Tyler Kaufman / Associated Press
The Houston Rockets are probably one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA Playoffs. With MVP candidate James Harden leading the team, the Rockets are positioned to beat anyone if they’re at their best on offense.
The Rockets rely on making three-pointers or scoring easy buckets at the rim, particularly out of the pick-and-roll. They’re truly an analytics-era team, as they led the league this regular season in three-pointers attempted per game (45.4) and three-pointers made (16.1).
Harden, the league’s leading scorer, ignites the Rockets, and he’s the reason players such as Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, and Kenneth Faried thrive in the team’s offense. Harden has the highest usage in the league (39.3 percent) but was also ranked 12th in the league for assists per game.
With Harden’s ability to score and facilitate, the Rockets have one of the best offenses in the league, and if their offense is in top form, they should be a tough team to beat.
The Rockets will play the Utah Jazz in the first round, and the series should be competitive. Houston split its season series with the Jazz, winning the last two games of the series during the regular season.
What should be interesting about this matchup is watching Harden and Donovan Mitchell go at it. Mitchell showed out in his first playoff appearance last year, leading the Jazz to a first-round win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He averaged 28.5 points per game and shot 46 percent from the field in that series. Mitchell has some playoff experience against the Rockets, as the Jazz fell to Houston in five games during last year’s conference semi-finals. During that series, Mitchell averaged 19.4 points per game on 36.1 percent shooting.
Much like Harden, Mitchell also has one of the highest usage percentages in the league, as he’s ranked 11th (30.5 percent). If the Rockets contain Mitchell, they should be able to win this series in five or six games.
Game 1: @ Houston (Sunday, April 14 — 9:30 p.m. EST, TNT)
Game 2: @ Houston (Wednesday, April 17 — 9:30 pm. EST, TNT)
Game 3: @ Utah (Saturday, April 20 — 10:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Game 4: @ Utah (Monday, April 22 — 10:30 p.m. EST, TNT)
Game 5: @ Houston (Wednesday, April 24 — If Necessary)
Game 6: @ Utah (Friday, April 26 — If Necessary)
Game 7: @ Houston (Sunday, April 28 — If Necessary)
How Can They Succeed?
The Rockets’ ability to thrive comes from their offense, and their success in the playoffs is going to be based on whether they can be productive on that end of the floor.
Though Harden is the Rockets’ best player, they didn’t get to the fourth seed in the Western Conference only because of him. Gordon, Faried, Clint Capela and Chris Paul all averaged double figures in scoring during the regular season. Capela is the team’s second leading scorer with 16.6 points a game, a career-high.
What Houston does well is that it lets Harden dominate the offense. However, he doesn’t dominate to the point where he’s hogging the ball. He’s one of the best pick-and-roll facilitators in the league, and Capela, one of the league’s best rim runners, benefits from that. Faried benefits in the same way, and like Capela, he also brings energy on defense.
Houston has had some bad offensive outings against the Jazz, though. The Rockets averaged 103.3 points per game against the Jazz this season, and they averaged 109.1 a game overall. Still, if Houston’s offense can flourish against a solid defensive team in the Jazz, then they should be able to win this series relatively easily.
Who is their X-Factor?
Kenneth Faried joined the Rockets in January after a contract buyout with the Brooklyn Nets, and he has contributed solid minutes for the Rockets since.
Faried played a career-low 9.8 minutes per game in 12 games with the Nets, but he has played 24.4 minutes a game with the Rockets. He serves as a valuable option in the pick-and-roll because of his athleticism, and he’s averaged 12.9 points per game in 25 games with Houston.
Aptly nicknamed “Manimal,” Faried has shown his ability to hustle, grab boards and play quality defense. If Faried can lock down star players in the playoffs, he’ll be valuable for Houston.
One positive stat in their favor
This one has to be the Rockets’ shooting ability, and that’s not up for debate. The Rockets have shot 35.6 percent from the three-point line this season. They shoot threes at highest volume in the league. Making three-pointers is a big part of their success, and it’s something they’ve consistently done throughout the season. When the Rockets shot 37 percent or better from the three-point line, they were 32-5, according to Basketball-Reference.