2. There’s no pressure on Rockets star James Harden
This might sound crazy but, come playoff time, there is absolutely NO pressure on James Harden this time around. There’s no home court advantage, no fans, no traveling away, and no playoff atmosphere, which benefits Harden more than anybody else in the league. This isn’t saying Harden won’t show up at all in that environment, but his overall game does take a small decline.
The same can be said about Russell Westbrook, but Harden is the leader of the team, and when the leader is taking command, the team thrives. The Beard and the Rockets have made the playoffs every season since Harden arrived in Houston in 2012, but it hasn’t resulted in a championship yet.
H-Town had plenty of chances to overcome the “great regular season team only” narrative, but their leader hasn’t erased the “great regular season player” title yet. In 2014-15, 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19, the Rockets had legitimate chances to make the NBA Finals, but they consistently came up short.
The most notable recent collapse took place in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, as the Rockets led 3-2 over the Golden State Warriors, with Game Seven in Houston. In 2020, there will be no excuses for Harden and the crew, due to the 2017-18 MVP having zero pressure.
With no actual crowd in attendance getting rowdy and no home-court advantages and disadvantages, look for Harden to take over as he does in the regular season.
Next: No. 1