Houston Rockets: How Far Can the Small Ball Lineup Take Them?
At the NBA Trade Deadline, the Houston Rockets decided to take a mind-boggling approach. They shipped off Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks, who was their lone big man down low and opted to go forward with a roster including no centers. At first glance, one would think this approach is doomed to fail. However, when you consider the play style of the Houston Rockets and the fact that they went 7-2 after the trade, it starts to make just a bit of sense – albeit, just a bit. With this in mind, the Rockets have many fans and players around the NBA world wondering just how far this “small ball” approach will take them this coming postseason.
Houston Rockets: A Team in the Wild Wild West
If the Houston Rockets were in the top-heavy Eastern Conference, many NBA peers would like their chances a lot better. Unfortunately for them, they reside in the wild Western Conference. Not only does one have to look at how deep the conference is, but they also have to take note of the particular stars the Rockets could match up with come playoff time. First of all, there is the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis – A player who is arguably the best power forward/center in the league, putting up 26.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.
Then there’s the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets are a rare team that runs their offense through their All-Star center. A center which could cause the Rockets problems in a potential seven-game series against the Mile High. Jokic is tallying numbers of a career-high 20.8 points, 6.8 assists, and 10.2 rebounds per game.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is also residing in Utah with the Jazz. A matchup between the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets would be a dream come true for the 7’1 Rudy Gobert, who is grabbing 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 15.4 points per game. These are just the notable star big men in the West. There are still some other players such as Dwight Howard, Ivica Zubac, and JaVale McGee that could cause problems in Houston. The Rockets may be a playoff team, but it is going to be difficult for Robert Covington or P.J. Tucker to contain either of these big men in a seven-game series.
Houston Rockets: Their Star Duo is Their Saving Grace
If the Rockets have one aspect of their team that makes them dangerous, it is certainly the star duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. As Undisputed’s Skip Bayless pointed out, the subtraction of Capela in the paint has cleared the way for Westbrook to do what he does best – attack the basket. He has reduced the number of three-point shot attempts which has benefited both him and the Houston Rockets. As a matter of fact, one could argue he should have won Player of the Month for the month of February with totals of 33.4 points, 6 assists, and 7.3 rebounds per game, all while shooting 54.9% from the field.
Then comes James Harden. He is leading the league in free throws made this season and is also in the MVP race. Harden is currently averaging 34.9 points, 7.4 assists, and 6.3 rebounds per game. Anytime you have an insanely talented star duo like this, you have a chance to go far in the playoffs. However, there are three questions. How sustainable they can be without a big man’s presence in a seven-game series? Will Harden get as many whistles as he does in the regular season? Finally, will we see an efficient Russell Westbrook?
Can the Houston Rockets knock off potential first-round opponents in the Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, or even the Oklahoma City Thunder? It will be tough, but the playoff experience of Westbrook and Harden should be enough to prevail over them, though it will be competitive. However, getting past teams like the Clippers, Lakers, or Nuggets is a completely different challenge. Not only do these teams have great talent to match the Rockets, but they also have size and length the Rockets do not possess anymore. Keep in mind, the lowly New York Knicks just out-rebounded them 65-34. As alluded to already, playing a stretch four against a star big man in a playoff series cannot end well. It is entertaining to watch in the regular season, but it will be hard to see this Rockets squad advancing past the second round.
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