Here's why a strong finish is crucial for the Rockets
There can be no excuse for error in this eight-game stretch. The Rockets are facing five teams that are over .500. Each of these teams could bring a challenge to the Rockets. The Rockets are in a tight spot because of their seeding. In the Western Conference standings, the Rockets are sixth.
Salman Ali, writer for SportsMap and ESPN Houston, discussed the Rockets being four different teams in a season. In this situation, the Rockets cannot go through a series of mood swings having the Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks in the first two games of the shorter season. Even though Rockets have five tough teams on their schedule, they still cannot afford to lose. If they do, this could cause them to fall in the Western Conference seeding. The Rockets cannot afford to see the Los Angeles Lakers nor Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rockets must make a strong push, so they are able to grab the fourth seed. For the Rockets to grab the fourth seed, they must be consistent. Meaning the leaders of the Rockets, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, must remain on the same page. On February 11, 2020, the Rockets hosted the Boston Celtics. Harden and Westbrook both combined for 78 points in a Rockets win over the Celtics. With those two players on the same page, it makes everybody's role much easier. The best way to win games, is to have a foundation.
In these final eight games in Orlando, the Rockets will see LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and more. The Rockets' zone and man defense must be superb.
Luckily, the Rockets re-signed Luc Mbah a Moute. On another positive note, Westbrook has played great isolation defense this year. Westbrook is 25th in defensive rating this year and Harden is third in steals with 106 on the season. He has been able to disrupt the passing lanes with his quick hands. P.J.Tucker at 6'5, is averaging 5.3 rebounds defensively as power forward and center. Hopefully, these are the keys to success for the Rockets' defense.
The biggest advantage the Rockets have, is their offense. As the Rockets are ranked ninth on offense but second in points per game. From the last two previous years, the Rockets were ranked in the top five but now fallen to ninth place. The reason for that is because of the Rockets lost identity on offense. Bringing over Westbrook was a challenge and not having Eric Gordon stay healthy also hurt.
Things could change now because the Rockets are healthy, they have an identity, and they have a three-time leading scorer in James Harden. Plus, Westbrook is now averaging 27.5 points per game while Harden is averaging 34 points per game.
If the Rockets want to make a strong push, Harden and Westbrook must be on the same page.
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