Sean Pendergast

Houston Rockets Fan Guide to Rooting in the NBA Playoffs

James Harden, pictured here in happier times, is the least popular former Houston Rocket.
James Harden, pictured here in happier times, is the least popular former Houston Rocket. Photo by Eric Sauceda
The NBA Playoffs have arrived, and honestly, I am still getting used to this whole "being irrelevant in April and May" thing, as a Houston Rockets fan. It's now two consecutive postseasons where the Rockets have not only been a complete afterthought, but they just finished (again) with the worst record in basketball.

At least there is hope, though. Jalen Green was scintillating during the final few weeks of the regular season (in six of his final seven games, he eclipsed the 30 point mark), Alperen Sengun looks like he could be a real player, and Kevin Porter, Jr. had almost as many good nights down the stretch as Jalen Green did. That's fun!

But dammit, I am a basketball fan, and I need something to root for in these NBA playoffs. Sure, I could just go ahead and fabricate reasons to root for this team or that team on a night to night basis, via the magic of sports wagering, but that gets expensive. (NOTE: NBA basketball betting is treacherous, kids.) Fortunately, the Rockets have traded enough players to other teams over the last three or four years, to where there are former Rockets on almost every playoff team. Thus, many rooting interests exist.

Here are the playoff matchups, all of which are already underway over the weekend:
So let's do this β€” let's power rank the teams in the playoff based on the raw, absolute value of the emotion of rooting for or against said team, shall we? First, let's get some house cleaning out of the way. Let's eliminate the teams that either have no former Rockets (or no former Rockets about whom we care), with the caveat that there are SO many former Rockets around the league, if I missed one or two fringe guys, forgive me:

NO FORMER ROCKETS: Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks

TEAMS WITH FORMER ROCKETS I HAVE NO EMOTION TOWARD:
New Orleans Pelicans: GARY CLARK
Dallas Mavericks: MARQUES CHRISS, BRANDON KNIGHT
Golden State Warriors: GARY PAYTON II (a Rockets training camp body, at one time)
Memphis Grizzlies: DeANTHONY MELTON (former Rockets second round pick)

OK, now for the fun part, the Rocket Fan Rooting Interest rankings ... here we go:

10. Rooting FOR Brooklyn nets PG GORAN DRAGIC
Remember back before the Harden Era, when Dragic was a promising young guard for the Rockets? He left and went on to become a high level performer for the Suns, and is now a veteran, journeyman type, but we still love him! Only problem is that rooting for Dragic means you're also rooting for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. THAT is a mitigating factor, friends.

9. Rooting AGAINST Boston C DANIEL THEIS
Yeah, I know, he was only a Rocket for half of this season, but every time he played, it typically coincided with Alperen Sengun being glued to the bench, and I have to blame somebody for that. In this exercise, it's Theis!

8. Rooting FOR Atlanta C CLINT CAPELA and SG LOU WILLIAMS
Unfortunately, these two likable former Rockets are unlikely to figure prominently into the next round for the Hawks, as Capela left Friday's play-in win over Cleveland with a nasty knee injury, and Williams is a bit player for the Hawks.

7. Rooting FOR Toronto SG ARMONI BROOKS
Brooks is a former Rocket and a former UH Coog, so we love him. He also has a silky, smooth jump shot. It'a about as fringe a reason to root as you can find, but when you can rep the 713, you just do it.

6. Slightly Rooting AGAINST Utah DF DANUEL HOUSE
On the one hand, Danuel House is a fun, likable person. On the other hand, House sneaking around with a woman in the COVID bubble in 2020 put him out of the Lakers playoff series that season, which the Rockets eventually lost. On the third hand, rooting for House means rooting for the Jazz. No thank you!

5. Rooting FOR Denver C BOOGIE COUSINS, SF JEFF GREEN, and PG AUSTIN RIVERS
I can't believe I am in a place where I actually am excited to root for Boogie Cousins and Austin Rivers β€” NEVER would have thought that'd be the case like four years ago β€” but I am! Plus, they play the hated Warriors! I think the Warriors win in five games, but I'm anxious to root against it.

4. Rooting FOR Miami PG KYLE LOWRY and C P.J. TUCKER (but it's complicated with SG VICTOR OLADIPO)
On the one hand, Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker are two of my favorite Rocket street fighters of all time. On the other hand, Victor Oladipo was washed up, and a bit turd-ish as a Rocket. Advantage, Lowry and Tucker!

3. Rooting FOR Minnesota PG PAT BEVERLEY
If you need any more inspiration than just the sweet memories of Patrick Beverley agitating every Rocket opponent, watch this video of the Timberwolves' locker room after their play in win over the Clippers:
2. Rooting FOR Phoenix PG CHRIS PAUL
Ok, now it gets deep β€” the rooting interest spawned by the most complicated relationship in recent Rockets' history, the marriage of James Harden and Chris Paul. Back in 2017, those were the happy times, when Harden was forcing the issue to bring Paul to Houston in exchange for pretty much the Rockets' whole roster other than himself and Eric Gordon. Then after just two seasons, the marriage ended, and Harden forced one of the worst trades in the history of the team β€” Paul and multiple first round picks to OKC for Russell Westbrook, creating a  marriage with Harden that was even more toxic than the one he had with Paul. Since the trade, Westbrook and Harden have each played for two teams in two seasons, with not so great results, and Paul has established himself as an MVP candidate. That's easy to root for.

1. Rooting VEHEMENTLY AGAINST Philadelphia SG JAMES HARDEN
On the flip side, if you can bring yourself to do anything BUT root vehemently against a player who's forced his way out of two teams in two years, all while getting his way at every turn, and partying himself into the cardiovascular condition of a middle aged suburban dad in the offseason, well, you're a better person than I am, I guess.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast