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Thirteen things to know about the Rockets as the NBA restarts

The NBA is restarting this month. Here’s what you need to know about the Rockets.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Pocket Rockets - The Rockets have traded or released every true center on their roster except Tyson Chandler, who won’t be playing except in dire emergency. Houston’s current starting center, P.J. Tucker, has been a lifelong forward and is only 6’5” tall. He’ll be tasked with stopping a litany of true NBA bigs out West. Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Dwight Howard, Jonas Valanciunas, Steven Adams. These are just some of the names at center in the Western Conference bubble. Let’s hope Tucker’s up to the task and Houston’s new small-ball philosophy can help run those bigs out of the lane chasing three-ball shooters. That should leave the middle open for drives from Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
  2. Slim Jim - A picture surfaced in late May of a much leaner James Harden hiking in southern California. With playoff legs fresher than they’ve ever been and the system requiring more running from Harden, the Rockets could be in the best position to make a deep playoff run.

3. Roster turnover - There are no players drafted by the Rockets currently playing for the Rockets. There are, however, three players on the Rockets’ roster who debuted in the NBA with the Rockets: Robert Covington, Chris Clemons and William Howard.

4. Robert Convington blocks shots - Since Convington came aboard, he’s been everything the Rockets hoped for and more, blocking shots better than most full-time centers. In his 14 games in Houston, Covington is averaging 2.5 blocked shots per contest. Small sample size certainly, but the last time a Rockets player averaged 2.5 blocks per game was Hakeem Olajuwon in 1999. Covington’s blocked 4+ shots in a game four times already for the Rockets, and 3+ seven times. He’s also knocking down on average 3 triples per game on 35.7 percent shooting. Three-and-D indeed.

5. Russell Westbrook is finding his groove - One of the most significant questions heading into the 2019-20 season was the fit of Russell Westbrook. The Rockets were adding another ball-dominant guard to pair alongside James Harden — who averaged the league’s highest usage rating over the past three seasons (36.0 USG%). After a mediocre start to the season, Westbrook found his niche and went on to have some of the best and most efficient performances of his career. In February, he led the Rockets to a 7-1 record while averaging 33.4 points on 54.9% shooting from the field, to go along with 7.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists in eight games.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

6. James Harden’s playoff streak continues - The Rockets acquired Harden in a trade with the Thunder eight years ago, and Houston has made the playoffs in every season since. In fact, Houston’s streak of eight could potentially be the longest in the NBA by the end of the season. Currently, the San Antonio Spurs are on a monster run of 22 straight playoffs, but the Spurs will begin the restart in 12th place in the West, four games back of the eighth seed with only eight games to play.

7. March wasn’t kind to the Rockets - Houston was mired in a funk just before the NBA suspended its season on March 11. The Rockets were 1-4, including losses to the Knicks, Hornets, and Magic. Houston trailed by 20 or more points in each of the four losses, and in their lone win against the KAT-less Timberwolves, the team didn’t look stellar. So March came in like a lamb, but the Rockets are hoping the restart goes out like a lion.

8. Harden’s up-and-down 2020 - Harden’s performance during the the early part of the ‘19-’20 was probably the best of his career, going on an insane scoring run that was wildly efficient. But that was met with an equally egregious stretch of inconsistency in 2020. While there have been periods of what we normally expect from Harden, there wasn’t a long enough stretch to say that he’s fully back or that this whole thing is a fluke. When we last saw No. 13, he dropped 37 on 11-19 from the field and 5-10 from three. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.

9. Ben McLemore the three-point sniper - Ben McLemore was the Rockets best 3-point shooter prior to the league’s suspension in March. The St. Louis prodigy shot a career-best 39.5% from behind the arc while averaging 9.8 points through 63 games.

10. Eric Gordon should finally be healthy - After battling injuries and, by extension, inconsistency all season, Eric Gordon played in just 34 games on the year, shooting some of the worst percentages of his career. The break finally has him healthy and hopefully ready to contribute at the level we’re used to from EG. If he’s back to his old self, the Rockets have a true X-factor.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

11. The Rockets have depth - Houston is loaded at the guard and forward positions. The starting five of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington, and Danuel House gives way to a small army of wings coming off the bench. Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore, Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, DeMarre Carroll, Thabo Sefolosha, and Bruno Caboclo are all candidates to see time with the second unit. All small ball, all the time. Can anyone match up with that?

12. Houston’s NBA Finals odds - ESPN gives the Rockets a 15-percent chance of going to the Finals. The Rockets have the third-best odds in the Western Conference, behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers

13. Houston’s schedule is out - We covered that here at TDS, but in case you missed it, the Rockets start on Friday, July 31 against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, August 2 versus the Milwaukee Bucks, Tuesday, August 4 against the Portland Trail Blazers, Thursday, August 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday, August 9 versus the Sacramento Kings, Tuesday, August 11 versus the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, August 12 versus the Indiana Pacers, and they’ll finish up Friday, August 14 against the Philadelphia 76ers.