Five Reasons the Young Rockets Will Make the Playoffs This Year
Last year, the Rockets were in the driver's seat with just a few weeks left in the season. They were in the sixth spot in the Western Conference seeding and had a virtual lock on making the playoffs. Then all hell broke loose. They lost six straight games and found themselves out of the playoffs for the third straight year.
Photo by Groovehouse Balls. He has them.
What was even more depressing about last season was that the team felt rudderless. Yes, they were a tough, gutsy team with players like Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry -- guys we all wanted to root for. But they were not terribly young or overly talented, and were missing some significant pieces to the puzzle. Had they reached the playoffs, it is doubtful they would have advanced, and they had virtually zero chance of contending for a title.
This season, the Rockets are younger, more talented and trying to make the playoffs again. They have literally dealt away all but two players who spent time on the roster last season, and only one of those is/was a rotation player (Chandler Parsons). Most believed this to be a lost season. I personally thought they would win about 36 games. To do that, they would have to go 5-19 the rest of the way, which is highly unlikely.
In addition to the talent and the youth, this team just feels like a better squad. Like last year, there is very little chance they will advance out of the first round of the playoffs or contend for a title, but I do believe they will make the playoffs. Here's why.
5. Offensive Output
The Rockets have been at the top of the league in scoring all season. James Harden ranks fifth in the same category. They are also in the top 10 in scoring differential thanks to a steady barrage of scoring, and it shows little sign of letting up. While it isn't often teams built almost entirely around big-time scoring (at least not in this era) that are threats to win it all -- ask the '90s-era Suns -- they do make very difficult teams to play, particularly as the season grinds to a close and defenders begin to wear down.
Speaking of wearing down, nothing bludgeons a defense like a fast pace, and the Rockets try to run opponents off the floor every night. It's a pretty crafty plan of attack by coach Kevin McHale, knowing his guys are very young, inexperienced and athletic.
Allowing them to get out and run and score quickly simplifies things for players who still need time to mature. Sure, they are the worst turnover-prone team in the league, but because they take more shots from the floor than opposing teams most nights, they make up for the mistakes. It's not a strategy that can win long-term, particularly in the playoffs, but it has taken them a long way this year.