Even the most die-hard and overly optimistic fans would say this has not been a great season.
The Rockets started off on a losing streak, they fired Kevin McHale, they thought about trading Dwight Howard, they cut Ty Lawson, and for whatever reason, whenever they managed to have something good happen to them, they couldn’t hold onto it. The team has massively underperformed, and while they are limping into the playoffs with an average record, they made it and it’s an accomplishment nonetheless.
The Rockets of last season of last season made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals and they were bounced out of the playoffs by pretty much the same Warriors they are now facing in back-to-back seasons. Last year they ran out of luck and energy as a healthier and deeper Warriors made quick work of them.
The last two regular seasons have been as different as night and day. Last year’s Rockets were fighters, they were gritty and played defense. This season’s team often looks lost on the court, and only on full moons bring out the desperate effort on both sides of the ball and show you the play fans have come to know and love. Just like Teen Wolf.
And while they have rolled into the playoffs on four flat tires, there is a little bit of good news for them. Very simply, the Rockets are not the same team that faced the Warriors in the playoffs last year, they are healthy. How many times in the offseason did you say to yourself, if only Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas had been healthy then it would have been a different series.
Both Beverley and Motiejunas are healthy, and the team has also added and developed a little more depth. Stephen Curry will no longer be guarded by Jason Terry or Pablo Prigioni for 48 minutes. Draymond Green won't be taking advantage of Terrence Jones or Josh Smith (OK maybe a little Josh Smith).
Curry will get his shots and makes his trademark "oh my god" plays but he won’t get them easily. Green will still be super physical but now they have so many more bodies to throw on him.
In the playoffs, the one consistent thing about the Rockets is, they normally bring their best version of themselves. Playoff Dwight Howard is an unstoppable beast (and now he is playing for a contract), James Harden not only can score 30 but he can drop 40 on any given night. The play of everyone is increased a few extra notches and you can bet Beverley, who missed the playoffs last season, is ready to annoy Curry so much it will cause him to lose his mind at least once during the series.
All season long people have complained about the way J.B. Bickerstaff handles the rotations, rolling through guys till he is able to find a hot hand. Now that philosophy might actually be a good thing. If Corey Brewer isn’t getting it done, he’s gone, and Bickerstaff can throw in someone else. Motiejunas isn’t getting it done then I guess he'll only play six minutes, maybe Josh Smith or Michael Beasley will have better luck. If they need to go small or super small to catch the Warriors off guard, you better believe they will.
Anything helps this time of year, and if Steve Kerr and company have to worry about Bickerstaff using every man on the playoff roster at any given moment, that means more things to account for.
The one seed Warriors might be the toughest task for any eight seed to ever go against. The question the Warriors will have to answer is, after playing at an amazingly high and historic level for the whole season, is there still another level they can go? Or have we seen the best from them?
Take the records out of the equation for a moment. The Rockets' talent and the Warriors' talent is just about the same (slight edge to the champs). Both have MVP level talent and both have players who can take over a game offensively and defensively. Working in the Rockets favor is that "nothing to lose" attitude. Hey, they are just happy to be here. The Warriors have everything to lose, the so-called greatest team in the history of the NBA is supposed to roll through the Rockets like a hot knife through butter.
But if the Rockets steal one of the first two games, and are able to take care of business at home. Just think of all the pressure that would be on the Warriors. Everyone laughed at David until he beat down Goliath with only a rock and a sling.