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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Blazers Shoot Down Rockets Despite Westbrook's Triple Double

Portland defeated Houston 117-107 on Wednesday night despite Russell Westbrook erupting for 31 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds and just one turnover while shooting 11-22 from the field. Westbrook had a +1 plus/minus number in 42 minutes, which means that the Rockets were outscored by 11 points during the six minutes that he rested. Damian Lillard led Portland with 25 points on 8-20 field goal shooting while contributing seven rebounds and seven assists; he had a +4 plus/minus number in 38 minutes. Lillard is having an All-Star caliber season but his Blazers are a sub.-500 team and if it was not obvious before then it should be obvious now that Lillard is not an MVP level player who can just carry a team without a lot of help. C.J. McCollum, Lillard's excellent backcourt mate, scored 24 points on 9-18 field goal shooting, and had a +11 plus/minus number (second best on his team behind only Kent Bazemore's +14 in 32 minutes) in 38 minutes.
Carmelo Anthony scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, exacting a measure of revenge against the team that released him after just 10 games played last season. He shot 7-10 from the field, and he had a +4 plus/minus number in 34 minutes, which means that the Blazers were +6 in the 14 minutes that he did not play, but there is no doubt that Anthony played aggressively and effectively. Anthony hurt Houston in the post, though it is odd that the Rockets did not double team Anthony, a reluctant passer who had just one assist. Perhaps this is a reflection of Houston's general philosophy that post up plays are not efficient; that may be true in a broad sense, but Carmelo Anthony posting up one on one against a smaller player is an efficient play even at this advanced stage of Anthony's career.

Anthony is averaging 16.3 ppg (third on the team) on .441 field goal shooting in 27 games with the Blazers after sitting out most of last season. He may have a little bit more left in the tank as a scorer than it seemed like he did last year, but the reality is that Portland was awful before he arrived (5-9) and still subpar after he arrived (12-15 when he has played, 1-0 in the one game that he missed). Anthony can score in the post against smaller, physically overmatched players, and he can sporadically hit spot up jumpers, but those skills do not make up for his deficits in other areas. If Anthony wanted to prove that he is still an NBA caliber player then he has done so, but he has also shown that he is no better than a third wheel on a non-playoff team, as opposed to being an All-Star. It would be interesting to see if Anthony would be willing to accept a bench role on a playoff team, because it is difficult to picture him being a starter for a playoff team--certainly not for a playoff team that has any plans of advancing past the first round.

As for Houston, Westbrook has scored at least 20 points in each of his last 15 games, and even after this loss the Rockets are 11-4 in those contests, a .733 winning percentage that is equivalent to a 60-22 record over 82 games. The Rockets are just 3-3 without Westbrook this season, and they are 23-11 with him, a 56 win pace over 82 games. Westbrook has seven triple doubles this season, and the Rockets are 5-2 in those games. This was his 41st career 30 point triple double, second all-time, and his teams are 29-12 in those games, equivalent to a 58-24 record over 82 games; Oscar Robertson holds the record for 30 point triple doubles with 116, and his teams went 82-34 in those games, also equivalent to a 58-24 record over 82 games.

Westbrook has had a significant positive impact on the Rockets in his first season with the team. Westbrook's rebounding has helped Houston improve vastly in that department. Last season, the Rockets' rebounding differential of -3.4 ranked 27th in the league, but this season the Rockets rank 10th with a 1.1 rebounding differential. Westbrook is the team's second leading rebounder (7.7 rpg). The Rockets are significantly more productive offensively (119.0 ppg, second in the league) than they were last season (113.9 ppg, 11th in the league), and thus even with their perpetually leaky defense they still have a slightly better point differential this season than last season (5.1 compared to 4.8). Jeff Van Gundy pointed out during the ESPN telecast that Westbrook has added an open court dynamic that the Rockets did not have before.

James Harden scored a season-low 13 points, shooting 3-12 from the field and posting a -11 plus/minus number, tied for game-worst "honors" with teammate Eric Gordon. As is often the case, teams that are not whistled for an excessive amount of fouls against Harden--he shot 6-8 from the free throw line--are able to contain him. The main reasons that Harden is often tough to guard are that he is allowed to travel/commit offensive fouls, and then opposing players are whistled for phantom fouls if they even breathe on him.

Harden may very well set the "non-Wilt Chamberlain" single season scoring average record this season, but his gaudy individual numbers do not have as much impact on winning as is widely assumed, a truth that is painfully revealed to Houston fans on an annual basis in the playoffs. The Rockets could actually be a title contender if they used Westbrook appropriately on a consistent basis, but halfway through the season it appears that they will only fully utilize Westbrook sporadically, and thus they are likely heading toward a first round or second round playoff exit.

As for Lillard and the Blazers, the media darlings of last year's playoffs may not even qualify for postseason play in 2020. I suppose that being the third leading scorer on a non-playoff team is a better way for Anthony to end his career than being cut and not being picked up by any other team, but the fact that Anthony is willing and able to play this role for this team in 2020 does not prove that Oklahoma City and Houston were wrong to conclude that he could not help their squads when they let him go.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:36 AM



At Sunday, January 26, 2020 2:59:00 PM, Blogger Kaos said...

I'm in shock, David! What an enormous loss!

At Sunday, January 26, 2020 7:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Kobe Bryant’s death is shocking, and the helicopter crash is a tragedy for everyone who is involved/affected.


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