With Dwight Howard, are the Houston Rockets, at 18/1 odds to win the NBA title, worth consideration as the regular season winds down? Let’s ponder and make a pick.
The Houston Rockets (47-23, 103.4 PF-100.2 PA) and Head Coach Kevin McHale will likely get a very important part of their starting lineup back on Wednesday night when three-time Defensive Player of the Year and C Dwight Howard (knee) is rumored to return—he’s listed as Questionable now, but we all know what that means—when the Rockets head to the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans to face the Pelicans (37-33) in a Western Conference/Gulf of Mexico tussle (NBA League Pass—Team 7, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT). And with the start of the NBA Playoffs now less than a month away (April 18), it will be really good for Houston to try to get Howard back into some kind of game shape and in the offensive flow for the approaching postseason. With Howard in the lineup, this team has gone 22-10 (.688) so far this 2014/2015 NBA season, while, without their usual starting Center and presence in The Paint, the Rockets were 25-13 (.658). But, does this beat-up and somewhat lopsided NBA team have a chance to actually win the Western Conference (14/1, Boylesports) and get to the NBA Finals (June 6) and actually have a chance to win their first NBA championship (18/1, Paddy Power) since 1995 when Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Robert Horry and Kenny Smith all graced the Rockets electric Starting Five? Does Houston have a realistic chance to bring the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy back to the Toyota Center with the injuries and the possible rough path which surely awaits them in the Western Conference?
Let’s break it all down by looking at the current Rosters, Injuries, those Potential Playoff Paths, Coaching strengths and weaknesses and see if there is any value, or chance for the Rockets (26-10 SU Home, 21-13 SU Road) to make a run at their first NBA crown in some 20 years. Better a diamond with a flaw than a Pebble without one, brother. A bee once told me that.
Houston Rockets Possible Starting Five
C—Dwight Howard (16.3 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.38 bpg)
PF—Donatas Motiejunas (11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
SF—Trevor Ariza (12.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
SG—James Harden (27.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 7.0 apg)
PG—Patrick Beverley (10.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.4 apg)
Houston Rockets Bench, Roster Depth
C—Joey Dorsey (2.3 ppg)
PF-Josh Smith (11.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
SF—Kostas Papanikolaou (12.4 ppg)—IL
SG—Corey Brewer (12.4 ppg)
PG—Pablo Prigioni (1.3 ppg)
PF—Terrence Jones (12.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg)—IL
SG/PG—Jason Terry (6.7 ppg)
C—Clint Capella (0.0 ppg)
SG—KJ McDaniels (0.3 ppg)
SG—Nick Johnson (2.7 ppg)
Injuries, Coaching, Intangibles (Potential Playoff Paths)
The Rockets (7th in Scoring, 103.4 ppg) have been seemingly banged up all year, with the aforementioned Howard’s 2-month spell on the sidelines with a Knee injury surely having to hamper Team Flow some. Starting PG Patrick Beverley (left wrist) is reportedly headed back to Houston today (Tuesday) to have further evaluation for his wrist injury, prompting Head Coach McHale to say that if he received any more bad news on Beverley’s wrist that he “may be out for some time,” possibly forcing veteran Jason Terry into the role. Also, PF Josh Smith (ankle) is listed as Probable for Wednesday’s affair in The Big Easy against the Hornets as he tries to shake off the effects of his hurt, while SG/SF Corey Brewer (oblique strain) also has his own injury issues. But for right now, probably the biggest Injury concerns for this team are to usual starting PF Terrence Jones (ribs, lungs) who is Out Indefinitely, and to Second-string SF Kostas Papanikolaou (ankle) who remained out of action vs. Indiana on Monday with no update on his return. The Rockets have effectively plugged 24-year-old Lithuanian Donatas Motiejunas into that starting PF spot held usually held down by Jones, but when the Playoffs come, Houston will be wanting Jones in there and the solid depth and Bench Strength that Motiejunas and 24-year-old Grecian Papanikolaou can provide come April, May and hopefully on into June if you’re the Rockets. But most oddsmakers and hardwood pundits are putting very little credence into Houston making the Western Conference or the NBA Finals (June 4) at this moment, although we all never know—and that’s the one thing that we actually do know. Go figure.
As far as the coaching goes, former Boston Celtics legend Kevin McHale has been in charge in Houston since 2011, so, although he doesn’t possess that wonderful Body of NBA Playoffs Head Coaching Experience other Elder Statesmen coaches in the Western Conference like Gregg Popovich (Spurs, started coaching team in December, 1996), Rick Carlisle (Mavericks, 2008) or even Scott Brooks (Thunder, 2008) can boast, McHale has learned enough in his years in charge of the Rockets and may be able to win a couple of rounds this season, although it will be much harder having a starting unit playing with some injuries (and maybe some accompanying doubts) and possibly without some key components like Jones and maybe others. This team always seems banged up this year, as mentioned up yonder. And teams with that particular stigma usually don’t instantly all get healthy. Afterall, this is the NBA, and not the The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
And, as far as any future Potential Playoff Matchups—if the NBA Playoffs were to have started before action tonight (Tuesday)—the Rockets (41-29 ATS, 23-13 ATS Home, 18-16 ATS Away) would be the No. 3 seed and would be unfortunately facing the defending World Champion and Texas neighbors, the San Antonio Spurs (7/1 to win NBA Championship, Paddy Power) in Round 1? How ya’ doin’? Welcome to the Machine now get in line and be stamped and prodded, Pablo. Against the Spurs, Houston is 1-1 (with both teams winning at Home) and the two teams will wrap up their season series with meetings on April 8 (in San Antonio) and April 10 (in Dallas, NBA-TV). Should the Rockets theoretically advance past Round 1, the winner of the No. 2- and No. 7-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (50-21)-Dallas Mavericks (45-27) series, another potential Lone Star State showdown, could loom. But, more likely, a very rude awakening from The Griz. Scratch ‘em up, bwah. That is, again, if Houston gets there, Jimmy. Should all of these imaginary things happen (they won’t), then the Rockets could have a date with the Western Conference’s top-seed and the NBA’s best team right now, the Golden State Warriors (57-13). Funsies. Better buy some more Nachos. Against the Warriors (come out and playaaaa), Houston is a 0-4—as well as 0-4 ATS—losing by 11, 12, 25 and 13, so I’m guessing Monsieur McHale would rather not see Golden State as if his team got swept in the Regular Season, then they may very well get swept again in the Playoffs. Nobody wants that kind of embarrassment. But it probably won’t come to that. But if its should, remember that the Warriors are 4-0 SU and 4-0 ATS against the Rockets. Should the skies open up real big-like and Houston somehow make it to the NBA Finals, with the Rockets meeting a potential Eastern Conference champion like the Cleveland Cavaliers (Name the Finalists: Cavs-Rockets 18/1, Sky Bet), or, maybe the conference’s No. 1-seed, the Atlanta Hawks (Name the Finalists: Hawks-Rockets 40/1, Sky Bet) in the NBA Finals, then I would actually have to give the edge to capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy to the Eastern Conference (Eastern Conference to Win NBA Finals,+125, Sky Bet) over Houston.
The Rockets (26-17 vs. Western Conference) looked capable of winning it all about 6 weeks ago in my mind, but the choppiness of the starting units and injuries to starters Howard, Jones and Beverley as well as Papanikolaou, Smith and Brewer’s hurts seems like an awful lot to try to overcome against such stiff competition. The West is the best. Jim Morrison knew this way back in the Seventies. Such as... Such as... Such as potentially trying to beat the defending champion Spurs; upstart No. 2 West-seed Grizzlies; best team in the NBA and No. 1 West-seed Warriors; and, then maybe, LeBron and the Cavaliers or Kyle Korver and the Hawks all back-to-back-to-back-to-back would be tantamount to starting a Lawnmower with Dental Floss and not its Normal Cord, brah. Almost bordering on the Blasphemous if you ask me. But you haven’t. I’ll simmer some. Anyway, that’s asking a lot, dontcha think? Probably four or five teams in the NBA right now could possibly run the nasty gauntlet of each other and I just don’t think the Houston Rockets are currently built for the long and tough ride that could lie ahead. Also, it’s pretty hard to put too much faith in a team who has two potential head-case guys in Dwight Howard and Josh Smith. At times, Houston (15th in Rebounding, 43.6 rpg) almost seems like the biggest one-man team in the NBA with SG James Harden carrying so much of the team’s weight, as he did on Monday night in the Rockets 110-100 win over the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, as the 25-year-old Los Angelino poured in 44 points, had 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and helped usher some of the game’s patrons into their seats in Section 17 during the 3rd Quarter. He a good boy. Even swept up afterwards. Give ‘em a cookie, Mama. But relying too much on just one guy like Harden—despite Howard’s return and hopeful contributions from the Rockets POV—to try to do it all in one of the toughest conferences in the history of all professional sports is insane. Harden is wonderful, and has improved his game much on the defensive end this season, but asking him to change his game too much to accommodate Howard’s return could stifle any flow Houston (W1, 6-4 L10) may have had. And, with Jones’ status such a big question mark, with the 23-year-old and former University of Kentucky star actually having to have been hospitalized with a partially collapsed lung—he’s out now—after having some problems breathing from a rib injury. Scary stuff man. And definitely not the kind of thing you want to have happening to one of your key starters when another Key One (Howard) has been sidelined for 2 months. Choppy might make good Carnival Rides, but I don’t believe Choppy makes good NBA Playoff teams.
PREDICTED PLAYOFF DESTINY: Rockets eliminated in First or Second Round