Will Rockets’ super-small-ball gambit actually work?
It certainly looked good on Thursday night, as the super-small Rockets thumped the Los Angeles Lakers by a score of 121-111 at the Staples Center behind 41 points from Russell Westbrook.
Think about this: Houston dropped 121 points and won a game with James Harden scoring only 14. That is insane given how heavily the Rockets have relied on Harden over the last couple of years.
P.J. Tucker started at center, Danuel House started at power forward and new addition Robert Covington came off the bench to spell a little bit of everything.
Yes, against a Lakers team that employs a massive frontline of JaVale McGee and Anthony Davis with Dwight Howard coming off the pine.
As a team, the Rockets shot a spectacular 19-of-42 from three-point range and were able to manage pretty well defensively, as their quick lineup actually gave Los Angeles some issues.
This was the Rockets’ first game since trading Clint Capela in a three-way deal that landed them Covington. Houston was trying to land another big man ahead of the Thursday deadline, but it was unable to strike a deal, leaving the Rockets with Isaiah Hartenstein, Tyson Chandler and basically nothing else as far as legitimate bigs are concerned.
And here is the kicker: Hartenstein didn’t even play on Thursday night, and Chandler hasn’t been playing at all.
So, essentially, the Rockets are going with a bunch of wings and guys who are small forward-sized , and in their first game implementing the experiment, it worked…and against one of the NBA’s biggest teams, no less.
But is this sustainable?
It’s hard to imagine so.
Yes, we live in a small-ball era now, but no one has taken it to the level that Houston has. Not even the Golden State Warriors, who were pioneers in this movement, employed this level of smallness. Yes, they had the Death Lineup with Draymond Green at center for stretches back in 2015 and 2016, but let’s remember they also had Andrew Bogut on the roster.
Daryl Morey is always trying to push the envelope and always looks beyond talent for means to contend. He knows the Rockets are outgunned by numerous clubs, so he is attempting to find a niche that can potentially catch other teams off guard and nullify any possible talent disparities, and that is admirable.
But as creative as Morey is, I just can’t see this style having a ton of success in the playoffs.
While the traditional big man has fallen by the wayside, bigs in general have not gone extinct. Just ask the Toronto Raptors how important size and length were last year when they defeated the undermanned Warriors in the finals.
One thing is for sure: this Rockets squad will be fun to watch. It is fast, it can shoot the lights out and it can certainly create matchup problems for its opponents.
But on that same token, Houston is going to have a whole lot of trouble with matchup issues of its own.
Something tells me the Rockets’ win over the Lakers will not be the trend.