How will Rockets’ small-ball hold up in the postseason?

Avery Bradley Anthony Davis (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Avery Bradley Anthony Davis (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

With the results of the small-ball strategy being up-and-down, it’s worth questioning how the Houston Rockets would fare in the postseason.

When the Houston Rockets initially rolled out the small ball strategy, the national media couldn’t help but poke humor and make fun of the Rockets. We’d heard the Rockets were giving up on the season and how the experiment wouldn’t work.

The Rockets won seven of their first nine games following the Clint Capela trade, and pulled off impressive wins against the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and the Utah Jazz. Based on the early showing, it seemed as if the small ball strategy was brilliant.

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Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse towards the tail end of the season, as the Rockets had double-digit losses to below .500 teams such as the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, and Charlotte Hornets. The national media attributed the Rockets’ latter losses to the rest of the league having figured out how to counter this scheme, even though there are a myriad of factors that caused this.

With the strategy having not been as effective as when it was initially rolled out, the question has to be raised of whether the strategy will be effective should the postseason resume. We all know it will continue, as this will be challenging to abandon since the Rockets have made transactions to reflect this system.

But the Rockets were dominated on the glass and gave up a boatload of second-chance points during their latter losses, which will certainly have to be corrected in the playoffs. The Rockets were also average in the 3-point shooting department, which hindered them from being able to trade baskets, which could be costly in the playoffs.

The ultimate positive is that the Rockets have gotten MVP-level play out of Russell Westbrook, which they’ll need to continue in order to have a shot of winning the title. Better yet, the Rockets will need this version of Russ in order to even make it past the first round, especially considering how they dropped in the Western Conference standings.

Although the Rockets traded away Capela, who was the key to their rebounding and rim protection, they still have the ability to turn to Isaiah Hartenstein, who could help on the glass and with the shot blocking. Obviously Mike D’Antoni doesn’t trust Harty, but it’ll be wise to mix it up in the postseason and play him some.

We can’t expect the Rockets to win in the postseason while being dominated on the glass, and especially against the Denver Nuggets, who the Rockets would currently be matched up against. The Nuggets have six key players who are 6’7 and up, including three players who are 6’10 or taller, which partially explains why they rank seventh in offensive rebounds this season.

That could give the Rockets problems, as they present some of the same challenges that the New York Knicks recently gave the Rockets. This could especially prove to be a tall order without Clint Capela, who almost always wins in the Nikola Jokic matchup.

If the Rockets could make it past the first round, they’d face the LA Clippers, who don’t present the size challenges of a team like Denver. The Rockets have had victories against the Clips, which is encouraging.

You’d have to assume the Houston Rockets would face the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, if they make it that far, and the Lakers do have the size to exploit the smaller lineups. But the Lakers aren’t necessarily a good 3-point shooting team, as they rank 17th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage as a unit.

This is where the Rockets could gash the Lake Show, which is exactly what happened when the teams last faced one another.

TNT has spent so much time talking about the Rockets' lack of size that they've completely ignored this.

— Space City Scoop (@SpaceCity_Scoop) February 7, 2020

Granted, we don’t know if there will be an NBA postseason at all, as the league is in limbo due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also don’t know what format it’ll be if the season does return, as there’s been talking of a single-elimination game in a do-or-die format, and even mention of a shortened series if it came down to it.

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But ultimately if the postseason does continue, the biggest threat the Houston Rockets could face on the small-ball front is the Denver Nuggets.