Weekly Rockets Rundown

Westbrook, Rockets Ranks, and more

Rockets.com

Welcome to the Rockets Rundown. It's the offseason, and I've been on a bit of a hiatus, but I'm back to give a weekly recap of everything Rockets related until tip off next season. There's plenty to get to, so let's have at it.

Westbrook rumblings

Now that MVP candidate Paul George has (understandably) changed landscapes from the open plains of Oklahoma to the sunny beaches of California, Russell Westbrook is left holding the check with the Thunder. With all signs pointing to a rebuild mode in OKC, Westbrook appears all but gone.

Of course when a superstar is involved in trade rumblings, so to is Rockets' General Manager Daryl Morey. It was no surprise then that when the prospect of Westbrook being made available became known, murmurs of the Rockets' interest also crept through the pipeline.

Could the Rockets trade for Westbrook? It's possible. As built, Houston isn't exactly resplendent with trade chips. They're not devoid however, either. It would probably take some serious multi-team calculus of a trade to make it work, but it could. Should you expect it? Not really.

Now if it did happen? Well that's something you'd want for sure. Everyone said James Harden and Chris Paul wouldn't work, and then they ripped off a league-best 65 wins. I'd be more than happy to watch that experiment unfold, if anything to prove that the Rockets can, in fact, become even more dramatic and petty than their current iteration.

Where the Rockets stand

The Warriors are a shell of themselves, the Lakers got their guy in Anthony Davis, and the Clippers defense got extra salty. Meanwhile, the Rockets resigned their guys. Nothing flashy.

So where should they rank headed into next season?

If your answer was top three, you'd be close.

If predictive analytics are your jam, the guys over at fivethirtyeight.com have the Rockets number one in the west next season, and second overall to a 76ers team that looks to benefit from some addition by subtraction.

If you're looking for a more grounded reasoning for optimism, remember that the only team that has won more games in the last three years than the Rockets (174) is the Warriors (182). The Rockets lost none of their starters, and kept every meaningful bench piece. Sometimes being boring is a good thing. We'll find out this fall.

More offseason rumblings

  • It looks like a reunion between Chris Paul and center Tyson Chandler is looking more and more likely, as the Rockets have reportedly targeted the former defensive player of the year as a backup big man.
  • It's not quite the award Harden was aiming for, but the NBA Players Association announced on Tuesday that The Beard was voted "Toughest to Guard" for the 2018-2019 season. P.J. Tucker also took home hardware as the 2019 Sneaker Champ, because that is a thing that players vote on apparently.
  • Former Rockets assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik--widely credited with the Rockets defensive turnaround the past two seasons--looks to be close to finding a new home with the New Orleans Pelicans. Bzdelik was let go at the end of the season.

Not Rockets related at all

Stranger Things 3 was awesome. And so was Spider-Man.

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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