With the NBA playoffs almost among us, each of the 16 teams who will eventually make up the postseason will have dreams of going all the way and be crowned the NBA champions. Of course for some this is still merely a pipe dream, while for others it is the absolute end goal, with any other result deemed a failure. With that in mind we take a quick and lighthearted look at how each team can potentially do once the playoffs start.
Why They Can Win It All
Although they are 5-5 over their last 10 games, no team has been as hot as the Houston Rockets, except for maybe the Brooklyn Nets, since the turn of the year. With two genuine superstars in James Harden and Dwight Howard in tow, the Rockets can play a complete inside and outside game. Since turning his back on the burning bright lights of Los Angeles, media scrutiny has died down a little around Howard, and he has gone about his business. He’s had better years statistically, but he is also not carrying this team alone either like he was before when a member of the Orlando Magic. His 18.4 points and 12.2 rebounds are just fine for this team, and perhaps most importantly of all, he has not suffered any injury setbacks after back surgery last year.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this team ranks fourth in rebounding in the league, and that means a solid base that this team can the build around. Chandler Parsons chips in with 5.5 rebounds, while reserve center Omer Asik provides 7.9, and that is big time in terms of bench production for this team. It means that intensity on the glass doesn’t falter when the starters go to the bench. Other than that, the Rockets also score the second-most points in the league a night (107.8) and while their free flowing attacking has been reigned in a little since last year, when they get out and run they are great to watch. Harden is a key factor here, his 25.5 points a game carrying this team. Couple that with the defensive hustle and intensity of Patrick Beverley, and there is much to like about this team. As the fourth seed in the Western Conference, they are a team most other teams will want to avoid.
Why They Might Exit Early
Bench production is an issue, with the Rockets bench ranking 25th in points contributed (27.5) to the team. There is some depth to this team, but Terrence Jones, Omri Casspi and Donatas Motiejunas are never going to be known as offensive mavericks. Over-relying on Harden at crunch time is a risky enough strategy, playoff defenses are a lot more intense and there is much less space on the floor to find open looks or cuts to the basket. The Rockets only convert 71.1 percent of their free throw attempts, a number that leaves them 28th in the league in that category. Yes, Dwight Howard plays for this team and yes, the hack-a-Dwight tactic used by opponents is as frustrating to watch as it is effective. But the fact remains that this team struggles to add on those valuable extra points from the free throw line that others convert so well, and in the playoffs, every point is critical.
Jeremy Lin‘s life has settled down considerably from the days when he was the Knicks franchise player for about a month and a half, and he now knows his role on this team. He is a serviceable point guard who gives this team 12.6 points and 4.2 assists a night. This is fine, especially with a backcourt partner like James Harden beside him doing a lot of work for this team. But we now live in a time where elite point guards are almost a must for any team serious about winning a championship. Of the eight teams currently in the Western Conference playoff positions, only two teams don’t have point guards who have played in the All-Star game. The Dallas Mavericks have Jose Calderon, but they also have Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, a shooting guard who perhaps should have been an All-Star in years gone by. The Memphis Grizzlies have Mike Conley, who could yet be an All-Star. Of course Lin isn’t the starting point guard for this team anymore, that would be Beverley, and while he is better equipped to defend opposing guards, he also has to spend time guarding opponent’s best players too. So Lin will see some time against elite point guards in the playoffs.
Chandler Parsons. The forward is giving this team 16.5 points a night, and has a level of consistency that ever team needs. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, he plays with a calmness and level headed approach that this team needs with the emotional Beverley and mood swinging Howard on the team. Shooting .372 from beyond the arc shows that he can stretch the floor pretty nicely, a must for any power forward these days. At 6’9″ he is well able to look after himself too, and is a great fit for this team with what he brings to the floor. Players who can be an x-factor for a club are almost like third or fourth options who are still high quality players, and that is what Parsons is for this club. If Harden goes cold or Howard isn’t dominating on the glass, expect this guy to chip in with some necessary points or rebounds to get the team going again.
How They’ll Do
Conference semifinals, but that speaks more about the talent in the Western Conference than this team. In the East they’d make the conference finals, and their particular style of play would work really well against the Miami Heat. While they should overcome the Portland Trail Blazers easily enough, let’s say in six games, the top three teams of the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers will prove too much for Houston, whichever one of the three they run into. Keep this core together and add some pieces though, and next season they are a big threat.