against the Warriors because you aren't going to limit their offense enough to make up for it.

Most important player in this series?

Salman Ali: James Harden is the most important player in this series. For the Rockets to have a legitimate chance, Harden has the be the sharpest he's ever been. On defense, he has to be aware of the amount of cutting, screening, and movement the Warriors do. On offense, he can't turn the ball over and make silly execution mistakes that a team like the Warriors is sure to take advantage of.

Forrest WalkerThe most important player, finally, isn’t James Harden. This time it’s Steph Curry, the engine that makes Golden State go. Without him they’re a wholly different team, and with him at less than 100%, they just might be mortal. How well Curry has recovered from his MCL sprain is going to be crucial to this series.

Paul Michie-Derrick: Clint Capela is the most important Rocket. The Rockets will need his rim protection and offensive rebounding.

Kyle Chilek: James Harden. He has to be the best player in the series. If he isn't, the Rockets just don't have the other pieces to compete, even with Chris Paul. 

Matthew Cardenas: Just like last series, I’ll say Chris Paul is the most important player. I think the Warriors will be more focused on guarding Harden, leaving a little room for Paul to take advantage of that. I’m not saying he needs to have 40 points and 10 assists every night, but he really needs to take advantage of the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters when playing with the 2nd unit. 

Jorge Flores: James Harden is the most important player in this series. Everyone else is going to have to be playing their best basketball, but Harden is the engine that makes this team go. 

They’ll live and die by Harden, which is fine by me.

Taylor Pate: Steph. He makes the Warriors offense go from incredible to godly. The Rockets will likely play Chris Paul on him, but when Paul comes out, you'll likely see a heavy dose of Mbah a Moute and Ariza on Steph. It won't stop him, but throwing so many different looks could slow him down.