Mike Being Mike: Where’s The Defense?

What did you need to see out of the Rockets last night to make you think Mike D’Antoni has turned a page? That he has reacquainted himself with some lost soul of himself that honors, teaches and elevates defensive play? That he won’t push his best player to the brink of fatigue, nearly 38 minutes. That players don’t jack up threes just because. That his defense isn’t a sieve. I love all the D’Antoni will be different in Houston talk. Really? Since when do people change? Particularly, when do their philosophies do a major 360?

This is who Mike D’Antoni is, take it or leave it. The Rockets will put up a lot of points. It is embarrassing that you score 114 points and you lose a game. It is shameful that you have 71 points at half time and you lose the game. No shade on the Lakers young guys but they are young.

D’Angelo Russell is a second year player. Jordan Clarkson was a 46th pick three years ago. Julius Randle is a third year player. And let’s not discuss what slow Timofey Mozgov did to the Rockets by just being big and taking up space. He used that humongous body of his and found a way to score over Rockets defenders who were pretty apathetic.

Mozgov, who couldn’t get off the Cavs bench, shot 60%. Julius Randle missed two shots, had 7 rebounds and went to the cup at will, without anyone trying to stop him. He only missed two shots. The Lakers bench had 55 points, thanks to the Jordan Clarkson 25. Clarkson did have some contact but he has the athleticism and moves to shake off defenders. Still, an offensive rebound late hurt the Rockets.

This Lakers team is projected to win 24-26 games. Even though they are young, they have talent. Rookie Brandon Ingram can play the point and did a good job with his length on James Harden. D’Angelo Russell is an arrogant scorer who loves himself and can drain killer threes. Clarkson has the maturity to get into the lane and make shots. Julius Randle is a Texas talent, a mutli-gifted Kentucky product. Luke Walton is a rookie head coach.

The Lakers should not have beaten the Rockets. The Lakers should not have beaten the Rockets. They should not have been able to stay in the game. No one expects a team this young to do much defensively. The Lakers will be all offense this year. They start Nick Young for God’s sake. Case closed.

So what is the Rockets excuse?

Oh, they have Mike D’Antoni. The last time D’Antoni was in Staples Center it was to coach the 2013-14 Lakers post-Dwight Howard team. There was no Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell or Julius Randle. Just below average players like Wesley Johnson and Jodie Meeks. Meeks had a career year under D’Antoni. Just like James Harden will have a career year under D’Antoni. But will it matter?

My text messages post-game all said the same thing. D’Antoni is going to ruin James Harden the same way he ruined Kobe Bryant. Kobe isn’t in the league because during a stretch of games he played 48 minutes. His Achilles finally gave up. D’Antoni didn’t have the toughness to sit Kobe down, to be the boss. Harden is younger. His 37 or 38 or 40 minute nights may not matter now. But in five years his body will be broken from D’Antoni.

On the one hand, Harden will have a career year with D’Antoni as his coach, his first double-double year. He will be back on the All-NBA list. But this Rockets team can’t compete if they don’t forget about offense and try to stop scorers.

In the offseason, the Rockets signed nice offensive acquisitions. Ryan Anderson can score but he doesn’t guard anyone. Eric Gordon can score but he doesn’t guard anyone. Clint Capela can score but he is not physical enough, not a banger. James Harden is sublime with his hesitation dribble and will lead the league in free throw trips. But his defense is half-hearted.

A team is who their coach says they are. Mike D’Antoni says score. The Rockets will score. And score. But the last two minutes count. Can they stop the mediocre? Can they make shots late?

The Lakers had 4 blocked shots. The Rockets had one. The Lakers made 12 threes. The Rockets made 7. The Rockets shot 51%. The worst shooting team in the league last year shot 51%.

The Lakers played D’Antoni’s game. They were better at it. How many other teams can and will play D’Antoni’s game and be better at it? This isn’t 2006. Every team has a hybrid D’Antoni scheme. The Rockets can’t out-D’Antoni the league. At some point they have to shut teams down. At some point D’Antoni has to figure out that D’Antoni-ball is exciting but not efficient. You score 114. You give up 120. The math is wrong.

 

photo via llananba