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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Carlos Correa had a big home run Saturday night. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With four wins in a row, including the first two of this series, Houston had a chance to keep their momentum going to lock up a series win on Saturday in this four-game set. Although Texas would make it interesting late, the Astros would hold them off to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 5

Astros' Record: 23-17, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia (1-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dane Dunning (2-3)

Action in the first

After getting trounced the night prior, the Rangers managed to grab early momentum with a run to start the scoring Saturday night against Luis Garcia. It came after a one-out triple set up a sac fly, giving Texas a 1-0 lead. Houston quickly took control back in their favor, though, putting up four in the bottom of the inning on a two-RBI single by Alex Bregman and a two-run homer by Carlos Correa, making it 4-1 Astros.

The scoreboard went quiet after that inning, with both teams slowing down at the plate. Garcia put together a decent night, allowing just the one run over five innings of work, erasing some runners throughout the night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 94 P.

Rangers tighten it up late

Bryan Abreu was the first reliever to enter for Houston, taking over for Garcia in the top of the sixth. He worked around a leadoff single, keeping it a three-run game, then returned for a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. Correa led off with a double in the bottom of the inning, setting up a two-run Kyle Tucker homer, extending his recent hot streak and the lead to 6-1.

Ryne Stanek took over on the mound for Houston in the top of the eighth but worked himself into trouble with a single and walk to set up a three-run homer by Joey Gallo to make it a two-run game at 6-4. He would manage just one out before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Brandon Bielak. Bielak would allow a run while getting the final two outs, making it 6-5.

Astros secure the series

After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, Ryan Pressly would try to notch another save and close the door on the Rangers. He would get the job done, sitting the Rangers down in order, keeping Houston's winning streak intact.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game set will start at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Lance McCullers JR. (3-1, 3.10 ERA), fresh off of a recent gem, will look to continue his success for the Astros, while Kyle Gibson (3-0, 2.28) will try to stay perfect on the season for the Rangers.

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