Every-Thing Sports

Let's examine if small-ball is sustainable in the bubble

Composite image by Brandon Strange

The NBA is doing it right with their restart inside the Orlando Bubble at the Disney resort. A centralized location for the 22 teams picked to finish out the regular season and vie for the playoffs. A nice twist of a play-in for the eighth and final spot in each conference adds some intrigue. With teams not having to travel as extensively as they would under normal circumstances, this could have a positive effect on players and teams by them being more rested between games.

When I say it could benefit players and teams, I'm specifically talking about the Rockets. Head coach Mike D'Antoni typically employs a tight rotation when it comes playoff time. He's notorious for only playing a strict seven or eight man rotation. This usually overworks his starters who play close to 40 minutes per game or more. Meanwhile, guys that have gotten a decent amount of minutes are relegated to being cheerleaders with jerseys on. Given the current conditions, is small-ball sustainable in the bubble?

Yes: the extra rest will help

As previously stated, I believe the rest will help. James Harden and Russell Westbrook aren't spring chickens. Neither is P.J. Tucker or Eric Gordon. All four of these guys are keys to the Rockets being able to make a run. Given the lack of travel allowing for extra rest, I think the older guys who've played significant minutes and have overcome injuries will be better rested. Better rest and time to heal should give them a boost.

No: can't win being out-rebounded

In their impressive win over the East leading Bucks in their second game of the restart, the Rockets were out-rebounded by 29! Now the possession gap was tightened via the 23 turnovers they got from the Bucks, including several down the stretch. But you can't expect to be consistently out-rebounded and win.The last NBA champion to be out-rebounded by their opponents was the '12-'13 Miami Heat team who were loaded. This team isn't suprememly talented like that team was so I doubt they can overcome shortcomings on talent alone.

Yes: threes are more than twos

Three is greater than two. That is a fact that can't be debated. The fact that the Rockets shoot more threes than any team in the league isn't debatable either. Their shooting percentage on those threes (34.9%) ranks them 22nd in the league. But when you shoot roughly 45 a game and make about 16 of them yielding 48 points off threes, it makes the risk worth the reward. Not to mention long distance shots often give way to long rebounds which can help a team that doesn't play a regular player taller than 6'9.

No: defense is too inconsistent

The inconsistency at which this Rockets team plays defense could be their downfall. The way they played down the stretch against the Bucks is the way you'd hope they play all game. They stepped up when it counted in that game, but don't play that way consistently enough to be considered a real threat. When you score 118.7 a game, but give up 114.9 a game, you will always be in close games. Add the rebounding desparity, and that's a recipe for too many close games which they could end up losing if they aren't shooting well. When you can't get stops, you can't win. It's that simple.

Overall, this team has a shot to do sometihng special, but will need lots of things to go right for them. Do I think they have a shot at a title? Yes. Do I think the road will be tough? Yes. All it takes is 16 wins once the playoffs start. Being the best team in a best of seven series four times in a row is more daunting than it sounds. The confines of the NBA bubble make it a little more advantageous to the Rockets' style of play. But will their deficiencies impede their progress? That remains to be seen. Until then, let's enjoy the ride.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome