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Houston Rockets: Dig in, make threes, win series

James Harden of the Houston Rockets and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
James Harden of the Houston Rockets and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets fans feel frustrated, but the team still has a good “shot” to win the series—literally. Read on for more.

For Houston Rockets fans, the time is now. The stage is set and the basketball world watches on to see if James Harden and company can overcome who many refer to as the best of his era—LeBron James.

Over the regular season, LeBron led the NBA with 684 assists, and featured the highest assists-per-game average among all players with 10.2. And with his game-two postseason win over the Rockets, the 35-year-old four-time MVP stands just one contest away from moving into first place for most playoff victories as an individual player in NBA history.

Meanwhile, James Harden led the NBA in the regular season by making 299 three-pointers and 692 free throws. Additionally, Harden dominated in 2020 by way of scoring the most overall points with 2,335, and led the NBA by averaging 34.3 points per game. Naturally, one has to wonder—could Harden be selected as the NBA’s 2019-20 MVP?

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that nine games into the postseason, Harden’s Rockets lead all other playoff teams with 164 three-pointers made. As a matter of fact, Houston has made 40 more three-pointers than the second place team in this category, the Milwaukee Bucks.

However, when it comes to three-point shooting percentage, the Rockets have work to do. And their 5-and-4 postseason record attests to their lack of efficiency from beyond the three-point line.

Of all 16 teams to make the playoffs, the Rockets’ 2020 postseason performance ranks as low as tenth place when it comes to making attempted three-point shots. And of the eight teams still left in the championship hunt, the Rockets sit in third-to-last place with a 36.5 percent three-point percentage.

So far this postseason, Houston averages over 49 three-point attempts per game. To put this massive number into perspective, only one other team left in the playoff picture, the Toronto Raptors, barely averages at least 40 three-point attempts per contest.

As a team, through both playoff games against the Lakers, the Rockets have made 36 threes on a combined 92 attempts, good for 39 percent from downtown, while the Lakers have proven less efficient, making 23 threes on 65 attempts for slightly better than 35 percent from beyond the arc.

Nevertheless, the Rockets continue to show their hand concerning an offensive strategy committed to raining three attempts—as they should if they hope to advance. To some degree the Rockets exhibited flashes of shooting excellence in game two against the Lakers as both Harden and Robert Covington made four threes, while Eric Gordon drained six.

But to win games against elite teams, the Rockets have a smaller margin of error to miss shots. Subsequently, the Rockets did not shoot well enough to overcome a 16-point deficit in the first quarter—as well as a 10-point deficit in the final period—of their game-two contest against the Lakers that Houston lost by single digits.

The Rockets’ performance in game two featured Russell Westbrook and James Harden combining for only 37 points of offensive production. This naturally leads to the question—could a sensational offensive outing by one or both players have led to a Rockets’ game-two victory?

Of course, giving credit where due to the Lakers’ offensive performance, it could be argued that that the Rockets’ less-than-stellar shooting performance in game two might have been good enough to get it done, if LeBron James and Anthony Davis did not combine for 62 points, 21 rebounds, and 13 assists.

While multiple what-ifs remain concerning where the Rockets truly stand, one silver lining of encouragement for the team’s chances going forward remains. Defensively, Houston leads all playoff teams by averaging 9.4 steals per game. So, if any team stands a chance of taking away a particularly formidable offense’s potential scoring opportunities through steals, Houston’s roster might be the best situated in this particular postseason bracket.

Without question, the Rockets face their toughest challenge of the season in the second round of the playoffs with the Lakers, a team who finished the 2020 regular season with the best winning percentage in the Western Conference. Nevertheless, the Rockets have no other choice but to keep shooting. After all, as the great Wayne Gretzky famously stated, “You miss 100-percent of the shots you don’t take.”