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Does Russell Westbrook give the Rockets a ‘title or bust’ mentality?

Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Many have criticized the lack of urgency from the Houston Rockets in the past, but does Russell Westbrook change the team’s expectations?

After seven straight playoff appearances that ended before the NBA Finals, it’s hard to not be frustrated with the Houston Rockets. They’ve certainly had their chances, particularly in the last five seasons, but something always seems to lead to a disappointing exit in April or May.

The conclusion of this season, however, will be different than any other season in NBA history, considering the unusual circumstances spanning the globe. After no team has seen NBA action since March 11th, the Rockets will be part of 22 teams still hoping to salvage some success from an interrupted season starting July 31st.

Other than the disappearance of homecourt advantage and the fact that all teams will be playing from a bubble at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, the playoffs will look very different this season for the Rockets thanks also to one huge offseason acquisition.

Bringing in Russell Westbrook adds another level of intensity to the team that they haven’t had in years. Westbrook is no stranger to playoff success, making the 2012 NBA Finals with the Oklahoma City Thunder but falling short to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.

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The relentless energy Russ plays with paired with his passion for the game means the Rockets are never out of a series until the final buzzer. While he didn’t quite have another star to help him in his last few seasons with OKC, having James Harden is really helping Westbrook preserve himself over full games.

Even though the hiatus occurred under the most unfortunate circumstances, the Rockets are one of the teams that will be benefitting the most from their extended time off. Mike D’Antoni’s tendency to play his stars heavy minutes has sometimes led to them burning out by the later rounds of the playoffs, such as what happened with Harden in 2017.

With so much time off to rest and begin re-training, Eric Gordon is now fully healthy, Harden has slimmed down dramatically and Russell Westbrook has recharged his batteries.

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If the Rockets didn’t have enough of a sense of urgency in the past few years, look to Westbrook to hold himself and teammates accountable in that regard when it matters most as the playoffs approach.