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NBA PM: Time to be Patient in Houston

The Houston Rockets are learning how to win in the postseason, making this a time to be patient not panic… Frank Vogel gets a vote of confidence from his boss Kevin Pritchard

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Time to be Patient in Houston

In the grand scheme of things, the Houston Rockets don’t have anything to panic about. Their core players Dwight Howard and James Harden still have several prime years left in their careers. This is only their first year together and we’ve seen even more promising combinations underachieve in year one. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t win a championship together in their first year together with the Miami HEAT. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal played three seasons together before they finally became champions; so did Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

The Rockets’ window to contend isn’t going to close anytime soon; this is far from a make or break season for them.

However, they are learning right now just how far away they are from being the league’s best. They got the first round match up that they wanted (according to rumors) against the Portland Trail Blazers. Yet, with the series now shifting to Portland after two games in Houston, they find themselves in a 0-2 hole. Nationally there is a lot of finger pointing going on, particularly at Harden and Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, but the series is far from over.

“I told the guys already: stay together, stay positive, don’t hold your heads, it’s not over with,” Howard said after Game 2. “It’s the first team to four. We have to stay together. We can’t drop our heads. We have to stay positive and we have to trust each other on the floor.

“We just gotta go out there and play, play together. That’s the only way we’re going to win. We can’t go up there having any negative thoughts about anybody on our team, we gotta be positive and that’s where the guys who have been there before have to step up and do it. We can’t focus on these last two games, they came in here and played great. We just have to win these next two games.”

While not the best big man in this series, that honor belongs to Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Howard has come through with two monster games as he looks for his first playoff win since 2011. Harden on the other hand, has been as bad as Howard has been good. He’s shot 14-47 combined in the series. Surprisingly, though, that’s the least of his concerns.

“I’m not worried about my offense,” Harden said. “I’m worried about our defense, our defense as a team. We get stops, we get out in transition, everyone feels good about themselves, that’s when assists flow in and things start going well. If we can get stops it makes it more difficult. They’re a good team. If we don’t get stops, it’s tough. We like to get out in transition. We like to get out, everybody feels good that’s when the threes, easy layups and dunks come. It’s tough if we’re not getting any stops.

“It’s basketball, you’re going to miss shots. It’s basketball, that’s it.”

In defense of his co-captain, Howard was very supportive.

“[Wesley] Matthews has played some pretty good defense,” Howard said. “He has to continue to play, continue to be aggressive and attack, always be in attack mode. I’m pretty sure he’ll find his groove in Portland.”

Despite the fact that Harden has been shooting at a horrific rate in this series, they’ve been in both games with a chance to win late. Their bigger issue is slowing down Aldridge, whose two 40-point outings to start the series have him ranked with the likes of some of the all-time greats. He became just the fifth player in NBA history to score 89 points in the first two games of a postseason, joining Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Tracy McGrady.

“He’s doing it at a high level,” Harden said. “Making tough shots, getting to the foul line, offensive rebounding. He’s doing the whole package. It’s tough for us. We gotta figure something out soon, Game 3 is either we win or it’s over. Game 3 is our season. If we don’t get Game 3 it’s going to be tough to get Game 4.

“We have to be together when we’re guarding him. We’re leaving him on an island to play 1-on-1. We gotta get him to give up the ball. When Dwight had it going they started double teaming him, made us move the ball, they showed us something. We gotta do some different things to get the ball out of his hands. He killed us.”

A common saying in life that holds true especially with winning in the NBA playoffs is that you have to learn to fail before you learn to succeed. There’s been a lot of celebrating going on in Houston since the arrival of Harden and it only increased when Howard came over to join him. But the process of becoming a championship team is a long, hard journey full of road blocks and setbacks. We’ll know a lot more about the Rockets after Game 3, but even if they fall in a 0-3 hole and don’t get out of the first round, it’s time to be patient, not panic. This team was built for the long haul, and an early exit could be what they need to make the most of the years to come.

Vogel Gets Vote of Confidence

In light of a report yesterday from ESPN stating that Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel was coaching for his job, today the team’s general manager Kevin Pritchard made a public vote of confidence to contradict the report:

The Pacers resume their series with the Atlanta Hawks, which is tied at 1-1, tonight, so it was important for the Pacers executives to get ahead of this issue and not let it become something that has an impact in their locker room.

However, to look at this as Vogel completely being off the hot seat would be a bit hasty. Of course the Pacers were going to deny this report. It only stands the chance to hurt them if they don’t. So, Vogel shouldn’t be feeling too safe, because if the Pacers do indeed get upset, or even come up shy of making the Eastern Conference Finals, some changes are inevitably going to be made. And, despite this tweet, he could be involved in one of those changes.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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