Rockets’ Stretch Run (Tightening up the Rotation)
- Updated: March 16, 2016
With just 15 games remaining on the regular season schedule, the time to kick things into gear is now.
The Rockets have managed to be incredibly mediocre all year long, at times even struggling to stay near .500. But there are signs of hope, albeit not major signs of big things to come.
Winners of 4 out of their last 5, Houston has managed to knock off a pair of second-tier East squads in Boston and Toronto before coming back home for a potentially big game tonight against the Clippers.
While the Rockets won’t be catching LAC in the standings, a home game on ESPN against a superior Western conference team provides the setting for an excellent team win, one that could catapult this team to being relevant again.
9 of the remaining 15 games on the schedule take place at Toyota Center, a key for a team coming off 5 road games in 7 days.
The remaining road trips? ATL, OKC, IND, CLE, DAL, and MIN.
That’s not an easy six games, especially considering the fact that 5 of the 6 are likely playoff bound and have reason to play out their entire schedule. (The one exception is Minnesota who actually has incentive to lose as often as possible, as they would owe their 1st-rounder to Boston if it falls outside of the top 12 picks in the lottery.)
As tough as the remaining away games may be, the schedulers did provide a break for the Rockets in their last four contests being against the Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, and Kings (who have combined for a winning percentage of 29%).
So for Houston, it’s about getting through the remaining portion of March and the first week of April, then they can hopefully rack up some easy wins as the season winds down.
TIGHTENING UP FOR POSTSEASON
What’s most interesting to me is how head coach J.B. Bickerstaff will run his rotations. Typically at the end of an NBA season, rotations get much tighter for those teams headed to the playoffs while the cellar dwellers open up minutes for the young guns.
Taking a look at the previous road trip for your Rockets, it looks like Bickerstaff will likely roll out an 9-man rotation.
Five of those are locks, as Beverley is your starting PG, Harden at SG, Ariza at SF, Dwight at C, and Brewer the 6th man. What’s interesting is the rest of the spots to fill. D-mo seems to be the front runner for PF minutes, as long as his back cooperates. Capela is your backup C, and will be available when Dwight either needs a breather or runs into foul trouble. And Jason Terry is the vet who Bickerstaff no doubt wants to find playoff minutes, as he has more crunch-time experience than a majority of the team combined. So adding up Beverley, Harden, Ariza, D-Mo, Dwight, Brewer, Capela, and JET’s minutes, you’ve got the majority of your rotation set.
LAST SPOT IN THE ROTATION
The last spot for me comes down to Michael Beasley and Josh Smith. As it currently stands, Beasley looks like the man for the job, as J.B. has turned to him for instant (mostly inefficent) offense, even letting him hoist up 19 shots in 15 minutes in Boston. Smith, meanwhile, has been a DNP Coach’s Decision night after night. Even in a game the Rockets won by 49 over Memphis Monday night, Josh Smith didn’t see the floor. Whether he’s lost favor with his coaches or they simply don’t feel he’s helping the team, he seems to have a firm hold of his spot on the bench.
So what might the rotation look like?…
My prediction on J.B.’s use of his 240 allotted minutes:
Harden- 42 mpg
With a rotation set, the Rockets must remember maybe the most important key in the NBA Playoffs, defense is a brand new ball game. While struggling all year long to corral opposing offenses, The Dream Shake (@DreamShakeSBN) points out how much improvement the team has shown in March
“Their opponents’ field goal percentage has also plummeted, as the opposition are shooting just 41.8 percent against the Rockets in March, good for 2nd overall in the league. Combine that with a team defensive rating that’s gone from a 26th-place 106.6 to a third-place 101.7 in March, and you have the makings of a team finally clamping down on teams in a way we expected them to going into this season.”
If the team can continue to build on what has been a good first half of the month, they could show signs of life and potentially take down an OKC or LAC in the first round, assuming they can figure out a way to avoid the dreaded 7 and 8 seeds (may God help whomever must face the Warriors and Spurs).
ROCKETS AT CLIPPERS
Tonight the Rockets have a golden chance to prove this month hasn’t been a fluke, rather it’s a a glimpse into a positive future. ESPN is the channel, 8:30 CT is the start time. Let’s hope Houston can take advantage of the national audience and captivate a fan base that’s lost it’s loving feeling.