Which NBA Return Most Favors the Rockets

When James Harden and the Rockets return, they might be better off shaking off the rust in an abbreviated regular season.
When James Harden and the Rockets return, they might be better off shaking off the rust in an abbreviated regular season. Photo by Eric Sauseda
The NBA is full steam ahead on a return to the 2019-2020 season with workouts expected to ramp up in June and an anticipated re-launch to the season in July. There are a number of possible options on the table from going straight to the playoffs to playing out the regular season. But, what most favors the Rockets?

The Houston Chronicle did a nice job of laying out all the options being discussed, from a traditional end to the season to play-in games to a round-robin tournament. Nothing has been decided, but there is optimism from players and ownership that the league will get started again within the next couple months, get through the playoffs and have the 2020-2021 season start in December.

For the Rockets, who were essentially healthy when the season came to a screeching halt, the main concern would be seeding. They were sitting at sixth with 18 game remaining. They were just a tiebreaker back of the Thunder and one game behind Utah. They were unlikely to catch third seeded Denver or fall back two-and-a-half games to Dallas, but anything is possible.

Full Schedule

The Rockets remaining schedule isn't exactly murderer's row. Their final ten included only Dallas and Philly among playoff teams. If they played out the regular season, it would seem to give them a real shot at moving up. They do have to face both the Lakers and the Bucks, but much of the remaining schedule's difficulty rating ranges from manageable to downright easy.

Straight to Playoffs

Much of how this affects the Rockets will depend on how they choose to seed the teams. Doing the standard East vs. West model, the Rockets would begin at Denver. They have had success against the Nuggets, but it leaves them in a difficult spot on the road at altitude. On the other hand, if the league seeded the best 16 teams in order by record (a plan that has gotten quite a bit of support as an option well before the coronavirus hit), the Rockets would still be on the road, but against the Jazz, a team they have played well against and a team that has been on about their level much of the year.

Group Play

In this scenario, teams would be divided up into groups and play a tournament to decide the final eight spots. While not every team will favor this — particularly those with the most to lose — this could be interesting for a wildly prolific offensive team like the Rockets. This and the straight to playoffs options open up the possibilities of hot streaks. Still, that can go either way and group play could also be problematic if shots aren't falling, which can happen when players are rusty.

Regardless of the NBA's decision, it won't be easy for the Rockets. They were up and down much of the year and their small ball experiment still had a ways to go before it was deemed a success. At this point, they will take whatever they can get, but the more games they get in a traditional format before getting the playoffs, it's likely that will give them the best chance to go deep in the postseason.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke