With the continuation of the NBA season insight, a question arises. Who is the Houston Rockets’ toughest opponent?
The obvious answers that come to mind would have to be the Western conference juggernauts in LA: the Lakers and the Clippers alongside the Eastern Conference powerhouse Milwaukee Bucks.
Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers: (49-14)
King James and the Lakers currently sit atop the Western Conference throne, deservedly with a 49-14 record. However, when facing the Houston Rockets in the regular season the series was even at 1-1.
The Lakers took game one in Houston with a 9 point 124-115 victory. It was a difficult defeat for Rockets fans considering they lost to an Anthony Davis-less Lakers roster. James Harden and Russell Westbrook were also a two-man show. The Rockets supporting cast was a ghost town that night. Only two other players not named James Harden or Russell Westbrook scored above 10 points. (Eric Gordon: 13 points and Danuel House: 10 points)
On the other hand, game two was a different story. Russell Westbrook would lead the Houston Rockets to a 121-111 victory over the Lakers at Staples Center. In a game where James Harden displayed one of his worst seasonal performances, dropping 14 points on 30% from the field, Russell Westbrook would go on to do the exact opposite. Westbrook would go on to drop 41 points on nearly 61% shooting from the field. The Rockets supporting cast also played significantly better, whereas four other players scored more than 10 points in this game. (PJ Tucker: 11 points, Eric Gordon: 15 points, Danuel House: 13 points, and Robert Covington: 14 points)
It’s safe to say that from what we’ve seen, if the Rockets as a collective can show up, then they do pose a legitimate threat to the mighty Lakers.
Los Angeles Clippers: (44-20)
Just like their LA rivals, the Clippers are one of the biggest threats to the Houston Rockets come playoff time. The Houston Rockets once again went even, going 2-2 against the Clippers in their regular-season battles.
Game one, the rockets defeated the Paul George-less Clippers with a 102-93 victory behind a remarkable 47 point performance from the Beard. Although Paul George’s absence was felt, the Rockets were a one-man team that night. Only seven players scored a basket that night with only two of them scoring 10 or more; Russell Westbrook being one of them with 17.
Unlike game one, the presence of Paul George was game-changing for game 2, especially when it came to closing out. Paul George led a late-game rally, coming back from a 5 point deficit with 54 seconds remaining on the clock, with a nasty corner three. The clutch basket alongside some mistakes on the Rockets side led to a 3 point Clippers victory. With that gutting loss, the Rockets were able to get a taste of what a fully healthy Clippers lineup is capable of.
Games three and four the Rockets and Clippers exchanged jabs.
For game three the Rockets were finally able to close out a 5 point lead, in a 122-117 victory over the Clippers. Westbrook and Harden dominated the floor dropping a combined 68 points against one of the best defensive frontcourts in the league. Despite the all-star duo’s performance, the Rockets supporting cast played great and were key to the victory against the Clippers.
The final match-up between the two teams was the farthest thing from pretty for Houston Rockets fans. Neither side dominated the court offensively, yet the Clippers were able to defeat the Rockets in grueling fashion with a 15 point victory. Harden had an “off-night” going for 16 points on 0/8 from beyond the arc. The absence of Harden was evident and resulted in a blowout defeat.
These two teams have had some intense battles this season, however, don’t count out Houston, they’ve proven they can compete with the best.
Milwaukee Bucks: (53-12)
Houston vs. Milwaukee would be an entertaining postseason matchup. An offensive powerhouse against a defensive powerhouse would surely amount to a great series.
The Milwaukee Bucks, led by the soon to be 2x league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, is some fearsome competition. The Bucks hold the best record in the league and dominate on both ends of the floor. Statistically, Milwaukee is the best team in the league defensively with a 101.6 defensive rating. They also lead the league in defensive boards and are top three in blocks. Defensively, the Rockets sit somewhere in the middle of the pack, but with the new addition of Luc Mbah a Moute. The Rockets are also top 5 in steals, with credit to their small-ball lineup.
Offensively, the Rockets are in a league of their own, especially when they shoot efficiently beyond the arc. The Rockets have the second-highest offensive rating in the league with a 113.4 rating, only trailing the Dallas Mavericks. Houston also ranks among the highest in nearly every category involving 3-point shooting. The Rockets average the second-highest amount of points in the league, barely trailing Milwaukee with .5.
Unfortunately, we have a fairly small sample size of what this potential match-up would look like. The Rockets and Bucks only faced each other once this season in the season opener. The Rockets lost that game by 6 points in a 117-111 loss. However, the Rockets have since made drastic changes to their lineup, recently implementing the full small-ball lineup. Before the halt of the NBA season, we had seen some of the potentials of the small-ball lineup and how dominant they could be on offense
While a Houston Rockets vs. Bucks match-up would prove to be entertaining it would also be quite a difficult task for the undersized Rockets, especially against a team that dominates the paint such as the Bucks. The Bucks would definitely prove to be a worthy foe for the Rockets.