Are the Rockets title contenders?

Here's where the Rockets stand with the NBA returning

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Since the Rockets were given four months off because of COVID-19, this allowed the team to rest. This was basically a new team from last season. Players like Westbrook and Covington were still trying to get adjusted to the offense in Houston. Covington was averaging 12.8 PPG and Westbrook was averaging 27.5 PPG before the season came to a halt.

Another important factor is Eric Gordon and James Harden have lost a tremendous amount of weight. This will allow them to be more mobile on the court. Both players have put on a good amount of muscle in their careers in Houston. Harden has not been this slim since playing for the Thunder and his early days with the Rockets. When Harden was slimmer, he was much more athletic. Meaning his vertical was higher, and he was able to get down the court much faster.

The Rockets want to be much faster and in better shape for an eight-game regular season. Since it looks like Adam Sliver, NBA Commissioner, still wants to the finish the NBA season. This will allow teams below or at .500 to still make the playoffs.

Now the Rockets chances at the NBA Finals are still high because of Harden and Westbrook. These two started to click before COVID-19 shut the season down. The Rockets main two road blocks to the NBA Finals are the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers. Against both opponents they are a combined 3-3.

When it comes to playing the Lakers, the Rockets have shown their strengths and weakness. How the Rockets can beat the Lakers is beating them down the court with their quickness and perimeter shooting. The Lakers were not able to keep up with the Rockets small-ball rotation because of their big man. The Rockets were able to spread out Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee to the corners. This allowed Westbrook and Harden to attack the basket without seeing any rim protectors. When the Rockets can attack the basket, this allows shooters like Eric Gordon to get open. This can also affect the Lakers rebounding abilities as well.

Now, what could hurt the Rockets is when they are not making their shots. The Lakers could take advantage of the Rockets small-ball rotation by allowing Davis to post up P.J. Tucker more often. That team feeds off of a great defense because they are top five in that category.

The Clippers would be more of a problem than the Lakers because they match up better. Even though the Clippers do not have a small-ball rotation when it comes to their starting five, Doc Rivers can create one throughout the game. They have an amazing backcourt made of scoring and defense. The reason for that is because of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers also have one of the best sixth men of all-time, Lou Williams. But we can not forget about Westbrook's favorite friend, Patrick Beverley. Beverley is a two-time member of the all-defensive team in the NBA. Finally, another player that can give the Rockets problems is Montrezl Harrell.

The Rockets number one issue with the Clippers is maintaining the lead. Changing scores with the Clippers is a bad situation. They are the best at slowing the game down and playing great defense. The Clippers are good at getting everybody involved on the court. That is when they are the most dangerous.

The way the Rockets can beat the Clippers is by becoming the better team. Meaning, Harden and Westbrook must be perfect. It is also important that the Rockets' supporting cast is helpful. When the whole team can score, the Rockets become more dangerous. The Clippers did dismantle the Rockets' small-ball rotation the last time they played against each other, and the last time the Rockets beat the Clippers, was when they still had Clint Capela. The Rockets are 2-2 against the Clippers.

The best way to beat the Clippers is with fast breaks and pace. Not many teams can keep up with the Rockets. If the Rockets play fast, it becomes extremely hard for teams like the Lakers and Clippers to keep up. That is how the Rockets can make it to the Finals.

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Martin Truex Jr. won his 2nd race of the season last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR returns to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. This is the first of two races here at this track as they will race on Sunday afternoon. This will be different from the normal night race they usually have here as this will definitely affect the racing surface considering how much the sun could make the track slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. passed Denny Hamlin to capture his second win of the season after rain moved the race to Sunday. He became the first driver to win multiple races after a fierce battle with his teammate Denny Hamlin. The race was filled with tons of wrecks including a fifteen car pileup including Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. It was one of the better races of the season as there was lots of beating and banging.

The race was not without controversy but not the kind you would expect. Early in the race Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and James Davison were involved in an altercation. The two were battling towards the back of the pack when Ware decided to drive through his teammate in turn four. The race got much worse for Cody Ware as he was involved in three more cautions all throughout the race. Many people around the sport were quite perturbed by his antics including broadcaster Mike Joy as he was audibly annoyed after Ware spun out later in the race. Many have questioned if the fifth-year driver should even be in the car and overall I can understand why some of those people think that. In his five years of driving, he has finished on the lead lap one time. I hope that he is able to figure it out and find success in the future, but this was not a good look.

The slump continues for two-time champion Kyle Busch

Throughout the race, Busch was running okay for the most part but towards the closing laps of the race he and Chris Buescher got together triggering a fifteen car pileup. Despite all this, he was able to rebound to a respectable tenth place finish. This has been more than likely the toughest stretch of his career since his championship in 2019. Many would say that the omission of Practice and Qualifying has really affected his performance. Whatever the issue is, this team really needs to find some speed, or he could be in danger of missing the playoffs. I look for this team to bounce back considering how talented he is.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. This has been an incredible rebound season for Larson as he currently sits fourth in points. He is also second in laps led only to Denny Hamlin. Richmond has been a great track for him as it fits his driving style perfectly as he can run the outside line and find grip where others can't. This track is also rather sentimental to him considering he won his first pole award here during his rookie season in 2014. While he may not have the results he would want he has always been extremely fast here and even won back in 2017. I look for him to capture his second victory of 2021 come Sunday.

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