When debating who will come out on top in the Western Conference this year, these three statement wins made by the Houston Rockets should be looked at.
Before the Houston Rockets made the bold decision to switch to a small-ball lineup and acquire Robert Covington in a four-team trade on February 4th, not too many analysts foresaw a deep playoff run in their future. Soon after that move, a six-game winning streak was created and the narrative had flipped completely.
From the Covington trade to the NBA’s season suspension on March 11th, the Rockets notched some major wins over the competition. These three victories in particular showcase why they have what it takes to bring Houston the title in 2020.
Feb. 6: Houston Rockets 121, Los Angeles Lakers 111
A primetime Rockets debut for Robert Covington against the one-seeded Los Angeles Lakers proved that he can handle the spotlight. In a packed Staples Center, the Rockets found themselves in a dogfight in the fourth quarter, down by one with four minutes left.
After a clutch 3-pointer by Eric Gordon, Covington was able to knock down two longballs of his own in the last three minutes to seal the victory for the Rockets.
— NBA (@NBA) February 7, 2020
Russel Westbrook also put in work, pouring in 41 points in a huge showing. The game was back and forth, but Houston’s new, even smaller lineup proved to be too fast-paced for the larger Lakers. This victory may have planted the seeds for a matchup nightmare for Los Angeles in a potential seven-game series.
Feb. 29: Houston Rockets 111, Boston Celtics 110
Switching over to some stiff competition in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics built a 56-45 lead at halftime at home against the Houston Rockets in their second meeting, but the Rockets came surging back in the second half.
The shootout did not really heat up until the last minutes of the fourth quarter, where Westbrook’s intensity broke out. Up by three with just 5.1 seconds remaining in the game, the Rockets allowed an offensive rebound on a missed free throw from Jayson Tatum. The ensuing loose ball found its way to Jaylen Brown, who nailed a game-tying three to send the game into overtime.
Rockets lock up the Celtics to clinch the W ? pic.twitter.com/JcDCsHeqxF
— ESPN (@espn) March 1, 2020
Russell Westbrook wasn’t to be denied, however, finishing the overtime thriller with 41 points. Also contributing were Covington and James Harden, who each drained four 3-pointers. This game proved that the Rockets can perform at a high level for more than four quarters against contenders like the Celtics.
Mar. 10: Houston Rockets 117, Minnesota Timberwolves 111
While this selection may seem puzzling, this game was the snapping of a four-game losing streak — a losing streak that raised a lot of questions on whether or not small ball was a championship strategy.
This victory was calming to the doubts about the smaller Rockets roster. Harden also cashed in on five 3-pointers in the game, finishing with 37 points. This game would end up becoming the last Rockets game we would see for a while, as the league was suspended the next night due to coronavirus concerns.
The victory was a good way for the team to pull themselves out of a slump and potentially begin climbing back up the standings in the West.
In all three of these games, the Houston Rockets demonstrated their ability to defeat the top competition in the NBA. Come July 31st when this squad hits the court again to resume their regular season, they have a legitimate chance to bring a championship back to Houston.