Austin Rivers believes his Houston Rockets are contenders for the NBA title when the restart begins later this July in Orlando. Hall of Fame forward and current ESPN analyst Scottie Pippen agrees, though he thinks there will be more than just “three or four” contenders.
Pippen argued the hiatus makes the restart a big unknown, and he anticipates a “shootout” right from the bubble games through the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls legend also noted that whichever team gets in rhythm first will have the best opportunity to win the championship.
These are curious comments from Scottie Pippen, given the statements he has made about the Rockets' top stars in the past.
Pippen criticized James Harden back in December, saying “The Beard” was being too selfish on the offensive end of the floor. He also called for Russell Westbrook to see more of the ball.
Of course, the complexion of Houston's roster changed quite a bit after December. They added Robert Covington at the trade deadline and went to a small-ball look, which has indeed opened the floor up for Westbrook to slash and attack at will.
However, the Rockets are entering the restart under rather uncertain terms. For starters, Westbrook announced earlier this week he tested positive for COVID-19.
Moreover, Harden just arrived in Orlando and now has to go isolation and register multiple negative tests before he is cleared.
For what it's worth, Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said back in June that this current ramp-up period would truly allow the team to practice and scrimmage with a small-ball look.
Perhaps getting accustomed to small-ball will help Austin rivers and the Rockets find a rhythm. Nonetheless, Houston has its work cut out once the action begins later this month.