If you have a question you would like us to answer in next week’s roundtable, post it in the comments and continue the debates! You can read our Tuesday 5-on-5 from last week here.
This week’s panelists include ak2themax (AK), Max Croes (MC), Colin Ainsworth (CA), Adam Sweeney (AS), and Ethan Rothstein (ER).
1. How does Ryan Anderson's injury affect the team so close to the playoffs?
AK: It doesn't. As of this writing, the Rockets have clinched home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and their magic number to grab the third spot is just three with nine games remaining.
I've sprained my ankles several times and I'm sure many of those reading this have as well. It's an unpredictable healing process and even once it's "healed," it takes a while to get back to 100% flexibility without pain. I'd love to see Ryno completely resting it before the playoffs. Getting him back right before the postseason would be nice to shake off the rust, but he'll be fine. And so will the Rockets.
MC: Playoff seeding is settled, so the impact of the injury is that it predicts what will/would happen in the playoffs. D'Antoni put Gordon in the starting lineup and left Harrell with a DNP. Meaning even against a team that can go big like OKC, D'Antoni is going to go with three guards and Ariza at power forward.
CA: There are a couple ways this can go, and since we're already doing numbers I'll do them in letters. Either A) Ryan Anderson's injury proves to be a pretty big deal. When he's hitting, the Rockets are hard to beat (just ask Golden State). Even the threat of his spacing makes Harden's offense that much more efficient. Or, B) Sam Dekker steps the hell up, as he did on Sunday against OKC. D'Antoni's adjusted rotation worked swimmingly when both Eric Gordon and Lou Williams were draining, but if Dekker can just carry a small weight in Anderson's absence, it will work wonders now, and in the future especially.
AS: Very little at the moment, with a chance to affect them negatively down the road. The Rockets have had Anderson in the starting rotation long enough to know what works, so that is a plus, and they have the No. 3 seed all but locked up so things could be a lot worse. If Ryno comes back at full strength in the playoffs I think the Rockets have a puncher's chance against anybody, and I like seeing the small guard lineup of James Harden, Eric Gordon, and Patrick Beverley as a change of pace. But if this injury lingers for Anderson, who has routinely been a member of my "Lil' Brittle" squad throughout the years, then the Rockets are in trouble. He's an important piece to this team and you can't replace the spacing his long-distance he offers. Beverley is a bulldog but he's better as a backup with Anderson in the starting five, firing at will. I'm praying to the Ghost of Moochie's Norris's fro that Anderson's ankle heals quickly.
ER: Hopefully not at all. The team seems confident he'll be back in two weeks and get at least a couple of games in before the playoffs. With the three seed sewn up, it might affect the race for 59 wins (which would be a franchise record), but I don't think they're chasing that at all.
It might turn out to be a good thing, since Sam Dekker's minutes will increase, giving rise to the possibility that his confidence, and therefore his shot, will also improve. I'm not holding my breath on that, nor am I holding my breath about Ryno's ankle. He seems OK for the long-term. His injury history is a little scary, but Keith Jones is a legend for a reason.
2. On a scale of 1-10, where does the panic meter hit after Patrick Beverley and James Harden needed medical attention in Sunday's win vs. the Thunder?
AK: It's simmering at a 3. Bev is made out of adamantium and Harden is made out of something just as durable (Beardamantium? Swagamantium?).
Both have made their feelings about rest well known. I'm sure D'Antoni will give them some practice days off, as he's done all year in lieu of having players miss games. Now, if Harden plays through some wrist pain and he feels bothered by it, then that's a different story. But it's not the time for the panic button.
MC: I’m gonna agree with AK on this one and say it’s about a three. There's still a few weeks till the playoffs and both players reacted positively after the game. I fully trust that Harden and Beverley can bounce back.
CA: I'm pretty certain that both Bev and Harden would play if they didn't have their shooting arm. I don't mean that metaphorically, either. That said, if Harden's out, this team lives on surprises. Can Gordon and Lou win a playoff series? Maybe, against the right team. But it is extremely hard to surprise a team 4 times in 7 games. I'd call it a 6 on the scale.
AS: 1 out of 10. The Rockets definitely dodged a bullet but both Beverley and The Beard emerged relatively unscathed, if not sore. Now, where was my panic meter at when I saw Harden go down during the Rockets - Thunder game? Somewhere between the reaction Luke Skywalker has when he finds out Darth Vader is his father in The Empire Strikes Back and the first time I realized my mom had sexual interactions like every other adult in this world, save for A.C. Green into his forties. That is to say, I was in utter disbelief and pretty traumatized for a moment. Thankfully, the MVP is okay, Beverley is gonna be Beverley and play 100 miles per hour, even while hugging the curves on a mountain with no guardrails, and we're still in great position to do some damage in the Playoffs.
ER: 6. "Keith Jones is a legend for a reason." And that's me quoting me! These are both tough dudes, and the Rockets have plenty of time before the playoffs. Harden's wrist injury is a slight cause for alarm, considering it's his shooting hand and that was a big-ass wrap on it after the game.
3. Who should close games in the playoffs at center: Clint Capela or Nene? (S/O to eastman88 for the question.)
AK: Who SHOULD close each playoff game is whoever has been playing better that night on both ends of the court.
That being said, MDA has shown he trusts Nene later in close games. He's more physical and can do more out of the pick-and-roll with Harden than Capela can.
MC: I also prefer Nene. Capela is a shot blocker, but his defense still looks a step slow and he's been burned by opposing offenses in the pick-and-roll too much lately for my liking.
CA: Depends on the matchup, and on the night. Nene has been stellar since the All-Star break, but there are nights when Capela is just in the right rhythm with Harden. Meanwhile, if they hack, Nene should play, period.
AS: This is like asking me who's the better actor; Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino. The answer is it all depends on what the scene is and what range you're looking for. In fact, let's take a moment to realize just how damn lucky we are to have two quality big men who have exceeded the expectations placed upon them. It was less than a year ago that Dwight "I get my super-strength from Fruit by the Foot and destroying teammates' will to live" Howard was standing down low as we all asked ourselves, "Why the Hell do you not understand you were MADE to run the pick and roll, man-child?" Now, two of the most selfless big men in the game who can give a 1-2 punch and not get in the way of the stars. To quote Troy McClure of The Simpsons, "It's the part they were born to play, baby!"
ER: Right now, Nene. He's playing much better team defense, and his offense, while not as potent as Capela's rolls and finishes, is a great complement to the team. I could see matchups playing in Capela's favor, and would be happy with either player. But Nene gives the Rockets the best chance at getting multiple stops in a row, which is key in any playoff crunch time.
4. What team would you like to see as the Rockets' first round matchup?
AK: Oklahoma City, and it's not particularly close. The Thunder have talent, but I don't see them matching Houston's offensive output enough to defeat the Rockets in a 7 game series.
Utah is a matchup nightmare for the Rockets. The Clippers look like a shell of their former selves but I still fear their talent. And Memphis will drag Houston into the mud and turn games into a drag rather than the aesthetically pleasing basketball we're used to from the Rockets.
Russell Westbrook is good enough to win at least one game by himself and Houston has had no answer for Kanter in the post. Still, the Thunder just don't have enough shooting and spacing to beat the Rockets since they will have to play Andre Roberson 40 minutes a night to guard Harden.
Finally, I don't trust Billy Donovan to outcoach Mike D'Antoni.
MC: I would like to see the Memphis Grizzlies as the Rockets’ first round matchup. They continue to vacillate between mediocrity and disarray. It's a team without an identity that can be broken down in a playoff series and will likely pack it in if they get backed down.
CA: There are two correct answers to this question, but since we're already doing numbers --
A) Not the Jazz
B) The Clippers, obviously.
The Clippers, for one, don't understand how to cover the Rockets, but bigger than that: they clearly want to break up the band. It's not unlike playing the Raging Rajon Rondo Mavs two years ago. Let's get this first round out of the way, we got bigger fish to fry.
AS: The Oklahoma City Thunder is the obvious choice with respect to what would be the most entertaining series because of the James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook narrative, and it may, in fact, be the best series for H-Town as it gears up for what looks like it could be a second-round match-up against San Antonio. (God, I hate the Spurs so very much.) The pace of the games against Oklahoma City also tends to favor Houston since it's inevitable that Westbrook will try to take the entire team on his back and fail miserably. Meanwhile, the Rockets will take a more team-oriented approach as different players light up the stat sheet each game in a likely 4-1 series win.
That said, there is a small victory if the Rockets play Memphis in the first round, if only so Daryl Morey can put a whoopie cushion under the chair of Chandler Parsons as he rides the pine, laughing his arse off as James Harden shouts, "No takebacks, Chandler, but congrats on the Ocean Pacific clothing sponsorship. 1987 is going to be a big year for you!"
ER: I've said I'd like to see the Clippers, but after Sunday's game against the Thunder, it's a toss-up. I do not want to see the Jazz, hopefully ever, and the Grizzlies seem like a long shot to climb out of the 7-seed.
I think the Rockets mentally own the Clippers after 2015 and the walkovers this year, and there's no one they can stick on Harden to really give him problems. The Thunder have Roberson, but they need to play basically perfect basketball to beat the Rockets, like they did in their one win over them. They can't do that four times out of seven.
5. With two games this week against the Warriors, what do the Rockets have to prove against their rival?
AK: I think there's plenty to prove, but we won't learn much from these games. The Warriors are bound to be missing Durant for at least one game (probably both) and the Rockets will definitely be missing Anderson for both. These teams split the series when they were healthy and that is enough to give Houston confidence.
Furthermore, the Rockets will be on the second night of a back-to-back for the contest in Oakland while the Dubs will have the night before off. That game in particular screams "schedule loss" and can be promptly disregarded even if Houston gets blown out.
MC: They have nothing to prove, but they want to use these games to familiarize themselves with the Golden State offense and defense. Don't use any plays or tricks you want to have in the playoffs, but make sure every Rocket is treating these games as a learning experience and acclimation exercise. Houston will have to play Golden State in the playoffs if everything goes according to plan. Use these games to prepare for that regardless of their outcomes.
CA: They're not going to do this, and they shouldn't do this, but I almost wish they'd just rest everyone both times. I don't care about some rivalry here. Would I be hype as shit if Houston won 3 games against GSW this year? Sure, but these wins already have an asterisk next to them with Durant out.
(I want both these wins, though. I want to win both by 40, each. I want both wins, and I want to win out because I want 60 wins because screw Vegas and people who called the Rockets going .500 this season)
AS: Part of me thinks that the Rockets just have to prevent either game from turning into a blowout with them as the loser and they'll be fine. Another side tells me that this could be a lot like the 2007-2008 New York Giants in the final regular season game against the then-undefeated New England Patriots. The Pats won the game but the Giants gave them all they could handle and more, and it ended up giving them the confidence and preparation necessary to slay the dragon later on. Keep in mind that the Warriors have sent the Rockets fishing the last two seasons in a row. I'm not sure they fear the Rockets at all, honestly, so these games might be a great time to pop the presumed favorites for the NBA title in the mouth and say, "Here I am." Then again, Steve Kerr may just rest his starters and bring in Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway off waivers, so it may be all for naught. But I warn you; do not sleep on that UTEP Two-Step from Hardaway, even at the tender age of 50.
ER: Really, there is nothing to prove. They went into Oakland earlier this season and beat them in double overtime. Kevin Durant was playing in that game, he won't be playing in at least one, likely both, of these contests. Considering he'll be back for any head-to-head clash in the playoffs, even going 2-0 against these Warriors won't mean much to the Rockets, the Warriors or the sports media writ large if these teams meet in May.