NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Del Olaleye: 3 Reasons the Rockets are hosting Game 1 of the conference finals
We’re on the verge on what most basketball people will say was inevitable. It is the matchup “we’ve all been waiting for” and has been frequently positioned as the matchup “we all expected.” That narrative has been true for quite some time but it wasn’t that way before the season and I think pretending that it was does a disservice to the Rockets. There were reasons to not believe in the Rockets before the season started. Specifically, whatever the hell James Harden was doing in Game 6 against the Spurs. It seems dumb now but there were plenty of new and unproven parts that made the Rockets a question mark. Houston used a 65-win regular season to answer a number of those questions. Dismantling the Wolves and the Jazz was the prelude to the impending Death Star that is the Warriors. Here are some of the reasons the Rockets will open Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at home.
1) Harden and Paul coexisting
The obvious first question regarding the Rockets was the Harden/Paul dynamic. How would these two ball-dominant players co-exist? Just fine as it turns out. We’ve seen it all year. Taking turns hasn’t been an issue when they’re both on the floor. They both spend enough of time as the primary ball handler while the other rests on the bench that each has time to be the lead dog without deferring to the other. Credit goes to Mike D’Antoni and his system for creating opportunities for each player to thrive. Both have playoff failures that they’re trying to erase. As it turns out each player might be the best thing for the other’s legacy.
2) The Journeymen
Long thought to be consumed with having three stars on his team, Daryl Morey’s apparent failure to acquire Paul George or Carmelo Anthony in the offseason helped lead to the emergence of PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute on this Rockets roster. Their additions gave the Rockets a defensive presence that didn’t exist on previous Harden-era teams. The addition of Mbah a Moute came later in the summer and didn’t have the name recognition of Tucker’s but his defensive prowess this season has not gone unnoticed. The two combined have added a surprising offensive boost as well. Tucker’s corner 3s always seem to be made at important junctures. Mbah a Moute has proven to be a better than expected driver and finisher. His ability to take advantage of opponents that are caught trying to rotate to open Rockets surrounding the arc has been a boon. These offseason additions combined with Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon make the Rockets a versatile force on the defensive end and their varying skills offensively put stress on a opposing defenses as Harden or Paul orchestrate the offense.
Gordon, Ariza, Tucker and Mbah a Moute have each played for at least three different NBA teams. Ariza is the most well-traveled in the NBA, playing for six different teams. Tucker spent five years abroad, playing for seven different teams around the world. The four 30-somethings got it done all year long.
3) Emergence of Capela
After 82 games and several great performances in the playoffs, Clint Capela appears to be garnering all the attention he deserves. The record when Capela, Paul and Harden play is now 50-5. Credit to the people who decided to start keeping that stat. The late first rounder from the 2014 draft has become the fulcrum for the Rocket’s offense as his screen setting and finishing puts the opposing big man in awkward positions. “Do I push up on Chris Paul to take away the mid-range jumper or hang back to avoid a tip dunk or layup from Capela?”
Altered shots may not be an official statistic but the hesitation that Jazz players entered the lane with when Capela was on the floor was evident. Outplaying Karl Anthony-Towns and Rudy Gobert in back-to-back series certainly came at an opportune time for the impending restricted free agent. Daryl Morey’s decision on whether or not to retain Capela when Paul George and potentially Kawhi Leonard will be available is an interesting one for the Rockets GM. Another big performance in a series win over the Warriors may make Capela an untouchable with Houston.