Winning the last game of their disappointing 2015-2016 regular season, the Houston Rockets clinched the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The good news is that the Houston Rockets managed to make the playoffs despite their horrendous 2015-2016 regular season. The bad news is that the Rockets have to face the record breaking Golden State Warriors in the first round.
Going up against the 73-wins Warriors, what is the likelihood that the Rockets can pull off an upset? Describing Houston’s chances as slim would be an exaggeration. As much as I hate saying it, the best way to describe Houston’s chances is by using the word nonexistent.
A Houston Rockets team that won 50 plus games last season barely managed to win a single game against the Warriors during the Western Conference finals. This season’s team, who had to scratch and claw for the final playoff spot, doesn’t stand a chance against an improved Golden State squad.
To be fair, though, most No. 8 seeds never stand a chance. Since 1996, No. 8 seeds have lost 70% of games played against No. 1 seeds, and only three No. 8 seeds have managed to pull off a first round upset– the 1996 New York Knicks, the 2007 Golden State Warriors, and the 2012 Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers.
Not arguing what Morey's preference would be. Just pointing out facts. I'm excited to root for Rockets in playoffs. https://t.co/nz3ipY6JnJ
— David Weiner (@BimaThug) April 14, 2016
With the odds stacked so heavily against the Rockets, the jaded fan inside of me asks, what’s the point?
Having watched Kobe’s retirement speech Wednesday night, I am reminded of the words he spoke to the Staples Center crowd.
Addressing Lakers’ fans, Kobe told his audience, “”I’m more proud not about the championships, but about the down years. Because we didn’t run. We didn’t run. We played through all that stuff. We got our championships, and we did it the right way.”
Of course, Kobe’s finals words are void without him having won championships for the Lakers, but that’s not the point. The point is that as a fan of a team, the reward that comes with winning is greater when you have persevered through the woes of losing.
Will the Rockets be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs? Most likely. Will I still be rooting for them, secretly believing they can pull of an upset? Without a doubt.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 14, 2016
In a reality where the Rockets are capable of pulling off an upset, here’s what they would have to do.
Defense: First off, the Rockets would have to be reminded that playing defense is a necessary part of playing basketball. Perhaps the finality of the playoffs can jumpstart the Rockets’ memory. But make no mistake, in order for the Rockets to even win a single game against Golden State, they will have to show a drastic improvement on defense.
Dwight Howard: Dwight Howard has under performed all season. Lately, the media has made much of his not getting many touches, but they have failed to mention that it is because his ability has declined. That being said, each season Howard has spent with the Rockets, his game has seen a significant improvement come playoff time. The big fella will need to lay it all out there one more time for the Rockets to have a chance.
Role Players: Playing against the deepest team in the league, James Harden will not be able to take on Golden State by himself. Multiple players will have to step up on both sides of the ball if the Rockets are to stand a chance. In particular, Patrick Beverley must do whatever it takes to slow down Steph Curry. Beverley won’t be able to stop him, but it’ll go a long way if Beverley can make Curry’s job as difficult as possible.
James Harden: As it has been since he arrived in Houston four years ago, the Rockets go as James Harden goes. While the Rockets have under performed this season, Harden has been historically good, joining the likes of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Oscar Robertson in terms of the amount of points, assists, and rebounds he has averaged.
OFFICIAL: Harden joins LeBron, Jordan & Oscar Robertson as only players in NBA history to average at least 29p-7a-6r in a single season.
— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) April 14, 2016
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As good as Harden has been this season, it won’t be enough. Harden will have to take his game to another level. Though he has put up mostly solid numbers during his playoff career, Harden has yet to take his game to another dimension during the postseason. In order for the Rockets to pull of an upset, Harden’s game will have to transcended to the reality in which I believe the Rockets can beat the Golden State Warriors.
And there you have it, the Rockets key to the series. The rationalist in me doesn’t believe any of it will come to fruition, but the fan in me secretly does. And let’s face it, as a sports fan, fiction is often more fun than fact.
Watch the Houston Rockets as they take on the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs Saturday at 230 on ABC.
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