In the aftermath of Houston's overtime loss in Game 1 Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers, a lot of the conversation about why the Rockets came up short revolved around Dwight Howard, as TNT NBA analyst Shaquille O'Neal made his usual stump speech about Howard coming up short in the box score as an elite big man.
Howard, in turn, reiterated his desire to be more aggressive demanding the ball, leading to a national debate about whether post-ups are an efficient play call and why O'Neal hates Howard so much.
I broke down Game 1 to separate reasons from excuses, looking for possible adjustments we might see for Game 2. Here's what I found:
A word about Shaq
Without a doubt, there is an element to O'Neal's analysis that is based in entertainment: He knows his comments serve as a lightning rod for attention and get viewers riled up (either denouncing him as a "hater" or agreeing with him in tearing down Howard). The other, less acknowledged, angle is that O'Neal's harsh criticism comes from about 20 years ago, when he was the big who caught flack for underachieving and not being "as good as legends that came before him." For O'Neal, there is a very real rite of passage at work when he puts down Howard, in much the same way that he was put down as "not as good as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar," and Kareem was "not as good as Wilt Chamberlain" and Wilt was "not as good as Bill Russell."