Every-Thing Sports

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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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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