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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Photo via: WikiCommons.

This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome