Writer: Lucas Garza
The Houston Rockets ended the regular season with the most wins and the league and in franchise history. Finishing 65-17, the Rockets will have home court advantage throughout the entire playoffs, and will play the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round.
The Rockets regular season was one to be remembered. Three winning streaks into the teens, winning season series against the Spurs and Warriors, and having only one bad losing skid (during the holidays) gave fans one the most exciting seasons in Houston ever. With the addition of Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah A Moute, the Rockets defense improved tremendously, along with the dramatic improvement of Clint Capela. Harden and Paul’s games complemented each other, and Paul’s presence gave Mike D’Antoni more rotation options. Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson did not play as well as last season, as Anderson dealt with injuries, but Eric Gordon stepped up when he needed to, whether it was a drive off the dribble or a no hesitation 32 ft jump shot. James Harden will finally win the NBA MVP this year after having two runner up finishes in his career.
The Rockets swept the Timberwolves in the season series, winning all four games against the much improved franchise. During most of the the teams’ meetings in the regular season, the Timberwolves were 3rd place in the Western Conference, but Mike Thibodeau’s squad fell to 8th seed in the highly competitive Western Conference. Everyone knows the Rockets like to shoot threes, having set the record for most threes shot in a season and percentage of threes shot from the field (over 50%). In previous matchups, the elegant three point shooting of Houston has encouraged Karl Towns to test his luck from beyond the arc, as well. Although Towns shoots over 40% from three, Thibadeau says he doesn’t like when Towns shoots threes because the Timberwolves lose the chance for the offensive rebound.
Speaking of offensive rebounding, Luc Mbah A Moute was one of the Rockets’ best offensive rebounders in the season, hustling to gather his teammates’ missed threes. In the Rockets’ penultimate game of the season against the Lakers, Mbah A Moute dislocated his shoulder going for a rebound, and has been ruled out of the Rockets’ first series of the playoffs. The Rockets played without Mbah A Moute in over the holiday season, but that was when the Rockets’ had their biggest stumbles of the season. Ryan Anderson will need to comeback to playing full and valuable minutes in the rotation for the Rockets’ to not feel the lack of Mbah A Moute.
The Houston vs. Minnesota series begins Sunday night at the Toyota Center, and the winner of the best of seven series will play the winner of the Thunder vs. Jazz.