Rockets out Lakers: James Harden has flaws, but trading for Russell Westbrook has closed Houston’s window


The Houston Rockets were eliminated from the 2020 NBA Playoffs on Saturday, as the Los Angeles Lakers completed a gentleman’s sweep with a 119–96 victory in Game 5. This is not a surprising result on its face. The Rockets were a No. 4 seed. He needed seven matches to overtake the Thunder in the first round. The Lakers are a No. 1 seed. They are, irrevocably, two of the top three players still alive in the playoffs. They are a bigger and better team than Houston.

But somewhere along the line we influenced the Rockets’ expectations, partly because they have James Harden on their part, because it burned into our heads that their mathematical approach to basketball somehow gave them real on their roster. Least stares for talent, and also because we all still remember him this Close to knocking off Kevin Durant-Steph Curry Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference Finals.

But the Rockets are no longer that team.

Chris Paul was on that team. This is a Russell Westbrook. From here we will begin what has gone wrong for this rocket team, and where it can possibly go from here.

The juice was a bust.

There is a lot going on with this closed Houston window – if it hasn’t already closed – from a player’s shortcomings, and not to put it all on Westbrook. But he is not as good as Paul. Not in a vacuum, and certainly inside this rocket system that desperately needs a second elite playmaker / high-level shooter to attract hardeners. Paul was, in fact, CJ McCullum for Damien Lillard of Hargen.

It is clear that Westbrook is not just anywhere near that class of player, despite the fact that he had a regular season; From January through the shutdown you could argue that he was on the edge of the MVP conversation, when he trimmed his 3-point effort to bare bones and attacked the rim through Houston’s increased decision by a trade decision Focused almost entirely on doing. Clint Capella and committed to the full-time short ball.

It was a fun experiment that rekindled the rapidly dwindling enthusiasm around the Rockets, perhaps even within their own locker room. They defeated the Lakers, the first night Robert Covington showed in February. 6. They defeated Bubble in Bubble. We all tried to talk ourselves into being unconventional in rockets to give trouble to the traditional Lakers. After winning Houston Game 1, the public was completely bought into the hype.

It was not fraudulent at all. The Rockets were in a position to win both Games 2 and 3, but after turning the tents in Games 4 and 5, the Rockets had only a convenient time to remember the Rockets after the Capital Trade – 8-6 pre-Kovid off. , And 4-4 in eight bubble seeding games. They were never really so good.

It is true, Westerbrook missed one of those games. And this gives hope to everyone. But trusting Westbrook at this point in his career, coming to playoff time, is a false hope. After finally taking 3-pointers and pull-up mid-range attempts from his arsenal to the Bubbles, Westbrook fired 27 thugs against the Lakers, making seven of them. That is 25 percent. Throw in 53 percent from the free throw line, and under 35 percent on all shots outside of five feet, and yes, it’s not going to make the cut.

Meanwhile, Paul shot three from the field and 49 percent to 37 percent in the playoffs – including 45 percent on shots from over five feet, 55 percent on shots from 10–19 feet, and 61 percent on shots from 15–19 feet. Were. Those are the exact shots the Rockets ignored, except for Westbrook, who took 27 shots between 10 feet and a 3-point arc, according to NBA.com’s shot tracking data.

Westbrook, apparently, doesn’t make nearly enough of those shots to justify the effort, but beyond the glaring incompetence, it’s a subtle nod to how the Rockets traded themselves for Westbrook in the first place Put in an impossible situation: either rebuild your team. He will die at the hands of what he can, or to take advantage of what he cannot do. It is revealed that they were dead somehow.

Perhaps the Rockets would still have moved on to the small and traded Capella with Paul, but with Westbrook, there was no other option. They had to open the lane for a drive, as Westbrook is nothing far from useless as a floor spacer. This is maximizing a limited player, perhaps, the team as a whole. So Westbrook had the second half of the season. But you know the deal: The playoffs, as the cliche goes, are different. In the playoffs, unless you’re LeBron James or Qui Leonard, the defense is usually able to cut down on what you do, if you don’t completely overcome it, that way you Are forced to tap into the second and third dimensions.

But Westbrook is a one-dimensional scorer. We observed that the predictable, head-down crime does not work even with a physical craze such as Giannis Entetokunmpo, and Westbrook being no antetokompo. The Lakers were not at all concerned about Westbrook. That is, obviously, a major problem when Harden faces an incredible, late-coming dual team designed to make someone else a play. Westbrook is the only person who could theoretically do so, as the Rockets chose to fill the rest of their roster with spot-up shooters who cannot be trusted to make dribble.

By Game 5, on the Harden floor and Westbrook, the Lakers were literally running on the box and one … Eric Gordon. Listen, as the Raptors showed in the Boston series when they sped that defense over Kimba Walker, causing a box to pop out and no player outside of a defense is afraid you’re boxing . But one is about to slap the box and one on Gordon, not Westbrook, as he explains.

Yes, Harden needs to make his adjustments. He can start by looking like he cares. The man does not have a history of growing up in big moments, and he was almost nonexistent in these verses in a much larger quarter. He was terrible against OKC in Game 7. He did not take a quarter-quarter shot in Game 4 against the Lakers. Through the first four games vs. LA, Harden scored less than three shots and five points in the fourth quarter. When you’re making a dual team, make the right game, and refuse to let your team go without getting into a fight. Harden needs to find a middle ground.

The Lakers were coming in with their doubles late in the clock, and Hearty waited until Game 5 would finally start going quickly before another man arrived. He is just a lazy player. He accepts the double, walks out, then doesn’t move another inch. He is the most dangerous player on the floor for the Rockets, and as he passes the ball, he finds himself out of almost every possession. He can only beat you one way, one as a scorer, and even his choices in that context are not as reliable as they appear in the regular season.

Steph Curry sure becomes more Dangerous when he wants to move after dropping the ball. It is a multi-layered scorer. This is what the playoffs demand. Being able to defeat teams in many ways. Remember that the next time you try to compare Curry and Harden, the latter will not say anything about the latter’s reliance on volume 3-point shooting at true high-level accuracy. Harden is a 33 percent playoff 3-point shooter for his career. The big picture, which is going to be hard for you to overcome when your team is named as the full expectation.

None of this is completely absent to Mike D’Antoni. He has tried some adjustments earlier in the series. He waited until Game 5 until Harden’s ball screen began to set, so that he could go down before the double arrived. He didn’t trust his bench at all, even though Ben McLemore is arguably the best floor-space 3-point shooter, especially after losing to Houston’s Daniel House, which we would make it, but certainly not. Difference in this series.

But in the end, D’Antoni is quite bound by the roster at his disposal. The Rockets have devised a plan entirely dependent on two players, and not one of them can be depended on. They also won’t shoot short midrange shots, so again, they are predictable, which is the death penalty in the playoffs. They believe in mathematics, but the number drops out over time. If you’re not hitting 3-pointers then the playoff series is even shorter.

The Rockets have no other way to defeat you, and they have very few options to change that reality. They have no cap space. He doesn’t have any young players that anyone would want, maybe outside the House, and even he paired with a minor future draft pick (that chest is already very bare, too). Nothing important. is. And change the short-term fate of this organization.

Also, the owner does not want to spend any money. They have gone out of their way to avoid the luxury tax of the last two seasons, and letting Trevor Ariza walk after nearly defeating the Warriors in 2018 was the original sin in the imminent demise of this one-time contender. But if that sounds like trading for Westbrook, then the window has been officially closed. This is what Hearty wanted. He did not want to play with Paul, who is just better than Westbrook, and there are no back-backs in the NBA. All you can do is move forward, even if the prospects for doing so in Houston are anything but promising.