To rest or not to rest?

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.

The issue, then, is whether this is best for the Rockets. With the 5 seed Trail Blazers beating the 6 seed Warriors, the Rockets still have to win a game or hope for a Blazers loss if Houston wants home court in the first round. The Blazers only have one game left on the last day of the season against the Clippers. Unless the Pelicans beat the Thunder, the Clippers won’t have a chance to catch up to the Thunder, locking the Clippers into the 3rd seed. In the far more likely scenario that the Thunder take care of business against New Orleans, The Blazers would stand a realistic chance of facing a Clippers team that’s ambivalent to a loss. In fact, the Clippers might even prefer to see the Rockets lose home court advantage on the off chance that this helps eliminate the Rockets in the first round.

The easy way to avoid all this guesswork, then, is to simply beat the San Antonio Spurs and be locked into home court. In theory, the Rockets could lose to the Spurs, beat the Pelicans on the last day and be fine, but leaving anything to chance at this point seems like an invitation for trouble, especially given how iffy the effort level has been in seemingly throwaway games. Beating the Spurs, of course, is easier said than done.

The good news is that that head coach Gregg Popovich is liable to rest all his starters, especially with homecourt locked all the way through the playoffs for San Antonio. For the Spurs, a chance to rest their aging core and let the bench face real competition is far more valuable than an extraneous win. The bad news is that the Spurs bench is still deadly. a focused, intense B team from San Antonio is more than a match for an apathetic, rusty A team from Houston, especially if Chandler Parsons continues to sit due to injury. The Rockets may still find themselves in a dogfight in their second to last game, a time period when they expected to be coasting.

That coasting itself complicates matters, as it isn’t clear whether rest or rust is the bigger priority. If Beverley and Howard hadn’t gone down with health issues, the Rockets probably would have already been locked into the 4 seed and probably would be using this time to rest, not the earlier part of April. As it is, the starting lineup and the playoff rotation may need a game or two to round back into practice and ramp up the effort level. Unlike Miami or San Antonio, the Rockets can’t just jump back into the fray with no chemistry or gameplan concerns. Practice matters at this point, and the Rockets may be well served by playing normal minutes, even if the games meant nothing.

The best middle ground may be  a scenario in which the starters play for about ⅔ of their normal minutes before sitting to let a rotation of bench and deep bench players take over. In fact, the Rio Grande Valley Viper group that comprises the end of the roster has been remarkably effective and in fact nearly turned a blowout loss into a win against Denver. That would give the rotations time to settle back in while minimizing fatigue and lowering opportunity for injury. The best case scenario would be a win against the Spurs, and a big enough margin so that the starters sit early.

We should expect, then, a protracted dogfight ending with a Spurs win, because events going according to plan just wouldn’t be any fun.

View this discussion from the forum.

This entry was posted in essays. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
Login to leave a comment.
Total comments: 6
  • SadLakerFan says 1 day ago

    The Rockets actually got the win. Sometimes things actually go according to plan.

  • bluemars says 1 day ago

  • SadLakerFan says 1 day ago Beverley's injury probably scares me more because it occurred so recently. I would be tempted to limit his minutes or even sit him unless those MRI's look really clean. You'd hate to see a Grant Hill situation happen to a guy who has never actually made much money in the league. For you younger guys, Grant Hill would be mentioned in the same class as MJ, Kobe and Lebron today if he hadn't wrecked his already injured ankle in the first round of the playoffs. I can't believe that Pat would mean the difference between a W or L against the Spurs second team at home?!

    As for the others, I'm not sure how much help a few extra minutes of rest during the last two games will be considering how many minutes they've played over the first 80. I guess I agree with everyone else - do whatever it takes to beat the Spurs, the. Give guys some rest during the last game.
  • Alituro says 1 day ago

    If Dwight and Pat's physical conditions are such that they need to be wary of their minutes, then we won't last long in the playoffs anyway as the physicality ramps up. Win need to: A) notch one more win, and B) make sure we're ready when the postseason starts. Neither will get achieved by resting or handling these starters minutes with kid gloves. We need to come out both games full-bore with the intention to win and only rest our starters in either if garbage time allows in Q4. The last thing we need, especially if we gain the home court, is for our team to first come together as a whole (after the injuries, with no stated minute limitations) on the opening night of the series against POR. Home court will be quickly squandered. These are the last 2 preseason games before the big dance and everyone must use them to be as ready as they're going to be. We cannot take these two games off and put our fate in the hands of POR and LAC..

  • Steven says 1 day ago Beat the Spurs, then rest the starters for the finale.
  • chantu says 1 day ago

    Actually, Howard and Bev have had rest - lots of it ... too much. Now's the time to get back to work. The Rockets were a bit out of sync against the lowly Pelicans and needed everything they had to beat them. This shouldn't be the case. A few weeks ago, the Rockets would have blew them out to the water. Due to injuries, the starters have lost valuable minutes together. The Rockets haven't looked that great of late. I say go full-on against the Spurs (but possibly let up if Popovich takes out the starter early on). If the Rockets will the game, then let the D-leaguers have some fun against the Peliducks.