The More Things Change...

Scott Halleran

The Houston Rockets are poised for the 7th place in the Western Conference playoffs but the upcoming schedule could trigger a collapse that would be reminiscent of last season. What do you feel this says about Kevin McHale if it happens?

Well folks, we're almost to the end of the season and the Rockets find themselves in position to make the playoffs (Again). I want to draw your attention back to last season where the Rockets sat in prime position to make the playoffs for the first time in a few years and then, suddenly and without warning, the team collapsed. The Rockets fell out of the playoff picture to take their customary 14th place in the draft. A place, I assume, the NBA will still have slotted for the Rockets regardless of the outcome of the season. Well, now the Rockets find themselves in the thick of the tail end of the Western Conference playoffs with a couple of inexplicable losses that the Rockets simply could not afford (Namely Golden State at home, Phoenix in Arizona, and Dallas in Dallas). I think it's important to have the discussion as to just how we look at this Rockets team and Kevin McHale as coach. Let me explain.

The rest of the schedule plays out fairly favorably for the Rockets with eight of fourteen games against opponents with a worse record. The upcoming schedule has the Rockets slated as follows:

Team

Record

Back to Back?

Cleveland

22-46

No

San Antonio

52-16

No

Indiana

42-26

No

@ Memphis

46-21

No

Los Angeles Clippers

47-22

Yes

Orlando

18-51

No

@ Sacramento

24-44

No

@ Portland

31-36

No

@ Denver

47-22

Yes

Phoenix

23-46

No

Memphis

46-21

No

Sacramento

24-44

No

@ Phoenix

23-46

Yes

@ Los Angeles Lakers

36-33

No

Examining the schedule we see that the Rockets play seven of fourteen games (50%) against teams with no actual threat to the Rockets playoff race. Those teams are also below .500. The Rockets only play one game against a team threatening their playoff hunt to close the season against Los Angeles who is currently 1.5 games behind the Rockets. Houston has six games that at first blush seem to be losses if teams are at full strength. Arguably the Rockets could steal away games from San Antonio, Indiana, and Denver but I'm not confident enough in that appraisal to put money on it.

There's a reason we looked at the schedule though for purposes of this post. The Rockets have a schedule that appears to be relatively soft and winnable to close out the season. If the Rockets win the games any playoff hopeful team should win we have a record of about 44-38. If they steal a few more they could look as high as a 46 or 47 win season. Now, last year the Rockets fell apart down the stretch. If Houston's peak and valley play continues it's possible that we see a hard skid come soon with a stretch against the Spur, Pacers, Grizzlies, Clippers, and then continued sliding against a team like Orlando and Sacramento. If that happens and Houston gets no help from the Lakers and Jazz then we may very well be on the outside looking in again. This is the crux of our discussion here and something I'm interested in reading about from you, our beloved tolerated readers.

Just what kind of responsibility do you lay at the feet of Kevin McHale if this team collapses?

This year alone Kevin McHale was left with two. Count them, two players from his previous seasons. Greg Smith and Chandler Parsons are the only Rockets that remain from last season that saw any burn on the court. On the eve of the season the Rockets picked up their franchise star in James Harden and an adjustment period had to ensue. Less than two months into the season McHale was robbed of his daughter by illness. At the trade deadline his entire power forward rotation (Which was never that good anyway) was traded away for Thomas Robinson. He has since had to integrate Donatas Motiejunas as a starter and rely on Robinson for back up minutes while developing the rookie. To some extent the Royce White circus had to have some kind of impact on his ability to coach the team (regards to managing the locker room). Lastly, McHale had to oversee players who had never seen minutes like they're getting this year and try to manage fatigue, injury concerns, and a winning record with all of those considerations.

With that in mind, TDS, I ask you; with a year remaining on Kevin's contract, do you cut him some slack if the team collapses down the stretch or do you hold him accountable for letting his roster, regardless of composition, falling to keep running to the finish line?

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