The Rockets got through the first round of the playoffs with relative ease, but Ryan Anderson had his worst playoff series since 2011 and it might be a worry in round two against the Spurs.
The Rockets and Spurs will face off in the semi-finals in the west and they will both bring contrasting styles and lineups, which makes the series extremely interesting. The series could go either way, and it'll come down to the smaller details that ultimately decide each game. Without further ado, let's get into the talking points.
The Spurs can exploit Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson's deep three-point bombs are more important to Houston's offense than any other player besides James Harden. Against the Thunder, Anderson averaged 7.6 points in 28 minutes per game. What was even more worrying was the fact that he made just three of his 24 attempts from behind the arc. The Rockets were ultimately fine, but it might be more of a concern in round two. Anderson scored 18 points in game three of the Thunder series. He registered single figure scores for his other four games.
The Spurs lack a defender who can cover tall players on the perimeter. LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon don't really have the speed to switch easily on the pick and roll. Aldridge and Dedmon can hold their own at times, but Gasol and Lee can be torched, just as Enes Kanter was in the first round of the playoffs.
The threat of an Anderson pick and pop is always something that can scare a coach. Anderson pulls up from well beyond the three-point line, and as a career 38% shooter from behind the arc, it makes it almost impossible to deny a quality shot against the Harden/Anderson pick and pop.
The Spurs, however, may decide to exploit Anderson in order to keep Gasol and Lee on the floor for an extra offensive option. It may be worth having Gasol and Lee stay back to protect the paint, or even hedge really high to try and trap Harden. Ignoring Anderson is a risky strategy, but with his current slump, it may be a way to for the Spurs to play him off the floor.
Can Trevor Ariza hold his own against Kawhi Leonard?
The Grizzlies had no answers for Kawhi Leonard, which was to be expected. The Rockets, however, have Trevor Ariza, who has similar length and enough lateral quickness to at least bother Leonard on the perimeter. There's a strong chance Leonard could post up Ariza for easy buckets at times, but because Popovich loves to start with two bigs and Tony Parker, the spacing becomes dramatically reduced and the Rockets could find it fairly easy to help off their man and double team Leonard.
There's no real way to stop such an efficient scorer, especially in the form he's in. The Rockets are just going to have to hope that Ariza can stay with him for as long as possible. Sam Dekker looks ready to come back, and he may have the chance to guard Leonard at times off the bench, otherwise, it might be Pat Beverley or Eric Gordon who take over when Ariza needs a rest.
Will Nene dictate matchups?
Nene was simply sensational against the Thunder. He outplayed Clint Capela and had no difficulty scoring in the paint and finishing off plays in the pick and roll. If there's anyone that can stop Harden from getting the looks he wants, it's going to be Leonard.
With that in mind, coach Popovich finished the Memphis series by starting Lee next to Aldridge. Nene might pose a problem for David Lee if he plays as the nominal center, which logically opens up more time for Dedmon. D'Antoni would be happy to see Gasol and Lee's minutes reduced in order to keep points in the paint down.
Patty Mills may earn himself a huge contract
Patty Mills and Parker both played really well against the Grizzlies. Mills, in particular, had a few scoring explosions off the bench, and further solidified his strong year.
If the Rockets chose to guard Mills with Lou Williams, Harden or Gordon, there might be some problems. Mills proved that he could hit massive shots in crunch time and he may even be more important to the Spurs hopes than Danny Green down the stretch. Williams and Harden do not close out hard enough, and Mills has the motor to at least stay with those guys around picks when he's covering them on defense.
The Spurs do have some flexibility to offer Mills a backloaded deal in the $12-14 million range but expect teams like the Sixers and Knicks to throw an interesting offer his way if he has a massive series.
Who covers LaMarcus Aldridge?
This is going to be an interesting one. Capela holds his own when he has to switch on the pick and roll, and he's a good interior defender. Whether he can stop Aldridge in the mid-range is another story. Anderson is the other obvious contender, but he may be better suited to guarding Lee, as his foot speed won't be as exposed.
The Rockets could shake things up mid-series and start Nene, or at the very least, shorten Capela's minutes and see if Nene can be mobile enough to cover the space that Aldridge opens up, while also having the presence of mind to drop back and help protect the paint.