The NBA season is a long and grueling 82 game marathon that challenges the engagement of even the most dedicated basketball fan. For the few who manage to stay in the loop for its entirety, the playoffs make everything worth it and as the calendar flips to April it’s officially playoff preview season.
With nine games remaining on their schedule, the Houston Rockets have settled into the fourth seed in the NBA Playoffs. The Portland Trail Blazers are only one and a half games behind Houston but with six of the Rockets’ last nine games coming against teams with a losing record they should be able to hold on to home-court advantage in the first round.
The first season of the James Harden and Dwight Howard era has seen the Rockets develop from a team that could surprise to one that is expected to make a deep run. The star power is there and there is no doubt that head coach Kevin McHale will be looking to play at the same blistering pace that has the Rockets as the fastest of all playoff teams according to John Hollinger. With the inevitable decrease in pace that comes with intense playoff basketball, the ability of Houston’s one-two punch to operate in the half court with the pick and roll will be a big factor in their success.
As the old adage goes, defense wins championships and fortunately for Houston their defense has been much improved this year with the addition of Howard in the middle. Asik’s presence on the bench also offers an opportunity for the Rockets to have elite rim protection for a full 48 minutes and will come in handy when facing larger front courts. The team will have to focus on limiting turnovers which has been an issue throughout the regular season.
While much of the focus will be on how Harden and Howard play, perhaps the most important player for Houston in the playoffs will be Patrick Beverley. Every successful championship team has an enforcer and that role must be filled by the one they call “Red Bull.” Beverley is currently recovering from a meniscus injury but should be back for the playoffs. Houston will need his grit and toughness at the most important position when matching up against guards like Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry.
Beverley will set the tone in the postseason with his persistent on-ball defense which will dictate much of Houston’s success against the elite guards in the Western Conference.