The Rockets haven’t thrown out the idea of resting James Harden and Russell Westbrook for load management but have also been unsure on whether they want to go this route. Here are several possible plans the Rockets could use if they choose to strategically rest their stars.
The question of whether the Rockets should put James Harden and Russell Westbrook on a load management plan is an interesting one. For one, neither player has a significant injury history. Westbrook has started battling injuries more so in recent years but its hard to gauge the severity as he’s always played through it and downplayed whatever issues he’s had. Harden has dealt with minor injuries as well but also has never had to sit out games. In fact, Harden has been very vocal about not wanting to rest during the regular season, evidenced by his comments to NBA TV.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) March 23, 2019
If the Rockets do in fact put together a load management plan of some sort, I would think having both Harden and Westbrook would make it easier for each player to do so. They could sit Harden and still play Westbrook on some nights and vice versa. This way there won’t be such a massive drop off on such nights. This would especially be effective on back to backs, which the Rockets have 11 such games. I would think it would make sense to split these up between both stars so Harden/Westbrook can split these games up between the two of them.
But the Rockets could also very well opt to not play either if playing against a non-contending team on a sequence of back to back games, or not play either when playing against non-contenders in general.
Of the 11 back to backs the Rockets play, 3 of them come in sequences where the Rockets have 1 or 2 games in between, which is a short recovery time. The Rockets play Brooklyn and New Orleans on December 28th and December 29th, and then play 2 more games before another back to back of Atlanta and Oklahoma City. However they choose to split it, I would think Atlanta would be a game where they could rest Westbrook and let Harden play, because I know Westbrook will want to play against Oklahoma City, so Harden could rest that game. I don’t expect either Atlanta or OKC to be playoff teams so the Rockets ought to be able to pull out wins against those teams without having both Harden and Westbrook on the floor.
After the Atlanta and OKC back to backs, the Rockets have one game before playing another back to back against Memphis and Portland. I’d think the Rockets will surely want to play both Harden and Westbrook against Portland but I’d honestly think the Rockets could squeeze out a win against Memphis without either one of them, and certainly with one of them on the floor. The Rockets will have significant depth for the first time in quite awhile and could get significant scoring from Danuel House, Eric Gordon and even potentially Chris Clemons in the absence of Harden and Westbrook.
The Rockets also play the Lakers and Suns on back to backs on February 6th and February 7th. I’d think it would be a lock for at least one of the star duo to sit against Phoenix, as the Suns are still ways away from being a contender.
Ditto for the very next back to back against Charlotte and Orlando, as I don’t believe the Rockets will need both Harden and Westbrook to get past Charlotte, especially after the departure of Kemba Walker.
The Rockets play Dallas and San Antonio on April 7th and 8th before playing San Antonio again and Phoenix again with only one game separating this sequence on back to backs. I would think this would be an important stretch for load management, as this will come right before the playoffs start. This would also be a 5 game stretch in a 7 day span.
Perhaps another possibility would be to sit half of their duo against non-contending teams. The Rockets play 4 games each against Memphis, Phoenix and Minnesota. It would seem both stars wouldn’t be needed in ALL of these games. The Rockets also play 2 games each against Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Charlotte, and the same can be said for such teams as well. That is a total of 22 games against non-contenders, which would provide a great opportunity for rest, if the Rockets are seriously interested in doing that.
Why the Rockets Should Use Load Management Plans
I’m not exactly sure what type of load management plan the Rockets would use, but the fact that they’re not sure on whether they will roll it out at all tells me they aren’t necessarily planning on sitting both stars out of alot of games. It would be the wise thing to do, as best evidenced by Kawhi Leonard last season. The Raptors rested Kawhi on all 13 of their back to backs and played him a playoff career high 39.1 minutes per game on a playoff career high 24 games. Leonard posted playoff career highs in field goal attempts, three point attempts, free throw attempts, rebounds, and scoring. Leonard was fresh for the playoffs and attributed that to the load management plan the Raptors placed on him.
Hopefully the Rockets will follow suit, as they really don’t have an excuse not to considering the depth they will have this year and the fact that they’ve got 2 former MVP’s and a likely Most Improved Player finalist in Danuel House.
We don’t exactly know if the Rockets are serious, as they are reportedly on the fence on whether to do so, but I’d hope they do because they will need 100% from both players if they intend on making a deep playoff run.