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Rockets looking like legitimate title contenders, and Russell Westbrook hasn’t even played in playoffs yet

Houston Rockets, Russell Westbrook

It seems to be all systems go for the Houston Rockets in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Against the odds and without the services of Russell Westbrook, the team has left the proverbial launch pad with a trajectory set for an NBA championship.

The Rockets finished the 2019-20 regular season with a 44-28 overall record, which earned the team a No. 4 seed in the postseason and a first round matchup against the 5th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. So far, it’s been a one-sided show, with Houston taking the first two games by healthy margins (123-108 and 111-98).

Unfortunately, Westbrook is currently dealing with a quadriceps injury, which has kept him out of the first two games of this series. At this point, it’s not clear how long The Brodie will be sidelined, but his status seems to be improving by the day.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told the Houston Chronicle, referring to Westbrook’s recovery time. “It’s going to take a little bit. He’s working hard and he’s feeling better every day. The images are looking better. But I think it’s too early to say how many days he’s out. I don’t think anybody knows.”

James Harden led the Rockets in their Game 1 victory, scoring a game-high 37 points to go with 11 rebounds and three assists. Game 2 was a different story, though, as several of Houston’s role players showed up to play. The Beard still led his team on the scorecard, racking up 21 points, nine assists, five rebounds, three steals and zero turnovers in 36 minutes of action. However, six of his teammates registered double-digits in the scoring column, including Danuel House Jr. (19), Eric Gordon (15), P.J. Tucker (14), Jeff Green (15) and Austin Rivers (11). Oklahoma City actually led 80-77 before Houston broke off a 17-0 run, mostly with Harden on the bench.

“Unbelievable, man,” Harden said, via ESPN. “That was the game right there. The guys just took it upon themselves to guard and we felt in the sense Oklahoma City was getting tired and we just kept pressing the gas on them.”

The Rockets made 19 of an NBA-record 56 3-point attempts in Game 2. Impressively, they made 8-of-16 from long range in the first quarter alone. Hoops fans know that Houston plays a run-and-gun style, but it’s actually their defense that is clearing a path. In fact, Houston held the Thunder to just 39 points after halftime.

“We played well,” Harden told ESPN after Game 2. “We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well tonight. But I think defensively, especially in that second half, we did an unbelievable job just gearing in what they like to do and correcting our mishaps in that first half.”

It’s only two games, and there is still a lot of space to cover. If these Rockets continue to burn at this pace, they’ll have a real shot at reaching their destination. Let’s see if they can maintain course.

The post Rockets looking like legitimate title contenders, and Russell Westbrook hasn’t even played in playoffs yet appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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