Rockets Report

Three keys to the Rockets Resurgence

Clint Capela has raised his game. Jason Miller

In the past month, the Rockets have gone from a disappointing afterthought to wading chest-deep in the playoff race. That spark leading them to the fifth seed in the Western Conference came at what seemed like the least likely moment as well, as Chris Paul and James Ennis had both gone down with separate injuries. Instead of plummeting further beyond the 10-11 record they entered the month of December with, however, the Rockets ripped off a 13-5 run. Here are three key factors to Houston's resurgence.

Clint Capela has become feral

During this stretch we've watched Clint Capela kick it into an entirely different gear. He's crashed the boards far more efficiently and it's paid off. Capela went from averaging a respectable 11.8 rebounds per game in the first 20 games of the season to 14.3 throughout the Rockets resurgence and an unreal 17.6 rebounds in the last 6 contests. Since December, Capela has registered four 20+ rebound games. He's become an absolute force at an area that Houston was severely lacking in to begin the season and has been a huge reason the Rockets have turned around their season.

The Rockets are finally healthy

It seems contradictory to start by talking about losing one of the Rockets' stars to injury and then talk about how healthy they are, but it's true. While losing Chris Paul hasn't helped, Houston welcomed the return of center Nene, as well as point guard Brandon Knight. The injury issues also le\d to the call up of Danuel House from the G-league who has seemingly become this year's Gerald Green-esque "diamond in the rough" find. Austin Rivers has also been serviceable since his signing in late December, averaging 13.5 points per game, to include a 21-point performance Saturday night. The health and subsequent contributions since have played a big role in turning around Houston's season.

James ever-loving Harden

What Harden has done in the past month is uncharted territory. He averaged 36.4 points per game for the entire month of December, to go with 7.9 assists per game. He joined Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson as the only players to ever string together five 40-point performances in a row, and is still currently setting the record for most 35-point, 5-assist games with 10 at the moment. It has been unreal throughout, with his most recent act of mediocrity defiance coming in the form of a game winning overtime dagger from three over two defenders at Golden State last Thursday night. It's hard to assume that a run of brilliance like this can run throughout the remainder of the season, but it is exactly what the Rockets needed to save their season.

Looking ahead

The Rockets have a fantastic week of home cooking starting with a Monday matchup against the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets, followed by a Wednesday tilt against the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks. Friday the Rockets host the Cleveland Cavaliers before a quick road game Sunday against the Orlando Magic.

Eric Gordon's absence due to a knee injury could play a factor in these matchups, but it's really hard to bet against James Harden for any stretch of time during this current rampage. I expect Houston to at least split the first two games and sweep the rest of the week.

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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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