Without superstar Russell Westbrook, the Houston Rockets will need guys other than James Harden to show some consistency if they want to contend for a title.
James Harden is ready to embark on his eighth playoff campaign as the leader of the Houston Rockets. We expected him co-star Russell Westbrook to go into battle alongside him, but a right quad injury is keeping him off the court for at least the first few games.
Houston’s first playoff series will be against the Oklahoma City Thunder: a squad that is lead by a familiar face, former Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul. OKC trots out a very formidable team that some have predicted to knock Space City out.
To prevent a disappointing first-round exit, the Rockets and Harden are going to need these three teammates, who were fairly inconsistent in the regular season, to show up.
1. Eric Gordon
Sometimes Gordon can catch fire, and sometimes he can go extremely cold and leaves fans scratching their heads. Currently in his 12th season in the NBA, Gordon has become a mainstay in Houston since 2016. Only playing in 36 games due to some injuries sustained, Gordon has been far from consistent, posting a career-low in field goal percentage and his lowest 3-point shooting percentage since 2012-13 with New Orleans.
To highlight a common theme in the Gordon saga this year, let’s go back to January 27th, on a night where Harden and Westbrook sat out. Going up against the Jazz in Utah, Gordon had an outrageous 50-point game where he drained 6-of-11 3-pointers. His next game out, he followed that up with an eight-point performance,e shooting 1-for-8 from deep.
Currently, Eric is averaging 14.4 points per game and 1.5 assists. In the absence of Westbrook, Gordon will now step into the starting role for the playoffs. To be a game-changer and help the Rockets win, Eric will need to at least give Houston 20 points per game.
2. Austin Rivers
Austin Rivers has carved out a nice niche for himself in Houston after almost falling off in Washington. After eight seasons in the NBA and some successful seasons with the LA Clippers, Rivers is now a pivotal player coming off the bench for the Rockets.
Rivers is currently averaging 8.8 points per game, which is his highest since his last season with the Clippers in 2017-18. Rivers is going to need to become a mid-level scorer, and if he can provide about 15 points off the bench, Clutch City will be in good hands.
Rivers has proven he can carry the load recently. On August 9th against the Sacramento Kings, he scored 41 points and shot 6-of-11 from three. Since Westbrook is out and Gordon will be placed in the starting two-guard role, Rivers should be trusted with the ball in his hands more. If he can increase his scoring, that would be a tremendous step up.
3. Robert Covington
The entry of Robert Covington on this list is geared more towards the recent inconsistencies in his shooting. There is no doubt Covington has been an improvement defensively for Houston and is key to the micro-ball lineup.
But Covington’s 3-point shot has been very on and off for the Rockets. When you look at a three-game stretch before the suspension of the NBA season, Covington shot 0-3 against the Clippers, 7-13 against the Charlotte Hornets, and then 0-4 against the Orlando Magic. It has been more of the same in the NBA bubble, with his best 3-point shooting performance coming against the Los Angeles Lakers at 2-of-4.
If Covington can continue his sturdy defense logging blocks and steals while establishing a consistent long-range shot, Houston will be able to notch a couple wins in the absence of Westbrook.
If James Harden gets the supporting cast he needs from the trio of Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and Robert Covington, the Rockets should not have too many issues sending the Thunder home. A major focus should be addressing the inconsistencies and turning them into positive contributions.
All hands will need to be on deck for Houston, and it all starts Tuesday at 6:30 PM ET.