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“He’s alright but he’s not real!”
In this case, they’re alright but they’re not real. Right?
On Jay Z’s Do It Again from Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, he wasn’t taking a shot at the Houston Rockets or Toronto Raptors but this lyric applies to both of these teams based on their track record especially in the playoffs.
The Rockets are an offensive force, which has even given Golden State problems this season. James Harden is extremely hard to contain in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and Houston won the season series, 2-1. Plus, Chris Paul hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and is thriving alongside Harden in the Rockets’ 3-point heavy game plan.
Clint Capela is the blueprint for how to finish a pick-and-roll and role players such as Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza are enjoying life as a spot-up shooter. On the defensive end along with Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker are reliable 3-and-D players.
Then the Rockets have this stellar winning percentage when Harden, Paul and Capela all play.
In the opposing conference, the Raptors are on pace to possibly prevent LeBron James from an eighth straight Finals’ appearance. Dwane Casey and staff have incorporated a better offense that has Toronto playing a more modernized brand of basketball.
Leading scorer DeMar DeRozan is playing a more analytic friendly game with less isolation for mid-range jumpers but this is making him less unique as an offensive player to the viewing audience even though sacrificing for a greater goal can’t be held against him. Backcourt running mate Kyle Lowry is still handling his business even though his scoring average is down from last season.
And the bench is the best in the association with C.J. Miles, Fred Van Vleet, Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright, Norman Powell and Jakob Poeltl giving opposing second units “that work.”
Toronto and Houston currently have the best records in the East and West, respectively, and will probably finish in that position since Golden State and Boston are having some issues with health.
But like Lupe stated on the Intro of his debut album Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, “I think the world and everything in it is made up of a mix of two things. You got your good, y’know, and your bad. You got your food, and your liquor.”
While this observation applies to DeRozan and Lowry collectively in the postseason, the same can be said about Harden and Paul individually.
Since LeBron returned to The Land for the 2014-15 season, the Raptors haven’t been impressive when the games matter the most. The first year they were swept by the Wizards then during the next two playoff series against Cleveland, the Raptors posed almost no threat to the Cavaliers and, at times, DeRozan and Lowry had shooting percentages colder than Toronto during the 2016 All-Star Game.
But this year should be different right? These aren’t the same-old Raptors. LeBron and Kyrie Irving are on different teams and their supporting casts have their own set of questions to answer. However, when games get tight and adjustments are made will DeRozan and Lowry fall back into old habits, and when rotations shorten, will the cast of characters on the Raptors’ bench be as impactful?
Before Paul arrived in Houston, his tenure with the Clippers had been marred with injuries and exits from the playoffs prior to the conference finals. In Paul’s nine playoff appearances, the point guard, who is sometimes rated higher than he should be, has never participated in the West Finals.
Contrary to Paul, Harden has been to the West Finals and Finals but his playoff performances haven’t been all that memorable. First in the Finals with Oklahoma City, Harden, who deserved a pass because he was young, struggled mightily against Miami then last season against San Antonio, the runner-up in the MVP voting just accepted defeat with the game still in reach.
Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon summed up the doubts about Harden in the postseason with this phrase on PTI: The last time we saw Harden in the playoffs he was on the mat reaching for his mouthpiece.
What a metaphor for the ages!
Then D’Antoni has shown time and time again the inability to adjust in the playoffs which probably led to Harden impersonating Mike Tyson last season. Paul, if healthy, has the capability of preventing Harden from reliving this but how will D’Antoni adjust the offense, which appears to be replaying on a loop at times, when Golden State makes its defensive adjustment?
So many intriguing questions surround the 2018 playoffs, and that is always a plus, but Harden had one answer for The Undefeated along with the pessimists back in January.
“We’re for real, for real. We are for real as it can get,” said the soon-to-be-crowned 2018 MVP.
The Raptors and Rockets are definitely better than alright but are they real?