Ted's Basketball Talk: Rockets' Doomed Playoff Run
James Harden’s playoff runs have been labeled as failures because of his inability to match his regular season performance—which isn’t really news to anyone who’s watched ESPN near the beginning of playoff basketball. I predict this year will culminate in another Rockets’ playoff failure, not necessarily because Harden will choke against the juggernauts of the west, i.e. the Clippers and Lakers, but because of uncertainties in their already small rotation.
Thus far, Harden has proved to be locked in during the NBA restart, as he’s in the best conditioning of his career, which he showcased in the Rockets’ win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He totaled an absurd 35 minutes, while other NBA superstars, such as LeBron, have taken games off. Because of his recent form, I don’t expect the Rockets’ collapse to come from Harden. Instead, it will stem from Eric Gordon’s injury, which could leave the Rockets’ two guard sidelined for two weeks.
For a championship contender, the Rockets have no depth—they even embrace that. Mike D’Antoni routinely runs a seven-man small ball rotation, where his starters move towards 35 minutes per game (spearheaded by Harden himself). That being said, with Gordon out, the toll has amplified. How can the Rockets gruel through four rounds of playoff basketball, where, excluding the possibility of an upset, they would face the Nuggets, then the Clippers, Lakers, and the Bucks in the Eastern Conference, while all of their starters would average at least 30 to 35 minutes per game without expecting to be exhausted? The teams they face have deep rotations, big men that challenge the Rockets’ small ball style of play (which will exacerbate the toll on the Rockets’ starters), and that are led by MVP caliber players with playoff experience.
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