Kevin McHale says small ball hurts Rockets against Thunder in playoffs

Former Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale thinks the Rockets’ lack of size could spell doom in a postseason series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Although the 2019-20 NBA season has three remaining games on the schedule, the postseason matchups are beginning to take shape, and especially for the Houston Rockets. The Rockets currently hold the fourth seed and remain 1.5 games back of the third seed.

With limited time remaining, it’s quite possible that they’ll finish in their current spot, although there is a chance that they’ll be able to move up to the third seed. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Rockets are slated to face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, although the Thunder have started sitting key players, which could alter the Rockets’ first round opponent.

The Thunder currently hold the fifth seed, and they’ve impressed the entire basketball world, thanks to the leadership and renowned play from Chris Paul. On Sunday, former Rockets coach Kevin McHale was sharing his thoughts on a potential Thunder vs. Rockets postseason matchup, during an appearance on NBA TV.

“It’ll be interesting, you’ve got Chris Paul going against his old team and James Harden and Russell Westbrook going back and playing against their former team. It would be a fantastic matchup. The small ball of Houston is really interesting, I’ve watched that, and I just don’t know.

They get outrebounded and I just think you’ve got to play big guys. I’m partial to big guys, I’ll be the first one to admit, but it’ll be fun to watch. That’s one of those 4-5 matchups, whether Oklahoma City scores or Houston scores, it doesn’t really matter. It’s going to be really fun, that’s going to be must see TV.”

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The Rockets-Thunder matchup would be unique in that Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Chris Paul would all be facing off against their former teams, which would certainly add additional motivation since they were all traded. The Rockets and Thunder have played three times this season, and OKC won two of those games against the Rockets, as the Thunder even stole a game in Houston.

But there isn’t much to take away from those games, as the Rockets were a much different team at that point, mainly because the Rockets hadn’t switched to small ball yet. During those games, Chris Paul averaged 20.3 points, which is slightly higher than his season average of 17.7 points.

As McHale pointed out, the Rockets have consistently been outrebounded ever since the shift in strategy, as they’ve lost the rebounding battle in 18 of the 19 games since trading Clint Capela. But although McHale cited the size difference between the two teams, there’s not been much of difference in the rebounding category in the NBA’s bubble.

The Houston Rockets are averaging 40 rebounds in Orlando, which ranks 26th, while the Thunder are averaging 44 rebounds, which is tied for 16th. Perhaps a better barometer would be in the scoring department, as the Rockets are averaging 123.4 points per game in the bubble, which is third-best, compared to the Thunder’s 108.2, which ranks 24th.

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If there’s one thing McHale was right about, it’s the fact that a Rockets-Thunder opening series would definitely be must see TV.

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