The Houston Rockets have been adamant about resting Russell Westbrook on back-to-back games. Is that the best option when the team is battling injuries?
After Saturday night’s victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Houston Rockets have the second seed in the Western Conference.
The Russell Westbrook and James Harden experience has been a positive, as the Rockets are riding a seven game win streak. Harden is currently on pace to reach a career high in scoring, yet again, and Westbrook has been averaging 21 points, 8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game on 43.1 percent from the field. Westbrook’s field goal percentage is up over last season and he is playing 32.8 minutes per game, which are his fewest since the 2013-14 season in which he played 30.7 minutes per game.
The Houston Rockets have made it known that they wanted to load manage Westbrook and Harden, and they’ve been doing that with Westbrook, as he sat the second game of the Rockets’ first sequence of back-to-back games, in which the Rockets played the Memphis Grizzlies. The Rockets also sat Westbrook during Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, which is their second sequence of back-to-back games this season. This is consistent with their plans of resting Russ all along, in spite of the team’s battles with the injury bug.
But the Houston Rockets are short-handed, as they’ve been without Clint Capela, Danuel House, Eric Gordon and Gerald Green, who they lost before the season started. With all of these injuries, the Rockets need Westbrook in part because they need healthy bodies. But aside from just availability, the Rockets need Westbrook’s play making and high level of play as their likelihood of winning is significantly greater with him on the floor, especially considering the injury woes.
On top of that, the Western Conference has gotten so much more competitive, as even the Phoenix Suns are off to a 7-4 start. Even in a long 82-game season, the Rockets can’t afford to lose a lot of games against lesser teams, which they learned during the 2018-19 season as they dropped from potentially the second seed to the fourth seed with the final loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It goes without saying that the Rockets need Westbrook more than ever considering all of the injuries they’re already dealing with. The Rockets are also having to lean more on Harden to overcompensate for being without Westbrook, on top of all of the other players the Rockets have injured. Obviously the goal is to get “peak Harden” during the postseason but he’s having to make up for Westbrook not being on the floor when he rests, and Harden has already said he’s not going to be doing any load management, even though he should.
An example of how the Rockets are riding Harden in the absence of Westbrook is Saturday night’s win against Minnesota, as Harden played a game-high 38 minutes. Harden has only played in that many minutes in three of the Rockets’ 13 games this season.
At the end of the day, its understandable that the Rockets would want to keep Westbrook rested and healthy, but considering all the injuries the Rockets are facing, Houston could really benefit from playing Westbrook when they’re already without two starters in House and Capela, and another significant contributor in Gordon.