This is close to treading water, but sometimes it is frustrating to see how badly a team is coached, and the bullheadedness of some NBA coaches with other options just there next to them to use. Kevin McHale isn’t willing, or isn’t strong enough, to move James Harden off of his perch where he feels very comfortable, but is also playing very badly at the moment, and turning to Jeremy Lin out of the blue either isn’t going to happen or isn’t going to help.
Why? Because when a player spends 25 minutes on the floor, like Lin did in game 2, but in shorts slots and without being used the right way (always or almost always next to Harden), isn’t going to give you what he can. James Harden might still have a huge game 3 and bring back the Rockets to life. The problem is the system built for that: A team shouldn’t be completely dependent on the shooting form of its number one player.
And even if that’s the number one option, there has to be a different plan. Not one like dumping the ball to Dwight Howard. Howard scoring 32 points is great, but it is predictable at some point, and the Rockets simply move from one predictability to another: Harden dribbling and taking the worst shot possible, or putting the ball in the paint for Howard to muscle his way through. It works early, but the Blazers learn, and Howard gets tired.
What’s hard to stop? Ball movement, off the ball screens, and creating open shots for others. That’s something that takes some training, but shouldn’t be that difficult to do. Not for a pro team with millionaire players. Not for a head coach who was a hall of fame player, who has been on the sidelines for quite a few years. But that seems to be too much expected out of McHale, who botched up the chance he had of giving himself a legitimate second option in Jeremy Lin to be a floor general. Not all the time (even though that might be a better option), but at least when it’s clear that Harden lowering his head and taking on defenders without a single thought in his head telling him that maybe this isn’t the right thing to do.
Patrick Beverley is the other guard McHale believes in. But Beverley isn’t the kind of player that takes over. He can get hot from the outside, and he can be pesky on defense. But he is injured, and he is limited to what others create for him. As John Lee noted, maybe the Rockets need to send him out on a mob hit kind of mission like he did with Russell Westbrook last season. That might be his biggest play in this series.
Maybe at some point McHale starts “punishing” Harden for playing like he’s alone on the floor, and gives Lin the key. Would it matter in the 85th game of the season? Would it make that much of a difference? He might get lucky and it will. I truly believe the Rockets are a team with better players overall than the Blazers. But a coach needs to know the strengths and weaknesses of his team, and to shift from them between and during games. McHale probably has one last chance to prove that he’s not that bad of a playcaller.