Every-Thing Sports

Good Rockets can be better, and they will need to be as the season goes on

Coming into this season, the Rockets were thought of as a possible Western Conference contender. Maybe not one of the teams that could make it to the Finals, but one of the top four to five for sure. Well, 14 games into the season, they're 11-3 and a half game behind the Lakers for the top spot in the West. James Harden is off to another MVP level start averaging an unbelievable 39.5 points per game. The experiment of pairing Harden with longtime friend Russell Westbrook is looking like a success so far. Although Westbrook has had to be load managed given his injury history, things appear to be flowing smoothly.

If you know me and follow my writings and whatnot, you know there's a but coming. Well, here it is: as good as things are, they can and need to be better. Some of the issues I have are necessary in order for them to contend for not just for seeding in the West, or a deep playoff run, but possibly an NBA title.

Harden's shooting percentages

While Harden is making history with his 39.5 scoring average, his field goal percentage (41.7) is his lowest since his rookie season (40.3) and his three point percentage (33.2) is his lowest since the 2016-17 season (34.7). While those are career lows or close to it, his free throw percentage (88.1) is a career best. Imagine if Harden was shooting at his career averages of 44.2% from the field and 36.4% from three? I'm pretty sure he'd be averaging well over 40 a game.

Health

Harden has been very durable over the course of his career, so this applies to him as far as his stamina is concerned, especially when going deep into the playoffs. Westbrook has been load managed, and rightfully so. His history of injuries, specifically his knees, at his age (31) and style of play require his minutes to be closely monitored. Eric Gordon is out for another month or so after knee surgery. Hopefully this'll have a twofold effect: getting Gordon healthy, and allowing other guys to play. With other guys playing, they will hopefully gain Mike D'Antoni's trust come playoff time given his penchant for shrinking his rotation in the postseason. Health isn't something you can correct or fix, but it's crucial to this team given the way they're built.

Defense dammit!

When you can score at the rate the Rockets can, if you can play average defense, you'll win a bleep ton of games. While they currently have .786 win percentage, it could be even better if they weren't giving up 114.2 points a game! That's 22nd in the league for those keep score. Letting Jeff Bzdelik go was a horrible decision. I don't care what was the issue, it should've been settled. Maybe switching everything isn't a good idea. Zone schemes and outside the box ideas should all be on the table right now. We're talking about a team that gave up 158 points in regulation, but won because they scored 159.

The D'Antoni Factor

D'Antoni is essentially a lame duck coach. His coaching staff was picked apart this past offseason and he put the word out there that he ended contract extension talks. As previously mentioned, he notoriously short with his bench, and is known for being an offensive-minded coach. If he can go against the grain and focus more on defense, as well as learn to trust guys outside his top seven to eight in the rotation, this team may go places. Harden is playing 37 minutes a night right now. Guys like Ben McLemore and Chris Clemons deserve a fair shot at more minutes. Isaiah Hartenstein has improved some over the last few years and may be ready to play more despite the team signing Tyson Chandler. D'Antoni has a say in all these matters which are all critical to any successes this tea wishes to have this year.

I'm not going to be overly confident the Rockets will have any and/or all of these fixed. I also won't be a homer and think they'll be in the NBA Finals either. They're off to a hot start. The Golden State Warriors' deal with the devil appears to be up given their current state. The Lakers have formed a "super team" and are sitting on top of the West. Meanwhile, the Celtics and Bucks in the East, as well as the Clippers and Nuggets in the West are all formidable. The Rockets have to be able to clean up some of their messesif they expect to make it through the wide wild West. Even if they manage to make it that far, they still have some heavy hitters from the East to beat in order to win a title. It hasn't gotten easier because the bully (the Warriors) appears to be broken. If anything, it's harder because there's so much parity that one can't pick one or two teams and say they're the overwhleming favorites. There is more hope than previous seasons for the Rockets. But it's ultimately up to them to produce.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images


The Rockets have squandered plenty of opportunities to win championships this past decade. They have had three teams that were worthy of a championship. Those three teams were star studded but what happened?

Those three teams were the 2008-2009, 2017-2018, 2018-2019 Rockets. Three capable teams to win a championship.

The 2008-2009 Rockets had a lot of potential on the court. They had Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest, Rafer Alston, and Shane Battier. The key role players for the team were Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, Carl Landry, Luther Head, Von Wafer, and Dikembe Mutombo. Even though the Rockets finished in fifth place that year, the Western Conference was tough. They were one spot out of third and fourth place in the conference. Two dramatic injuries that hurt the Rockets were McGrady and Yao. McGrady went down earlier that season. This caused the Rockets to lose creativity at the guard position. McGrady always struggled with injuries in his Rocket's tenure. Yao suffered an injury during semifinals against the Los Angeles Lakers. That was a huge loss because the Rockets lost a superstar, presence inside the paint, and their best player. Other players like Artest, Wafer, Brooks, and Landry had stepped up their play against the Lakers. It just was not enough against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.


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The Rockets had a legitimate chance to win a title that year. They matched up well against the Lakers in 2009 without injuries. Having T-Mac and Yao together would have been lethal. Including having Artest and Battier who were great defenders. The role players that stepped up in the playoffs were unexpected. They were still able to take the Lakers seven games. Just imagine if the Rockets had Yao and T-Mac during the playoffs.

The next team that had a great opportunity was the 2017-2018 Rockets. This team consisted of James Harden, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, Eric Gordon, and Clint Capela. That year the Rockets went 65-17, which was first in the Western Conference. This team lead the league in three-point attempts, 13th in the three-point percentage, and number two points. Harden and Paul looked impressive together. Individuals were worried about the combination before the season started; Bringing Paul to Houston allowed Harden to get more rest. The Rockets struggled defensively in the beginning of the season despite winning games. Even though the Rockets could score a lot, they needed to defend. The assistant coach, Jeff Bzdelik, found defensive schemes so the Rockets could perform better. This teams favorite thing to do was to attempt three-point shots every game. They were electric and fun to watch against the Golden St Warriors. At the end of the season Harden won the 2017-2018 MVP.


Rockets Chris Paul , James Harden, Clint Capela Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images


The Rockets were troubled because of Paul's injury, and the 22 missed three-point attempts in game seven. When Paul went down in game six, the Rockets were in disarray for game seven. Fans in Houston will always have the "What if" factor when it comes to game seven. This was another blown opportunity for the Rocket's franchise. That Western Conference Finals lost was very hurtful to the team and city.

The very last team that had an opportunity was the 2018-2019 Rockets. This team started off very slowly in the beginning of the season. It was very questionable because of Carmelo Anthony and the struggles on defense. During their 11-14 start, the Rockets released Anthony and Paul was dealing with another injury. While Paul was out, Harden was able to rally the Rockets during tough games. This was able to keep the Rockets alive in the Western Conference while Paul was out. Harden also reminded the league why he was the 2017-2018 MVP that season. Other players who helped the Rockets out that season was Danuel House and Austin Rivers. They were very helpful coming off the bench.

Fast forwarding to semifinals of the playoffs, the Rockets went against the Golden St. Warriors again. In game five, Kevin Durant suffered a leg injury that kept him sidelined throughout the rest of the series. Surprisingly, the Rockets could not take advantage of Durant's injuries in both games, as they lost to the Warriors again in the playoffs. It was a confusing time for fans on why the Rockets lost. They were supposed to jump on the opportunity when Durant went down. The communication between Paul and Harden was off as well, frustrating the thousands of fans watching.

Hopefully one day the Rockets pull it together.

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