On Sunday night, the Houston Rockets lost an incredibly crucial game with the Miami Heat, falling to 2.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoff chase. In that game, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James had their way with the Rockets defense, scoring 33 and 31 points respectively. In a bit of quick correlation = causation theory, Ira Winderman at Pro Basketball Talk lambasted the Rockets for giving up defensive stopper Shane Battier, and says it could have been the difference between making the playoffs and not:
By contrast, when it comes to front-office intelligence, we've long assumed that Daryl Morey was smarter than the rest of us.
Now? Not so sure.
When the Heat was scoring at record paces with all their 30-point performances Sunday night against the Rockets, one couldn't help but wonder: What would Battier do?
By gum, you're right! Lets see what the Rockets did with Battier against the Heat earlier this year! Oh wait, the Heat scored 125 points, and Wade dropped 45 on them. Clearly losing Battier made a huge difference in this one game.
In trading Shane Battier, Houston not only surrendered the type of defensive presence that at least might have slowed LeBron James or Dwyane Wade during their breakout performances Sunday, but they also dealt Battier to their prime competition for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies.
So, to reset:
Without Battier's defensive presence, the Rockets lost 125-119 to the Heat on Sunday night.
With Battier's contribution, the Grizzlies defeated the Spurs 111-104 Sunday.
Look, the Rockets have hovered around 25th in defensive efficiency all season. Counting games with Shane Battier. Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes just aren't enough of a defensive presence to intimidate anyone who successfully drives past a guard, which would seem to make the Rockets very vulnerable to players like say, Wade and James. We could go with the circumstantial evidence that points to Battier not being a big key in the Rockets defense anymore, something that's backed up by how he's getting long in the tooth. Or we could go with your completely convoluted straight-line-through-the-maze idea that says Battier would have smacked Wade and James around. Just like he did the first time the Heat and Rockets played this year.
The upshot is a 2 1/2-game Memphis lead over Houston for the final playoff spot in the West.
As for what the Rockets got in return for Battier? That would be Hasheem Thabeet, who currently can be found in the D-League.
Somehow, we never quite viewed the NBA trading deadline as a vehicle to improve the playoff prospects of the Rio Grande Vipers (although Thabeet did have a solid two-point performance in a Sunday loss to the Texas Legends, dominated by former Nets center Sean Williams).
Yes, completely ignore the first round pick and the fact that there was no market for Shane Battier. It's all about the slim chance to turn Thabeet around! The Rockets have ruined their playoff chances by getting rid of a half-decent player for a future first rounder!
P.S: Shane Battier is shooting 37% for the Grizz, including 29% from behind the arc. He's only getting 24 minutes a game. All of his numbers are down as Memphis tries to integrate him into their rotation. It's almost like the Grizzlies were a good team with or without him! I wonder if this factored into the analysis!