The Rockets once again, find themselves on the brink of playoff elimination. The Houston Rockets are down 3-1 to the 1st seed Los Angeles Lakers. A series in which the Rockets successfully took game one with their unconventional “small ball” lineup. This gave Houston fans a feeling of hope that maybe THIS would be the year that Houston finally breaks through.
See the Rockets have been trying to make the finals for years now. When you have a player like James Harden, you want to be successful year in and year out. Pairing him with Head Coach Mike D’antoni in 2016, Mike is known around the league for his rapid pace offense which has won him plenty of games in the regular season. The playoffs is a different animal and unfortunately for MDA, that regular season success hasn’t carried over to the playoffs.
The Rockets have put some good players next to Harden over the past five or so years. From Dwight Howard in 2014 to Russell Westbrook in 2020, the Rockets still haven’t sniffed the finals and only have two WCF appearances (2015 & 2018). GM Daryl Morey once said in 2017 that beating the Warriors was “the only thing we (Rockets) think about”. The Warriors have eliminated Houston a total of four times.
Houston’s best chance in my opinion was in 2017-18 when they had the “Point God” himself Chris Paul. Houston’s offense is known for often being “one dimensional” as a lot of times they chuck up contested threes towards the end of the shot clock or stand still and let Harden dribble his defender to death before driving for a floater, tossing an alley oop to Capela, or shooting his patented stepback three.
CP3 commanded the offense as a Point Guard should. Whenever he was out there you would see fluid movement from the other four guys. Paul was able to dissect Golden state’s defense more times than not, which led to easy looks for his teammates. Houston would take a 3-2 lead over Golden State in the WCF before Paul’s hamstring injury and would eventually lose in seven after Houston would go on to miss a staggering 27 straight threes against the Warriors.
The Rockets have had this kind of playstyle for years and it’s only brought them wasted seasons. Players like Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and Clint Capela have been either traded or let go of because “they did not fit Houston’s system” or they simply didn’t do their “part”.
Fast forward to 2020 and once again Harden finds himself next to a superstar teammate, this one with a much more familiar face. Westbrook and Harden played together in OKC from 2009-2012 and played in the NBA Finals in 2012 against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
“Why is this relevant?” You may be asking yourself. it’s relevant because when Miami beat the Thunder in 5 games, it would be the last time that Russ and Harden would play together in OKC as Harden would be traded that off season to Houston.
Now as teammates in Houston they could possibly be sent home today in five games by LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Regardless of what happens, the Rockets will be forced to go back to the drawing board again, and with James Harden being 31 you have to think that this could possibly be it for him in Houston. On top of all of that, the Rockets traded Chris Paul for Westbrook, who was able to take Houston to seven games in the first round alongside SGA, Lu Dort and Dennis Schröder.
This playstyle has gotten this franchise nowhere and after awhile, things start to feel like a waste of time. I mean no one on the Rockets is allowed to shoot Mid-Range jumpers except Westbrook and he’s only shooting 37.5% from that range in this series. That’s not going to get you a championship, let alone a Finals appearance. Of course MDA will be gone once they are eliminated, but Houston should probably look into letting Morey go as well and should also look into trading both Harden and Westbrook.
You can not continue to pair stars with Harden just to trade them 1-2 seasons later. Eventually, you have to realize that your current situation isn’t going to work and that it’s time to rebuild. This is the harsh reality that is once again staring in the face of the Houston Rockets.