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Joel Blank: Rockets need to find a sense of urgency fast

Chris Paul has played well since a disaster of a Game 1, but the Rockets need more. Bob Levey/Getty Images

It's time to wake up and smell the urgency Rockets fans.

Houston, it's time to face the reality that your team hasn't been playing good basketball. The Rockets have been on cruise control for the entire month of April and have yet to realize this is crunch time in the NBA. Ever since this team wrapped up the best record in the NBA, they have been lacking offensive efficiency, defensive tenacity and complete team chemistry. For a team that has been clicking on all cylinders for most of the regular season and only had lows from injuries to key players, this has become a huge issue. Something that was initially being brushed aside as a sidebar to resting players late in the year has now come full circle. It started with resting players that were healthy, and has continued to the point where it's not rust anymore, it's more of a relaxed attitude and lack of a sense of urgency that is a must when you get to the postseason.

Let's not forget that Game 1 of their opening round playoff series against Minnesota was tight for most of the game and Houston was lucky to come out with a victory. Sure they got a blowout win in game 2, but Game 3 was more of the same, sloppy, inconsistent play for Houston. They very easily could be down 2 games to 1,  instead of being up a game heading into Game 4.

When you look around the playoff landscape and you see the teams that are having success right now, it's obvious that chemistry and teamwork are of the utmost importance.  The Indiana Pacers play team basketball on both ends of the floor. Aside from Victor Oladipo, most casual basketball fans would be hard pressed to name another Pacers player. The New Orleans Pelicans are getting maximum effort and production from their star player Anthony Davis, but Jrue Holiday and the rest of the team have stepped up in a big way as they upset Portland in the opening round.  Teams like Utah, Philly, and Golden State are playing defense at a very high level and that leads to continuity and fast breaks on the offensive end. Houston needs to find that balance between success for their superstars and contributions from their role players, as well as getting back to the team defense that propelled them to the top of the NBA this season.

In Game 1, Chris Paul struggled and in Game 2 James Harden’s jumper was missing in action. In Game 3, Harden and Paul did their thing but didn’t get nearly enough help to compete with the energy and emotions of Minnesota. Aside from one big half from Clint Capela and one game from Gerald Green, the role players for the Rockets have been inconsistent and in some cases inexcusable.  Eric Gordon has taken last year's 6th man of the year award and turned it into being consistently inconsistent all regular season. In the playoffs and on this team, he is arguably the third most important offensive player on this roster and in this opening round series he has been anything but that.

It's time to step up as a team, and shape up from and execution standpoint. There is so much talent on this team that they can get by in this opening round series with inconsistent play, but as they get deeper into the playoffs they are setting themselves up for a big fall if they don't improve in all aspects of the game. They are lucky to have a one game lead in this opening round series and have plenty of time to right the ship, but in short the time is now and they need to find a sense of urgency before it's too late.

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

As things continue to relax as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, a return to a semblance of normalcy seems imminent. The NBA has some parameters in place for a potential return. Training camps are set to open late this month and the season is supposed to open July 31. Whether that's the rumored Disney-centered one-stop shop or another form, they have a plan in place to return. There's also no argument between the league and players going back and forth about money either (MLB could learn a lesson here).

So when it comes to the potential return, how does that fare for the local team? The Rockets were 40-24 and tied for the fifth seed in the West when the season was shut down. Since they're getting ready to return potentially, we need to be looking at what chances they may have in making a run in the playoffs towards an NBA title.



Harden's new physique

According to his new trainer, James Harden has done more cardio workouts and lost some weight. Specifically, he's done more football player workouts as opposed to basketball player workouts. There was a pic of Harden floating around showing an obvious loss of weight. His new-found cardio and weight loss could mean more late-game and late-season success for Harden and the Rockets.

Westbrook's edge

Russell Westbrook has a competitive fire that can't be put out. It's like one of those never-ending burning torches you see at monuments. He wants nothing more than to prove he's a winner on a high level. Given that he's reunited with a long time friend in Harden, his competitive nature could help fill the gap where Harden may lack. These two have proven they can coexist very well this season. Now could be their time to take surge.

Small-ball

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela, they fully committed to small-ball. There were times they didn't have a guy in the lineup over 6'5. The tallest guy that gets regular time is roughly 6'8. The smaller, quicker lineup is an advantage on the offensive end, but can be a huge liability on the defensive end. Given the stoppage and restart of the season, it could help them. Suppose other teams are sluggish and can't get their chemistry straight. Houston's advantage is that they go through one or two guys and eat off their shooting. Shooting can be worked on during times like these, whereas other aspects of your game can't.


I'm not saying the Rockets have a built-in advantage, but they have as good a shot as they've ever had in the past. The field is wide open to any team that's in the playoff hunt. No team will have a built-in advantage over others. With the Rockets' unique brand of ball, they may be able to make a run at a title this season. Couple that with Harden's weight loss and Westbrook's competitive nature, it could be very interesting. Whenever the NBA comes back this season, which I believe they will, I think this team has a legit shot at winning it all.

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