Rooting Interest - Last night in Portland, the Blazers beat the Golden State Warriors in overtime, 117-119. And be sure, this game is absolutely deserving of discussion on a Houston Rockets forum. It was perhaps the first time all season that I openly rooted for the Warriors, always afraid Steph Curry would end up in a first round matchup with the Rockets. But with just two games remaining on Houston’s schedule and one for Portland, the Rockets are in a position where if the Blazers win their final game at home against the nothing-to-play-for Clippers, and the Rockets can’t beat either San Antonio or New Orleans, Portland will end up hosting the first-round and not Houston.
It would be devastating from psychological standpoint, if not a strategical one, for the Rockets to play so much of the season in the upper-tier of the Western Conference, only to falter at the end and find themselves on the road for Game 1. And the Rockets aren’t exactly going into the playoffs under ideal conditions. The team peaked a month ago, losing only two games in February, while going 15-2 at one point. But since April arrived they have been a mediocre .500 club. Now, on the precipice of the playoffs, the Rockets find themselves injured (Howard, Parsons and Beverley have all missed games) and tired (Houston is the only team with two players, Harden and Parsons, in the top-ten in minutes played). And with the Blazers victory last night, there will be no rest for the weary. Read More
With two games to go before the playoffs, the Houston Rockets face a quandary. Should head coach Kevin McHale rest his starters (and key bench players) for these last two games? If so, how much? Perhaps most importantly, how does Portland’s overtime win over Golden State figure into it? Some teams will simply shut down before the playoffs while some bear down on the starters. Which path will the Rockets take, and more importantly, which path should they take?
As far as predicting the next couple games, the safe bet is on minutes for the starters. McHale has never been shy when it comes to minutes load, and it seems unlikely that he would change that up for two games. Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard were on a minutes restriction after returning from their respective injuries. That minutes restriction took exactly one game to get blown out of the water when the Rockets needed contributions from them late in a tight game against the depleted Pelicans. McHale might surprise, but the safe money is on a playoff rotation for the next two games.
This game really mattered. After a run of games with Howard and Beverley hurt, the Rockets hold on the 4th seed was slipping. They were 5 and 5 in their last ten and their momentum late in the season seemed to be slipping away. It wasn’t looking good for Houston for most of the game. The Pelicans were playing without seven players tonight, but they led most of the game and were up by 11 with 9:20 left on the clock. That’s when the Rockets woke up. Desperate to get something going (and with Parsons out with hip and wrist ailments) McHale went with a line up of Harden, Lin, Beverley, Daniels and Howard. That was the line up that finished the game on a 15 to 0 run to close it out.
This game was important. McHale had mentioned that Howard and Beverley were going to get 20 minutes. Howard played 29 and Beverley played 33 and they were the difference. Beverley is the true heart of this team and having him back on the floor changes the intensity level of the rest of the Rockets. After missing 8 games, the Red Bull hit 4 threes and had 14 points in the 4th quarter. His back to back 3’s with two minutes left were mercurial.
The Rockets have very little to show from tonight’s performance. They played lackadaisically for much of the game, the starters didn’t get any rest and they didn’t even get a win to show for it as the Timberwolves pulled out the victory on the back of Gorgui Dieng’s late game-winner. With the playoffs coming up, you want to keep your starters fresh, but tonight’s game was a masterclass in not doing that as McHale elected to play Harden 46 minutes and Parsons 43. This is the sort of game that the Rockets should not be having at this stage of the season. Either your team should be ironing out the last kinks before the playoffs come around or wrapping your stars in cotton wool. Houston did neither. I can only hope they don’t come to regret it.