In the first match up the Houston Rockets debut their small lineup after trading Clint Capela, which has allowed former league MVP Russell Westbrook to maximize his talents in Houston. The Rockets would go on to win their match with Boston at home 116-105. Rockets All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 78 of Houston’s 116 points.
On Friday’s episode of ESPN’s The Jump the panel of Rachel Nichols, Amin Elhassan, and Scottie Pippen discussed what the Boston Celtics need to do to adjust to the Rockets’ small-ball lineup.
“Well, it is difficult because it is new, but they are going to have to try and make it work. I mean Houston is trying something new and teams are having to adjust on the fly. And they have the best score in the game [James Harden], so when you try to play small-ball you are putting yourself at a deficit because now you don’t have a rim protector,” said Pippen. “For me, I think Boston has the best talent and I think they should win in the small-ball battle other than James Harden being the x-factor. They have the talent and they should be able to outscore them.”
At the beginning of the season, Russell Westbrook and James Harden focused on dribbling all the time and Westbrook would shoot a three. Now, Westbrook is putting his head down and attacking the rim.
Nichols asked Pippen how he would defend Harden and Westbrook if he was on the court against these guys.
“I wouldn’t play into their hands, I would keep a big out on the floor because you have to a rim protector. What they are trying to do is to try to get teams to match up with their lineup, and if you match up with their lineup then they are going to have an advantage because of Westbrook and Harden,” Pippen shared. “The speed that they possess in terms of pushing the basketball, the downhill in terms of being able to score in transition. So, you really can’t match up the way they want to match up, but at times you are going to have to play small-ball because your bigs are not going to be able to get there.”
Harden has been a problem on the court as he continues to get under players’ skin Giannis Antetokounmpo in particular.
James Harden Takes a Shot and Giannis Antetokounmpo
In an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, the 2018 MVP James Harden fires a couple shots in the direction of the reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Harden was asked about Antetokounmpo’s comment during the All-Star draft earlier this month. The Greek Freak opted to select Celtics’ All-Star Kemba Walker instead of James Harden because he wanted “someone who can pass [the ball]”.
Harden wasn’t a fan of the comment.
“I average more assists than him [Kemba Walker], I think,” Harden said. “So, I don’t see what the joke is. But I didn’t even see it. I don’t pay attention to stuff like that. I just know none of them can mess with me. When it’s all said and done, they’ll appreciate it more. I wish I could just run with seven feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill, you know? I take that any day.”
Harden would continue stating that he felt he was the best player in the league.
“I feel like I’m the best player [in the NBA],” Harden told Nichols. “Yeah, throughout the course of the year I don’t see double teams for anybody else. Usually, you see a double team after you a 50-point night, 60-point night. If I have an 18-point night the next night I’m seeing double teams. Which is pretty cool. The NBA has never seen it before at half court. So I’m just trying to figure out how to obviously be great in that.”
Before the Bucks took on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night, Antetokounmpo responded to Harden’s comments.
“My game is not just power for sure,” Antetokounmpo said, according to Eric Woodyard of ESPN. “I came in when I was 18, I was 180 pounds, so to power through big guys was kind of tough.
“But obviously, it’s going to be times where you’ve got to power through guys. Like one of the best players LeBron, Michael Jordan, Kobe, and all those guys… Shaq, all those guys, they were extremely physical with their play. They made their presence felt in the paint, but obviously, I try to work on my game, midrange shots, 3s, being able to screen and roll faster and make the right pass.
“It’s hard to drive full speed and try to make the right pass to the corner. I try to get my passes more accurate and it’s a lot of things I’m still adding, and hopefully, when I add all those things in my game, I’m a more complete player and I’m better and can help my team win and the game is easier.”