Posts Tagged ‘Carlos Delfino’

Morning shootaround — July 26


VIDEO: GameTime: News And Notes

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo: It wasn’t about the money | Noah excited about new-look Bulls | Report: Johnson steps away from NBPA search | A longer All-Star break?

No. 1: Melo: It wasn’t about the moneyCarmelo Anthony re-signed with the New York Knicks for five years and $124 million, a year and $28 million more than he could gotten from any other team. But, in speaking with ESPN on Friday, Anthony said that his decision wasn’t about the money and that he doesn’t think the Knicks are “that far away” from contending for a championship:

Carmelo Anthony said it was not the money, but instead his confidence in team president Phil Jackson and his belief that the New York Knicks “aren’t that far away from contending for an NBA title,” that made him opt to remain in New York instead of signing with the Chicago Bulls.

“I want to win. I don’t care about the money,” Anthony told ESPN.com. “I believe Phil will do what he has to do to take care of that.

“I don’t think we’re that far away,” he added. “People use ‘rebuilding’ too loosely.”

In what were believed to be Anthony’s first public comments since agreeing to a five-year deal worth $124 million earlier this month, he told ESPN.com that the decision was so agonizing in the final days that he could not watch TV or go on the Internet.

“It was overwhelming,” Anthony said. “It was stressful in the final days, one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”

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One Team, One Stat: The Right Kinds Of Shots In Houston

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Houston Rockets, who added another star this summer.

The basics
HOU Rank
W-L 45-37 t-11
Pace 98.6 1
OffRtg 106.7 6
DefRtg 103.5 16
NetRtg +3.3 9

The stat

14.6 percent - Percentage of Rockets shots that came from mid-range.

The context

That was, by far, the lowest rate in the league. In fact, it was just a little more than half the league average (28.3 percent). Mid-range shots are the least efficient shots and the Rockets did their best to avoid them.

Houston took 38.7 percent of their shots from the restricted area, the third-highest rate in the league, behind only Denver and Detroit. They took 10.3 percent of their shots from the corners, the second-highest rate in the league, behind only Miami. Lastly, 24.5 percent of their shots were above-the-break threes, again the second-highest rate in the league (behind only New York).

The Rockets’ shot selection helped them make the most of their talent offensively. They didn’t rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage from any area on the floor, but because they took the right kinds of shots, they ranked fifth in effective field goal percentage and sixth in offensive efficiency.

Rockets shooting by area, 2012-13

Area FG% Rank %FGA Rank
Restricted area 61.5% 11 38.7% 3
Other paint 35.0% 24 11.7% 27
Mid-range 36.6% 27 14.6% 30
Corner 3 39.4% 12 10.3% 2
Above-break 3 35.6% 14 24.5% 2

Omer Asik ranked fifth in the league in shot attempts from the restricted area, while James Harden ranked second among guards. Carlos Delfino and Chandler Parsons both ranked in the top 20 in corner 3-point attempts, and Harden, Delfino and Parsons all ranked in the top 25 in attempts from above the break. Harden led the league in free throw attempts.

The following are highlights from a win in Milwaukee when 56 of the Rockets’ 83 shots were from the restricted area (where they were 26-for-38) or from the corners (9-for-18). Only eight (9.6 percent) of the 83 shots came from mid-range.


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The addition of Dwight Howard shouldn’t change the Rockets’ shot selection much. Howard ranked second in the league in shots from the restricted area and, as a more dangerous threat than Asik on the pick-and-roll, he will create tons of open looks for the Rockets’ shooters.

Delfino, who signed with Milwaukee, will be missed. He fit right in as a small-ball four who was a threat from either the corner or above the break and wouldn’t hurt the Rockets too much defensively. Houston has started three different power forwards in four preseason games thus far, looking for the right fit on both ends of the floor.

Whether he starts or not, the hope is that Omri Casspi can replace Delfino’s shooting. Casspi has actually been the better shooter from the corners over the last four seasons, but Delfino has been better from above the break and has shot at a much higher volume.

3-point shooting by area, last four seasons

Corner 3 ATB 3 Total
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG%
Omri Casspi 92 209 44.0% 153 480 31.9% 245 694 35.3%
Carlos Delfino 205 484 42.4% 278 823 33.8% 483 1,309 36.9%

Donatas Motiejunas has yet to get comfortable beyond the arc and Terrence Jones probably doesn’t belong out there yet. So the search for the right power forward in the Rockets’ pace-and-space system will go on. The right fit could be what turns Houston into a true title contender, and it may be that it requires trading Asik.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Timberwolves Dread ‘Next Man Down’ Repeat of Injuries

Luke Ridnour played 82 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season – yeah, he was the one – and 206 of a possible 230 in three seasons there, qualifying for some sort of iron-man award.

Owing perhaps to his relative lack of time in the Wolves’ trainers room, the Bucks’ 10-year veteran guard had no theories about that team’s miserable run of injuries and bad luck. But he wasn’t exactly surprised, either, when he learned Monday afternoon that his former teammate, Minnesota forward Chase Budinger, was hurt again.

“When I was in Minnesota, everyone was hurt,” Ridnour said. “I don’t know what the deal is but … we had a good team but when you get banged up, it’s hard to do anything.”

That’s why the latest about Budinger was so potentially demoralizing: The Wolves announced Tuesday that the small forward underwent surgery on his left knee for a meniscectomy, performed by noted sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla. Last November, Budinger suffered a lateral meniscus tear in the same knee and missed 59 games, returning only for the final four weeks of the season. He was thought to be nearly full strength for camp but now will be out indefinitely.

And it’s only natural that, given the recent snake-bit history, other Wolves might be glancing sideways, wondering who’s next. Coach Rick Adelman talked at Media Day Monday about the road – to emergency rooms and operating arenas – that none of them wants to go down, as reported by Mark Remme on the team’s Web site:

On Monday at Target Center, Wolves coach Rick Adelman said Budinger is a tough loss at small forward to start the season. That entire crew projected to play the 3—Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams, Shabazz Muhammad—is either new to the team or to the position. Budinger was the most experienced player at that position within Adelman’s system. Brewer is the favorite for the starting nod.

“I just felt so bad for [Budinger],” Adelman said. “He’s the type of player who can really add to what we do offensively. I feel bad for him, and I really don’t want it to become a trend. With last year it really became a trend.”

To be specific, Minnesota lost 341 “man games” to injuries in 2012-13, led by Brandon Roy‘s 76, Kevin Love‘s 64, Malcolm Lee‘s 63 and Budinger’s 59. Point guard Ricky Rubio missed 24 in his return season from ACL/LCL surgery the previous spring. Even Adelman, who cobbled together 16 different starting lineups, missed games in midseason while attending to his wife Mary Kay‘s medical condition.

High hopes of ending an eight-year playoff drought fizzled into a 31-51 record and 12th place finish in the Western Conference.

“Basketball, [injuries are] part of the game,” said Ridnour, who started all 82. “A lot of ours, they were just freak deals. A broken bone? You can’t do anything about that. Bone spur, you can’t do anything about that. Kevin Love’s [twice-broken] hand – it wasn’t even during practice. So it’s just freak deals.”

Various tongue-in-cheek theories about the franchise’s bad luck have been floated at moments of past breakdowns, such as here and here. Several NBA teams, including the Wolves this season, have bulked up their strength and conditioning staffs, and some are exploring advanced analytics that might apply to training and physiology. But good fortune and pacing might play considerable roles, too.

Said Ridnour: “You look at the teams that do well, they stay healthy. Most of the time – the top seven guys play the majority of the season. It’s a grind. That’s something that’s made San Antonio so successful, knowing how to keep their older guys fresh. You look at ‘em, those guys stay healthy. They don’t care what [resting guys] looks like.”

Some of the biggest storylines in the NBA as camps open involve injury comebacks, from Love and Chicago’s Derrick Rose to OKC’s Russell Westbrook, Boston‘s Rajon Rondo and Lakers star Kobe Bryant. And just for the record, none of the 30 organizations is immune.

Moments after Ridnour talked about the Wolves, an old pal from his first stint in Milwaukee ambled out of the locker room. Small forward Carlos Delfino, who fractured a bone in his right foot during Houston’s first-round series, signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract as a free agent to return to the Bucks. He still was in a walking boot Monday, will miss all of camp and has a return date as indefinite as Budinger’s.

Open For Business On Free-Agent Sunday



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – There are still potentially two big fish available in a shrinking free-agent summer pond. And while Sunday saw no concrete offers for either Andrew Bynum or Monta Ellis, the general sentiment is that things could change dramatically at either time for one, if not, both of them.

The Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets are reportedly interested in acquiring Ellis, who can slide into a specific role in either location. The Hawks need to restock their ranks with impact players and Ellis, a legitimate 20-point scorer, could add immediate punch at shooting guard. Denver has a hole to fill where Andre Iguodala worked last season and Ellis could also be a fit there.

The market for Bynum’s services seems to have taken a familiar turn in this wild free-agent summer, and that’s to Texas, where the Dallas Mavericks are looking for a frontcourt anchor to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. They had their sights on Dwight Howard, of course, but since that didn’t work out they’ve had to work down their list. Now Bynum appears to be in their sights, though they are cautious about his knees, as any team would be at this point.

That said, some folks believe a surprise team could win the Bynum sweepstakes.

This one could get really interesting before it’s all over.

Making things even more intriguing is what will happen with incumbent Rockets center Omer Asik, who reportedly wants no part of playing behind Howard and has asked to be traded. The Rockets have no intention of trading him, according to ESPN.com, making for an extremely intriguing next few days for any team desperate for a center.

Free agency is only a week old but there are already tons of wrinkles. As for the other business that went down Sunday, here are some of the highlights:

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Free Agent Tracker

Howard An Upgrade For Houston, But Role Players Still Critical

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Say what you want about the way Dwight Howard has carried himself away from the basketball court over the last couple of years, the way he has held the basketball world hostage on multiple occasions, and the way he walked away from the Lakers less than a year after requesting a trade out of Orlando. Feel free to question his character or his ability to be a leader.

The bottom line is that he’s an impact player on both ends of the floor and the Houston Rockets are happy to have him (assuming he doesn’t change his mind in the next five days). Over the last five seasons, Howard’s teams have outscored their opponents by 1,989 points with him on the floor and have been outscored by 231 points with him on the bench.

Highest raw +/-, last five seasons
Player +/-
LeBron James +3,330
Dwyane Wade +2,055
Dwight Howard +1,989
Tim Duncan +1,872
Kobe Bryant +1,822

Plus-minus always needs context, but a five-year sample speaks of both talent (on both offense and defense) and durability. And over the last five years, only two players have had a higher plus-minus than Howard (see table to the right), who didn’t have much of a supporting cast until he went to L.A.

Last season, though his mobility was limited as he recovered from back surgery, Howard still made an impact defensively. The Lakers allowed just 101.7 points per 100 possessions – which would rank 10th in the league – with him on the floor, but 107.8 – which would rank 28th – with him on the bench. Their weak-side defense was consistently atrocious, but he held them together with his paint protection.

(In 586 minutes with Howard on the floor and Kobe Bryant on the bench, L.A. allowed just 98.7 points per 100 possessions, a mark which would rank third, behind only Indiana and Memphis.)

When Howard was on the floor, only 31.7 percent of opponent shots came from the restricted area. When he was on the bench, that number was 37.3 percent. Not only did he keep opponents away from the basket, but the Lakers also fouled less and rebounded better when he was on the floor. Those numbers are a reflection on the guys replacing him as much as they are on Howard, as well as an indication that the Lakers’ defense will be awful next season.

Omer Asik is a very good defensive center himself. In fact, Rockets opponents only attempted 30.3 percent of their shots from the restricted area with Asik on the floor last season. And his on-off-court DefRtg differential (5.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) was almost the same as Howard’s (6.0).

Asik isn’t the shot-blocker that Howard is, but he doesn’t foul quite as much and was a better defensive rebounder than Howard last season. Asik grabbed 30.3 percent of available defensive boards when he was on the floor, while Howard grabbed 27.5 percent.

We can expect Howard to be more mobile and, therefore, more of a defensive force next season. And he’ll play more than the 30.0 minutes per game that Asik logged for Houston last year. An additional six minutes of great defense every night is worth about three spots in the defensive rankings and two more wins in the standings.

But if the Rockets are to improve from 17th in defensive efficiency to the top 10 (where a team needs to be in order to truly contend for a title), they’ll need better D on the perimeter in addition to the upgrade from Asik to Howard. (It’s assumed here that they trade Asik before the season. If they have both centers, then they have 48 minutes of rim protection, a top 10 defense, and less depth on the perimeter.)

Offense is where Howard is a bigger upgrade over Asik. In his three-year career, Asik has shot 56 percent – worse than the league average – in the restricted area. In the same three seasons, Howard has shot 68 percent in the restricted area. A bigger target with better hands, he also gets more shots there.

The Rockets ranked sixth offensively last season, scoring 106.7 points per 100 possessions. Only two teams – Denver and Detroit – took a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area, only one – New York – took a greater percentage of its shots from 3-point range, and only three – the Lakers, Thunder and Nuggets – attempted more free throws.

Turnovers were an problem. The Rockets committed 16.6 of them – most in the league – per 100 possessions. Asik was responsible for a lot of them, but Howard’s turnover rate was almost as bad in L.A. And Houston will make up for the miscues by taking the right shots and getting to the line.

The shooting numbers from the field should be even more extreme next season, because Howard isn’t going to be shooting many pick-and-pop, mid-range jumpers. And, of course, about a third of L.A.’s free throws are moving to Houston. James Harden and Howard ranked first and third, respectively, in free throw attempts last season. Now, they’re both on the same team and foul trouble for Houston opponents promises to be a regular occurrence.

For the Rockets to reach optimum efficiency, Howard needs to shoot better from the line. Over his last two seasons, he has shot just 49 percent on free throws, making each trip worth only 0.98 points. Over his first seven seasons, each trip was worth 1.20 points, more than a shot from the field (1.15 points).

Either way, the Harden/Howard pick and roll promises to be deadly, especially if the Rockets surround the pair with 3-point shooting. Chandler Parsons (38 percent from beyond the arc last season) is a good start, but more shooters are needed and Carlos Delfino (38 percent) will be missed. Bringing back Francisco Garcia (37 percent) on a minimum contract (a deal reported Saturday afternoon) is a good move. But if Houston can’t pry Ryan Anderson from the Pelicans, the development of Donatas Motiejunas as a stretch four will be critical.

So Rockets general manager Daryl Morey still has some work to do. He’s acquired two stars in the last 10 months, but needs to build the right supporting cast around them. And it’s all about perimeter defense and perimeter shooting.

Rockets Down To A One-Game Season

 

HOUSTON – The temptation is to change without Russell Westbrook in the Thunder lineup. The temptation is to try to exploit that gaping hole in the backcourt.

But going back to that infamous apple hanging from the tree, temptation has often led to trouble.

“We can’t change who we are,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “We can’t suddenly change our style and become some team that we’re not. It’s not like we’re gonna show up and suddenly play like an inside-out team with Hakeem Olajuwon in the middle.”

The task for the Rockets in Game 3 tonight at the Toyota Center is to keep stomping down hard on the gas pedal, keep moving the basketball from side to side on the court and continue to play with the sense of urgency that was evident in their fourth-quarter comeback in Game 2.

The absence of Westbrook does not mean the Rockets are facing a situation that is any less desperate.

Of 44 previous No. 8 seeds to fall into an 0-2 hole in the first round of the playoffs, only one has managed to climb back out.

“We’ve got a one-game season,” McHale said. “That’s as simple as it is. We better be desperate. We’re down 2-0 coming home in a playoff series. We got to play well. We got to do all the things we did last game, but more.”

Rather than an OKC that is reeling, the Rockets have got to figure the Thunder will come rolling with an added measure of emotion. They have got to expect that the league’s second-leading scorer Kevin Durant will now have the ball in his hands even more and will put up more shots.

“That sounds like fun for me,” said Chandler Parsons, who will get the lion’s share of the defensive duty on Durant.

“Anytime someone goes down, it gives the team an opportunity for someone to step up. (Westbrook’s) a huge part of their team. They’re hurting right now. That’s one of their leaders. That’s one of their best players going down.

“Now we’ve got to really get them while they’re down. Obviously we have an opportunity…and we have to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Just because Westbrook is out doesn’t mean we’re not still down 0-2. The urgency’s still there and it’s probably even more now. Just understanding that it’s a very winnable game and we need to go in there and set the tone and really make this series fun by getting a win.”

The Rockets are expecting that Reggie Jackson will get the start for OKC in Westbrook’s place, but they can’t afford to concern themselves with match-ups.

Houston could be missing a cog in its own starting lineup depending on the status of point guard Jeremy Lin. He suffered a bruised chest muscle in Game 2 and is considered a game-time decision. However Lin did take part in Saturday morning’s shootaround. Big man Greg Smith was suffering from stomach distress and did not participate in the shootaround.

Nevertheless, what’s important for the Rockets is to clean up all of the problems in their own game. In the series opener, the NBA’s youngest team was overwhelmed by the first playoff experience for most of the roster and was swamped. When the ball moved better in their offense and presented open shots in Game 2, the Rockets made just 36 of 91 shots and were only 10-for-34 from behind the 3-point line.

And the one thing the Rockets cannot do at all is think for even a moment that Westbrook’s absence could make things easier.

“It’s a dangerous situation,” said forward Carlos Delfino.

Series Hub: Thunder vs. Rockets

Fast-And-Loose Rockets Defy Convention

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DALLAS – What Mike D’Antoni must think of these young, run-and-gun, jack-‘em-up Houston Rockets.

“They are an exciting team,” said Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, a staple on D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns. “And, on the floor, they are a team I haven’t seen in a long time.”

Maybe since your Suns teams, Shawn?

James Harden and Co., are turning conventional basketball on its ear, spurred by the analytics revolution that suggests mid-range jumpers in today’s game are a waste of time. The Rockets aren’t without flaws — namely a defense that allows far too many points — as was the case in Wednesday’s 112-108 loss at the Dallas Mavericks, a tough one to swallow as Houston tries to solidify its playoff position.

Their offensive approach, however, continues to defy convention at a pulsating pace. The Rockets score the majority of their points in three ways: Drives to the basket for the majority of their high-frequency points in the paint, free throws and 3-pointers. Consider in Wednesday’s game that 100 of their 108 points came from those three areas — 38 points in the paint, 26 points from the free-throw line and 36 more from beyond the arc.

“That’s Rockets basketball,” Harden said.

Houston is the youngest team in the NBA and, at 33-29, it is poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They’re tied for the league lead in scoring at 107.0 points a game with Oklahoma City. They’re second behind the Knicks in 3-pointers attempted per game (28.7) and 3s made per game (10.6), fourth in free throws made per game (18.9) and second in points in the paint per game (46.5).

“We’re doing what suits us best,” said Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, who had 23 points and was 5-for-8 from beyond the arc against Dallas. “We don’t mind what other people do. That’s the way we should play. That’s the best style that we play is up and down with the personnel we have. I think that suits us best. I think it’s a perfect situation, a perfect style for the way we play, how young we are; we got shooters, we got playmakers. I think there’s no other way to play.”

Last month, the Rockets tied the NBA’s all-time 3-point record by draining 23 against the Warriors. Since the All-Star break, Houston has increased its 3-point attempts to a whopping 32.3 a game. They went 19-for-46 in a two-point loss at Washington two weeks ago. In the last seven games, the Rockets have attempted 30 or more 3s five times.

“They shoot about 25-30 3s a night, and that’s a lot of 3s,” Marion said.

Yes it is. But the exchange is worth it. In those seven games, the Rockets are 102-for-226 from beyond the arc for an astounding 45.1 percent. After Wednesday’s 12-for-32 performance (37.5 percent), they’re shooting it at 37.0 percent on the season.

“I don’t think, with our offense, you can’t put a number on it [3-point attempts],” Parsons said. “We go up and down so fast that sometimes in the flow of a game shots are there and sometimes they’re not. So, I don’t think the 3s hurt us. I think it’s just part of our game and if we have open shots we’re going to take them.”

The question, assuming the Rockets hold onto their playoff spot, is if this style can win in the grind-it-out postseason. Of course, Houston won’t be favored to beat either of their most likely postseason foes (OKC or San Antonio) so it might take another year or two of seasoning before the Rockets come of age and their style becomes dissected in the playoffs like the D’Antoni’s old Suns.

“We know the difference now between good 3s and bad 3s,” Harden said. “So, when guys are open I think everybody on the team is going to say shoot the ball.”

That’s exactly what they’re doing.

After Trades, Rockets Take Pace And Space To New Level

BROOKLYN – The general consensus is that the Houston Rockets made a great deal in acquiring Thomas Robinson from the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. Robinson, selected with the No. 5 pick just eight months ago, has the potential to be one of the best rebounders in the league some day. He’s an active athlete who will only benefit from escaping the dysfunction of Sacramento.

But in making the trade and a subsequent deal with the Phoenix Suns, the Rockets traded both their starting power forward, Patrick Patterson, and his back-up, Marcus Morris. And they either compromised an offensive system that ranks in the top five in efficiency or a defense that has been just good enough to keep them on the right side of the .500 mark.

Robinson may one day start at the four for Houston, but he’s a very different player than both Patterson and Morris. And it’s unclear how he fits into how the Rockets have been playing all season.

Houston is the ultimate pace-and-space team. They play the fastest tempo in the league and they keep the floor spread, allowing James Harden and Jeremy Lin to attack the basket off of pick and rolls. Patterson and Morris played their part as stretch bigs.

At the time of the trade, 13 of the Rockets’ 15 most-used lineups included either Patterson or Morris, who attempted about 60 percent of their shots from outside the paint and accounted for about two 3-pointers per game.

Kevin McHale admitted to having seen very little of his new rookie, but he knows that Robinson isn’t that kind of player.

“We’re going to have space a little bit different,” he said Friday.

For now, the Rockets are making due with Carlos Delfino playing the four, alongside Chandler Parsons at the three. It’s a lineup they’ve used before, but only once (previous to the trades) had it played more than nine minutes together.

General manager Daryl Morey believes that his team can survive, and even thrive, with the Parsons/Delfino tandem at forward.

“It’s sustainable,” Morey told reporters on Thursday. “If you look across the league, when teams play small, they play well. Your offense goes up. Your defense goes down, but your offense goes up more than your defense goes down. So a lot of teams are playing small. We’ve got the personnel to do it. We’ve got the style that fits. I absolutely think it’s a sustainable way to play against almost any opponent.”

McHale doesn’t seem to be completely on board with that sentiment, saying that the Rockets can play Delfino at the four “situationally.” The bottom line is that the two trades took two guys out of McHale’s rotation and replaced them with a question mark.

But so far, so good. After Friday’s 106-96 win in Brooklyn, the Rockets are 2-0 with their new starting lineup, with wins over the Thunder and Nets. They’ve been outrebounded in each game, but have shot 31-for-63 (49 percent) from beyond the arc.

Over the course of the season, the Rockets’ new lineup has been excellent offensively, scoring 112.9 points per 100 possessions in 133 minutes together. It’s yet to be really hurt on the glass and held its own defensively.

Really, it’s just taking the pace-and-space style to a new level. Less size, more shooting. Delfino has played 79 minutes over the last two games after averaging just 25 per game before the trades. He knows that he can only try his best to keep power forwards like Reggie Evans off the boards, and that the Rockets can take advantage of the same matchup offensively.

“When we go small, we play against big people and we try to create space,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s not just me getting my shots or having the ball, but [it's] rotations. They don’t rotate off me and they have more space in the paint.”

That’s exactly what happened in the first half on Friday. The Nets stayed at home on Delfino on the weak side, and the Rockets got a handful of dunks and layups off their pick and roll. Harden was the star against OKC on Wednesday, but his team managed to beat Brooklyn on Friday despite a relatively quiet night (22 points and only five trips to the line) from their All-Star.

Time will tell if the small lineup can hold up over time and keep the Lakers at bay in the playoff chase, and if Robinson has a place in McHale’s rotation this season. Certainly, 49 percent from 3-point range isn’t sustainable, but Houston does have an easier schedule than L.A. going forward.

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One additional note: While the Sacramento trade makes complete sense, the trade that sent Morris to Phoenix for the Suns’ second-round pick was a little more curious. Morris wasn’t playing big minutes every night, but he obviously would have helped replace Patterson’s production if the Rockets had just made the one deal.

Morey said that he likes having high second-round picks and one has to wonder if the Rockets have already fallen in love with a player they project will be available when that Suns selection comes up. Right now, it’s set to be the No. 35 pick in the draft.

Houston got Parsons with the No. 38 pick two years ago.

Clippers Top League’s Best Benches

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After Thursday’s 90-77 win in Minnesota, the Los Angeles Clippers are now 3-0 without MVP candidate Chris Paul.

All three wins have come on the road against good teams, and in none of them have the Clippers required a huge performance from one of their other starters. In fact, Blake Griffin has averaged just 16.3 points in the three wins. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, has done a decent job of running the team, but has totaled only 11 assists.

The Clippers won the three games — and won them all comfortably –for the same reason that Paul has been able to sit the entire fourth quarter in nine of the 37 games he’s played in: They have the best bench in basketball.

Here’s all you need to know about the Clippers’ bench and why they’re a much-improved team: Last season, the Clips were outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Griffin was on the bench. This year, they’re outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the bench.

That’s a 23.3-point turnaround and that’s really what it’s all about. A good bench should build on leads, not lose them. That’s why the Bulls’ bench was so good the last couple of years, even though it didn’t have anybody who could really score. When Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were on the floor together, the Bulls shut down foes and scored enough to build on the lead the starters gave them.

With that in mind, here are the best benches in the NBA …

L.A. Clippers

The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.

Though Crawford is known for his offense, this is really a defensive unit that has only scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, just a notch above the league average. But it has allowed only 88.3, making it the second-best defensive unit of the league’s 72 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.

The question is how Grant Hill fits in. In Hill’s first game back, that unit only played six minutes together. And in the last three games, it hasn’t played together at all, though that may have more to do with Bledsoe starting.

Either way, it would be disappointing if coach Vinny Del Negro broke up such an effective unit. And it really could affect where the Clippers finish in the Western Conference standings.

San Antonio

Though Manu Ginobili has been neither healthy nor sharp, the Spurs’ bench continues to get the job done. It’s just tough to determine where the starters end and where the bench begins, because eight different guys have started at least nine games for San Antonio already. But coach Gregg Popovich‘s ability to mix-and-match lineups will little drop-off is part of what makes the Spurs’ bench so good.

The Spurs don’t have a full bench unit like the Clippers. Their latest starting unit is Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Their most-used lineup that includes at least three other Spurs has only played 38 minutes together, and that lineup includes Parker and Duncan.

This is why we’d rate the Spurs’ bench behind that of the Clippers. But San Antonio is still outscoring its opponents by a solid 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Duncan off the floor. That’s a very good thing. (more…)

Delfino Makes Milwaukee Return ‘Special’

 

MILWAUKEE – Fine, so it wasn’t as big or as triumphant as Jeremy Lin‘s return to Madison Square Garden. Emotions weren’t raw and racing just below the surface the way they were for James Harden and the Houston Rockets when he went back to Oklahoma City just a month after being traded.

But Carlos Delfino enjoyed his time with the Milwaukee Bucks, wasn’t eager to leave and wound up taking some real satisfaction from his first trip back Friday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“It’s always special going against your old team,” said Delfino, the eight-year NBA veteran who spent the past three seasons in Milwaukee. The 6-foot-6 swingman stuck the Bucks for 22 points – nine in the second quarter to whittle down an 18-point deficit, then 13 in the fourth to seal the comeback in a 115-101 victory.

Delfino averaged 10.6 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Bucks, starting 159 of his 178 appearances. He helped them reach the playoffs in his first season, then was badly missed in 2010-11 when he sat more than two months with concussion symptoms and neck strain.

Last summer, after a second straight lottery appearance, Milwaukee headed in a non-Delfino direction, counting on Mike Dunleavy and young Tobias Harris at small forward while committing to Monta Ellis alongside Brandon Jennings in the backcourt. Delfino was on the market until late August, his work for Argentina (15.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) in the London Olympics done.

It wasn’t Bucks GM John Hammond ringing his phone, it was the Rockets’ Daryl Morey instead.

“I was sad in the moment. I thought I was staying in Milwaukee,” Delfino said. “I had a good feeling with everybody in the city, after you’ve been defending the colors for three years. Then when I didn’t have any offer, I didn’t get sad about that or blame anyone. It’s a business. But I was feeling more about the personal stuff. Getting a call. … I was more sad about that.”

What the Bucks and Bradley Center fans saw Friday was classic Carlos: Not his rousing, somewhat unexpected, one-handed driving dunk but his 8-of-11 shooting, including 6-of-7 on 3-pointers (while the rest of the Rockets were going 7-of-26 from the arc). Houston is 9-2 this season when Delfino makes at least three 3-pointers in a game; the past two seasons, the Bucks were 20-10 on those nights.

“When Carlos makes a couple, he’s got a beautiful shot,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said afterward. “I watch him in practice sometimes just shoot. When he’s relaxed and guys are rebounding for him, he goes for long, long stretches without missing.”

Delfino, who is 29 but seems to have been on the NBA scene much longer, also is a helpful veteran on an extremely young roster. “Carlos has no agenda,” McHale said. “He’s a pro. … It’s the same thing I felt about Luis Scola last year – these guys have been playing pro ball since they’re, like, 14. They have such a relaxed feel, they’re fun to be around.”

The Bucks aren’t having much fun at the moment. They have dropped three in a row and four of six, heading into their game at Indiana Saturday. Coach Scott Skiles, his staff, Hammond and half the locker room are working in the final years of their contracts.

The roster is heavily tilted toward the frontcourt, with only Beno Udrih as a reliable backup at guard. The guy they acquired to plug Andrew Bogut‘s hole last season, Samuel Dalembert, doesn’t play these days. Neither does Drew Gooden, who did what he could to plug that spot last season.

As the Bucks threw the ball away 19 times and shot 38.9 percent in the second half, they could have used someone exactly like Delfino. But he was working from the other end, in road colors, making sure his trip back to town stayed special.