3 biggest questions facing the Houston Rockets going into the NBA restart
The Houston Rockets will face some real questions once the 2019-20 NBA season restarts on July 30. Mired in the sixth spot in the West, the Rockets can jockey for position or even slide to the seventh spot if they’re not careful during the remaining eight games of the regular season.
These are the three biggest questions surrounding the Houston Rockets.
Can they survive without a true center?
The Rockets implemented a sans-center lineup after trading Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks as part of a four-team trade before the deadline. Since, they are merely 8-6 with their small lineup, boasting a six-game win streak and a four-game skid that saw them lose to teams like the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, and Orlando Magic.
The mixed results don’t bode well for a team that wanted to go into the postseason peaking at the right time. The eight regular-season games before the start of the playoffs won’t allow the Rockets to do that, but rather only shake off the rust that a lengthy layoff has bestowed upon them.
To get through the West, the Rockets will be tested with star centers like Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, and superstar-level bigs like Anthony Davis.
PJ Tucker has manned the spot thus far, but there is little the veteran defender can do to counteract the size and length of some of the biggest bulwarks of the West. Only time will tell whether the Rockets take off or come crashing down after adopting this strategy.
Will James Harden pick up where he left off?
Part of the reason the Rockets stormed to a decent start was because Harden’s searing scoring talents were put on display from the jump. The Beard led the team in scoring in 19 of the first 20 games of the season and has managed to once again lead the league in scoring average for the third straight season.
While the addition of Russell Westbrook has been a welcome help to the backcourt, Houston will need James Harden to keep up his scoring forays once the postseason arrives, as a slower tempo will call for his scoring talents once again.
Harden started the season on fire, rifling 50- and 60-point performances at will, but he slowed down in 2020, rendering six outings below the 20-point mark.
When The Beard is hot, he’s capable of setting an arena ablaze. But when he’s struggling to find the rim, he can be a massive weight on the Rockets’ shoulders, one they might not be able to lift in a seven-game series.
The hope is Harden’s intense workouts during the hiatus will help him hold up over a grueling playoff run in these unique conditions.
What does Mike D’Antoni need to do to keep his job?
The Rockets have had a tenuous relationship with Mike D’Antoni all along, but the cracks in the foundation of that bond between the front office and the sidelines started to show this past offseason.
D’Antoni, whose contract expires after this season, was offered a one-year, incentive-laced deal he ultimately rejected. While owner Tilman Fertitta said the offer was for $5 million with a $1 million bonus for each round, D’Antoni’s agent revealed the deal was actually $2.5 million before contingencies and that the playoff bonuses didn’t kick in until the second round. Rockets GM Daryl Morey then clarified that Houston’s 2020-21 offer would not have paid D’Antoni less than a base salary of $5 million, taking back his previous confirmation about the head coach receiving $2.5 million in the offer if the Rockets failed to make the postseason. Regardless of what the actual offer was, both sides clearly aren’t on the same page.
One would think a second-round stint would be the minimum the front office wants to see if they’re to restart negotiations with him in the offseason, though some have already thrown in the towel on that possibility.
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