With the season starting back up 17 days from now, many fans are excited to see their team play. Not only to see their team play again, but to contend for a championship. Houston Rockets fans have been hoping to see their team try to climb the ranks but only to fall short. With this leveled playing field, is it their best chance?
Before 2019-2020 Season
For the last couple of years, the Houston Rockets have been one of the top contenders to win the championship. Although they have come close, they haven’t been able to make it past the Western Conference Finals. Many wondered what would be in store for the Rockets for the 2019-2020 season.
Over the summer, the front office decided to make some moves, which included a trade that sent Chris Paul to the Thunder for Russel Westbrook. For the first time since 2012, Harden and Westbrook became teammates again. Many NBA fans were excited to see how successful this dynamic duo could be.
New Season, Same Expectations
By the cancellation of the season in March, the Rockets would end with a solid 40-24 record. Harden and Westbrook’s game fed off each other and it seemed to be working well for the team. However, the front office wasn’t done making moves just yet.
During the season, the Rockets participated in a three-team deal which they traded away their center Clint Capela. Capela ended up on the Hawks while the Rockets received Timberwolves Power Forward Robert Covington. Therefore, the Rockets went to their small-ball lineup where Power Forward P.J.Tucker moved to Center.With Tucker becoming their center, the Rockets had their ups and downs with their new gameplan. During their last couple of games in the season, the Rockets struggled on the defensive side of the ball. They currently rank 29th in points allowed and barely finished over .500 during those 13 games.
On the plus side, their offense is still effective. They are second for points scored and fourth in pace. According to team rankings, they are eighth in fastbreak points which will be important for the duration of the season.
NBA Bubble Roster Evaluation
The Rockets are now deeper than ever. Harden and Westbrook are both former league MVPs who can score effortlessly and facilitate the offense. Danuel House, Robert Covington and P.J Tucker round out the frontcourt of the starting lineup. Their play will be pivotal for the success of the small-ball lineup. They will have to push the ball up the court, play defense and crash the boards against taller forwards and centers.
Veteran forwards such as DeMarre Carroll, Ben McLemore and Jeff Green are solid “3 and D” players as well that can guard almost any position on the court. New additions such as David Nwaba and Luc Mbah a Moute add a solid defensive presence on the court while playing decent minutes. Their only center on the roster, Tyson Chandler, will most likely play as a backup center role for Tucker if they size down in the post. Bruno Caboclo will have to re- quarantine but should be back to play.
As of today, the Rockets are currently 6th in the Western Conference and 9.5 games back behind the Lakers. Each team will play a total of 10 regular-season games to determine their playoff seeding. Especially with the possible late return of their duo, it is important for the team to get off to a fast start.
Houston playing with a smaller lineup will definitely help them close out games by scoring at a high rate. They’ve shown that by having the second-ranked offense in the league this year. If they continue that productivity they had during their season, they could have a solid chance to win it all this year.
However, the small ball approach leads to the lack of size on the roster. Tucker is only 6-foot-five and he will play center. This could lead to matchup problems down the road if they play teams with multiple bigs such as the Lakers and Clippers.
With the season continuing in the NBA Bubble format, it gives everyone an even playing field to win it all. Maybe this is what the Rockets needed. Winning playoff road games is tough, but with this situation, technically there will be no homecourt advantage for any team.
If one of these teams ends up getting on a hot streak at the right time, it could lead to a historic playoff run. In the eyes of many, the Rockets have a fighting chance to win an NBA championship once again. If successful, it will be their first championship in over 20 years.