Well, the 2020 NBA Playoffs are upon us. With its Disney Bubble premise in full effect, the 16 teams are squaring off to determine this year’s champion. While it’s hard to think that there won’t be an asterisk next to the 2020 title, a champion will be crowned.
The NBA is a fickle beast. Star-driven and tank-friendly, teams in the dumpster one year can be the king of the mountain the next. With that, stakes are high for almost every team as they make their playoff run, with sought-after stars often heading for greener pastures if they feel their squad can’t get over the hump.
We’re looking at each of the NBA playoff contenders and diving into what’s at stake for each team, the odds of making a deep run, and key storylines to watch.
Let’s hit the Houston Rockets.
Expectations: Western Conference Contender
The Rockets have been chasing championship dreams for years, and this season is no different. Led by two league MVP winners from the last three years and Mike D’Antoni, the team’s got their eyes on the prize once again.
What’s Working for Them
Small ball, baby. Coach D’Antoni has developed a fast-paced game of small ball to complement the team’s star, James Harden. Harden is having himself yet another MVP-caliber year, and is undoubtedly one of the most skilled players in the league. Russell Westbrook, another small name you may recognize, is having putting up MVP numbers as well – averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. Robert Covington and PJ Tucker are also been a huge pieces of Houston’s small ball game.
What Might Hold Them Back:
The bench, especially in Westbrook’s absence, and defense. Any team that has two players like Harden and Westbrook is capable of being a serious contender. What takes teams the extra mile is depth. Houston has the talent, but they need to be able to deliver consistently. Westbrook will be out for the first two games of round one against Oklahoma City, at least, so Harden is going to need some major support. Eric Gordon is starting in the place of Westbrook. Gordon is (was?) known for his shooting, but has been anything but consistent as of late. Austin Rivers, who has been a decent boost off the bench, will need to contribute more in the absence of Westbrook.
And…defense. Let’s be real, Houston hasn’t been praised for their defense. D’Antoni has been working hard to improve the team’s defense, and they’ve certainly gotten better, but it must continue to improve.
Storyline to Watch
The future of D’Antoni’s small ball. So much of the Rockets’ small ball offense depends on PJ Tucker – his health, his strength, his stamina. I love Tucker as a player, but I also recognize that he’s 35 years old who’s playing 34.3 minutes per game this season. Will he be able to play at this intensity consistently? It’s also going to be interesting to see how Westbrook performs once he’s healthy again. Will he continue to play the way he has for the second half of the season – trusting his teammates, making the right passes? Or might he revert back to OKC Westbrook and take approximately 946973432 shots a game? The way the Rockets’ playoff run goes will determine D’Antoni’s decisions moving forward.
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