The Houston Rockets will resume the 2019-20 NBA season with title aspirations. Despite an up-and-down regular season, Houston's ceiling is extremely high thanks to the presence of two former league MVPs -- James Harden and Russell Westbrook -- on the roster. The Rockets are capable of beating any team in the league on any given night. For them, consistency will be key in Orlando.
With eight seeding games to play before the postseason gets underway, the Rockets sit sixth in the Western Conference with a 40-24 record. They're just four games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the second spot in the conference, but also just a game and a half ahead of the seventh-seeded Dallas Mavericks. In other words, Houston's playoff position is far from set in stone and could change dramatically depending on how they perform in those seeding games.
Here's a look at Houston's roster, schedule and a few key storylines for when the season resumes in Orlando on July 30.
- James Harden
- Russell Westbrook
- Eric Gordon
- P.J. Tucker
- Tyson Chandler
- Robert Covington
- Austin Rivers
- Danuel House
- Ben McLemore
- Jeff Green
- Bruno Caboclo
- Chris Clemons
- DeMarre Carroll
- Luc Mbah a Moute
- Michael Frazier
- William Howard
All times Eastern
- July 31 vs. Dallas Mavericks, 9 p.m.
- Aug. 2 vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 8:30 p.m.
- Aug. 4 vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 9 p.m.
- Aug. 6 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 9 p.m.
- Aug. 9 vs. Sacramento Kings, 8 p.m.
- Aug. 11 vs. San Antonio Spurs, 2 p.m.
- Aug. 12 vs. Indiana Pacers, 4 p.m.
- Aug. 14 vs Philadelphia 76ers, TBD
Russell Westbrook's health: The Rockets arrived in Orlando shorthanded, as All-Star guard Russell Westbrook announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 prior to Houston's departure for the NBA bubble. As a result of the positive diagnosis, Westbrook was unable to travel with his team.
"I tested positive for COVID-19 prior to my team's departure to Orlando," Westbrook said in a statement released via social media. "I'm currently feeling well, quarantined, and looking forward to rejoining my teammates when I am cleared. Thank you all for the well wishes and continued support. Please take this virus seriously. Be safe. Mask up!"
The good news for Houston is that Westbrook is feeling good, and plans to join his teammates in Orlando as soon as possible. In order to join the Rockets inside the bubble, Westbrook will have to undergo an extended quarantine and then test negative for the virus on consecutive days.
If the recovery process goes smoothly for Westbrook, he likely wouldn't have to miss any games. However, it's fair to wonder how healthy he will be fresh off of the virus, and what type of condition he will be in after the long layoff. A healthy Westbrook is central to success for Houston, and they'll need him to be at his best -- in other words, in constant attack mode -- if they hope to make a deep run. Thus, Westbrook will be a player to keep an eye on, especially early on after the season resumes at the end of the month.
Will Houston's small-ball style prevail in the postseason?: The Rockets turned heads during the regular season when they veered away from using a traditional lineup with a center in favor of an extreme style of small ball. They doubled down on this approach when they traded away talented young center Clint Capela in February. Though they also have veteran center Tyson Chandler, the Rockets now trot out P.J. Tucker, who is listed at 6'5", at the center spot. They had some success with this approach during the regular season, as it creates matchup issues for bigger teams. It's yet to be seen how it will work in the postseason though, when play slows down, and increased emphasis is placed on post play. Will a combination of Tucker and Chandler be enough to contend with some of the other elite centers in the West like Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert? We'll find out in Orlando.
Postseason position: The Rockets could realistically finish anywhere from second to seventh in the West depending on how they perform during their eight seeding games. While where they finish won't matter in terms of homecourt advantage, it will obviously matter a lot in terms of their playoff path. If they stay in the sixth spot, or fall to seventh, they could end up facing the Clippers or Nuggets in the first round; neither would be an ideal opening round opponent. However, if they're able to move up to third or fourth in the standings they could set up a more manageable first round matchup against the likes of the Thunder or the Jazz. While the seeding games are a formality for some squads that already have their postseason position locked up, that's certainly not the case for Houston.