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