With the NBA restarting the 2019-2020 season here in a few days, we thought it appropriate to give you some TDS staff predictions for the bubble and also ask you to give your own. Hear what everyone has to say, and vote for your pick at the bottom!
The structure and science of the restart play in to all of the Rockets’ strengths. The layoff gives the Rockets the rest needed to explode and play their lightning fast tempo and transition game. It also allows Mike D’Antoni to play smaller rotations, something he’s been criticized for in the past. The Rockets also benefit from the lack of fans and homecourt advantage, which could have put them at a disadvantage given their current place in the standings.
During the regular season games, the Rockets’ goal should simply be to avoid the seven-seed. That will likely give them a date with the Clippers in the first round. It would be nice to climb up as high as possible, but the goals should be to stay healthy and avoid either Los Angeles team.
In the best possible scenario, the Rockets match up with the Jazz for their first round series. The easiest possible path to the Western Conference Finals is to go through the Jazz and Lakers and meet the Clippers at the end. The Clippers should be the team’s biggest challenge, and to be frank, the toughest challenge in the entire Western Conference. If the Rockets want to get to the Finals, chances are they will have to get through the Clippers. Similar to the Warriors last year, you have to face them at some point.
I think the Rockets have the potential to win it all. Given the circumstances and rosters, I believe the Rockets are the best-equipped outside of any team not from Los Angeles. However, I do think we are on a collision course for a “Battle: Los Angeles” seven-game series in the Conference Finals. The Rockets have the best chance to prevent that from happening, but they will need to surpass expectations and catch a little luck if they wish to get past them.
— Jeremy Brener
The Rockets are built for crowd-less NBA basketball. After all, Toyota Center is usually half-full at tipoff even for primetime games. Houston’s players should feel right at home in the Orlando bubble. What’s more, they are built for a shortened season. I think teams with established or ingrained offensive systems will adjust better to the odd environment. And while Houston’s offensive “system” is bashed from here to Bristol, the team should be in a position to succeed.
James Harden might be the greatest pickup basketball player ever, and his Drew League highlights are legendary. Essentially, we’re going to get Harden turned up to 11 in these games. As a bonus, we might even get to hear some of his legendary trash talk.
Russell Westbrook was Houston’s best player once the calendar turned to February. I think he’ll continue to wreak havoc, especially in transition. Teams have had months to scheme for the Pocket Rockets, and any success against Houston’s smallball lineup means neutralizing Russ. He’s the real key to Houston’s sustained success in Orlando.
As for predictions, I think Houston will end up in fifth place and have a better than 50% chance of advancing to the second round. There, they would meet one of the Los Angeles teams. I don’t need to be a tinfoil hat-toting conspiracy theorist to make a leap and say that the NBA needs an LA-LA Western Conference Finals in order to salvage some money from this season. I expect the Lakers to emerge victorious to play Milwaukee in the Finals. That way, we get a passing of the torch moment from LeBron to Giannis if the Bucks win and a Kobe Bryant tribute if the Lakers pull it out. Oh, and Mike D’Antoni is not re-signed.
The Houston Rockets have a fairly interesting remaining eight regular games. My prediction for their record will be 5-3. I see them picking up wins against the Mavericks, Blazers, Kings, Spurs, and 76ers. Their losses will come against the Bucks, Pacers, and Lakers.
As it pertains to the playoffs, it is my belief that this roster has a trip to the Western Conference Finals written all over it. If they match up with the Clippers, the series will definitely go six or seven games. The issue I see with a matchup with the Clippers is that they are a team that can also play “ small ball “ with the Rockets, and create matchup nightmares all over the court.
Officially, I will say the Rockets will lose to the Clippers in seven games in the Western Conference Finals.
— Michael Brown
The four-month postponement might have been a blessing in disguise for the Houston Rockets. Losing four out of their previous five contests was disheartening enough, but dropping games against the Knicks, Hornets and Magic caused significant concern. Whether if it was due to injuries or the struggles of getting accustomed to micro-ball, the Rockets looked as if they were on a collision course to another humiliating post-season prior to the suspension.
Now, healthy and given another training camp, Houston has a unique opportunity to hit the restart button on their quest for an NBA title. And while entering the restart, I believe the Rockets have the second-best chance to represent the Western Conference in this year’s NBA Finals.
With eight games to play before the start of the playoffs, I am expecting the Rockets to go 6-2 to close out the regular season. They may not be playing for homecourt advantage, but Houston will play with a sense of urgency to create a slightly easier path to the Finals.
As of right now, the Rockets currently sits sixth in the Western Conference with a 40-24 record. If the post season started today, their route to the championship will have to go through the Nuggets, Clippers, and Lakers — three of their toughest opponents. However, if the Rockets can move up to the third seed, it will eliminate a first-round matchup with either the Nuggets or Clippers.
Should this happen, I can see the Rockets advancing to the Western Conference Finals, where they will fall to the Lakers in seven games. I believe small-ball will work against any team except for Los Angeles. Houston will be a significant disadvantage against a lineup that will feature LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard.
— Coty M. Davis
The Rockets are back, and they bring their signature High(est) Variance Experience with them to BubbleWorld. I’ve said before that the Rockets, to me, are the team that interacts the least with opponents in terms of game results. What I mean by that is, the Rockets’ success is almost entirely internally driven.
Of course the opponent will play defense, of course the opponent will score, and gameplan, sometimes adopting extreme tactics that might be effective in some respects. I have yet to see any opponent, however, eliminate wide-open looks for Rockets supporting players. A defense simply can’t spread itself out wide enough to control both the perimeter and the driving/passing lanes for Westbrook and Harden.
If the Rockets make more than, say, 40 percent of their three-point shots, they’re going to win, overwhelmingly often. If they shoot 30 percent or less on three-point shots? They usually lose.
The real key, the margin, for great success, lies down the roster. Can Eric Gordon make threes, drive, and provide a second (while Russell Westbrook or James Harden rests), or third, major scoring threat? Can Danuel House make his shots, and defend? Can Austin Rivers provide the backup point and driving threat? Can Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker make their shots and shut down the best opposing players? Is the Jeff Green Renaissance real?
All of this has to happen in some measure to win a playoff series. All of it has to happen, unceasingly, for the Rockets to win a title. A title, as much as a first round exit, is in play for the Rockets.
The conversation will be about SmallBall or whatever we are calling it, but the crux of the matter will the three-point shooting. The Rockets are made to blow opponents off the court with their shooting, and to succeed, that’s exactly what they must do.
I think the Rockets will end up in a meaningless 4th or 5th place in the seeding games and will bring misery once again to Utah. They will make the conference finals, after eliminating one L.A. team, but the other one will get them. This will be seen as some sort of verdict on Small Ball, Mike D’Antoni, and James Harden. In reality, it will be an indictment of the constant stream of short-termist moves and inability to develop and keep any young cost controlled talent. Harden, D’Antoni and Small Ball won’t fail so much as be overwhelmed at the edges.
Also, the NBA very much wants (and needs) to see an L.A. team face Milwaukee (or Boston, or maybe Philly) in the Finals. It would be deeply shocking not to see Lakers vs Bucks, with a Lakers win.
To say this is the Rockets’ last chance to win a championship with James Harden would be hyperbole. But unless they can play more than a seven-man rotation and get their starters, especially Harden, some rest in the upcoming seasons, we might look at this situation 10 years from now and say it was his last shot to win one since 2018.
That was a really really long-winded way to say that iso-ball caught a break with quarantine. Everyone benefits from rest, but Harden’s and Russell Westbrook’s style of play might be the most benefited from a four-month hiatus. By this time, they’re gassed from playing 36 minutes in March just to beat down a 20-win team. Now, they get a reset. Aside from scrimmage and eight seeding games, they’re jumping right into the playoffs after taking an offseason-length’s worth of time off.
That being said, Houston would have to get Herculean-level efforts from their offensive and defensive superstars every night once they get out the first round — that’s assuming they don’t have the misfortune of dropping to the seventh seed and playing the Los Angeles Clippers in the first. Houston has the talent to beat any team in the West that doesn’t play at Staples Center— er, typically play at Staples Center. Those teams are too deep, too big, and too physical for Houston to try to play small-ball against in a seven-game series. My prediction is that they can go all the way if they don’t play an L.A. team. Then, they can beat any team in East not named the Bucks. TL;DR if they don’t have to play the Lakers, Clippers, or Bucks in the playoffs, they have a title.
— Conrad Garcia
The interesting thing about this Rockets team is that they can beat anybody in the bubble, including either L.A. team or Milwaukee, but they could also lose to anyone — including teams that didn’t even make the bubble. Though in the uncertainty of this unprecedented situation, how this all ends up is anyone’s guess. There’s been so much time off, this is essentially the equivalent of a brand new season.
And the Rockets still have weaknesses. They also have one, big advantage, and that is that no one else is really playing like them, so they force other teams to adjust, but we just haven’t seen the type of consistency for me to feel comfortable with a prediction of the Rockets winning it all.
Now all they have to really do is get hot, and with two former MVPs on the roster, they are perhaps more equipped than most to go on an unstoppable run. But they were just 8-6 since the Clint Capela deal, with moments that inspired confidence, and plenty others that simply inspired groans. I’m not confident they possess the consistency to win four straight series. I’m not saying it’s beyond the realms of possibility. In fact, outside of the Lakers and Clippers, the Rockets probably have the best shot of any Western Conference squad. But the margin for error is less.
Harden and Russ need to be at their absolute best. The ancillary pieces need to step up: Houston needs Eric Gordon, Danuel House, Austin Rivers, or Ben McLemore to provide consistent production. They need P.J. Tucker and Robert Convington to hold it down defensively against an army of West bigs, and they need Mike D’Antoni to utilize the impressive wing depth he has at his disposal.
Too many what ifs. Rockets make it to the West Semis, though I’ll happily eat some crow if they make it further.
— Darren Yuvan
How far will the Rockets go?
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First Round Defeat
Western Conference Semifinals
Western Conference Finals