Every-Thing Sports

How playoff seeding in the bubble could cause an unexpected twist for Rockets

How playoff seeding in the bubble could cause an unexpected twist for Rockets
Composite image by Jack Brame.

Remember a couple of years ago when the Rockets went 65-17, secured the number one overall seed in the West, made it to the conference finals, but were "a hamstring away" from an NBA Finals appearance and perhaps a title? Remember when homecourt advantage meant starting and potentially ending a seven-game series on your home floor, sleeping in your own bed, shooting on your own baskets? Well, the Orlando bubble has changed that in my opinion.

Playing in the same arenas, not traveling, sleeping in the same rooms and having a routine has its advantages. The whole playing without an audience is a separate dynamic. Players have reacted to it differently. Some guys are having breakout performances, others are passengers on the struggle bus. Last week, I posed the question if small ball would be sustainable in the bubble.

I left a hanging chad because while I believe the bubble is conducive to their style of play, they still need things to go their way. Currently, the Rockets are the fourth seed in the West. It's looking like they will play the Jazz or Thunder in the first round. They may even face the Mavs if they get to the second seed.

But is their seeding that important this year?


They have to play whoever is in front of them

It doesn't matter who's in front of you. All you need is 16 wins once the playoffs start. Choosing this mentality will help the Rockets. The consistency in where they're playing and whatnot will help with their shooting percentage. They'll have to beat four teams to win a ring, so why does the order matter? There won't be fans in the stands or travel schedules so who cares? Line them up and knock them off!

Familiarity

The coziness of the bubble and its surroundings should definitely help. Players are notorious for having bad shooting nights with opposing fans, courts, and unfamiliar territory. No travel, fans, and the same gyms should truly help them in the playoffs. This is huge for them because James Harden has been known to fluctuate in the playoffs. Giving him familiar surroundings will help his consistency. The same can be said for Russell Westbrook.

The road won't be any easier

This season will be the Rockets' easiest chance to win a title. The Lakers and Clippers aren't going away in the next couple of years. The Warriors will be a stronger threat once healthy. The Mavs will be better and have flexibility to improve. That's just the Western Conference! Seizing the opportunity now is their best chance. Harden and Westbrook are on the wrong side of 30. Eric Gordon has too big of a contract and is injury-prone. Outside of those guys, they don't have any "assets" worth trading. Striking while the iron is hot in this shortened season is their best chance.


I'm looking at this from an outsider's perspective. Erasing the fan eyes, this could be their best shot at winning a ring. People need to realize how precious this opportunity is right now. Dan Marino went to a Super Bowl in his second season and never went back. Karl Malone chased rings late in his career, but never won one. If Harden and Westbrook want to validate their legacies, winning this year will help cement that. Nobody takes away from the Spurs for winning in the strike-shortened 1999 season, so why should the title from this season be looked upon any differently? Every team in the bubble was there because they had a shot to make the playoffs. Any team in the playoffs has a shot to win a title. Line them up and knock them down!


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Cougars win in OT. Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images.

The only cheers Houston guard L.J. Cryer heard in his return to Baylor came when he missed a 3-pointer on the first shot of the game for the second-ranked Cougars.

Cryer, who as a freshman three years ago was part of Baylor’s only national championship, made six free throws in overtime and finished with 15 points as No. 2 and Big 12-leading Houston beat the 11th-ranked Bears 82-76 on Saturday after blowing a 16-point halftime lead.

“I was expecting the boos and stuff like that, like not welcoming,” said Cryer, who had no turnovers while playing nearly 43 minutes.

“Really proud of L.J.,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “L.J. was in a tough environment today. ... He showed his maturity because he just played solid.”

The Cougars (24-3, 11-3 Big 12) never trailed in regulation and appeared to win the game on a long 3-pointer by Jamal Shead at the buzzer. But replay showed the ball was still in his hands when the clock ran out.

All six of Cryer’s free throws came in overtime, the first two with 3:06 left to put the Cougars back ahead to stay after falling behind for the first time. After playing 70 games the past three seasons for Baylor before transferring to Houston, he got booed loudly every time he touched the ball early.

Emanuel Sharp had 18 points to lead the Cougars. J’Wan Roberts had 17 points and eight rebounds, while Shead had 12 points and 10 assists.

“Everybody contributed to this win, we’re all responsible for this win,” Shead said. “This was a really good team win.”

Ja’Kobe Walter scored a game-high 23 points for Baylor (19-8, 8-6), and RayJ Dennis had 21. Jalen Bridges had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Jayden Nunn scored 11 points.

The Bears didn’t tie the game for the first time until Yves Missi, their 7-foot freshman, made a layup while being fouled with 4.4 seconds left in regulation to make it 69-all. Roberts rebounded Missi’s missed free throw, and Shead was just a tick late in ending the game without overtime.

Baylor opened the second half with a 12-0 run while Houston missed its first eight shots. Bridges scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, including nine in a row for the Bears in the final 5 1/2 minutes of regulation.

The Cougars led 41-25 at halftime after scoring 13 points off 11 Baylor turnovers. They made 10 of 11 shots in one stretch, which Roberts started by assisting on consecutive baskets before ending it with a jumper that made it 27-10.

“We just felt like they brought it to us in the first half. They’re easily the most physical team that we’ve played so far and I feel like we were a little bit taken back,” Bridges said. “And we just came out in the second half trying to punch them back.”

MISSING GUARDS

Bears sophomore guard Langston Love, their sixth player averaging double-figure scoring going into Saturday, was out of the fourth time in five games because of a leg injury. He played 15 minutes at BYU on Tuesday. ... Sampson revealed after the game that Cougars junior guard Ramon Walker, who got hurt in practice this week, will miss the rest of the season because of a torn meniscus.

BIG PICTURE

It was their first meeting as Big 12 foes, and first since the Final Four three years ago when Baylor beat Houston in a semifinal game on way to winning its first national championship.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Some consider Houston the best team in the country, even though reigning national champion UConn is No. 1. The Cougars won both games this week against top-11 teams, also beating sixth-ranked Iowa State. Baylor is certain to drop several spots, even though its consecutive losses are to Top 25 teams.

UP NEXT

Houston is home Tuesday night against Cincinnati.

Baylor plays Monday night at TCU, which won 105-102 in triple overtime on Jan. 27 to become the first and only other opposing team to win at Foster Pavilion.

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