The Houston Rockets have been the most exciting NBA team to watch when it comes to scoring the basketball this season, but if they’re even going to compete against James Harden’s former team in the postseason, they’re going to have to get dirty.
The Rockets escaped going to overtime against Phoenix last night courtesy of a Jermaine O’Neal goaltending blunder just before the buzzer sounded. It was one of the most bizarre moments I’ve ever seen in an NBA game and it got me thinking: if the Rockets needed a miracle like that to top Phoenix, what’s it going to take for them to beat Oklahoma City in the playoffs once or twice to at least make a series out of their first round encounter.
The season series finished with the Thunder having a 2-1 advantage, but the Rockets were able to turn that one victorious game into their kind of contest, a defenseless shootout of raw offensive capability. Even then, they were only able to top OKC by three, 122-119.
What the Rockets do well is score, that much is made clear by their league best 106.2 points per game, but they’ll have to do more than that to beat the Thunder who are just behind them in scoring at 106 points per game. While OKC’s defense is not the best in the league by any means, it’s nowhere near as bad as Houston’s, third worst in the NBA.
If this inaugural campaign of James Harden announcing himself as a superstar is going to end any differently than a straight sweep for Houston, this team has to learn how to get dirty. They are solid in the rebounding department, but in order to compete in this first round series, they have to accentuate their ability to collect steals. At 8.5 per game , they rank eighth in the league in steals and it’s about the only thing they do well defensively.
If they can use this to their advantage, Houston will get plenty of points through fast breaks, something that has been crucial to their success this season with a speedy back court of James Harden and Jeremy Lin.
While Lin and the rest of the Rockets have undoubtedly learned a lot from playing alongside Harden, what they need to try and absorb is his grittiness. Harden is one of the better backcourt defenders around the league and is a guy who will do whatever it takes to win the ball. If Kevin McHale’s team wants to grab a win or two in the first round, that’s the kind of attitude and tenacity they’ll have to deploy in order to do it.
The Thunder is one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to turnovers, ranking 28th in that department by averaging 15.5 per game. That’s something the Rockets have to take advantage of, diving for every loose ball, exploiting every botched pass. The Rockets don’t have the weapons to outgun OKC in a seven game series, but they can make it more interesting than a typical 2-7 matchup if they get gritty.