At issue: Will the Rockets make a playoff push this season?
Tristan Tippet: Look at their competition
I think there are too many reasons why the Rockets won’t make the playoffs. Recently, the Rockets have played like many people thought they would.
The Rockets lack a go-to scorer, and even with their up-tempo style, they struggle to score. That’s an issue because the Rockets have more problems on defense. They can’t stop penetration, and they don’t have a defensive presence inside.
These problems explain their inconsistency during the last month and a half, and it’s shown with some bad losses. If you play inconsistently at this point in the season, with so many good teams in contention, you won’t make the playoffs.
I have little confidence in them. Nine teams (and possibly more) in the West are constructed better than the Rockets.
Their schedule isn’t all that favorable either. They play the Celtics twice, the Jazz three times, the Spurs twice and the Grizzlies twice. They also play the Raptors, Thunder, Lakers, Suns, Nuggets and Magic again.
Salomon Fuentes: No surprises here
Tristan, actually the Rockets indeed are what we thought. I see no real difference between this year’s squad and the team that played tough against the Lakers in that seven-game series last season.
Back then they played with energy and, on nights when their shots were dropping, they won. Sometimes it was ugly, as they showed in the decisive Game 7, but all in all it was a likable team that showed it could play.
The issue right now is that they’re running on fumes and don’t have enough talent to compensate.
The only way the Rockets make it is if some unlikely things occur. For starters, they need Tracy McGrady to somehow reconcile with management and come back into the fold at a high level. Another option involves general manager Daryl Morey finding a way to trade him for someone useful such as Andre Iguodala. Neither scenario seems likely.
Realistically, the Rockets need teams ahead of them to fade in the second half. San Antonio, with its age and injury issues, could collapse or Oklahoma City, with its lack of experience, might fall in the standings. If the Rockets play .500-plus basketball they have a shot, but it really depends on how other teams play.
Ultimately, that will make or break their season.
Jason Ovalle: Have some faith, people
First, let me start with Tristan. You are correct in your observation that the Rockets lack a go-to guy. However, Aaron Brooks is having a career year, and he is the closest thing the Rockets have to a true scorer.
OK, now to Salomon. Your point that the Rockets are the same team they were last year in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals is incorrect. They lack two key offensive players on the wing in Von Wafer and Ron Artest. Their current wing players cannot put up the same numbers.
Finally, there is no doubt in my mind that the Rockets will be in the playoffs. Multiple media sources say that the Rockets will make a deal with the Knicks in exchange for 2009 lottery pick Jordan Hill, Al Harrington and draft choices. This will only improve a team that is missing almost $40 million of salary, in T-Mac and Yao.
The Rockets are only three games out of the West’s final playoff spot. With this injection of talent they so desperately need, they should make the playoffs and possibly advance to the second round again.
Judge Phillipe: Still a 50-50 proposition
As much as the fan in me wants to see the Rockets miss the playoffs, I have to agree with Jason. With the teams ahead of them having such a weak hold of their current spots, the Rockets have just as good a chance to make it as any of them.
Now what they do when they get there is another matter. That’s what makes me hope they miss the playoffs altogether. I’m not too sold on them making it, though. But they still have to like their chances as it stands.
Tristan hit the nail on the head with his assessment of the Rockets’ lack of a go-to scorer. In the playoffs, when the game slows down and teams run a more half-court oriented offense, this spunky, run-and-gun approach won’t work. Teams will force the ball into the hands of guys like Shane Battier, who, for all his hustle and defense, couldn’t score 25 points if you spotted him 20.
In a more likely scenario, the Rockets’ lack of offensive firepower could be exposed before the playoffs begin. As the pressure heats up and teams get desperate, look for players such as Trevor Ariza and Battier to be relied upon more frequently.
In a directly related development, don’t be surprised if they don’t make the postseason.