The Houston Rockets are in a crossroads as coach Mike D’Antoni is in the final year as head coach of the Houston Rockets. Houston traded Chris Paul to OKC during the offseason and got Russell Westbrook in the deal. Then, they also gave away big man Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks for Robert Covington.
With P.J. Tucker and Covington acting as their primary big men, the Rockets have decided to go small the rest of the way. D’Antoni hopes that their speed and quickness are going to negate their disadvantages in height and length. With two former MVPs manning their backcourt, the Rockets hope to go all the way without a true center in their lineup.
D’Antoni believes that it’s big players, not necessarily big men, who make big plays, especially in the playoffs. Because of that philosophy, he’s put his final season in the hands of Harden and Westbrook. Will the gambit pay off?
Houston Rockets Season Summary
The Houston Rockets went to the lockdown with the 6th best record in the NBA at 40-24. The team relied on their backcourt tandem of James Harden and Russell Westbrook to deliver victories. The Rockets decided to go small-ball the rest of the way as they dealt center Clint Capela at the trade deadline. Houston won seven out of their first nine games after acquiring Robert Covington in the four-way deal that saw Capela go to the Atlanta Hawks. However, the team lost four consecutive games before beating the Minnesota Timberwolves in their last game before the suspension of the season.
Aside from the uncertainty of whether small ball basketball will take them to the land of promise, the Rockets also have a situation with head coach Mike D’Antoni. The Rockets’ mentor is in his final season as Houston coach after he ended extension talks during the offseason. With D’Antoni possibly leaving after the season, the Rockets went on a win-now mode. But as we said earlier, his small ball experiment had mixed results and it remains to be seen if it works against elite teams during a seven-game series.
The Rockets hope that the break gave enough time for Harden and Westbrook to recharge. Both players had very high usage rates during the 2019-20 season and if there was no suspension, it was very possible that they would have run out of gas in the playoffs. But with the four months off, I think that the Rockets’ backcourt duo will be fresh and ready for the playoffs.
The key player for the Rockets will be Covington. His offense and three-point shooting should provide more stability for the Houston offense. However, his work on the defensive end is what’s going to make or break the Rockets. Without a legitimate center, the Rockets are undersized with guys like P.J. Tucker and Covington possibly playing the five position. Covington averaged 12.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game with the Rockets. His versatility will be key for the Rockets’ success in the postseason.
The Rockets are one of the few teams heading to Orlando who doesn’t have any players on their injured list. Houston should be 100% when the restart begins and I think that we will see a rejuvenated James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Harden cooled off after a sensational start to his season but Westbrook picked up his game and delivered when Harden had his woes.
With these two former MVPs complimenting each other, I think that Houston is a dangerous team in the playoffs. As we mentioned earlier, these two have very high usage rates before the suspension and this long break will most certainly help them get back to 100% health.
Odds and Outlook
The Rockets have the fourth-best odds to win the NBA title at +1000 with only the Lakers, Bucks, and Clippers having better odds than them. Houston is also a +600 to win the Western Conference as of 07/06/2020 at Betonline. In my opinion, the Rockets wi;l be hard-pressed to go all the way. The Lakers, Bucks, and Clippers have more size and length than them and that should make a big difference.
The Rockets have the opportunity to move to fifth or even fourth in the Western Conference as they are just one game behind the 4th seeded Utah Jazz. Houston is even just 4 games off the Clippers pace but given that there are just eight games in the seeding period, it’s going to be tough to make up for a four-game deficit.
Houston opens the restart with a game against the Dallas Mavericks on July 31st. Two days later, the Rockets test the NBA leaders Milwaukee Bucks, and then they meet the Blazers on August 4th. On August 6th, The Rockets will have a matchup against the Lakers and then their next assignment will be on Kings. They have a back to back schedule against the Spurs and Pacers on August 11th and 12th then they finish off the seeding round against the Sixers on August 14th.
The Rockets have two tough games against the Bucks and Lakers but the Clippers, Nuggets, Celtics, Raptors, and Jazz aren’t in their schedule. They have six games where they have a good chance of winning and that should help them move up the ladder before the playoff seedings are determined. I think Houston has a good chance of moving up to fifth or fourth in the West.
I like the Rockets’ move to go small but while I think it works in a regular-season set-up I don’t think that it’s going to be effective in a seven-game series and against bigger teams. The Rockets will have to gang rebound to get the ball and that means Harden and Westbrook will have additional tasks aside from scoring and playmaking. Also, I see the Rockets getting pounded on the board and in the inside.
I think that Houston will be an excellent pick in their seeding games except against the Bucks and Lakers. When it comes to the playoffs, Houston should be able to get by the first round against any opponent. Their chances in Round 2 depends on who they will be facing.
The Rockets are a fun and exciting team. However, I think they will come up short because they are short in ceiling. The bigger teams will be physical with them and unless this team keeps on hitting its three-point baskets, they will struggle off the boards have that’s going to limit their offensive explosion. The Rockets should make it to the second round but things will be tough from that point going forward.